The Archivist #72: Classic Pulp Fiction with DOC SAVAGE (1975) on Blu-ray

Pulp hero Clark “Doc” Savage Jr. isn’t as well-known these days, but the “Man of Bronze” was a big deal in the world of pulp novels in the 1930s and 40s, and a heavy influence on comic book superheroes, especially DC’s heaviest hitters. His chiseled physical perfection, metallic comparison, and even first name and Fortress of Solitude were clearly swiped by Superman, while his intellectual prowess and affinity for science seem to draw a direct line to “the world’s greatest detective”, Batman. The World’s Finest in one man.

While there’s currently a long-gestating Doc Savage project in the works with Shane Black and Dwayne Johnson attached, to date the Doc has only had one movie, 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze from director Michael Anderson and producer George Pal.

Doc Savage finds the hero (played by Ron Ely) learning of the recent death of his father, who was killed under mysterious circumstances in South America. News of the senior Clark Savage’s passing coincides with attempts on his own life, so Doc and his “Fabulous Five” squad of specialists — each an expert in a particular field — trek to the South America to investigate.

The film plays out as a campy adventure that works best when exploring unique and bizarre ideas that hew closer to pulp sensibilities, such as a mystical snake venom spell that can kill its targets by projecting ghostlike serpents (achieved with animation), or a hidden valley housing a pool of liquid gold, or Doc creating anachronistic inventions before their time.

Unfortunately, despite its great source material, the rest falls a bit flat.

In our modern movie landscape flooded with superhero reboots, audiences have grown tired of repeated origin stories for familiar characters like Batman or Spider-Man, so this may seem like an odd complaint, but Doc Savage has the opposite problem — it desperately needs MORE exposition. Offering only a brief introduction to its characters and world, the film feels more like a sequel or continuation of an established universe. Perhaps this is true for some readers familiar with the character, but certainly not with the general audience at large. Viewers have no opportunity to connect with the characters or invest in the story before it jumps right into its plot — a problem made worse by the fact that most of the “Fabulous Five” (including the great Paul Gleason) are given very little to do. A couple are used more prominently, but mostly just to bicker with each other.

Doc Savage works as disposable Saturday matinee entertainment, but that’s about the extent of it. The tone feels hammy (though intentionally so), especially with its John Philip Sousa marching band score, and its attempts at comedy end to fall flat. Perhaps if this had launched a franchise of continuing adventures as promised in the film’s epilogue, we might be discussing this in a different light, but that didn’t turn out to be the case so we’ve left with this single mediocre entity.

Despite my own criticism, I know that many find this film very enjoyable, and it certainly has its fans, even if it failed to make me one of them. That said, I think the film’s one great saving grace (aside from a brief cameo from Michael Berryman in maybe his most dapper role ever) is that it’s wholesome family-friendly fare. This is something that kids can have a fun time with, and enjoy a hero who models intellectualism, physical fitness, and unwavering morals.

The Package

Doc Savage is available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection, where it’s also been previously released as an MOD DVD. The package is pretty standard stuff, housed in an elite Blu case.

Special Features and Extras

Theatrical Trailer (3:01)

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats.

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