Since Margot Kidder passed away earlier this week, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on what her portrayal of Lois Lane in Superman means to me. I also recommend you check out the I Like to Movie Movie episode about Black Christmas from last year, in which Kidder also had a starring role.
When Action Comics #1 hit newsstands in the spring of 1938, it introduced the two most important characters in all of comics. Superman and Lois Lane. In the Golden Age of comics of the 1930s and 40s, as well as from the 1970s forward (the less said about her depiction in the 50s and 60s, the better), Lois has been depicted as a tough, hardworking, smart, witty, and fearless journalist. Lesser writers might write her relationship with the Man of Steel as more damsel-in-distress and Superman as paternalistic, but the original version by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was always fiercely independent, and the best Superman stories have always reflected that.
This independent spirit was alive and well in the late 1970s, as Superman: The Movie was being developed, and Lois Lane was conceived as hard-nosed, witty, attractive, but also liberated. She doesn’t need Superman to establish her reputation as a crack reporter, nor does she need him to complete her life. And Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is the key that holds the entire film together. She is vastly more important than Gene Hackman’s smarmy take on Lex Luthor in terms of making this film’s Superman super.
When we (and Clark) meet Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, she is hustling her editor into publishing a sensational story that she knows will both move papers and get her byline noticed. She barely notices Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) and then assists him in opening Perry White’s bottle of soda, which erupts when Clark finally gets the top off, in a wonderfully subtle execution of sexual innuendo. She apologizes, and Clark dismisses her need to apologize. “Why would anyone want to make a total stranger look like a fool?” She smiles at him, noticing his homespun, midwest charm, which she approaches with her classic big city cynicism.
A few scenes later, after Superman rescues her from a helicopter crash, she interviews him on the roof of their building. Half interview and half first date, both sides are equally entranced by the other. Superman nearly melts into Clark’s ‘aw, shucks,’ personality, but Lois undergoes an even bigger transformation. Her cynicism melts away, and she is in awe of the figure before her. Not only that he has this awesome power, but because he chooses to use it to help people, rather than personal gain. His goodness shines through, and it is these morals that make Superman so impressive to her. It is easy to take this stuff for granted when talking about superheroes, but Superman puts it front and center.
And so much of this is grounded in Margot Kidder’s wonderful performance. She has amazing charisma, and the way that Lois always seems “in charge” in almost every situation is largely due to her presence. She is able to communicate confidence and authority without ever tripping over the line into being a diva. She knows she has earned the right to act as she does, based on her experience, work ethic, and her value to the Daily Planet.
But she just as equally is able to shed some of that posturing when the story demands it. Not only does it give her character more depth, but it is integral to making the film work. Her reaction to Superman sells his character more than Reeve’s great performance or the effects would on their own. Not to mention that her varying reaction to Clark and Superman allows us to suspend our disbelief that glasses are effective secret identity (I don’t want to dismiss Reeve’s work either, as it is downright captivating, but Kidder’s reactions to his performance makes it work that much better).
Rather than being a damsel-in-distress, Kidder brought to us a Lois Lane that showed that smart, capable, “liberated” women have a place in blockbuster films, and in the superhero genre specifically. By drawing on the roots of the character and some pronounced acting choices, she made Lois Lane a character I’ve always admired and felt connected to, and I will always be thankful for that.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.