Monday 8 August 2016

Doc Savage - The Man Of Bronze

Righting Ron

Doc Savage - The Man Of Bronze
USA 1975 Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by George Pal
Warner Brothers iTunes on iPhone6

The Arctic Circle, 1936. An American flag glides along the horizon and, eventually, a snow vehicle ridden by Ron Ely as Doc Savage - The Man Of Bronze, comes into view. We know he’s Doc Savage because the name is emblazoned on this and, indeed, on every vehicle that Clark Savage Jr owns in this movie.

Lower Edmonton, UK, 1975. A young boy of only seven years old is watching Chris Kelly’s movie programme Clapperboard on TV and the film, which he’s never heard of until now, is reviewed. He and his mother are watching as a clip is shown where Savage attempts to ward off certain death in the form of flying snakes, composed of green light, who reform themselves back into shape after being blasted with a shotgun shell. It’s pretty exciting stuff and both the boy and his mother urge the father that night to take them into Enfield at the weekend, to see the film at the Savoy cinema. By a strange twist of fate featuring two colliding cars which mount the pavement to wreak havoc on soft bodies just a year later, the family will soon move house to a location less than five minutes walk from that very same cinema.

Of course, the little boy was me and all the family were absolutely enthralled the night of that cinema trip. Doc Savage was, and to this day still remains, one of the greatest movies we’d ever seen. Now, a lot of Doc Savage fans didn’t like the camp humour of the film, which was lost on me at that time in much the same way that the Adam West Batman TV show is also serious business when you are a youngster... but we all thought it was brilliant. We loved the cheering on the soundtrack whenever a blow for justice was dealt. We loved the applause when Doc reminded his aides, The Amazing Five, of their honourable and heroic code. And most of all, we loved the 1930s knockabout theatrical serial atmosphere to the movie, which was perfect for Doc and which fit right in with another amazing thing I’d discovered on BBC TV about a year before this, the original Flash Gordon serials starring Buster Crabbe.

I recently found myself with a ‘good friend’ in London and she hadn’t seen the movie before. Due to a lack of options and the fact that I had no DVD player on me, nor my US Region locked disc of the movie, I downloaded it from UK iTunes and we watched it on my phone. It’s a movie I’ve seen dozens of times over the years and all I will say is... it still holds up.

The film was directed by Michael Anderson, who’d directed one of my favourite spy films, The Quiller Memorandum (reviewed here), and who would go on to direct another pre-Star Wars sci-fi classic the year after the release of this film, Logan’s Run. This movie plays up the ridiculousness of the situations found in many of the Doc Savage books without, I feel, poking too much fun at the characters. This was ‘wonder producer’ George Pal’s last movie and, despite reports of a sequel being half filmed while this movie was in production, the box office was so poor on this the second movie never came to be. Which is a shame because, in the days before the internet, news like aborted movie projects never came to light much and me and my father were waiting for the sequel to this to be released for years after.

The film follows, pretty faithfully (despite reports to the contrary), the first of Kenneth Robeson’s Doc Savage tales, at least for the first half of the book. The stuff about the green, floating snakes is added for the movie and perhaps, for the medium of film at least, gives a more exciting ingredient than seeing Doc running around trying to cure an Ancient Mayan tribe of a man made plague. The characterisations of Doc and his crew, played by Ron Ely (Doc), Michael Miller (Monk), Darrell Zwerling (Ham), William Lucking (Renny), Eldon Quick (Johnny) and Paul Gleason (Long Tom) are pretty much spot on. Even Monk’s porcine companion Habeus Corpus is along for the adventure, just as he was in a lot of the books.

The pacing is terrific and I remember we were all fooled for a few seconds, the first time we saw it, when Doc’s plane is shot down and destroyed with, seemingly, him and his crew in it... before a clever and less than subtle reveal gives the audience the truth behind that incident. We also marvelled at the refractive glass moving everything in Doc’s Empire State Building headquarters exactly 6 inches to the left, thus defeating a sniper’s bullet before it is even fired. And the wonderful fight scene between Doc and the prime antagonist of the movie, Captain Seas (played by Paul Wexler), where different fighting styles such as Sumo and Gung Fu come up on subtitles as the styles are played up, before plain old fisticuffs settles things, is a nice humourous touch used to lift the sometimes dull nature of such action sequences (in other movies) onto another level.

Frank DeVol’s original score for the film is pretty serviceable but everyone will remember it for his adaptations of John Philip SoUSA marches, which give Doc and his crew a strong musical identity during the action sequences. And anyone who says lyricist Don Black’s greatest song is Diamonds Are Forever (reviewed here) doesn’t know what they’re talking about, as far as I’m concerned. His lyrics for the Doc Savage song, which comes into the movie a few times, is easily his greatest work.

The epilogue to the film sets up the cliff hanger, sadly unrealised, for the next Doc Savage adventure, The Arch Enemy Of The World... and I so wish that the box office could have been better for this movie. I had a new idol and the film started me on the path of reading as many of the Bantam reprints of the 180 plus Kenneth Robeson (aka Lester Dent) novels as I could find... not to mention the eight issues of the Marvel comics which adapted four of those novels (such as Brand Of The Werewolf, featuring Doc’s cousin, Pat Savage) and the eight issues of the black and white Marvel magazine of original stories, which had excellent artwork in the style of their similarly produced Savage Sword Of Conan magazine. Some truly phenomenal stuff.

As the years pass, kickstarted by this film, I continue to read Doc Savage publications and buy what merchandise I can... which is not much, alas. I still have my bronze figurine of Ron Ely in the role on my bookshelf and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Shane Black can do with a Doc Savage project, which is currently being developed with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the role... who looks very much like those old James Bama painted covers (which were modelled, incidentallly, by TVs Flash Gordon, Steve Holland) for the Bantam reprints. I regularly review Will Murray’s new Doc Savage publications, still written under the old Street and Smith house name of Kenneth Robeson, and if you go to the book section of the index here, you will find a fair few of those covered.

Doc Savage - The Man Of Bronze is, today, what it’s always been. A really fun slice of Boy’s Own adventure with never a dull moment. Heck, it even has Pamela Hensley, who went on to play Princess Ardala in the TV version of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, only four years later. Not to mention that it’s the debut movie of iconic character actor Michael Berryman, who is still working at the time of writing this review. If you haven’t already guessed it, the original Doc Savage movie gets a big recommendation from me to anyone who has a pulse and is breathing. One of the great adventure movies and with lines like... “Have no fear, Doc Savage is here!”... it’s always guaranteed to bring a smile to the face.

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