Review of Superman (1941)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Superman. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

“The Mad Scientist” (1941Moving picture, 10 minutes)

References here: Man of Steel (2013).

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“The Mechanical Monsters” (1941Moving picture, 11 minutes)

References here: “Aloha, Lupin” (1980).

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“Billion Dollar Limited” (1942Moving picture, 10 minutes)

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“The Arctic Giant” (1942Moving picture, 9 minutes)

References here: Godzilla (1954).

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“The Bulleteers” (1942Moving picture, 8 minutes)

As usual, the evil criminals are both extremely well funded and interested only in even more money, but there are crowd scenes, power infrastructure, rocketry and military intervention.

References here: “Eleventh Hour” (1942).

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“The Magnetic Telescope” (1942Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

For the first time in this series, the mad scientist seems to be interested in scientific discovery rather than crime. However, the writers had no such interest. In the opening scene, a horseshoe magnet atop an observatory (hence the title; adorably dumb idea) pulls a star out of the sky as a “flaming comet” that lands on Earth and does minor damage. It only gets worse after that, but Lois does kiss our hero on the lips.

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“Electric Earthquake” (1942Moving picture, 9 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A dignified native American mad scientist pressures the US into immediately restoring Manhattan for use by descendants of its pre-colonial settlers. He gives Lois Lane a tour of his doomsday device, controlling the earth he wants by shocking it with undersea cables.

A rich, ideologically ambiguous urban apocalypse, made after the London Blitz.

References here: Black Panther (2018).

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“Volcano” (1942Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

There’s no monster, the scientists are all sane, and Superman gets knocked out by a falling rock. Relatively mature writing and design work, with less of the Gernsback continuum.

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“Terror on the Midway” (1942Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Animal control at a circus midway, unrelated to the Battle of Midway fought two months before the film was released.

A welcome diversification of subject matter, with a beautiful shot from under the bleachers as panic erupts, but the angle on nature is pure spectacle. The animals are not apparently evil, but the giant ape represents an incongruent sexual threat to Lois as in King Kong (1933), and there is no sense that it may have been a bad idea to imprison the animals in the first place.

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“Japoteurs” (1942Moving picture, 9 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Japanese renegades masquerading as US patriots steal a new giant bomber by hiding inside its bombs.

Competently executed racist propaganda for US concentration camps.

References here: “Albatross: Wings of Death” (1980).

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“Showdown” (1942Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

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“Eleventh Hour” (1942Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Superman destroys Japanese infrastructure and war ships etc.

Shots of animation are reused from “The Bulleteers” (1942) but now describe preparations to kill Superman, not to stop robbers. This is a sign of something having gone wrong at the writing stage. In this short, he acts as if on the orders of the US goverment to fight the ongoing war. There is no opposing force that can touch him. Surprisingly, he did not manage to end the war in the real world, nor even in subsequent entries of the series.

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“Destruction Inc.” (1942Moving picture, 9 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Probably the least racist of the WW2 propaganda entries. The final scene is another twist on the unlikely pageantry of the franchise: Lois unmasks Superman, who’d been disguised as an old watchman at the munitions plant, but of course Lois thinks she’s unmasking Clark. Her evident gullibility is intended to be cute and probably sexy, in line with consistent references to her—a grown woman—as a “girl” throughout the series.

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“The Mummy Strikes” (1943Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Supernatural fantasy, curiously high on exposition and low on action.

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“Jungle Drums” (1943Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

A Nazi officer poses as a white-clad pagan priest in Africa.

Concentrated nonsense with relatively dull animation. Instead of the usual closing scene of Clark–Lois repartee, it’s Hitler listening to the radio and being sad.

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“The Underground World” (1943Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Like “The Mummy Strikes”, this hollow-earth adventure feels belated, simply combining Superman with some already-familiar motif drawn from the pulps, irrelevant to the core motif of smug superiority. Here, anthropomorphic animals also rear their ugly heads, and the final scene suggests a distastefully narcissistic grand conspiracy. As dumb as the core concepts of Superman are, dilution does not improve them.

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“Secret Agent” (1943Moving picture, 8 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

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