Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

Directed by Lee Sholem

Superman and the Mole Men is an independently made 1951 American black-and-white superhero film, produced by Barney A. Sarecky, directed by Lee Sholem, that stars George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. The film was released by Lippert Pictures Inc.

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The storyline concerns reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane arriving in the small town of Silsby to witness the drilling of the world’s deepest oil well. The drill, however, has penetrated the underground home of a race of small, bald humanoids who, out of curiosity, climb to the surface at night. They glow in the dark, which scares the local townfolk, who form a mob intent on killing the strange visitors. Only Superman can intervene to prevent a tragedy.

George Reeves is still THE Superman!

28 June 1999 | by Michael J. Hayde (Manassas VA) – See all my reviews

Considering it was shot in 11 days; considering its “special effects” are something less than primitive, George Reeves and this film still pack a Kryptonite-sized wallop.

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Mysterious Mole-Men emerge from “the world’s deepest oil well,” and scare the inhabitants of the nearby town of Silsby. Despite pleas for tolerance and patience, Superman must disarm the town and protect the aliens while hard-headed Luke Benson repeatedly tries to kill them.

FACTOID #1: Despite other accounts, this film was NOT a “pilot” for the eventual series. In fact, there WAS no pilot. The day after shooting wrapped, the company spent another 12 weeks shooting 24 half-hour episodes. The comic book company decided to include a feature film as part of the schedule, so they’d be sure to recoup their investment at the box office in case no one bought the series. Lucky for us, that didn’t come to pass.

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FACTOID #2: Although the two-part TV version, “Unknown People,” had been edited and packaged with the other 24 half-hours, it had to be withheld during the series’ original run. It had been produced in 1951, and SAG rules forbade films copyrighted after 9/48 to air on TV without residuals. Not until 1960, when the rules were revised, did “Unknown People” appear.

Reeves’ Debut as Man of Steel Still Timely…

Author: Ben Burgraff (cariart) from Las Vegas, Nevada
21 September 2003

In anticipation of the television series, ‘The Adventures of Superman’, this third ‘live-action’ Superman was the first ‘feature’ film (the previous entries had been serials). Replacing serial ‘King’ Kirk Alyn as the ‘Man of Steel’ was George Reeves, a gifted 37-year old actor who had been impressive in such ‘A’-list productions as ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘The Strawberry Blonde’, ‘Lydia’, and ‘So Proudly We Hail!’

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Returning from the war, however, his career, as was the case with so many other young actors, had stalled. Reduced to supporting roles, or leads in ‘B’ films and serials, ‘Superman and the Mole Men’ represented yet another minor film, but Reeves hoped the exposure from both film and television might jump-start his flagging career…

He little anticipated what impact Superman was about to have on his life!

A cautionary tale, with elements ‘lifted’ from ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, begins as miners drill the world’s deepest shaft, and break through to an underground world. Two of it’s inhabitants, bald, radioactive midgets, decide to secretly investigate our world. Doing a feature story on the well for the ‘Daily Planet’, reporters Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates, inheriting the role from the serials’ Noel Neill), and Clark Kent (Reeves), finds a town gripped with fear and prejudice, as an old man had suffered a heart attack after seeing the ‘visitors’.

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Despite pleas for tolerance, the residents arm themselves, and plan to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’, particularly after the ball of a little girl who sees them (and has an innocent encounter), has enough residual radioactivity to glow in the dark. Shots are fired, the aliens bring up their own weapons, and it’s up to Superman to ‘save the day’!

Reeves’ interpretation of ‘Clark Kent/Superman’ was far less jovial and buoyant than Alyn’s; decisive, serious, and nearly combative, this was a ‘Superman’ you didn’t mess with (the characterization would be toned down, for television).

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Square-jawed and more muscular (aided by a tee shirt with sewn-in shoulder pads, beneath the costume, to make him even more formidable-looking), the greatest variance between his interpretation and the comic books’ was in his ‘take’ on Clark Kent. Reeves gave the reporter courage and integrity, as opposed to the ‘meek, mild-mannered’ geek that readers were familiar with (and who would be revived by Christopher Reeve, 26 years later). While some critics complained that he made Kent and Superman’s personalities too similar, Reeves and the producers wisely realized that as budgetary restraints kept Superman’s presence in the movie (with the FX required to show his ‘super powers’) to a minimum (there aren’t ANY flying sequences in ‘Superman and the Mole Men, only cast comments…”Look, up in the sky”… and a close-up of his ‘catching’ a falling alien), Clark Kent would be on-screen more, ‘standing in’ for the Man of Steel. Kent ‘had’ to be stronger, to fill the void.

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Phyllis Coates was fabulous, as Lois Lane. No longer the serials’ air-headed girl reporter who kept getting into trouble, Coates’ Lois was strong, smart, and every bit Clark Kent’s equal. She redefined the role, and when Noel Neill returned to the part, on TV several years later, she had big shoes to fill!

Aided by an excellent supporting cast (including screen veterans Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, and J. Farrell MacDonald), ‘Superman and the Mole Men’, despite its small budget, offered excellent performances, and a theme of tolerance that still rings true, today.

With the success of the film, ‘Superman’ moved on to television…and history was about to be made!

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Good Fun

Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
10 August 2008

Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

*** (out of 4)

Reporters Clark Kent (George Reeves) and Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) are sent to Texas to do a story on an oil rig that has dug six feet into the ground but soon the big story becomes the mole men that have crawled out of the hole. I really wasn’t expecting too much at of this film but it turned out to be pretty entertaining in the same form that a lot of science fiction “B” movies are from this period. The most shocking thing is how good the story is. Sure, it only runs 58-minutes but there’s really no dry spells in the film, although I wish the mole men had more to do in the story besides be chased around. Superman also doesn’t get too much screen time but when he’s on he really shines especially one scene where he must disarm a group of men who want to kill the creature. Reeves is excellent in the roles of Kent and Superman and I loved his no nonsense way of handling everything. Coates was also very good in her role as is Jeff Corey as the nutty local who wants the creatures dead. He makes for a great villain and really delivers in each scene he’s in. The special effects are quite campy but they just add to the entertainment value of the film.

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Maybe It’s About Oil…

8/10
Author: flapdoodle64 from Portland, OR, United States
27 June 2008

‘Superman & the Mole Men,’ was filmed immediately prior to ‘The Adventures of Superman’ TAS) weekly TV series. This film was then released into theaters so as to insure that the producers recouped at least some of their investment in the TV show: at the time season 1 was filmed, there wasn’t a sponsor yet, and in fact it took 2 years before Kellogs Cereal Co. took on the role and the show was finally broadcast.

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‘Mole Men’ was filmed just 1 year after the movie serial ‘Atom Man Vs. Superman,’ but ‘Atom Man’ is so primitive by comparison that it could have been made 30 years prior.

Besides being enjoyable as an atmospheric and suspenseful B/W cold war scifi/horror pic (a la the original ‘The Thing’), this little film is interesting since it engages in a little social commentary. Almost without exception, TAS never touched any of the burning social issues (bigotry, war, pollution, etc.), but ‘Superman & the Mole Men’ is, very obviously an allegory about prejudice.

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This makes ‘Mole Men’ a kind of bridge between the Superman radio show, which, starting after WWII, did a long series of award-winning social message programs, directly addressing issues such as race prejudice, war-mongering, and social welfare, and TAS, which stayed completely clear of social relevancy.

(The Superman radio show, which ended in 1950, was produced by Bob Maxwell, who also produced the 1st season of TAS. I’ve never read anything that explained why TAS dropped the social relevancy of the radio show, but one could speculate it had something to do with the impact of various ‘witch hunts’ on the political and media spheres…)

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‘Superman & the Mole Men,’ is the story of about some funny-looking little men who emerge into view after the world’s deepest oil well is dug. The funny-looking men, who are not evil and whose world has been invaded by oil exploration, become victims of prejudice and eventually a mob forms with the intent of killing the funny-looking men. If you think about it, this might remind you of a contemporary real-life situation.

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