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Superman: The Movie (1978)

Running Time: (theatrical) 143 mins.
(2000 restoration) 151 mins

Aspect Ratio: 2:35: 1

Directed by: Richard Donner
Produced by: Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind,
Pierre Spengler, Richard Thau (2000 restoration)

Screenplay by: Mario Puzo, David Newman,
Leslie Newman, Robert Benton

Story by: Mario Puzo
Based on "Superman" - Created by Jerry Siegel &
Joe Shuster
Director of Photography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Edited by: Stuart Baird, Michael Ellis,
Michael Thau (2001 Director's Cut)

Production Design: John Barry

Music: John Williams
"Can You Read My Mind" - Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse


Marlon Brando: Jor-El
Gene Hackman: Lex Luthor
Christopher Reeve:
Superman / Clark Kent
Margot Kidder: Louis Lane
Ned Beatty: Otis
Jackie Cooper: Perry White
Glenn Ford: Pa Kent
Valerie Perrine: Teschmacher
Phyllis Thaxter: Ma Kent
Jeff East: Young Clark Kent
Terrence Stamp: General Zod
Susannah York: Lara
Trevor Howard: 1st Elder
Sarah Douglas: Ursa
Jack O'Holloran: Non
Maria Schell: Vond-Ah
Larry Hagman: Major


Unable to convince the ruling elders of the planet Krypton their world is on the verge of destruction, leading scientist / elder Jor-El and his wife Lara, place their infant son, Kal-El, within an escape pod/craft and jettison him towards the distant planet Earth, where it's atmosphere will sustain him, and where his dense molecular structure will give him heightened strength and abilities.  Upon crash landing on Earth, young Kal-El is taken in by the Kents, a rural farming family who give the child the name "Clark" and raise him with strong morals and a deep understanding of right, wrong and justice.  Upon the death of his earthly father, Clark is drawn to the frozen wastelands of the north, where within a crystalline "Fortress Of Solitude" he learns of his true heritage.  As Superman (under the guise of mild mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent), Kal-El takes his place within society as it's defender and savior of those in need.  But everything he is will be put to the ultimate test when he crosses paths and swords with brilliant criminal mastermind / scientist Lex Luthor, a man with an earth shattering plan of mass destruction which will change the face of the North American continent, destroy the Man of Steel ... and make himself multi-millions all in one fell swoop.

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play SUPERMAN - "The Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind" (J. Williams / L. Bricusse)

* Largely considered the first worldwide superhero pop cultural icon, the character of SUPERMAN was born in 1932 as the creation of childhood friends - writer Joel Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, while both young men resided in Cleveland, Ohio.  The character was sold outright to Detective Comics (later DC Comics) in 1938, and would make his first appearance in the June 1938 edition of Action Comics #1.

* The origins of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE began shortly after international film producers Alexander Salkind, his producer son Ilya, and production partner Pierre Spengler, completed the critically lauded back to back productions of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973) and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974).  Originally intended as one movie, the MUSKETEER’s controversial "split release" would lead to the Screen Actors Guild’s “Salkind Clause” - intended to make sure an original actor’s contract for one film could not be extended into two without said performer’s consent. 

* The elder Salkind was originally unfamiliar with Superman until his son, Ilya, convinced him the character was just as known worldwide as Jesus Christ.

* The Salkinds originally approached award winning novelist/screenwriter William Goldman (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) to adapt Superman to film.  When he declined, they then offered it to THE GODFATHER novelist/screenwriter Mario Puzo.  After spending a few days at the DC offices in New York, Puzo leaped at the opportunity.  

* Puzo’s original script (intended to be split into two films) came in at a whopping 500 plus pages, and was filled with a great deal of camp, such as a scene where Superman runs into KOJAK TV star Telly Savalas and asks him “Who loves ’ya, baby?”. 

* Seminal elements of Puzo’s script which would remain in the finished film included the Krypton prologue as well as the inclusion of Superman’s earth based "Fortress of Solitude".   

* Later script drafts would be handled by the husband / wife writing team of David & Leslie Newman in collaboration with David’s frequent writing partner Robert Benton.  David Newman and Robert Benton had previously worked together on BONNIE AND CLYDE, THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN, WHAT’S UP DOC, OH! CALCUTTA,  BAD COMPANY, and the 1966 stage musical, IT’S A BIRD … , IT’S A PLANE …, IT’S SUPERMAN.  A TV version of that musical would be broadcast as an ABC TV special in 1975.  Benton would go on to direct numerous films including KRAMER VS. KRAMER, PLACES IN THE HEART, BILLY BATHGATE, NOBODY’S FOOL and THE HUMAN STAIN.

* DC’s “Integrity of Character” clause gave the comic book company final say on the actor selected to play Superman.  It’s original “approval” list included names such as Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and even heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.  

* When all the actors on the “approved” list turned the film down, Ilya Salkind decided it would be best to first cast the two primary supporting roles of Superman’s father - Jor-El, and antagonist - Lex Luthor, with proven box office draws in order to give the film a sense of legitimacy and epic expectation.  The filmmaking community was stunned when Award winning actors Marlon Brando (a hot commodity after THE GODFATHER and LAST TANGO IN PARIS) and Gene Hackman (just off THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE) agreed to the respective roles.  

* The original director of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was Guy Hamilton (GOLDFINGER, LIVE AND LET DIE, THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN), who was extensively involved in the film’s pre production phase.  When the film’s Rome Cinecitta studio shoot was changed to England‘s Pinewood Studios (because of a pending “indecency” lawsuit in Italy against Brando and his LAST TANGO IN PARIS director Bernardo Bertolluci), Hamilton had to drop out as newly instated “tax laws” in the U.K. prevented him from returning to his former homeland. 

* After the exit of Hamilton, director Richard Donner (fresh off the worldwide success of THE OMEN) was approached.  Appalled at the camp factor in what he considered “an American icon”, Donner took the assignment in order to protect the character from a descension into cheap humor and gags reminiscent of the earlier 1960s era BATMAN TV series starring Adam West.  

* Donner convinced his friend, screenwriter Tom  Mankiewicz (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, LIVE AND LET DIE) to come aboard by convincing him to wear the Superman costume and cape.  “If you put on the suit”, Donner told him, “You’ll do it”.  Mankiewicz donned the suit, then joined Donner in restructuring the Puzo/Newman/Benton script into a close approximation of what it would really be like for the Superman character to find himself on earth, forbidden to interfere with human history, and unable to partake in human love.  

* Donner and “Mank” decided the most important aspect of the film was the relationship between Clark Kent and Louis Lane, which they referred to as “two kids on a date”.  Donner would later say, “We knew if we got that right, the rest of the film would work”.

* Marlon Brando originally signed onto SUPERMAN without reading it's script because he needed the money; and as per his contract, he was not obligated to to do promotional press interviews.  That changed when he finally did read "Mank's" final draft.  Touched by the story's optimistic elements (during the cynical 1970s), as well as it's humanistic and romantic qualities over action/adventure, he said to the screenwriter, "This film's a f***ing valentine!"  Brando then personally invited reporters from around the world to visit the set in order to give the film as much positive P.R. as possible.    

* Director Donner took a chance on then unknown Greenwich Village stage actor Christopher Reeve.  Possessing the real life personal inner integrity and sense of morals of the Clark Kent / Superman character, Reeve was at the time 6’ 5” and a slim framed 170 lbs.  Donner contacted bodybuilder / actor David Prowse (STAR WAR’s Darth Vader) to be Reeves trainer.  Prowse added 42 lbs of muscle to Reeve over the next six weeks, and the two men became as close as brothers for the remainder of their lives.  

* Canadian born American actress Margot Kidder had earlier appeared in films as varied as THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD, THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER, SISTERS, BLACK CHRISTMAS, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.  But her role as intrepid Daily Planet reporter (and Superman love interest) Louis Lane in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE would make her a bonafied international celebrity.  She unintentionally impressed director Donner with her sense of sincere and endearing clumsiness before, during and after her auditions.

* The role of cigar chomping Daily Planet editor Perry White was originally given to beloved American character Kennan Wynn (DR. STRANGELOVE, THE GREAT RACE, FINIAN’S RAINBOW, NASHVILLE).  But after Wynn suffered a heart attack en route to England, stalwart “tough guy” actor Jackie Cooper agreed to take over the part.  Without seeing a script he left for England the day after the role was offered in order to be at Pinewood studios for commencement of principal photography within three days. 

* Jackie Cooper literally grew up in film.  At 9 he became the (at the time) youngest actor ever nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal in SKIPPY (1931).  He’d become famous worldwide for his recurring role in the OUR GANG comedy shorts (he had the crush on teacher, Miss Crabtree) and in 1931’s THE CHAMP with Wallace Beery.  He’d continue acting and directing into adulthood (scoring Emmy wins for helming episodes of M*A*S*H and THE WHITE SHADOW), then appear in all three subsequent SUPERMAN sequels with Christopher Reeve.  He passed away in May, 2011.


* The musical score was originally to be written by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith (PLANET OF THE APES, PATTON, CHINATOWN), who had recently received an Oscar win for Richard Donner’s THE OMEN.  When SUPERMAN’s troubled production ran into an elongated shooting schedule, Goldsmith had to drop out; then his friend, fellow Oscar winner John Williams (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, JAWS, STAR WARS) stepped in.  As continued production delays ensued, Williams then had to back out, and Goldsmith once again stepped in.  An even longer shoot would find Goldsmith once again stepping out and Williams finally stepping in once more to compose the film’s now iconic score.

* Having experienced great success with the “two films shot at once” paradigm of THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, producers the Salkinds & Pierre Spengler, as well as director Donner agreed to film SUPERMAN and it’s sequel SUPERMAN II (where the three imprisoned super villains from Krypton - lead by General Zod, come to earth to battle the Man of Steel) at the same time.  

*  While the relationship between Donner and the producers began positively, as production troubles mounted (among them the still as yet unresolved “flying effects” and an increasing budget), the two sides found themselves continually at hostile odds.  In order to provide a “go-between”, MUSKETEERS director Richard Lester was hired as an on set “consultant” to funnel messages between Donner and the Salkinds. Perceived by many (including cast and crew) as a looming threat over Donner’s head, Donner would politely but sternly inform Lester to “stay out my way“.   

* The original ending of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was not the “turning back the world” sequence, but was to be Superman hurling Lex Luthor’s atomic weapon (intended to destroy the California coastline) into space, and it's subsequent explosion setting free the imprisoned trio of Kryptonian terrorists - Gen. Zod, Non, and Ursa, who then come to earth to destroy Superman, the son of their jailer Jor-El (Marlon Brando).  As production ran over schedule and over budget however, it was decided to abandon the nearly completed filming of the sequel sequences, and to finish the first film as a complete entity unto itself.  If it proved successful, the plan was to then to go back and restructure/complete the second film.

*  Hence, the second film’s intended climax - the “turning back the world” sequence, was moved to the ending of the first film (after Superman destroys Luthor’s rockets); and the “freeing of the Kryptonian villains” scene moved to the beginning of the sequel film, SUPERMAN II (1980).

* SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE opened December 15, 1978 and quickly became Warner Bros. most successful release of all time, taking in over $300 million worldwide (at a time of $2.00 and below ticket prices).  It today holds an astounding aggregate 94% positive rating on Rotten, and is cited as the progenitor of current comic book movie successes such as THE DARK KNIGHT, X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, THE AVENGERS and others.  

* The Salkinds prepared a three hour plus presentation of the film for it’s debut network TV airing, consisting of 45 extra minutes of footage.  Designed to “squeeze more money out of network ABC” (as the broadcaster paid for the film per minutes of footage) it is largely considered a sloppy endeavor with erratic FX consistencies and poorly sequenced re-edits of John Williams' score into the “new” material.

* While SUPERMAN was a huge hit, the on set battles between director Donner and the Salkinds resulted in Donner not being invited back to finish SUPERMAN II.  The Salkind’s MUSKETEER’s helmer and SUPERMAN “go-between”, Richard Lester (THE BEATLES: HELP, JUGGERNAUT), was instead hired to film new footage for the follow-up, the bulk it consisting of the budding romance between Clark and Louis at the “Honeymoon Lodge“, and the climactic city-destroying showdown between Superman and the three Kryptonian villains.   

* In 2000, Warner Bros. (the Superman property no longer owned by the Salkinds) invited director Donner to supervise a restoration of his original film.  Keeping some of the “extra” TV footage, and excising a great deal more of it, he crafted what most fans and critics largely consider to be the best version of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.  In 2006 (timed to the home video release of Bryan Singer’s critically acclaimed reboot SUPERMAN RETURNS) Warner released a 14 disc set consisting of restored and remastered versions of all five SUPERMAN films, as well as the original 1940s Max Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoon serials, extensive documentaries, audio commentaries, and a newly reconstructed feature length version of Donner’s original intention for SUPERMAN II - the version climaxing with the original “turning back the world” sequence.  

* SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE was nominated for three 1978 Academy Awards, for Best Editing, Original Music Score, and Sound.  It received a Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects.  Donner was publicly outspoken in his disappointment that production designer John Barry (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, STAR WARS) and cinematographer Geoffrey Unworthy (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, TESS) failed to be nominated by the Academy.  

* SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE has made six AFI (American Film Institute) “Top 100” Lists: 100 YRS. - 100 HEROES AND VILLAINS,  100 YRS. - 100 SONGS (“Can You Read My Mind”),  100 YRS. - 100 MOVIE QUOTES,  100 YRS. - 100 FILMS SCORES,  100 YRS. - 100 CHEERS, and  AFI’s TOP 10 (Fantasy Films).


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