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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Says America Like Superman, Baseball, and Sharkey The Seal?


Superman's Then-and-Now Flight Plan

Someone please define for me a modern day hit: The recent Man Of Steel has done $643 million as of 7/28 and this out of touch observer has no idea if that's good or a letdown. Now if Superman and The Mole Men had clocked $643M in 1951, then, yes, Lippert would have had a hit we'd still be reeling over. When does money pass the point of being meaningful? I just go numb at current numbers, movie grosses to me like government spending ... zeroes beyond capacity to grasp. Not caring factors in as well. I didn't see Man Of Steel and probably won't, that not a slam on the product, just indicator of curiosity gone dim for Superman. I'll admit having issues with the suit, and won't go more specific as to why (better informed sites can address that). What brought me roundabout to Man Of Steel was uncover of ads for opening of the 1948 serial with Kirk Alyn as woolly-clad hero that morphs into a cartoon of himself when taking flight. Just occurs to me: Is that sort of what they're still doing, only with keyboard instead of painted cels? Fake is fake: You can't make a man fly without wires, animation, or CGI. "You Will Believe ..." was beginning of a tag line for 1977's Superman --- do we believe any more now than then?


And now to the Congress Theatre, circa 1948. Serials were a staple, but none had generated excitement of Superman the serial. He'd been in cartoons, really fine ones by Max Fleischer, but those had played out several years before. This was the comic hero's first sustained appearance in live action. Men had flown on screen, most notably Captain Marvel, but here was a brand name, cultivated almost a decade by funny books, anticipation higher for his flesh/blood debut than for any comic character so far put to film. I submit these Congress ads because they represent a biggest noise for a serial that I've seen outside of the silent era (chapter-plays were huge during teens/twenties, and promoted accordingly). Johnny Mack Brown and an ancient Frank Buck (Bring 'Em Back Alive a 1932 release) were junior mints beside an event like Superman. Further comment re the serial isn't needed, most considering it a dog --- beyond trailers and clips, I've never watched. Should I? A brief nod to Sunday vaudeville at the Congress: Yes, there was apparently a trained seal named Sharkey (see above), so who said vaudeville was dead? Baseball star Ralph Branca is still with us (age 87). Would he recall tunes he pitched at the Congress in addition to signatures left on "baseballs, books," etc. It certainly wasn't unusual for sport luminaries to travel vaude circuits during earlier century heyday; interesting to find one like Branca still doing so as late as 1948, and performing on stage in addition to personal appearing.

8 Comments:

Blogger James Abbott said...

You are not missing anything by giving Man of Steel a pass. I wrote about it here in my blog, if you're interested: http://thejadesphinx.blogspot.com/2013/07/its-turd-its-pain-its-man-of-steel.html

12:44 PM  
Blogger reprobates said...

The first Superman Serial is allright for a post-James W. Horne Columbia Serial, better is the second one, ATOM MAN VS SUPERMAN, which benefits greatly from a vastly more entertaining villain in Lyle Talbot. Kirk Alyn is no George Reeves, but I've never had a problem with him in the role, but having never been a great comic book fan, nor a great fan of comic book movies or recent movies in general (hence not even knowing about MAN OF STEEL until your mention of it), I can't say I was particularly concerned about Alyns portrayal.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Sharkey the seal was featured in Abbott & Costello's Pardon My Sarong. You may recall the A & C blooper reel where Sharkey gives Lou a hard time, and Lou's blubbery character "Wellington" turns into salty, "get the hell outa here" Costello!

Nice to see Bring 'Em Back Alive making a comeback in '48. I'm surprised RKO could swing it, given that the film was originally a Van Beuren production for RKO release. Most of the Van Beuren library had passed to other hands after 1937.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Must admit. My favorite film seal was Sammy. He was 'way out."

Sorry Sharkey.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

I saw the Kirk Alyn serial as a kid in the '50s, when George Reeves was still playing Superman on TV. Haven't seen it since then, but I remember liking it well enough at the time (though I did feel cheated by the cartoon flying).

As for Man of Steel...well, John, I couldn't consider myself your friend if I didn't tell you to run, don't walk, as fast as you can away from any theater playing this stinker! James Abbott nails it with surgical precision (truth to tell, he had me at his title). I didn't do it half so well, but for the record, my take is here.

5:14 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

MAN OF STEEL has dropped like lead in water in its box office.

Unfortunately that will be attributed not to the film but to SUPERMAN.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

Reg: I think (hope?) it may be the other way around: the $643 million will be attributed to Superman, the leaden drop to Man of Steel's word of mouth.

12:51 AM  
Blogger Paul Duca said...

I didn't know that Ralph Branca could carry a tune, as well. I bet you didn't know that he was also a 20-game winner on CONCENTRATION, and competed in the show's first "Tournament of Champions" in 1963. This public appearance was three years before the moment that Branca had the moment that made him immortal/infamous...throwing the pitch that Bobby Thompson turned into "The Shot Heard 'Round the World", winning the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants over the Dodgers.


Paul Duca

6:05 PM  

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