Superman: The 15 Chapter Serial

Superman: The 15 Chapter Serial was a 1948 15-part black-and-white movie serial starring Kirk Alyn as Superman and Noel Neill as Lois Lane. It is notable as the first appearance of Superman on film and for the longevity of its distribution. The serial was produced by Columbia Pictures, directed by Tommy Carr (who later directed many early episodes of the Superman television show) and Spencer Gordon Bennet, produced by Sam Katzman and shot in and around Los Angeles, California. The series was originally screened at movie matinées and after the first three scene-setting episodes, every episode ends in a cliffhanger. The Superman-in-flight scenes are animations, in part due to the small production budget. A peculiar characteristic of the mix of animated and live-action footage is that Superman's take-offs are almost always visible in the foreground, while his landings almost always occur behind objects, such as parked cars, rocks, and buildings. The reason for this difference should be obvious: It was easier to shift from live footage of Kirk Alyn starting to take off to animated footage than it was to shift from an animated landing to live footage of the actor. As a consequence of the need to hide Superman's landings, Superman frequently lands at some distance from where he wants to be and must run to get there.

Budget limitations also dictated the frequent reuse of film footage, especially scenes of Superman flying. For example, one sequence showing Superman flying over a rocky hill (shot in the hills of Chatsworth in Southern California's San Fernando Valley) was used at least once in almost every episode of the first serial. However, while the reuse of the same footage is difficult for anyone watching successive episodes to ignore, it was much less noticeable to the original theater audiences, who saw only one episode each week.

The serial was a popular success that made Kirk Alyn famous and launched Noel Neill's career. It begins with Superman's being sent to Earth by his parents as the planet Krypton blows up and shows him being raised as Clark Kent by a farm couple. After his foster parents die, Clark goes to Metropolis and joins the staff of the Daily Planet in order to be close to the news, so that as emergencies happen, he can respond in the guise of Superman. This first serial revolves around the nefarious plot of a villain who calls herself the Spider Lady. It spawned a follow-up, Atom Man vs. Superman, also directed by Bennet.