In the 1983 movie Superman 3, High River Alberta doubles as Clark Kent’s hometown of Smallville Kansas. In our study we shoot at various places in town where we try to duplicate some of the scenes from the film – and we do a pretty reasonable job of it too (IMHO). Most of what we see has not changed even though it’s been thirty years, yet in another everything is gone – everything. When the film was made the town was a quiet farming community but now it’s a bustling place which has grown considerably over the years.
In the first scene we see Richard Pryor’s character which just exited the bus seen behind while Clark Kent walks past that yellow station wagon. In the background you can see High River’s train station which has changed very little in the time between filming and our report. Other details remain too – the wall of the building in the foreground for example. Yet at the same time a lot in this scene has changed. Of course the most obvious is all the grain elevators are not gone. Every one of them shown is gone. Plus in the now shot there are more trees. Regardless it’s unmistakable that we shot from exact spot they did.
In the second scene, which in reality is only across the tracks from the first one, we can see the bumbling Gus Gorman played by Richard Pryor, using a public pay phone with a hotel in the background. A pay phone, something you don’t see much today! The spot we are at is approximately the same as in the movie and you can see that not one detail or landmark from the film has survived. Not one.
The Gateway Hotel is long gone, having burned the the ground in 2005. By that time it was known as “Smiley’s Gateway Hotel” and it was High River’s oldest such establishment. Today a pub called Sally’s sits at the same location. It’s that grey building seen on the left in the background.
The elevators are all gone, most being torn down in the 1990s. Actually one small fertilizer elevator remains but it’s obscured in the then picture. Every prairie town had an elevator row like this and now none do, save for a few hold outs.
The fence is gone, the building Gus is standing in front of it gone. Everything as changed, quite a contrast to the other part of downtown which have remained remarkably static.
In the next set we see Lana Lang’s house, a rather interesting and distinctive structure. Its location is such that we would be unable to duplicate the shot seen in the movie without trespassing. We had to settle for a behind shot taken from across a field on a public pathway. I will attempt to track down the owners to see if we can get closer access. Annette O’Toole, Lana Lang’s character is most recently know for her work in the Smallville TV series, where she plays Clark Kent’s mom.
In the next two scenes, the originals taking place in the evening, we see a church and school right next door to each other. In the movie a reunion is taking place and the area is decorated in streamers, lights and bunting. We do our best to duplicate the scenes, albeit in the daylight (maybe we’ll return to shoot at night) and it’s clear to see very little has changed in the interim. Some trees are different but otherwise it’s amazing how much is the same. I could see why the producers of Superman 3 picked this location. The small town feel of the buildings is perfect.
The High River Anglican Church stands in for the house of worship seen in the movie and former High River High School does the same for Smallville High. The real school was called King Edward High, at least in some reports this author has seen, but on the front it simply says “Public School”. Built in 1912 with an addition marked 1929, it’s no longer used as a school. It is however right next door to one, the Spitzee Elementary (Spitzee, a rough translation from the Blackfoot language meaning a river bank with large trees – ie a good camping spot or gathering place).
The school is now in private hands and in doing research I have not been able to find anything definite about what’s in store for it or who actually owns it. I am hoping it is protected site, which given its age and fine condition seems likely. It looks well kept all these years. It’s not clear when classes ended here or even if it was always a high school. It’s possible it hosted elementary or junior high classes at some point, something hinted at in one brief but obscure report on the school I have seen.
Interestingly, in the original 1978 movie Superman, a different school stood in for Smallville High. It was located in another small town called Barons Alberta approximately a hundred kilometres away from here. We did a report on it and there is a link to it below.
There were additional scenes from the movie shot in town, however the locations have changed so much in the ensuing years making duplication impossible; or they were such brief unimportant scenes that were not worth doing.
Update: May 2013. Friend of BIGDoer Robert Boyd has sent us a picture of the Gateway Hotel he took in 1981 (bottom image). It’s the same building in the the movie that’s seen behind Richard Pryor’s character when he is talking on the pay phone. We always welcome contributions like this from our readers and if you have a picture or information about something we wrote about, we will happily post it on our site.
Images from the movie are copyright Warner Brothers.
To see another Superman 3 then and now series we did, this time in Calgary, go here…
Superman 3 then and now – bar scenes.
To see Clark Kent’s High School from the 1978 Superman movie, click this link…
Superman 1978 highschool then and now.
In the 1976 movie Silver Streak, High River played a part in that film too. We did two then and now reports showing this and you can see them by clicking these links…
Silver Streak movie then and now – paper burning scene
Silver Streak then and now – Rockdale IL station.
If you wish more information on these places, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2013.
Location: High River, AB.