Sometime during the roll-out of SUPERMAN/’78, its slippery international producers finagled just enough cast and crew changes to cut costs and nip off a few unwanted profit participants. Notable amongst the missing were original director Richard Donner (replaced by Richard Lester) and Marlon Brando as a holographic SUPERDAD. New scenes and a new edit emphasized a coarser, goosiey tone, which upset the first film’s careful balance of comic book fun and gravitas. Twenty-six years later, director Donner got the chance, via producer Michael Thau, to revisit the footage and work up a semblance of his lost cut. But even with all the changes, the film still completely misses the first film’s careful balance of comic book fun and gravitas. Not that the original SUPERMAN was ever much of a classic. What it did have was a perfectly cast Christopher Reeve as Superman, and a masterful segment after the prologue, where lenser Geoffrey Unsworth spun real gold out of Superman’s Mid-Western teen years in the golden wheat farmland of foster dad Glenn Ford. Nothing comes close to that here, trading epic storylines for sloppy construction & the jokey style of a late Roger Moore James Bond pic. Except . . . except for one rather magical moment, culled from the screen test of Margot Kidder (dreadful elsewhere) and Christopher Reeve. It’s a Clark Kent/Superman ‘reveal’ scene and it’s impossible to miss the fresh, open playing they bring to Superman & Lois Lane here. Reeve, with more normal glasses & more normal hair then in the finished film, is also less beefed up, with a bit of becoming geeky, gauntness to his face. The difference is revelatory. Where did these youngsters disappear to as the grind of shooting wore on and on?
READ ALL ABOUT IT: The best part of Tom Mankewicz’s memoir, MY LIFE AS A MANKIEWICZ, who largely rewrote both SUPERMAN pics, is all about the production of these and how the sequel was taken away from Donner and reshot for contractual reasons, weakening the film, but strengthening the positions of wheeler-dealer producers Salkinds. The book came out after Mankiewicz died which may account for its unfiltered take on the whole mess. Just be wary of any Hollywood tales in the book he didn’t personally participate in.