It was hard not to be a comic book kid in growing up in the ‘70s. The Bronze Age was in full swing, with great artists and great writers turning out memorable stories with iconic characters from Stan’s House of Ideas and of course at the Distinguished Competition. The Mego Corporation brought those four color characters into three dimensions with its World’s Greatest Super-Heroes line of action figures. The Super Friends fought for Truth and Justice every Saturday morning on ABC, and if live action heroes were your poison, CBS brought you Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, and Spider-Man in prime time. But nothing would compare to the grandeur, to the splendor, to the majesty that was SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this month, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE is the granddaddy of the modern superhero film, with artistic and financial success that proved that not only could a man fly, but an entire genre. Produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, directed by Richard Donner, starring Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, and introducing the world to the remarkable Christopher Reeve in the title role, the film debuted in the United States on December 15, 1978, and would be one of the most memorable movie-going experiences of my childhood.
Unlike today when a film is released nationwide in thousands of theater screens, makes its money within a few weeks, and then heads to home video release, in the late 1970s, successful movies could remain in theaters for months – even years – playing to repeat audiences again and again. My trip to see SUPERMAN happened sometime in early 1979 on a trip with my grandparents to visit relatives out of state. I grew up in a small town in rural Kentucky that didn’t have a movie theater (and still doesn’t), so a trip to the movies for me meant at least a trip to a nearby town. This was special – one of my grandparents’ regular vacations to Dayton, Ohio to visit my aunt and her family. On this particular trip, I was in for a treat – knowing that my playtime world revolved around all things superheroes, my aunt and grandmother decided to take me to see SUPERMAN. What more could a five-going-on-six year old want out of life?
If I ever knew the name of the theater, its long been forgotten, but what I do remember is that it seemed big and elaborate, and as we took our seats near an aisle for a nighttime showing, I remember that the theater seemed full of enthusiastic people who busied themselves chatting and munching on popcorn and snacks. There was an excitement and an anticipation – or maybe that was just me? I know I was excited. And then something unexpected happened. From a side door at the front of the auditorium, a man emerged. He was dressed in a mask and prison stripes, like a cartoon convict out of Central Casting. In one hand, he had a loot bag (did it have a dollar sign on it, or did my imagination fill that in?), and in the other, he waved around a gun. He drew the audience’s attention by saying in a loud voice “OKAY, LADIES AND GENTS! THIS IS A STICK-UP! EVERYBODY PUT YOUR JEWELS AND VALUABLES IN THE BAG AND NOBODY GETS HURT!” What was happening here? I certainly didn’t know, and while the other people in the audience seemed confused, no one seemed scared or upset.
Then, suddenly, that same side door that the hold-up man had emerged from burst open, and standing in the door was SUPERMAN! I eyes nearly popped out of my head. I couldn’t believe it. In a flash, Superman was on our would-be robber, grabbing him around the waist, throwing him over his shoulder, and racing down the aisle and out a door at the back of the theater. It was over in a matter of seconds, and the audience ROARED with cheers, laughter, and applause. We came to be entertained by Superman, and before the movie had even started, the Metropolis Marvel – the Last Son of Krypton – the Protector of Truth, Justice, and the American Way – had swept in and saved the day. As the audience started to settle down, the houselights dimmed, and the movie began to play on the big white screen in front of us. What a way to kick off a night at the movies!
[Via] Flashback FM
A lot has changed in the forty or so years since that night. The world seems less simple and more dangerous and unpredictable. Movie theaters have sometimes become the scenes of terrible crimes that hurt a lot of people. What happened in that theater in early 1979 could never happen today, and in its way, that’s a shame, because for this boy, it made a memory that’s lasted a lifetime. And the movie was good too! So sometime during this bleak December, treat yourself to a holiday from the worries of 2018, find your copy on DVD or blu-ray, or track it down on a streaming service, cozy up in your favorite spot, and let Christopher Reeve take you on journey back to 1978, when SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE will once again make you believe that a man can fly. You might even believe you can fly too.
While we are talking about 1978’s SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, why not check out this interview with the Retroist’s Uncle Maffy and Richard Donner?
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