It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the 70th anniversary of the Superman serial starring Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill! Following the 80th anniversary celebration of the Man of Steel this past April you may think you know all there is to know about the iconic character. But how much do you know about the first live-action appearance of Superman on film?
Based on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s comic book creation, this 15-part black-and-white Columbia film serial was released on July 15, 1948. The serial was directed by Thomas Carr, who went on to direct many early episodes of the TV show Adventures of Superman, and Spencer Gordon Bennet, along with producer Sam Katzman. Writers on the multi-part project included Lewis Clay, Royal K. Cole, Arthur Hoerl, George H. Plympton, and Joseph F. Poland, while music was provided by Russian composer Mischa Bakaleinikoff.
An uncredited Kirk Alyn stars as Superman alongside Noel Neill as Lois Lane. Closely following the comic origin story, this serial sees Superman sent to Earth by his parents on Krypton. Raised as Clark Kent, the powerful hero eventually heads to Metropolis to assist those in need. While leading a double life as a staff writer at the Daily Planet, whenever emergencies arise he quickly responds in his true identity as Superman. This first serial revolves around the nefarious plot of the villainous Spider Lady. Alyn and Neill reprised their roles for the second live-action Superman serial, Atom Man vs. Superman, the following year.
Additional cast included Pierre Watkin as Perry White, Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen, Carol Forman as Spider Lady, Herbert Rawlinson as Dr. Graham, Forrest Taylor as Professor Arnold Leeds, Nelson Leigh as Jor-El, Luana Walters as Lara, Edward Cassidy as Eben Kent, and Virginia Caroll as Martha Kent. Despite being a live-action serial, the small production budget led to the in-flight sequences with Superman being animated. In order to help hide the mix of animated and live-action footage, Superman's landings almost always occur behind objects.
Considered a “tremendous financial success,” Superman also contributed to Alyn becoming famous and launched Neill's decades-long career. In 1987, the Superman serial was made available on VHS as a double tape box set, before being officially released on DVD by Warner Home Video, along with its sequel Atom Man vs. Superman, in 2006.
Today, Superman has made appearances in countless animated cartoons, live-action series, video games, as well as various feature-length films. While several actors have had the privilege of bringing the Man of Steel to life over the decades, Kirk Alyn’s live-action film debut as Superman remains a favorite among fans. You know what they say, you never forget your first.