Directed By: Richard Donner
Starring: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve
Tag line: "You'll believe a man can fly"
Trivia: For his portrayal of Clark Kent, Christopher Reeve based the performance on Cary Grant's character in Bringing Up Baby
With all due respect to George Reeves, Brandon Routh, and Henry Cavill (who was solid in the Showtime series, The Tudors, where he played Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk), there is only one Superman, and that’s Christopher Reeve.
Directed by Richard Donner, 1978’s Superman takes us back to the beginning, when Jor-el (Marlon Brando), certain that his home planet of Krypton was facing imminent destruction, loaded his infant son into a crystal spaceship and sent him hurtling towards Earth. There, the boy was adopted by John (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter), who gave him the name “Clark”, and, despite his incredible strength and agility, raised him to be a model citizen. As an adult, Clark (Reeve) makes his way to Metropolis, where he gets a job as a reporter with the Daily Planet, working alongside journalist Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Convinced he’s on earth for a reason, Clark also spends a great deal of time as his alter-ego, Superman, patrolling the city to keep its citizens safe. But when arch-criminal Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) unleashes his evil plan to destroy the U.S. West Coast, Superman springs into action, working quickly to save the lives of millions of innocent people.
Physically, Reeve, with his square jaw and clean-cut features, was the perfect Superman, yet, aside from looking the part, he also brought the right balance of strength and humility to the character. He’s convincing in the action scenes (late in the movie, there’s a tremendous sequence where he saves a train that’s about to derail), and when, during his dinner date with Lois Lane, he tells her “I never lie”, we believe him. We even catch a glimpse of what happen when Superman is pushed to his breaking point (without going into spoilers, there’s a moment towards the end of the film where Superman lets out an angry cry, which, in all honesty, scared the shit out of me when I was a kid). Reeve gave a number of good performances throughout his career; he was excellent in Sidney Lumet’s underrated 1982 movie, Deathtrap, and was perhaps the best thing about the incredibly sappy Somewhere in Time. But, as he proves over and over again during the course of this film, Superman was the role he was born to play.
From start to finish, Superman is a terrific motion picture. Its rousing score is one of composer John Williams' best works, and John Barry's production design is extraordinary (Krypton is depicted as an advanced civilization existing in the ice and snow, a look that’s repeated later in the movie when Superman “finds” his fortress of solitude). As for the supporting characters, Hackman is both menacing and hilarious as Lex Luthor, and Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is wonderfully persistent. I even love the design of the film’s opening credits. But when I think of Superman, the image that immediately pops into my head is that of Christopher Reeve, flying through the air. He made this bigger-than-life character his own, and for an entire generation of kids, he was, and always will be, Superman.