In Praise of George Pal’s ‘Doc Savage’ & an Update on the Reboot

Knowing that the Dwayne Johnson/Shane Black reboot of the classic 1930’s pulp hero Doc Savage is on hold, perhaps it’s worth revisiting the largely forgotten 1975 movie based on the character.

Whilst no masterpiece, the 1975 picture (directed by Michael ‘Logan’s Run’ Anderson, produced by Pal) is a campy fun ride, with Day-Glo poisonous cartoon snakes, a moustache twirling villain in Paul Wexler’s Captain Seas and a strapping 6’4’ Doc Savage (Orange Trump tan and all) in Ron ‘Tarzan’ Ely – complete with an animated twinkling eye…

The movie featured a cast chock-full of cult actors, including Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Robert Tessier (The Longest Yard) and Gracie Lantz – the voice of Woody Woodpecker.

Possibly due to budget constraints, the score boasted rousing Sousa marches, which together with the use of ‘La Cucaracha’ in an escape sequence tended to emphasize the camp aspects of the picture.

Doc Savage was a clear influence on Superman – with his other-worldly air and Arctic Fortress of Solitude, Savage was the product of his father’s desire to create a ‘Christ-like’ Superman – trained from birth in all the sciences, arts and forms of physical combat.

Just as well as he was one of the good guys as Doc’s upbringing smacked of Nazi-like eugenics.

Alan Moore’s Ozymandias (Watchmen) – ‘the smartest man in the world’ appears to owe a debt to the character.

Star Ron Ely, who has recently been in the headlines due to a family tragedy was best known as Tarzan in the 1966-68 series, which is still fondly remembered by readers of a certain age.

The Superman connection was continued as Ely played a retired alternate dimension Kal-El (avec Brando-style Mr Whippy wig) in a 1991 episode of the Superboy syndicated series.

Bearing in mind the unwatchable mess that was Shane Black’s studio-mangled The Predator (2018) which should make fans of Doc Savage somewhat glad that his reboot has yet to get off the ground. Other movies that bear witness to this issue based on other pulp characters from the era such as The Shadow (1994) and The Phantom (1996).

But don’t give up on the good Doctor, as in the words of Don Black’s theme to the movie:

Have no Fear, the Man of Bronze is here.
Peace will come to all who find
Doc Savage, Doc Savage.
He’s a friend to all Mankind.
Pure of heart and mind.
Who will make crime disappear?
Doc Savage, Doc Savage
Part hero and pioneer.
Thank the Lord he’s here!



Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'