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Various: Adventures Of Superman/Original Television Sountrack

AAJ Staff By

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In early 1951, National comics gave Lippert Pictures, a Hollywood B-movie production company, the green light to film a one hour television pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman. It was decided that this pilot would be released theatrically, in the event that television (at the time in it's infancy) didn't take off. Producers Robert Maxwell and Barney Sarecky were brought in, along with director Lee Sholem, a script was approved, a film crew selected, and George Reeves and Phyllis Coates were cast as the man of steel and Lois Lane respectively. The film was shot in all of 12 days during the summer of 1951, at RKO- Pathe' studios in Culver City. Shortly after completion of the pilot, another 24 half-hour episodes were ordered, and Jack Larson, John Hamilton, and Robert Shayne were screened and cast as Jimmy Olson, Perry White, and Inspector Henderson, respectively. The pilot was released in November 1951, with the title Superman and the Mole Men. In late 1952, the 24 filmed episodes were broadcast on network televison, along with 2 episodes that were culled from the pilot.

These 26 episodes have been the subject of much discussion and interest, and have taken on a sort of mythic status among baby boomers who grew up watching them. Never before- or since- has a Superman venture had the same kind of emotional intensity and artistic impact as these "classic 26" did. Hardly kiddie fare, these episodes were dark, brooding crime dramas that depicted chilling accounts of murder and mayhem in Metropolis. Robert Maxwell, who had a penchant for the use of shadow and light, deliberately gave the show a dark and mysterious aura, creating what were essentially half-hour exercises in the classic genre: film noir. Perhaps even more startling than it's visual representation, The Adventures of Superman brought to television an incredibly deep and intense musical score: music that seemed to be right out of the manuscript books of Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg. This frighteningly surreal music- complete with whole-tone harmonies, 12-tone rows, Phrygian motifs, and laced with high powered percussive attacks and mysterious drones- has been the subject of much debate over the years as to it's origin, it's composer, and it's whereabouts; either in written or recorded form. It seemed that the answers to these questions had faded with time, and would forever go unanswered. Until now, that is.

Last month, Varese Sarabande released a CD entitled Adventures Of Superman: The Original Television Soundtrack ; a disc containing the theme and backround music of the series first season. Thanks to the efforts of producer Paul Mandell, who tracked down the original scores and recordings, as well as some of the actual composers and arrangers associated with them. Kudos also to music restoration engineer Graham Newton, who re-mixed and re-mastered the original analogue recordings from various sources into one aurally consistent program. As it turns out, the origins of these recordings are as fascinating as the music itself. Originally scored for low-budget "B" films of the late forties, these compositions were re-packaged by a company named Mutel, who then sold or rented the music to individual television producers for a minimal cost. Most of the pieces are only a few minutes in length, as they where "cued" in the recording studio, so they would fit into specific scenes in movies, and later, in television shows. Since virtually all the production companies got the material from the same source, the same backround music can be heard on any number of television shows in the early fifties. (as a matter of fact, this reviewer remembers as a child, being shocked when he heard Superman music on the show Rin Tin Tin !)

The task of finding just who was responsible for composing these works was somewhat problematic. The identities of the actual composers of this music were often conspicuously absent from the credits, and names written on the scores were often phony. The reason being that back in the fifties, the A.F. of M. had banned the use of "canned" music on television, which meant that punitive measures could be brought against any composer who sold his works for use on a television show. Fortunately, the detailed liner notes which accompany this CD attempt to answer many of the questions regarding the identities of these composers, who are finally getting some long overdue recognition for works they created over a half-century ago. So pop this one in your CD player, and sit back and take in the sounds of early fifties television. For those of you that heard this music as children, this disc will have a special significance: memories of when you paraded around your bedroom in your underwear, the proverbial red towel draped around your neck, jumping off the bed, and flying through the air to save Jimmy Olsen from Metropolis' rogue gallery of villains, just as George Reeves did every week, in the amazing Adventures of Superman.


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