RIP Margot Kidder: A Superman Reminiscence

Margot Kidder died earlier this week, and now all of the stars of Superman: The Movie are gone except for Gene Hackman. And that definitely left me feeling a bit sad.

It’s funny, a month or so back an online debate about which was the better Superman movie—Superman Returns or Man of Steel—inspired me to start writing a blog about those two movies.

While writing that I ended up diverging and writing about Superman: The Movie, a movie that I love unabashedly and yet, still have major problems with.

I’m still working on that one, but it seems more fitting to post some more positive reminiscences of the Christopher Reeve-Margot Kidder Superman films.

It’s hard to quantify the effect these films had on me as a kid

Superman: The Movie and Superman II came out when I was still a toddler, not really able to read yet, so I wasn’t reading comics yet. And who knows when I first saw them, or if I ever even saw them in full, in that time period.

What I do know is that I had Superman wallpaper in my room (which I only vaguely recall, but I think was a montage of Superman in various poses), a Christopher Reeve Superman poster (pulling the shirt open while running) and—I think!—a Superman comforter or perhaps sleeping bag on my bed.

I had Star Wars toys—and later G.I. Joes and Transformers—but Superman owned the decor. It’s no stretch to suggest that’s where my love of superheroes began.

This scene is perfect

I posted this on Twitter the other day but allow me to expand on it further (which gives me an excuse to watch it 120 more times).

I called it the single greatest moment in any superhero movie, and while I may have been using typical Twitter-fuelled hyperbole in the moment, I actually think it’s true. The “I’ve got you” exchange is the moment, but honestly, the whole sequence, from the moment where Clark realizes he’s needed, all the way up to when he catches Lois and then the helicopter (and even when he sets everything down and says “this man needs medical attention” in the most Superman way ever), it literally is the super-hero comic come to life. And the John Williams score? The chef’s kiss!

There had never been anything quite like it on the screen, and that “hero sees danger, changes into costume and rushes off to save the day” (not to mention the following superhero doing superhero things montage) has been duplicated in dozens of super-hero movies since.

(Excuse me while I go and watch it again.)

Superman II‘s Niagara Falls scene always hit home

Again, I don’t remember the first time I saw it, but I know that, as a kid, that scene struck me with its familiarity. I had been there! Half my family lived in Niagara Falls, Ontario! The thought that Superman might come to Canada was amazing. (Oh, and also, the thought of falling off of Niagara Falls was legitimately terrifying to my young mind.)

Talking about it now also gives me the excuse to share this wonderful photo from the Niagara Falls Public Library:

RIP Margot Kidder: Kidder and Christopher Reeve on location in Niagara Falls

Finding out years later that not only was Margot Kidder Canadian, but one of Superman’s co-creators, Joe Shuster, was also Canadian, were wonderful little bonuses. That Superman Heritage Minute was also a memorable piece of Superman Canadiana!

The Chemistry Between Reeve and Kidder Fascinates Me

To this day I still love the way the actors played their roles against one another. Reeve’s performance was the more “obvious” of the two; he plays Clark and Superman differently, of course, from the slouching and stuttering to even the pitch of his voice.

But watch the way Kidder plays Lois against Clark and against Superman. It’s not just that she’s romantically interested in one and not the other; she exudes way more confidence around Clark, as she’s the veteran reporter to his rookie, and she’s clearly the “alpha dog” anytime the two of them are around other people. She borders on rude to Clark, but I don’t think that’s fully it; it’s more of a, “this is a puppy who’s learning to run and it’s cute and all, but I don’t have time to hold his hand” air. It’s also very clear in these scenes that she’s older than Clark (Kidder was four years’ Reeve’s senior).

RIP Margot Kidder: Kidder and Christopher Reeve on set

Meanwhile, she’s nervous and fidgety around Superman; even when her reporter instincts kick in and she gets a chance to interview him, she’s consistently disarmed by his gentleness and earnestness. (Here, she seems like the younger of the two.) And then when he finally turns on the charm full blast, she just melts.

Neither Reeve nor Kidder are great actors, but they really do give perfect performances in Superman: The Movie.

Reeve’s appearance in Smallville gave me goosebumps

It’s a shame that Kidder and Reeve didn’t have the opportunity to appear together on Smallville (that was apparently the intention, but Reeve passed away before the scenes could be filmed). I still remember when Reeve appeared on that show—when he turns around in his wheelchair, and the John Williams Superman theme quietly comes up in the background… that’s one of those moments you just don’t forget. Chills.

I have to give major props to Warner Bros. and the producers of the various Superman projects over the years, for continually bringing back past Superman actors in small roles (or even big roles, like Annette O’Toole). I think Superman: The Movie was the first project to do this, with Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill (Superman and Lois from 1948’s Superman) appearing as a young Lois Lane’s parents. It continues to this day, as Mark McClure (Jimmy Olsen in Superman: The Movie) appears as a police officer in Justice League. It’s a wonderful way to pay homage to the long list of actors who’ve portrayed these characters on screen.

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Hopefully I’ll be able to wrap up those other Superman movie-related pieces soon. It is kind of amazing how flawed every Superman movie has been, including Superman: The Movie, but the casting of Kidder and Reeve is one thing they sure did right. Godspeed, the both of you.

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