Alex Bledsoe has been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls and mustard, writes before six in the morning and tries to teach his two sons to act like they’ve been to town before. Alex is the author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels (The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, and the newly-released Dark Jenny. A new novel ,The Hum and the Shiver is due out later this year. Keep up with Alex on Twitter (@AlexBledsoe), Facebook and his blog.
Tom Mankiewicz created Lois Lane.
In the movies, that is. Credited as only “creative consultant,” he was nonetheless the major screenwriter behind the first genuine superhero film, 1978’s Superman the Movie. He didn’t get it entirely right-his version of Lex Luthor, while entertaining, was shamefully camp-but he understood that Superman himself had to be played entirely straight. And if the Man of Steel was irony-free, then his great love Lois Lane had to be as well.
And in that first film, she was. Fearless in pursuit of both a story and Superman himself, she had her flaws (including difficulty spelling words like “brassiere” and “bloodletting”), but she was, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “cunning past (Super)man’s thought.” By the end of that film she’d already started to suss out the truth about Clark Kent. The future boded well for Superman II, most of which was filmed simultaneously with the first movie.
Unfortunately that future included a change of director and the return of the wholly unsuited writing team that Mankiewicz replaced. Most of the footage was rewritten and reshot. The scene that suffered most in Superman II was the crucial one in which Lois unmasks Clark Kent.
In the film as released back in 1981, Lois and Clark go undercover as a honeymooning couple to expose a scam that bilks newlyweds. Lois jumps into a raging river to force Clark to reveal his true identity, but he manages to rescue her without doing so. Drying off back at the motel, Clark stumbles into the fireplace, outing himself when his hand isn’t burned. (To be fair, this includes one of Christopher Reeve’s greatest moments: with his back to the camera, he uses only a change in posture to transform from Clark Kent to Superman). Lois confesses her love, and he flies her to the Fortress of Solitude.
For this scene to work, there have to be two fundamental changes in the character of Lois Lane from the first film. One, she has to become passive. Sure, jumping in the river is pro-active, but it also fails. She take no action in the crucial reveal. And two, she has to be lovesick. Through soft focus, she says, “I’m in love with you” as if she were any generic action heroine. Surely the real Lois Lane would have a snappier comeback.
First, near the beginning, Lois jumps from a Daily Planet window in a variation of the river-jump. Again Clark rescues her without revealing his secret identity. But crucially, she doesn’t give up. At the honeymoon motel she pulls a gun on Clark, tells him that she believes he’s Superman, and then shoots him to prove it. Unharmed, Clark gives up the charade, although he does point out that if Lois had been wrong, she’d have killed Clark Kent. To which Lois triumphantly replies: “With blanks?”
The implications of this scene alter the whole character of Lois. In the first version, the great reveal depends on Superman being so far into his Clark Kent masquerade that his false clumsiness becomes, for that moment, real. Lois does nothing. And yes, you could say that he secretly wanted to reveal himself because he truly loves her, blah blah blah. This is Superman we’re talking about here. Do we really want a hero whose godlike powers can be trumped by a schoolboy crush?
And that’s the crucial missing element. For a mere mortal woman to be worthy of a god’s love, she must somehow best him. And since she can’t overpower him physically, she must outsmart him. The beauty of Mankiewicz’s scene is that Lois outsmarts him not once, but twice: first by shooting him, then by revealing she used blanks. It’s echoed later in the film: after discovering he can’t out-muscle the Kryptonian villains, Superman uses a similar double trick (he maneuvers Luthor into giving away the apparent first trap in order to catch Zod and company in the second). Without Lois’s example, then, Superman might never have triumphed.
Neither version of Superman II works perfectly, due to its schizophrenic production history. But I prefer the restored “Donner Cut” over the patched-together release version. And one big reason is that in it, Lois Lane is no mere damsel to be rescued, but–thanks to Tom Mankiewicz–a worthy partner for the Man of Steel.