It’s a long title, but it’s the Fleischer Superman shorts from the early 1940s, and the Famous Studio shorts that followed them.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Originally contracted to the Fleischer studios under Max and Dave, these eventually ended up under the Famous Studios label with an assortment of other talent.

This DVD release includes all 17 of the short films created from 1941 to 1943. Specifically, they (and the IMDB links for them) are Superman, The Mechanical Monsters, Billion Dollar Limited, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano, Terror On The Midway, Japoteurs, Showdown, The Eleventh Hour, Destruction Inc., The Mummy Strikes, Jungle Drums, The Underground World, and Secret Agent.

Premise

These 17 shorts show Superman as he was in the 1940s. There is no heat vision. There is no X-Ray vision. He can’t even fly. He was raised in an orphanage, and not by Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Earth’s yellow sun has nothing to do with his abilities. In the first nine cartoons, he fights mad scientists and natural disasters. In the last eight, he spends most of his time dealing with the Axis powers, having been turned into a wartime U.S. propoganda machine.

Incidentally, the total budget for these two and a half hours of entertainment created in 1941 through 1943 was 5.3 million dollars. (Note: This is according to the DVD collection here. The IMDB has a smaller budget listed.) The expensive epic “Gone With The Wind” only cost 3.9 million.

High Point

Superman, the pilot episode, just captures the character so well, and introduces things like “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” and “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” that I just have to pick that as the best of the set.

Low Point

The transformation into propaganda. Yeah, it was war, but there was nothing subtle about the messages being sent.

The Scores

Superpowered superheros were still somewhat new and original at the time these were made. The amount of influence they had over the character and his public perception were considerable, as well. Still, it was an adaptation, and the second half became pretty standard “Japanese and Nazis are bad” wartime trite. I give it 4 out of 6.

The animation was very well done. It was smooth, realistic in all but the falling building in the first short, and extremely well colored to indicate mood and lighting conditions in ways Warner and Disney just didn’t do. I give it 5 out of 6.

The stories were pretty simple, but when the longest is runs just over ten minutes (10:22), you can’t expect much else. I give it 4 out of 6, hampered by the predictability, particularly of the
post-Fleischer set.

The voice acting was fairly well done. Budd Collyer and Joan Alexander played Superman and Lois convincingly enough, even if they didn’t have a large range of emotions scripted for them to really set themselves apart. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response was pretty good. We never saw much of Clark’s personal life, but that’s not what we’d have been looking for at the time. These show Superman in all of his iconic action, saving the day with his amazing abilities. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production was excellent. These guys had a huge amount of money to put these together, and they put it all on screen. Each cartoon features multiple locations, new characters, new footage, and a great, unique look. My only serious complaint about the films themselves was the tedium of hearing the same thirty seconds of music looping over and over again through these cartoons. They could have at least paid for some slightly different arrangements. As for the presentation, these look like they began as a meticulous transfer to VHS that was then shoddily transferred to DVD. The continual remarks of releasing these for the 50th anniversary of the shorts, which was 1991, contribute to this impression greatly. Given the price of the DVD, though, they look better than I honestly expected. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, these are recommended to any fan of Superman and/or animation. They are a landmark in the evolution of either area, and this particular DVD release is dirt cheap. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, The Complete Superman Diamond Anniversary Collection receives 32 out of 42.