Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)
Rating: *** out of 4
(image courtesy of supermantv.net)
“It’s men like you who make it difficult for people to understand one another.” – Superman to the violent and prejudiced Benson.
Cast: George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, and J. Farrell Macdonald.
Writer: Richard Fielding
Director: Lee Sholem
Superman made his first bound to the big screen with this “Red Scare” era pseudo-monster movie, and the end result is a very fine piece of work. Sure you can see the zipper on the costumes of the Mole-Men (especially leading up to the shed burning scene), and, sure they do some terrible day-for-night shots that rival those of Ed Wood, but at the end of the day, the film really works. It is exciting, and relatively textured.
The film finds Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, covering some strange happenings in the town of Silsby, home of the world’s deepest oil well (over 32,000 feet down). Upon investigation, Lois and Clark discover that the workers at the site stopped digging once they broke through to the Earth’s center where terrifying Mole-Men dwell.
Like many early monster movies, the monsters here are simply misunderstood creatures and the real monster is man. This is a similar theme in Frankenstein (1931), which has an obviously strong influence on the structure of this film and even reflects several similar scenes. Both films have the innocent eyes of children befriending the monsters and seeing the goodness of these strange beings, yet all the adults see the creatures as abominations that are a clear threat and need to be destroyed. In both films, the citizens unite into lynch mobs and hunt down the creatures. And, in both films the crazed mob corners and attempts to burn the creature out of hiding.
The real difference here is the inclusion of Superman, who sympathizes with the Mole-Men as he too is a being from another world whom the people don’t understand. The mob goes so far as to threaten to lynch Superman for defending the small creatures. The use of violence in this film impressed me. The Mole-Men are not seen inflicting violence on others until the final moments of the film, and Superman uses words instead of violence to combat his foes. In fact, the only characters that are seen acting violently are the town folk of Silsby. This helped drive home the message that the intolerance of man is harmful in the face of the unknown.
I was also impressed with some of the simple touches that aided the audience in sympathizing with the Mole-Men. During the scene when the mob is chasing one of the Mole-Men down, the Mole-Man manages to create a fair distance between himself and his would-be dispatchers. In that moment, the exhausted little guy collapses into a mound of dirt and clutches his chest trying to steady his breath. It is a completely throw-away moment, but it elevates how you feel for the creature so much.
This is partially why I was a little disappointed to see the Mole-Men turn violent towards the end of the film and pull a ray-gun (or cleverly disguised vacuum?) on the mob leader Benson. I guess that was kind of the point though, wasn’t it? Everyone has a limit of how much they can take before they lash out. Perhaps this was delving into social commentary about how some persecuted groups (particularly in the time this film was made) turn to violence, almost as if to say, ‘if you want me to be a monster, then I will be a monster.’
That said, the way the little Mole-Men use their gun is unbelievably super adorable!!! One has the ray-gun strapped to his back and bends over, while the other aims it in the direction of the victim.
The performances here are pretty solid. I like how Reeves plays Superman. He shares a quality with Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. He plays Superman more like a teacher who is educating a group of unruly students. That is the essence of this incarnation of Superman. He is an educator. He is here to show man how to behave, and guide humanity towards equality and understanding one another despite differences.
Overall, this is a strong B movie. It works because it has something to say. You just have to be willing to overlook some of the budgetary issues and embrace the cheese.