A bonus feature in some of the various Superman DVD and BluRay box sets, the Superman 50th Anniversary Special is kind of must-see Superman TV from an era when adults were all kind of patronizing jerks about Superman. Except for Hal Holbrook.
I recall Superman's 50th Anniversary mostly thanks to the terrific Time Magazine cover on a week during which nothing else must have been happening in the world.
What's most amazing about the special is the amazing array of talent that was known at the time, and the talent that shows up in supporting roles.
The show is presented as a sort of retrospective on the career of Superman as if he were real and Dana Carvey is your celebrity host for the walkthrough of Superman's life. There are man-on-the-street interviews cut in, which seem as if they really asked people questions about Superman and used what they said. It's pretty good stuff. Others are clearly actors, and there are some sort of mini-skits thrown in for good measure, along with footage from cartoons, serials, The Adventures of Superman and the Superman movies.
Frankly, I sort of think Dana Carvey is a wee bit condescending and not too into his role as host, but this was Carvey at the height of his powers, no doubt certain this was just a favor for producer Lorne Michaels as he was off to movie fame and fortune.
The show intentionally uses big names like Hal Holbrook, Peter Boyle, the then-rising-star Ellen Greene, and others like Brian Doyle-Murray. But you also get Ralph Nader, Lou Reed and comic artist and writer John Byrne. It also features Jan Hooks in a typically brilliant Jan Hooks part as a woman who believes her son is the love child of Superman, Al Franken as a badly-dressed, off-brand superhero, and folks who are often off camera like Carol Leifer and Robert Smigel.
I was personally tickled to see Marcia Gay Harden show up in a skit well before she was a known actor, and Bruce McCullough of Kids in the Hall (and who I once spotted in San Francisco) in a lineless role as a clerk in a store selling lead-lined items for Metropolis crooks.
Of course we also get Kirk Alyn, Chris Reeve, and Noel Neill playing Lois' mother to perfection.
The tone of the show is light and fun, giving a TV audience a Saturday night hour of infotainment about Superman's history. Only during one scene with Hal Holbrook, who spoofs his own one-man show where he played Mark Twain as he's doing a one-man show about Superman and is interviewed in a union suit and cape - during that scene Holbrook goes a little melancholy, pondering the loneliness of Superman.
And then we're back to Dana Carvey yukking it up again.*
Anyway, if you get a chance, it's worth catching. Smigel is hilarious as Brainwave.
I guess we're not getting anything like this for the 75th anniversary...?
*I was never a huge fan
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