Superman on Television

Adventures of Superboy: Review

"The Adventures of Superboy" (Unaired Pilot)

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Superboy Original Broadcast Date: 1961

Writers: Vernon E. Clark and Whitney Ellsworth

Director: George Blair

John Rockwell as Superboy/Clark Kent
Bunny Henning as Lana Lang
Jimmy Bates as Jimmy Drake
Ross Elliott as Mister Drake, Jimmy's Father
Stacy Harris as Gunner Ferde
Charles Maxwell as Jake Ferde
Richard Reeves as Shifty Barnes
Robert Williams as Police Chief Parker
Yvonne White as Martha Kent
Ray Walker as Mister Udland, The Aero Theater Owner
Monty Margetts as Miss Gibson, The School Teacher
True Ellison as Donna

"The Adventures of Superboy"

The students of Smallville High School are discussing their fathers' careers with teacher Miss Gibson. Young Jimmy Drake only says that his dad is the doorman at the Aero Theater, the town's local movie house. In spite of Clark Kent and Lana Lang's attempts to convince him otherwise, Jimmy is ashamed of his dad. Even poor Mister Drake, while drawing for an art course in his spare time, has trouble talking to Jimmy. Yet, he makes no apologies for making an honest living to help his son go to college and choose a profession. The lad will most likely have something to talk about soon, for Gunner and Jake Ferde, who have had plastic surgery to change their faces completely, and Shifty Barnes are staking out the Aero as two hundred thousand dollars in uncut diamonds are on display there for the premiere of a film called Rajah's Ransom, whose star Todd Dexter grew up in Smallville. Should Mister Drake find himself somehow caught the middle of the caper, Superboy may be needed to save the day.

The Ferde Brothers' plan is a simple one. Shifty is to keep Smallville Police Chief Parker and Superboy busy while Jake and Gunner steal the diamonds from the Aero Theater. The gang of criminals knows the route in which Chief Parker drives. This allows Shifty to be in a shack as he shoots the police car's tires. The resulting gunfight forces Chief Parker to call Superboy for help. Can the Boy of Steel assist Parker and stop the Ferde Brothers from committing their latest crime before it's too late?

A light dims and returns to normal as Clark Kent and Lana Lang do their math homework. This is a signal that Chief Parker is calling for Superboy. Flying through the secret tunnel under the Kent Farm's basement, the Boy of Steel arrives to help Chief Parker and confront Shifty. Meanwhile, Jake and Gunner have begun to steal the diamonds. Gas pellets have knocked out the guards as they do so. Mister Drake has witnessed the crime forcing the bandits to fire their guns at him as they make their getaway. The bullets miss. However, Mister Drake has become a victim of the same vapors that took out the security men. With the only witness now unconscious, it looks like the Ferde brothers succeeded in committing the greatest robbery of their career.

Shifty's bullets have no effect on Superboy, who crashes through the walls of the shack to bend the crook's rifle barrel and hand him over to Chief Parker. Parker receives word from a radio dispatcher that the diamonds were taken from the Aero Theater's display. As Superboy flies to investigate, Shifty must change the tire of Parker's patrol car in which he shot. The Teen of Tomorrow learns from the awakened Mister Drake that the thieves in white suits drove off in a convertible with the license number PBT-595. Gunner and Jake have planned for this eventuality, having changed vehicles during their escape. There was no way for Superboy to know in which direction they went. For now, the Ferde Brothers seem to have outwitted our young hero and the police, but their luck may run out before this adventure is over.

We now go to the Smallville Police Station. Mister Drake has been unable to identify the diamond thieves through mug shot books in spite of Shifty Barnes' known association with Jake and Gunner Ferde. His son Jimmy suggests that Mister Drake draw the culprits. As he does this, Jimmy takes a dozens pieces of coal from the furnace room. Superboy crushes them into some diamonds that can be displayed for the movie premiere until the stolen ones can be returned. Jimmy has gone to deliver the gems to the Aero Theater while Superboy questions Shifty. The criminal's pulse tells the Smallville Wonder that he knows of the robbery and who did it, particularly when Shifty sees Mister Drake's sketches of Jake and Gunner. This gives Superboy an idea that requires Mister Drake to be bait in a trap. Every newspaper in the country will have the drawings of Gunner and Jake along with the name of the artist. This will allow the gangsters to come out of hiding to eliminate a witness. Once they attempt this, Chief Parker and Superboy may be one step closer to bringing the Ferde Brothers to justice thanks to Mister Drake's artistic talent. However, if the caped teen's plan fails, Mister Drake could be in grave danger.

Mister Drake waits anxiously in the apartment in which he and Jimmy live above the Aero Theater. Clark Kent uses his X-ray vision to stake things out as he is taking a math exam. He notices Jake and Gunner in the area. Having finished the test early, Clark leaves to become Superboy. In the meantime, the Ferde Brothers have called Mister Drake, making him believe Jimmy has been taken to the hospital for an injury. This allows the thieves to capture him. Can Superboy save Jimmy's father from Jake and Gunner Ferde before they can bring about a violent end to the only witness to their diamond robbery?

Having knocked out Mister Drake, Gunner and Jake intend to make his death look like a hit and run accident. A roadblock prevents the diamond thieves from carrying out their diabolical assassination, one called Superboy. The front of their car has seen better days as it's been smashed by the Boy of Steel's invulnerable body. Now, Jake and Gunner Ferde will be spending their days in prison after they get out of the hospital in which they made Mister Drake believe Jimmy was being treated. Justice has won the day again thanks to Superboy.

The Aero Theater's insurance company has given Mister Drake scholarship money for Jimmy to the college of his choice. They also have offered a him a job in their offices in Metropolis. The reward will help Jimmy's education. However, Mister Drake chooses to stay in Smallville and continue his correspondence art school classes. The next day, Jimmy is speaking proudly of his father in front of his class at Smallville High School much to the joy of Clark Kent and Lana Lang.

4Rating - 4 (out of 5): John Rockwell can be spotted in such shows as My Three Sons and McHale's Navy.

Bunny Henning played Gladys Knockleheimer in an episode of Petticoat Junction.

Jimmy Bates is perhaps best known for the role of Claude Messner in Father Knows Best.

Ross Elliott played Fred, Jack's TV director in The Jack Benny Program and Sheriff Abbott in The Virginian.

Stacy Harris had various parts in Dragnet and portrayed Detective Vic Beaujac in N.O.P.D.

Charles Maxwell was Boris in "The Superman Silver Mine" and played Special Agent Joe Carey in I Led 3 Lives.

"No Holds Barred" guest star Richard Reeves can be seen in Wagon Train and The Jack Benny Program.

Robert Williams played George Johnson in Revenge of the Creature and Mister Dorfman in Dennis the Menace.

Yvonne White was Sarah Green in "Disappearing Lois" and had bit parts in I Dream of Jeannie and Leave It to Beaver.

Ray Walker had various roles on The Abbott and Costello Show and was Joe the luggage shop man in It's a Wonderful Life.

Monty Margetts portrayed Mrs. Dinwood in Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?.

True Ellison played Snow White in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.

Footage from the scenes on Krypton from The Adventures of Superman episode "Superman On Earth" is used in the opening credits for The Adventures of Superboy pilot.

Like the radio shows and movie serials before it, The Adventures of Superman television series used Eben and Sarah Kent as Superman's foster parents. However, Whitney Ellsworth opted to take Jonathan and Martha Kent from the comic books for The Adventures of Superboy.

I liked both The Adventures of Superboy and The Adventures of Superpup equally, albeit for different reasons. I viewed Superpup as a kiddie show parody, whereas Superboy can honestly be considered a true spin-off of The Adventures of Superman. It's a pity both shows never got the chance to take off and fly.

John Rockwell, visually, does look like a young George Reeves in The Adventures of Superboy. Yet, his performance is not as good as those of Reeves. There are moments, particularly as Clark Kent, when Rockwell seems wooden and unconvincing. Perhaps, it's due to the fact that this was a pilot. Case in point, Leonard Nimoy's Spock in "The Cage" is rather different from other Star Trek episodes. Still, Rockwell does a fine job as the title character in spite of some bumpy scenes here and there.

Shifty Barnes and Jake and Gunner Ferde are decent villains. However, they feel like recycled versions of the bad guys from The Adventures of Superman. It would have ben nice to have a nemesis that really challenged Superboy or something of a more fantastic nature for this pilot. The Ferde Brothers Gang are no Walter Canby or Mister X. Yet, they are better than the imbeciles in such episodes as "The Bully Of Dry Gulch", "Mr. Zero" and "The Prince Albert Coat".

Lana Lang kind of got on my nerves in The Adventures of Superboy, though she isn't as irritating as Kristin Kreuk's version in Smallville. Something about Bunny Henning's version is like finger nails on a blackboard. Plus, she feels two dimensional as if the character was written as a last minute addition to the script. Lois Lane as played by Phyllis Coates, Noel Neill and nearly everyone except Kate Bosworth afterward was a tough cookie with brains as well as beauty. Lana in The Adventures of Superboy pilot is merely there for set dressing and doesn't feel essential to the story. If you want a good version of the character, stick with Annette O'Toole and Stacy Haiduk.

Like the gangsters, elements of this pilot feel recycled from The Adventures of Superman. That doesn't mean it isn't good because it is. However, some scenes have a rocky pacing that kind of interrupts the overall flow of the entire episode. Plus, there is a plot hole. Superboy should have been able to see the trail where the Ferde Brothers' convertible stopped and where the another car started with his superhuman eyes. Then again, there probably wouldn't have been much of a story if he did. In spite of this, the entire half hour still has a fun factor equivalent of some of the best comic books ever published. Overall, while not as good as The Adventures of Superman or the 1980s Superboy series, it is better than Smallville. It's a rare gem that will entertain fans of all ages in spite of some scars and stitches throughout the show.

Back to the main TELEVISION page.