The town of Silsby, population 1430, is the home of the world’s deepest oil well. The well is owned by the National Oil Company. Clark Kent (George Reeves) and Lois Lane (Noel Neil) are sent by the “Daily Planet” newspaper to do a story on the well. Public Relations man John Craig (Ray Walker) is there to show them around. When they get to the well they find that the Supervisor, Bill Corrigan (Walter Reed) is shutting the well down. Kent and Lane are unsuccessful in obtaining a reason why the well is being abandoned.
That night the cap on the well opens and two creatures come out. The creatures are short and humanoid with bald heads. They begin to look around. At the hotel, Clark is suspicious of the decision to cap the well. He and Lois decide to take a ride out to the drill site and look around. When they get there they find the night watchman, Pop Shannon (J. Farrell MacDonald), dead. Clark goes out to look around while Lois calls for help. While she is on the phone the two creatures look through the window. When Lois sees them she screams. The Sheriff (Stanley Andrews), Corrigan, Craig and Dr. Reed (John Baer) are summoned. When Lois tells them what she saw no one believes her.
Clark finds out that the reason the well was capped was due to the fear that they may have hit radium. Until it could be proved whether or not that was true the drilling needed to stop and all equipment that may have been contaminated needed to be destroyed. Later he finds out that the glowing substance found in the well is phosphorus and the Mole Men are actually harmless.
The Mole Men wander around and end up in town. Citizens begin to see them and soon everyone is in a panic. Being stupid humans a mob begins to form. The leader is Luke Benson (Jeff Corey). Benson and his dogs, along with armed men from town, begin tracking the Mole Men. When the Mole Men are cornered on top of a dam one of them is shot. Superman rescues him and flies him to the hospital. The other one is chased down and hides out in an old shack. Benson and his cohorts set fire to the shack. The Mole Man manages to remove a floorboard and sneak away. When Benson and the other members of his mob return to town they find out that the mole man they shot is at the hospital and still alive.
In the meantime the escaped Mole Man heads back to the well shaft. He soon returns with reinforcements and a weapon no one has ever seen before. Superman must find a way to keep the mob at bay and try to keep the mole men from either harming anyone or being harmed themselves.
“Superman and the Mole Men” was released in 1951 and was directed by Lee Sholem. It is a superhero film and was the first theatrical feature film done about a DC comic character. Previously weekly cliffhanger serials had been produced for the Superman character in 1948 and 1950 as well as for Batman in 1943 and 1949.
The film was done as a pilot for a weekly television program called “Adventures of Superman” which began airing in 1952. The television show ran for six seasons from 1952 to 1958. Adjustments were done to the film and it was included as a two part episode for the television series. The reedited episodes were titled “The Unknown People”.
Beverly Washburn played the little girl the mole men were playing ball with. She played the character Arlene Galway in the “Star Trek” television series episode “The Deadly Years” 1967. Billy Curtis, who played one of the mole men, is a well known little person actor who played everything from a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” 1939 to a copper skinned ambassador in the “Star Trek” episode “Journey to Babel” 1967 to General Yoomak in the “Shgoratchx!” episode of the television series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” 1981.
“Superman and the Mole Men” was made after WWII. During the Cold War many films were made with themes that reflected the unreasonable fear people felt about Communism, the “Red Menace”, and just about anyone who was not a red blooded, white American. In effect they represented the ugliness of racism. This fear was prominent in the science fiction and horror genres. Everything from “Frankenstein” 1931 with its pitchfork wielding villagers to “The Day the Earth Stood Still” 1951 and its Army troops and tanks combing the city for one peaceful alien reflects racism in one form or another. Depicting the subject of the racism as an alien from either outer space or inner space makes the lesson a little more palatable for the movie going audience. Superman shows these prejudices in stark anger. Benson’s willingness to kill anyone who stands in his way of eradicating the Mole Men shows the Ugly American at his worst.
The shiny laser weapon that the Mole Men use against Luke Benson was created from an Electrolux vacuum cleaner.