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Sunday, March 10, 2013


Article by Rennie Cowan

At the end of World War II, Hollywood filmmakers poineered a controversial film style both dark and seductive in nature. French Film Critics named it Film Noir, as it is commonly called today. Film Noir if translated in English means "black film". In 1990, by the third season of the Superboy TV series, the title was changed from 'Superboy' to 'The Adventures of Superboy' and overall the location shooting switched from "day-life" adventures to numerous "night-life" adventures.

Lana and Superboy at night in Capitol City.

Some say Superboy actor/star Gerard Christopher encouraged the new look and it was done to capitalize on the success of the first 'Batman' film. Whatever the case, this was perhaps the most intelligent look in any Superman-related TV show and a great move by Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind.

Gerard Christopher shadowed in low-lighting, typical of Film Noir filmmaking.

The rich style of Film Noir gave Superboy a darker, more hostile environment to live in. Clark Kent (Gerard Christopher) and Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) were involved in a two-year internship with a paranormal agency (predating "The X-Files" concept by at least four years) and did most of their field work at night, submerging themselves in the "night-life" (where there were many "bar scenes") often of which included murder, dark alleys and a femme fatale (such as Neila in the episode 'Neila' which reflected the dark and sexy side of Film Noir, but obviously without revealing everything). Plus, forces beyond their control like werewolves, ghosts, and a life-force-eater ('Mindscape').

Neila became a femme fatale when she pretended to be a normal woman only to unleash the truth.

The stories that took place in this "night-life" reflected all the classical Film Noir elements; shadowed lighting, confusion, loneliness, insecurity and usually posed the popular question, why me? The answer provided--no reason at all! The main characters of the story, who were usually Superboy or Lana, found themselves in situations beyond their control again and again, and we don't exactly always know what is the cause for certain things happening.

Gerard Christopher facing Lex Luthor, disguising himself mysteriously with a trench coat (from the episode "Roads Not Taken" part 1).

'Roads Not Taken' Part I and II, 'Mindscape', and 'Into The Mystery' are excellent episodes that reveal examples of Film Noir and contain plots which consist of situations that are beyond the main character's control. In 'Carnival', one of the most interesting episodes of the series, we witness Clark's confusion about his identity (and place in this world) increase, almost to the point of spectacle. Clark and Lana investigate a travelling Carnival (The Deville Carnival) that seems to be connected with the disappearance of several missing persons. Lana sets out to take a look before him (typical of her aggressive character traits) and meets up with the owner of the Carnival himself. Like most of the 'The Adventures of Superboy' episodes, this one was filmmed at night and just like the episode 'Neila and the Beast', there is a "bar scene", typical of Film Noir. One must pay attention to the low lighting, shadows, music (by Superboy composer Kevin Kiner), and the wardrobe, which is very Post-World War II era-looking. Lana's wardrobe, in particular, seems to cloak her in mystery. Perhaps this was done to expose the shadowy, evil-like double of her as a femme fatale.

Lana had previously professed her suspicion of the carnival in the "bar scene" to Matt Ritter, a working associate. With some sly humor, Lana asks, "Do you ever wonder why Clark is always so late?" Matt replied that Clark probably just tries to put too much into his schedule. Immediately, the "bar scene" cuts to a chase scene and we see Superboy fly down and catch a typical criminal (it is hinted that he is a rapist). The rapist taunts Superboy into using force to stop him, raging that he will eventually get out of prison (making known a controversy that all criminals do in the American justice system) and just do it again. We see the anger on Superboy's face, and him juggling between temptation and truth, thus confused about his personal identity. But he resists and the criminal is taken into custody by a police officer. Clark eventually heads over to the carnival that night, searching for Lana and is tempted again, but this time by a midget who is sitting on top of a baseball dunk. Clark is called many funny names like "wimp" and so on, and for a moment, loses perspective of his Clark Kent persona (to be meek). Surely, many questions roamed through Clark's mind at that moment, like "Why am I pretending to be somebody I'm not?"--"Why am I taking this crap from people, when I'm really Superboy?". The Kevin Kiner music helps to intensify Clark's sudden confusion about his sudden distrust in himself and his own morality. Before he throws the baseball to prove his manhood, Clark resists, accepting his meek Clark Kent persona for the time being.

Lana and Superboy during a night scene.

Meanwhile, Lana is lured into The House of Mirrors by Deville, reflecting yet even more confusion. She finds a Box of Souls (pre-dating the 'Mortal Kombat' movie by at least 2 years). Clark is still wandering outside as a Palm Reader waves him over and inspects his palm. It seems she knows Clark is an orphan when she asks, "Do you know where you're from? Why you're here?" She further claims to have all the answers, and could reveal everything Clark had ever wanted to know about himself (like he was from another world). Clark is about to follow her into her tent until he hears Lana scream for help. Clark is drawn between the temptation of wanting to know his heritage or saving Lana, but he resists and changes into Superboy and flies into The House of Mirrors (NOTE: In this sequence, we see one of the most incredible flying shots of the series. Keep an eye out for it!). While Superboy is inside The House of Mirrors, his very own reflection is distorted, very telling of the overall 'tone' of 'The Adventures of Superboy' in general.

Eventually, Superboy breaks through a mirror and sees Lana in the clutches of the same rapist he had caught earlier that day! Superboy destroys the Box of Souls, and we see a stunning visual array of colorful souls zipping, flying and tearing past Superboy (once again, reminescent of the 'Mortal Kombat' movie), escaping a prison which probably had endured for centuries. Just when Superboy had thought it was over, Lana encourages Superboy to show pride in himself for once. "Say it for once?" She asks. "Say your proud?" Superboy thinks for a long moment, and realizing it must be another trick from the elusive villain he only smiles. "But pride is a sin." The reply is simple and easy. Deville laughs, though he knows he is defeated and the carnival disappears. Superboy and Lana are left standing on an open grassy valley (at night) with no apparent answers as to why all this happened to begin with.

Because of the dark, mysterious elements ingrained into the series during the 3rd and 4th seasons, the series ended on a pretty high note. It tied in nicely with the popular Gotham City atmosphere of the Tim Burton 'Batman' films so to speak. And of course, this worked very well in 'The Adventures of Superboy'. And it should be commended. Certainly, Alexander and Ilya Salkind's use of Film Noir gave the show a unique look that had never been done before in a Superman-related TV show (or possibly TV for that matter). The Film Noir style projected an obviously more serious and darker tone to the series. If you have not seen season 3 or 4, you are sorely missing out.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT THE FIRST SEASON: Many have often said that the first season of 'Superboy' (which starred John Haymes Newton , before Gerard Christopher took over the Superboy role) was very violent and sometimes scary, especially to viewers who originally saw the show in their early childhood. Not anywhere close to being shot in a traditional 'Film Noir' style, it should be briefly stated that the first season was indeed more violent than it's later Gerard Christopher episodes, in terms of gun shootings and storylines. In one first season episode, "Bringing Down The House", an insane musician (a rock star actually, Judd Faust) straps Lana to a torture device (to rip her arms off) for the sole purpose of recording her screams for his music. The later seasons are more advanced in terms of quality alone, but it is interesting to point out that the 1st season certainly has it's own dark feel; maybe more of a 'real world gloom' kind of feel. Even the music by Kevin Kiner was a bit more eerie during the 1st season.

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