Director: Max Fleischer
This week it was Michael’s turn to choose our film. As we settled in to the couch, Ruthie informed us that the cheese this week is from Safeway, not her usual Costco plate (Safeway was better than our usual Cosco fare).
You never know what Michael will bring as his selection for movie night. We were promised a four hour “superhero-esque” extravaganza, but it seems the formatting of the series was PAL and wouldn’t run on Ruthie’s player.
Instead, we were treated to six episodes of Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons. Production for these short films ranged from 1941 – 1943. Each episode runs roughly 7 – 10 minutes in length and the stories follow a fairly straightforward formula. The villains are not Superman’s usual enemies, but robots, gangsters, Nazis, and the entire Japanese army!
Wanting to make these episodes as realistic as possible, Fleischer used rotoscoping to imitate live-action movement. Superman’s voice was acted by the same guy who did the Superman radio show — I love how his voice marks the transition from Clark Kent to Superman with “this looks like a job for <insert deep Super-voice here> Superman!”
Ruthie insisted that we watch the “really racist” episode, where superman single handedly befuddles the entire Japanese army. Clark Kent and Lois Lane are in some vague faraway place working on a news story. Each night, Superman sneaks out and terrorizes the Japanese army by destroying battleships, tankers, and fortresses. By today’s standards, it’s pretty offensive. In the WWII world when it was created, it makes a perfect American propaganda piece. Note that Max Fleischer had quit the project when the Superman propaganda pieces were made.
The shorts were fun and incredibly well made. Superman is especially fond of saving golden art deco buildings and the villains are shrouded in shadows. Lois Lane is pretty irritating as a character (also voiced by the same actor who did her for the radio serial), but we’re not talking deep character development here.
The “Mechanical Monsters” Superman episode was the inspiration for “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (2004) and I’m fairly certain that the Superman version was much more interesting than the Angelina Jolie movie.