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Adventures of Superman
Season 1 Episode 7: The Birthday Letter

Titlecard for Adventures of Superman: The Birthday Letter


The Daily Planet receives a letter from Kathy Williams, a young girl with leg braces, asking Superman if he would take her to the fair she couldn't otherwise attend due to her mother working. Lois Lane and Perry White are overviewing the situation together since Clark Kent is out of town, and they decide to do the "next best thing" by taking the girl to the fair themselves. Later, when Clark comes back in town, he visits the girl's house as Superman, planning on fulfilling her request. Shockingly, the girl is not there and her mother confronts Superman, deeply upset and angry, believing he has kidnapped her. What has happened?

As it turns out, a criminal named Cusak had called his associates with information about a meeting's time and location from a public phone booth, but was shot to death just after finishing what he was saying. Unbeknownst to him, however, he called the wrong number - Kathy's number, who was home by herself and answered. She heard all the information, but recognized it was a wrong number and hung up, thinking nothing of it. However, the group of criminals - consisting of a French couple, Marie and Marcel Duval, and a strong and dopey man known only as Slugger - are in desperate need of the information! They manage to figure out the situation concerning the mis-dialed number and, having read the letter in the Planet, Slugger is dispatched in a (pretty bad, yet somehow effective) Superman costume to deceive and kidnap the child so that they can attempt to get the information from her. This turns out to be challenging as the girl just doesn't remember the phone call that well.

The Daily Planet's investigation begins in order to clear Superman's name, locate the girl, and return her to safety.



In terms of overall quality, this episode strikes me as standard for the series, which, considering my love of the show, is pretty great. The criminals' conspiracy and their involvement with the young girl is pretty convoluted, but I think there's a certain cleverness and creativity to how all the different pieces fit together to get both a helpless child and Superman in trouble. I will say that the criminals' attempts to get Kathy to tell them the information seem rather useless - not that I have a better idea for how they could've jogged her memory.

One thing that strikes me about this episode is its combination of sentimentality and brutality. The episode revolves around a disabled young girl and ends with Superman giving her a wonderful time in a sweet and tender display of kindness. On the other hand, a man is blatantly murdered on-screen early on, and there's another shockingly cruel scene in which the criminals take off Kathy's leg braces. Potentially controversial happenings such as these were more prevalent in Season 1 than in subsequent seasons.

George Reeves and Phyllis Coates shine as always. Reeves' capacity for tenderness and interactions with children are always absolutely wonderful to observe and Coates also shows emotional vulernability and compassion. As far as non-recurring characters go, Kathy (played by Isa Ashdown) does a good job; I notice early on when she was taking the phone call from the criminal, she seemed unusually indifferent and out of it, but I actually kind of liked this since it seemed an amusing contrast from the urgency of the message. Slugger (played by John Doucette) is cartoonishly idiotic to a completely over-the-top degree (and it's not really in a context where this has humor value either), but he wasn't a total loss - I like it when there are occasional sympathetic criminals in the show since it's usually so black-and-white. As minor as this may be, I liked the fact that Perkins (played by Jack Daly), the man who gave Clark a tip, was portrayed as selfish and only thinking of reward money as opposed to being generic like you might expect from such a minor character, which was a bit funny and gave him more dimensionality.

Virginia Carroll, Kathy Williams' mother, also deserves credit for her believable and powerful emotional outburst at Superman. One of the most fascinating parts about Superman in general to me the interaction between this superhuman force of unbelievable power and the very real, very human world which he lives in and interacts with. As a result, seeing people who don't know Superman (and sometimes even people who do) interact with him is often very interesting to observe, especially in the case of an unusual reaction like this one - someone other than a criminal being deeply upset with the Man of Steel. She reacts as any mother would to such a circumstance, but the perceived threat is very unusual. To me personally, there's something poignant about when she attempts to threaten Superman and at first seems to be at a loss, eventually only coming to the answer of calling the police. At this point in the series, before even kryptonite has appeared, Superman is, as far as we know, completely unstoppable. If Superman actually did something wrong, what could be done? It is only his character which keeps him from doing incomporable damage, and here, it seems like that has gone. What a deeply frightening thought that only increases the gratitude that Superman is, in fact, the trustworthy and kind person he appears to be. The episode itself doesn't explicitly explore this theme, but it's a very interesting thought that's put in the mind.

Overall, while Slugger's portrayal and some of the sentimentality do date this episode somewhat, overall, The Birthday Letter should be satisfying for all fans of the series.

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