In the first of a series of short pieces about some of the more important and entertaining films that are in the public domain, I take a look at the 17 pioneering Superman shorts made in the 1940s.
Superman is the world's best-known superhero – the star of countless comic books, TV series, films, and radio shows since his first appearance in Action Comics in 1938. His first on-screen adventures are not so familiar today, but had a tremendous impact not only on the Superman mythos but also on the history of animation.
In 1941, just a few years after the character's introduction, cinema audiences in the United States saw Superman on the big screen for the first time. Paramount Pictures intended to exploit the success of Superman comics, and tasked Fleischer Studios to create a series of one-reel animated films. Brothers Max and Dave Fleischer were pioneers of animation, seen by many as second only to Walt Disney. Despite their reluctance to take on a large project, the Superman cartoons became one of the most costly and accomplished works of the Golden Age of American animation.
The films added key elements to the concept of Superman – most notably Fleischer Studios gave the Man of Steel the ability to fly. The animation was cutting-edge, and even today these films have an amazing vitality. However, all was not well within the studio. The Fleischer brothers could no longer work together, and Paramount removed them and reorganised the company as Famous Pictures. Ultimately, 17 shorts were made and after 1942, Superman was uncomfortably pressed into war service – fighting not only monsters and robots but also Nazis and the Japanese.
Read my short reviews of each of the shorts, and find links to watch them all online, via my Letterboxd list. YouTube user kaptainkristian has made a superb video essay on these films titled "Superman - The Golden Age of Animation".
The 1940s Superman Cartoons: A Top 5
Sometime film reviewer, Letterboxd user, novice Blu-Ray collector. Top 3 directors: Woo, Hill, Leone.
Henry V (UK, 1989) ★★★★½
The Fast and the Furious (USA, 2001) ★★★★
Goodfellas (USA, 1990) ★★★★★
[All Letterboxd Reviews]