An unlikely favourite comic-book movie of mine growing up was Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, the 1975 big-screen adaptation of the old Lester Dent pulp magazines. I was later surprised to learn that, not only did the film receive negative reviews and failed at the box-office upon its release but the French dub inexplicably gave Ron Ely a lisp.
Don't ask, I don't know...
While the film tries to stay true to the character of Doc Savage and his story in the comics, it also keeps a tongue-in-cheek tone throughout, occasionally poking fun at the dated nature the pulp hero. This might have confused audiences back in the day who may have expected a more earnest action film, sort of like how Last Action Hero didn't do well with reviewers who weren't expecting a flood of in-jokes. But although Doc Savage has its cartoonish moments, it's not really a spoof and it captures the spirit of the titular hero and his adventures rather well. Doc Savage is given his own patriotic theme song, he has his own code which he recites with pride, he's got subtle powers and his team is multi-talented and courageous. Watching it back in the day, I had no problem understanding that parts of the film are goofy and funny while others are more typical superhero fare so it's a shame that most critics didn't.
But how does the film hold up today?
The good news is that it's exactly as I remember it: fun, clever, original, silly and well worth checking out. Doc and his team, The Fabulous Five, are a likeable bunch and seeing them work together against a common threat or even bicker amongst themselves is always entertaining. There's plenty about the iconography of the character to like including all sorts of bizarre gadgets (extinguisher globes, anyone?), a Fortress Of Solitude/igloo, a cool gold car and plane, the heroic score, Doc's charm and super-strengh. It all makes for an old-fashioned yet appealing superhero in the vein of The Rocketeer or Zorro. If only the movie The Phantom had been as humorous and clever as Doc Savage. If anything, this movie was ahead of its time as, nowadays, superhero movies are generally more self-aware but, having said that, reviving pulp heroes of the 30's is never a box-office sure thing, to say the least.
Just look at The Lone Ranger.
The plot of the film sees Doc Savage learn of his father's death somewhere in Central America. Soon after, his life is threatened and his office is broken into by a native of the Republic Of Hidalgo, where Doc and The Fabulous Five travel to soon after. There, they find that Doc Savage's father was in fact murdered and that there is corruption brewing between a wealthy entrepreneur (a villainous Paul Wexler) and the local government, specifically Don Rubio Gorro (Bob Corso), who sleeps in a giant baby crib. Highlights include animated green snakes, a hilarious multi-martial arts end fight scene, a river of gold and the best bad guy evil laugh you'll ever hear. Ely is perfect as the lead and captures both the heroic and ridiculous aspects of his character perfectly and, although some of the smaller roles are purposely corny, most of the cast is pretty spot-on.
Believe it or not, Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze still holds up and, while one hopes its bad rep will one day fizzle out, this is a film that might just be destined for cult adoration. I, for one, always enjoy revisiting it as it's a fun, charming ride which doesn't take itself too seriously yet respects its source material enough to pay genuine homage to it.
An underrated, dated treat.