Combustible Celluloid Review - Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942 (1941), Seymour Kneitel, Izzy Sparber, Dave Fleischer, Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer, Julian Noa
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Jackson Beck, Jack Mercer, Julian Noa
Written by: Seymour Kneitel, Izzy Sparber
Directed by: Dave Fleischer
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English
Running Time: 170
Date: 09/25/1941

Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942 (1941)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Look! Up in the Sky!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

These seventeen Max and Dave Fleischer shorts still represent the very best of the Man of Steel; I would watch them before any of the movies. Their fluid animation and startling use of colors, shadows and textures make them easily a match for anything Disney has done.

The plots are roughly the same, with Lois Lane sneaking off into dangerous situations, looking for big scoops, and Superman rescuing her from mad scientists, giant robots, or other menaces. (Superman doesn't seem quite so invincible here; he really struggles during his battles.)

Unfortunately, these little masterworks -- with titles like "Underground World" and "The Mummy Strikes" -- were too expensive to produce and nearly bankrupted the brothers. The shorts have fallen into the public domain and are widely available on a series of cheap DVDs. Happily, in 2006, Warner Home Video restored them all for their Superman movie DVDs, and in 2009 they have been released in their own slim volume, for easier viewing and collecting.

The titles are: Superman (1941), Mechanical Monsters (1941), Electric Earthquake (1942), Billion Dollar Limited (1942), The Arctic Giant (1942), The Bulleteers (1942), The Magnetic Telescope (1942), Volcano (1942), Terror on the Midway (1942), Japoteurs (1942), Showdown (1942), Eleventh Hour (1942), Destruction Inc. (1942), The Mummy Strikes (1943), Jungle Drums (1943), Underground World (1943) and Secret Agent (1943).

Note: in 2023, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment released a new Blu-ray edition that promised 4K scans of the original negatives. I was not fortunate enough to receive a review copy myself, but many reviews have agreed that the process of cleaning scratches, dirt, and other debris from the scans resulted in an overly-scrubbed look that not only deleted the film grain, but softened the crispness of the images. If I get a chance to look at the discs myself, I'll update this review further.

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