Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)

Every now and then, I like to do a thing for me on B-Movie Enema. You know, like one that is in honor of, well, me? That’s what we have here with this movie. This week, I’m going to dive into the 1975 pulp action hero adventure Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze!

Why this movie? It’s really obvious when you break apart the title. I’m sort of a doctor. I am the Enema Man! So, yeah. I don’t know if you have to be a doctor, but look at some of the early articles on this blog or my YouTube show for further reference of my credentials. Second, I’m relatively savage. You want further proof of my savage nature? Check out what I had to say about Pot Zombies. I still get irrationally angry at the thought of that turd.

Third, I assume most people think I’m a man. Some people may even think I’m THE man! And lastly, yes, I am a man of bronze. My buttery colored skin is a sight to behold and something that women desire and men desire to have.

So yes, I’m a barrel-bellied man of action, and THAT’S why I am dedicating this movie to my life mate and partner – me!

I’m being told that “barrel-bellied” is not a good thing. A good thing would be to be “barrel-chested”. However, I am indeed much more “barrel-bellied”. I’m also “hairy-chested”. I’m also not a doctor. Nor am I a picture of great skin tone or health. Let’s face it, I’m hardly even savage. I’m just a dude.

But! I am a dude who appreciates pulp action heroes. Shit, guys. I’m a huge comic book fan. I think you almost have to be a fan of pulp heroes as a pre-requisite for being a comic book superhero fan. Before Superman came on the scene in 1938, you had your comic strip guys like The Spirit or or Flash Gordon, but before that and up through the early days of comic books, you had pulp heroes too. Characters like Conan the Barbarian, The Shadow, John Carter of Mars, and Tarzan. The list goes on and on, but they are all basically the same concept. They are extraordinary characters doing highly heroic things or completing various feats as if they are cut straight out of mythology of old. That’s where Doc Savage comes from.

Doc Savage, kind of like the superheroes by the end of the same decade, leapt from the pages of his own magazine in 1933. He would later get his adventures collected in pulp paperback novels and those sold tens of millions of copies before the end of the 70s. Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee says Doc Savage was really where the comic book superhero owes credit. Between Gold Key, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Dynamite Entertainment, Doc Savage has had the opportunity to appear in the world of comic books too. So many pulp heroes like Savage and the others I mentioned previously had their chance to appear in the very medium that they inspired.

There were a handful of false starts when it came to bringing Doc Savage to screens. The first go was from Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. They were the guys who made every single game show you have any memory of growing up watching in reruns or even first run. Shows like The Price Is Right, The Match Game, and Family Feud to name a few of their biggest hits. They were trying to get the series of books to the screen in the mid-60s to cash in on the craze another pulp hero, James Bond, had created. Some rights issues that got tied up and lasted too long forced the production team and the cast they got to move onto a different project.

Along came George Pal. Pal was kind of a heavy hitter. He hit it big with two classic science fiction flicks – The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine. This was the guy who was gonna get it done. Initially, they weren’t so sure about directly adapting the first novel, The Man of Bronze. Pal decided maybe they were going to create their own story and call it Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil. That’s a bad ass title. He’s not just the fuckin’ enemy of evil he is the shittin’ ARCH enemy of evil, mofos. The problem, though, was that when they finished that script with that bitchin’ title, Pal realized they had ZERO backstory or real character development for Doc Savage himself. Oops! So they went back to that original novel.

Pal then decided the only real way to do Doc Savage was to set it in the proper period of time that Savage existed in his stories. He ended up realizing this was going to be somewhat campy by 70s standards, but he was hoping to add charm to it. The adaptation of the first novel was actually quite faithful and incorporated over a dozen hallmarks that were common for the series and characters. Pal seemed to really want to make this authentic and an honest adaptation of this character and his themes and attributes.

The only problem was… The movie, by all accounts, was absolute garbage.

Yeah, the only positive reviews came from the stories’ primary contributor Lester Dent’s widow who was so happy with the movie, she saw it three times on its first day and cried tears of joy over the movie. I mean, that’s actually sweet. This is something her husband poured his heart and soul into (presumably) when he was writing those stories back in the 30s. To see it come to life on screen in a big budget production had to be uniquely satisfying. It’s just the movie’s camp and desire to adhere strictly to Doc Savage as a pulp hero from a different time hurt the reception of the movie. There are ways to adapt things that are old for contemporary audiences and still hold onto the fun and feel of that character, his/her adventures, etc. Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze didn’t do enough to ingratiate itself to modern audiences.

Before we dive into this movie to see what I, a barrel-bellied man of bronzy action, think of this movie, I do want to quickly talk about the film’s director, Michael Anderson. This guy was a somewhat big deal. In 1956, he made an adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 (a book that a whole bunch of people today think they know what it’s about and how it relates to society of 2021) AND, in the same year, made the Best Picture Oscar winner Around the World in 80 Days which was, of course, an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel. He was nominated for Best Director at the Oscars for the latter as well. After that, he continued to make big productions. He followed up Doc Savage with a classic in sci-fi cinema Logan’s Run and Orca, a Jaws ripoff about a killer whale. He then started the 80s with a TV adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and closed out the decade with another sci-fi flick, Millennium. My point was, this wasn’t a guy who just did stuff we ain’t never heard of. He was attached to relatively significant productions.

But let’s see how he navigates Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze!

I was not so sure about this movie. I mean, yes, as a fellow man of bronzy action and adventure such as Doc Savage, I am definitely understandably wanting to watch something that is very much in the vein of how I regularly go about my day. Between my riding horses, and driving cars, and using my Fortress of Solitude (which is 100% functionally and apparently different than Superman’s), and generally tellin’ ladies that I think they’re a brick, I need to see others of my ilk doing the same thing. But then, I was kind of thinking that this movie may not be be right for B-Movie Enema.

But then I watched the trailer.

Wowzers. So, yeah. This fits. And the first things we see in this movie are the Warner Brothers logo, and, bigger than life, stretched across the screen, the words “A GEORGE PAL PRODUCTION” before we watch Doc Savage cruising up to his Arctic Circle Fortress of Solitude (that is 100% distinct from Superman’s). We are introduced to him by a narrator saying, “THIS… IS DOC SAVAGE!” with his theme song playing. Want to know what his theme song is? Watch the trailer above.

The credits begin and something really bizarre is seen:

It’s at this point I realize that this is likely going to be sickeningly patriotic or something. I mean, there is something charming about the narrator and the theme song, right? For the people who listened to the radio shows and stuff from the years gone by, this is going to probably make them real nostalgic for those types of concepts. It’s a nostalgia for those ideas they can share with their kids or whatever now. I also understand this being a real easy way to introduce some backstory. Doc Savage travels up to his Fortress of Solitude (completely different in every way from Superman’s), and he reads, does astronomy, invents things, like a rocket that does fishing for him, and probably jerks of to LOTS and LOTS of porno mags. We also to see his Fabulous Five – a lawyer, a chemist, an engineer, a geologist/archeologist, and and an electrician (played by Paul Gleason of The Breakfast Club and He Knows You’re Alone fame). These are his bros. We are briefly introduced to them doing the things they are the best at.

For Doc Savage? He sits in his underwear in the Arctic. Are we sure he’s all that smart?

He sits there and thinks. He thinks until he has a thought. He sits there until his balls freeze all the way off and then he goes back into this legally distinct Fortress of Solitude. In New York, we see a man dressed as a Native American with a snake tattooed on his chest climb up a building and taking aim with a rifle into a building across the street. I should point out that this Native American is played by someone who is decidedly not.

The apartment the “Native” gentleman is spying on with the scope of his rifle is, of course, Doc Savage’s. He comes in and the Fabulous Five are waiting for him. He greets them by saying he already knows something is wrong. You see, while he was meditating in the freezing cold of the Arctic, he “sensed” their “thought patterns” and knew something was up so he came home. His lawyer pal, “Ham” Brooks, tells Doc that his father died the week before in South America. He died of a “tropical” disease.

The Fabulous Five from Right to Left: Monk Mayfair, Long Tom Roberts, Ham Brooks, Renny Renwick, and Johnny Littlejohn.

Apparently the “Native” fellow is there to shoot Doc Samson, but Ham blocks the first attempt. The second attempt while Doc is checking his safe for the document his father sent him the day he died misses. There are several gunshots that don’t connect, but it keeps Doc and the others hiding behind furniture. Doc yanks a bullet out of the wall, which causes his suit to rip and tear from him exerting his muscles (I have lost so many shirts the very same way), and he knows exactly what the grain count is and the caliber.

Doc and the Five spring into action. We learn that Doc had “refractive glass” installed. This makes everything look like it is five inches to the side. Monk, Ham, Johnny, and Long Tom go out after the heat signature from the rifle by car while Renny and Doc follow in the Doc Savage-copter. Doc was able to trace the heat from the gun with some sort of deal or something with a thing or a doo dad. He immediately finds the Native fella and the guys in the car see the gunman on a building.

Doc chases the gunman on foot, but the gunman brought a, well, gun to a fist fight. He’s able to stay ahead of Doc thanks to his long range, projectile weapon. Doc has a gun of his own, though. It’s a bronze one. I should mention that everything about Doc Savage is bronze. He’s blond, tan, and wears khakis. He is basically bronze. His car the members of the Fabulous Five are in is bronze. His chopper is bronze. Of course that gun is too. He’s one bronze fella.

And strong as a tree trunk too, I tell ya what.

Between being on the edge of a giant building, lightning, and a chiming clock on the building, the Native guy falls to his doom. Now, as funny as it was that the gunman threw his rifle at Doc and he blocked it and it made a funny sound effect, and as funny as it is that the guy then fell off the very building he purposely went out onto the edge of, nothing beats that hero moment that happens next. The Fabulous Five are checking out the dead body, which is remarkably well put together after falling off a skyscraper, and Doc opens the door like a fuckin’ man lookin’ all heroic…

Now, I know his shirt was open because, duh, that’s what guys like us do because we are so fucking awesome and manly. What I can’t seem to remember is where did he rip his shirt? I don’t remember any situation in which he would have had a Captain Kirk style fisticuffs that led to his shirt being destroyed in quite that manner. That’s extra actiony when you get your shirt all ripped up.

While they were chasing the gunman, someone broke into Doc’s penthouse. The rest of the team leave Johnny behind to study the strange tattoo symbol on the gunman’s chest. When the team gets back to the penthouse, the papers in Doc’s safe are on fire and burnt to ashes. It’s at this point Doc realizes his father didn’t die of a jungle disease. His father was MURDERED! Insert a lightning strike for dramatic effect.

Johnny comes in dazed. He got knocked out. When he came to, the body was gone. However, before he was knocked out, he did find a solid gold knife on the body of the gunman. Doc plans to leave for South America in the morning. The team accompany the titular man of bronze in his Doc Savage-plane – which is not just bronze, but marvelously branded with his logo.

No sooner than they take off, but they are soon to be pursued by an evil mustachioed villain in a biplane. Now, say what you will, this movie is full of action. There have been few moments of downtime through the early stages of the movie. We see the villain blow up Doc’s plane, but it was a decoy to throw whoever is coming after him off their trail.

Before the real Doc Savage-plane can take off, though, we need to hear THE CODE.

That’s some heroic shit right there. The swell of the music. The moistening of the eyes of his simps. The applause as if an auditorium was hearing his speech. It’s a nice speech to be sure. A good code to live by I suppose but a bit much.

This plays directly to my prediction of why this movie bombed so hard and got such bad reviews. The movie takes place in 1936 with the sentiment of the era and the heroes of the time. That’s charming and nice and, with its G rating, obviously this was meant to be something kids could enjoy, but it’s way too late by the time it was released in 1975. Release this when Goodson and Todman wanted, in the mid-60s, and you’d likely be coming out when campy heroics were popular. Remember, they wanted it out by 1966 or 1967 – the height of Batman’s popularity on TV.

By the mid-70s, cynicism had set in big time. Kids had grown up watching the war on TV. Almost every kid knew a family that suffered a loss during the Vietnam War. Things just weren’t so wholesome anymore. Even comic book heroes were pushing for more realism with Marvel comics literally discussing social issues that mattered under the veneer of bright superhero costumes. I’m not saying this movie couldn’t work or had to be gritted up, but I’m saying that a lot of good things are here, it was just played too old fashioned and hokey. You could make this movie work on all those sweet little G rated levels while still making it relevant to the kids of the mid-70s. In addition, I think Pal overplayed his hand on Doc Savage’s popularity. Everything is played so much as if we should know all these quirks and details about him, but it’s too much.

So on a boat in the Mediterranean, there’s a bunch of bad guys and hot babes. The guy in the middle of the above picture is the guy in the biplane that thinks he destroyed the Doc Savage guys. The guy on the left is our lead villain, Captain Seas. He talks about making money to a blonde bimbo babe and then starts laughing. He laughs HARD. So much so, everyone else at the party on the boat starts to laugh too. Do I think they all know what’s so funny? Nope. Why? Because I don’t know what’s so funny. He just was like, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, blonde babe, I’m gonna make ALL DA MONIES!” Then laughter. Out of control laughter.

Doc and the Fabulous Five arrive in Hidalgo and speak to El Presidente. They ask about Doc’s father and we learn he was well loved. He was gifted a plot of land by a native tribe. However, unsurprising to Doc, the deed to the land is missing from the government records. Doc is not planning on going back to New York quite yet. He wants to find this tribe. A squirrelly guy who works for the records bureau warns it may take a few days to find a guide to take them into the jungle, but Doc is not budging – which makes the squirrelly guy nervous. He calls up a contact to tell them Doc and the Fab Five are still alive.

Now, there’s a weird quirk with this squirrelly dude…

Yeah, he sleeps in a rocking crib while a lullaby plays in the background. Is the music diegetic to the scene? Is it just a little joke in the score? I do not know.

When word gets back to Captain Seas that Savage is still alive, he has his pilot killed. This is where one of the funny dressed fellas in the background of that earlier picture on the boat comes into play. He sends several spectral snakes into the pilot’s room and he’s killed by many bites.

A twist in this movie is not that Michael Berryman is in this movie, not that he is the coroner of Hidalgo, but that his name is Juan Lopez Morales.

Yeah… Right.

What the coroner reports is that there was some sort of powdery residue in Professor Savage’s body that he can’t identify. Monk and Savage request to look at the slides. As Doc looks them over that night, he’s attacked by a trio of the astral snakes. He’s able to fight them off with a fan by blowing them out the window.

The next morning, two more snakes arrive. These are Adriana and Karen, Captain Seas’ hot boat babes. These two are all shoulders and boobs. They are here to see Doc Savage and invite him and the Fab Five to dinner on his boat.

Savage and the gang go to Captain Seas’ boat. We learn that Seas lives on this boat. He’s a rich business man, but his business seems to change from day to day. He says that he business is to find opportunity and seize it. Seas excuses the girls after dinner and his staff comes in and plan to kill them, but Long Tom has a trick of his own – a laser in his lighter that he uses to shoot out the light and the guns in the goons’ hands. The gang escapes while John Phillip Sousa’s patriotic score plays.

Seas even shoots Savage, but it does no harm to our hero. When he dives overboard, she takes off his shirt to reveal an oxygen tank. So, was his shirt bulletproof? Was it his tux jacket? Is it him?

Anyway, the next day, Savage and Monk go to lodge a complaint about the very awful dinner experience the night before. Savage is told there was no boat that fit his description. So he decides to go to the records place. There, he meets Mona Flores, a pretty, and very reserved, secretary that seems to know a thing or two about the legendary tribe that Professor Savage may have become friends with. She offers to Doc and his Fab Five to the place where this legendary lost Quetzamal tribe is supposed to live.

Much to the surprise and dismay of the squirrelly guy who sleeps in the oversized crib, Don Rubio Gorro, Mona leaves with Savage and the Fab Five. He calls in Captain Seas who is counting on Mona being unable to guide them to the Quetzamal tribe. He says there’s a lot of money riding on her being unable to lead them. What that means, I cannot say. I also cannot say what Captain Sea’s ultimate plan is. He’s a bad guy who makes money. He does things that are bad. The fuck else you want a bad guy to do, dummies?

Mona leads Doc to her village. She talks to an old friend of her grandfather who maybe once went to Quetzamal. He agrees to lead Doc and the Fab Five to where he went as a young man, but he doesn’t believe that is Quetzamal – only “the edge of the world”. Mona wants to continue on with Doc and his group. Doc doesn’t want her to go because he feels it would be too dangerous for her to go. That’s when she drops some deep shit on Doc.

Everything about this moment is amazing. Watch that video. Watch Mona’s face as Doc is explaining this sad sack story about his ex-girlfriend. Then, notice how he looks when he dodges attachment (while still DEFINITELY wanting to get up her skirt before this adventure comes to a close). Then back to her as he calls her a brick and gives her the little punch on her chin. This is fucking gold. There are little things this movie does like this that goes from a chuckle because it is so goofy and camp to “whoa that is really, really funny” kind of moments.

The whole thing is amazing. You KNOW Doc wants to do the Mexican Sideways Tango with this girl. You now know SHE wants the same thing. But the moment she says he loves him, he’s like, “Nuh uh… I’m out. You’re a brick!” and punches her chin. That’s demoralizing… And very, very funny.

What’s funnier? He sticks to his goddamn word and Mona is NOT with them in this next leg of the journey. That’s amazing. I think this movie is the most unintentionally gay movie ever made. You have a very pretty woman pouring her heart out to our chiseled hero. He, in turn, talks about how a past traumatic experience makes it so he can’t be with a woman. He then totally straight arms her right in the fucking face all the way to the friend zone. Then, he carries on, without her. Only dudes while an all-dude choir sings about how manly they all are.

It’s hilarious how everything is the complete opposite of what they intended.

Anyway, so Doc Savage and the Fab Five are led to a cliff. The old man from Mona’s tribe says this is the end of the line. There is no way down the mountain, but what they are looking for is in the valley… that they can’t get to. However, Doc soon discovers that there is a clue left for him on the rocks. This leads them to a narrow passage down the side of the cliff.

They spot a bubbling pool made of melted gold. We also see Captain Seas’ men holding guns to the natives and forcing them to collect the gold from the pool. However, the Fab Five are captured because Mona was previously captured by the goons. She got captured because she followed after these manly men who are definitely into women and women only so she could be with Doc.

Seas asks one of the natives who is one of his goons to kill the Fab Five. His goon agrees to mix up a sacred, ancient potion. When the chief protests, Seas has him arrested and held for execution too. While they are imprisoned, we learn that the tribe is very good at speaking English thanks to Professor Savage. The chief then says they are all about to die a horrible death. However, before the potion can be completed by the head goon, Monk has his little pig he is always carrying around with him (yes I just said that) eat through their ropes. Just as they prepare to fight their way out, the green spectral snakes come in and start slithering toward them. The chief stands in the way and takes all the bites. He collapses, but the snakes keep coming and start taking bites out of the others.

Doc Savage arrives to save the day. Doc has Seas’ goons open the cave they are imprisoned in. He gives Monk the antidote for the ghost snakes. He then goes mano e mano with Seas, who decides he wants to go Sumo on Savage. Then it is some kung fu. Then, it’s just good old fashioned fighting and punching and wrestling and ripped shirts.

Because of course there are ripped shirts.

It’s kind of funny because there are all these various fighting techniques that Seas wants to employ. I guess because he lives on a boat and has been everywhere, he knows all these techniques. However, Doc Savage is, like, the best at everything? He just beats the shit out of Captain Seas.

So, the gold pool starts to explode because Gorro started throwing dynamite at people walking off with the bars of gold Seas’ men made from the pool. This triggers an eruption that starts messing the place up. Doc hides everyone in the cave and when they emerge, all the bad guys are gone, and the chief tells Doc that the land and all the gold are his. This is pleasing to Doc Savage. He says this will help him continue to fight for justice. This is also pleasing to Mona who now REALLY hopes Doc will come back to see her some time.

Monk tells Captain Seas that Doc is going to take him to the Doc Savage Rehabilitation Center where Doc will perform a certain acupuncture procedure that will rid him of all his evil thoughts and wrongdoing. That seems like some weirdo Cuckoo’s Nest shit, but whatever. He’ll then be taught a good trade and “good citizenship” and he’ll then be released to be a productive member of society. This is almost villainous!

At the end of the movie, it is Christmas time. We see Captain Seas helping raise money for the Salvation Army and singing carols. We then see Doc Savage return to his penthouse to hear a message on his answering machine about millions of people that are going to be killed through this plan and he leaps into action! We then see the 70s version of the Marvel Post Credit Sequence thing for a movie that will never get made…

That’s a bitchin’ title though.

This movie is something really wild and something else. I don’t know if I like this movie, hate it, just dislike it, or absolutely love it. I do know that it’s kind of unlike anything else made in between 1946 and 1975. I do know that the lyrics to Doc Savage’s theme song were written by Don Black who wrote lyrics to some of the James Bond theme songs.

I do understand how Doc Savage would be a very successful pulp hero. It’s high action and extraordinary feats. But not only that, we also have his pals – five kind of ordinary guys, but all with various things they are experts at. Even the sort of “dumb guy” of the bunch, Monk, is an expert chemist. Doc Savage defers to HIM about chemistry. There’s a little bit for everyone in the story. The movie? Well, it’s outdated. As I said earlier, there are pieces of wonderfully fun and interesting ideas they could go with. The problem is the movie didn’t take into account whether or not it wanted to take itself seriously or not at all. When you have that fractured sense of itself, the movie tends to over-correct wildly. I do have to say, though, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze is a fun little movie. Stupid, but fun nonetheless.

Next week, I’m going to jail. No, no, I was not part of some really shitty insurrection attempt some months ago and I finally got popped by the big boys. No, I’m saying that metaphorically. Some months ago, I did late 70s blaxploitation drama Penitentiary. It’s time to do Penitentiary II! So, get your asses back here in seven days for that.

But… You know what I’m gonna say next.

Head over to YouTube and subscribe to the B-Movie Enema YouTube channel. There, you can find the first season of B-Movie Enema: The Series. You’ll also find several clips that I pull when I need some extra help fully describing something crazy. Also, check out the site’s Facebook page as well as Twitter too! Not only that, but do me a favor and check out Film Seizure. That’s a podcast I cohost with a couple old friends. We talk about movies (like, good ones, not these types of movies), and we usually pick things we have some sort of connection to. It’s a good time.

See you next week, Enemaniacs! You’re all bricks to me!

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