The New Doc Savage Movie Idea Page
Archived Larger Consideration Blog Posts
July 11, 2010 Update: Last time I finished by writing “Make the scale big, the action big and the characters big. That's how a Doc Savage movie will stand out.” I need to clarify that by no means am I talking about making an overly expensive film. Whatever a mid-sized action movie costs should cover everything. Many films create a few massive and detailed sets and locations, and then spend a lot of time filming in them. This is not needed and not even best attempted for a new Doc Savage film.
I’d rather see the budget used to film as many scenes in as many different settings as possible, always moving with either drama or action, creating spectacular scenes one after the next instead of spectacular visuals that must be lingered on to make them worth their cost. The scenes I’ve come up with might appear long if blocked out at the pace of a major motion picture, but they can be shorthanded to fit any pace or importance in the larger picture by not loitering. The beginning of The Dark Knight dragged on and on with pregnant pauses. A Doc movie wouldn’t have that luxury.
A Doc Savage movie might benefit from being filmed like a television show with higher production values. It might stand out for the better if it didn’t squat on large set pieces, but instead kept the audience on the edge of their seats with new scenes and action piled high. What I meant by “Make the scale big, the action big and the characters big” is that everything about Doc, his aides, the dangers they face, the fights, the chases, the villain – should all be peak human or bigger than life. Nothing can be average. Doc’s size, strength, and fighting skill must be peak level. The fighting skills of the aides (Long Tom excluded for treasons listed on the next page) has to reflect the best they can humanly achieve with Doc's training. The assistants, and Doc especially, must show repeatedly they have expertise in ways that solves problems and moves the plot forward.
The fewer CGI effects the better. The fight scenes should like in The Transporter. Wire work will be necessary but it shouldn’t be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Crashes should be real too, but they did incredible work on the Bourne films using green screens, so maybe I’m shortchanging technology in the name of aesthetic purity. Still, live action that pops will make a new movie stand out that much more.
Doc Savage should not be a tragic or damaged figure. He doesn't need a Freudian backstory. He's nearly perfect but he's not an A-Hole about it. He shouldn't wear just a vest to show off his amazing arms. That's what a douche does. He should have no sense or opinion on his own good looks, wealth, and brains. It must be a non-factor. He also doesn't call himself Doc. Only his aides do so casually. His parents call him Clark and most others in person refer to him as Mr. or Dr. Savage.
August 01, 2010 Update: There's a fan edit of the 1975 Doc Savage film titled Doc Salvaged: The Edit Of Bronze. It seeks the "good" film buried somewhere in the original pile of celluloid and does the best it can. I did my own inventory of the original Doc Savage film's best and worst moments. There's more worst than best. The Man Of Bronze would have been an excellent choice for MST3K treatment. Did George Pal made it with thirteen year old boys in mind? There's a famous Pal quote where he says "We made it too good." No, the film wasn't too good. it wasn't even good.
The best parts of the original film with time indications:
caught in rocket rings bell by thrashing around
07:23 Doc opens safe with wristwatch
08:04 Future Devo member Johnny has nice deadpan sight gag with binoculars
28:08 Seas says to Bimbo "You like money, right?" Bimbo replies "Sure, Poopsie"
39:00 Hills Have Eyes star Michael Berryman appears as Coroner
51:07 Renny punches through chair into bad guy's face
1:32:58 Gorro covered in gold like a statue
1:37:14 Cool answering machine using phonographs
Eldon Quick as Johnny is the only decent actor with a decent acting role in the film. The bimbos are funny.
The worst parts of the original along with transcribed parts for your reading pleasure:
00:43 Doc Savage logo on snowmobile
Horrible announcer's voice begins
00:48 Opening theme song: "Have no fear the Man Of Bronze is here / He's ??? 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 / Conqueror and pioneer, thank the Lord he's here / The Doc made a vow that helps us all so let's recall it now / The oath that he swore, said life would be sweet and free once more / Our hero has come, let's all join in as we begin the big parade / The bang of your drum, ??? raise your flag 'cause history is being made."
01:00 Twinkle in Doc's right eye
01:52 Banner inside igloo reads "Fortress Of Solitude"
02:46 Machine lathes a rocket to catch a fish
02.53 A poor man's John Astin appears as Ham
03:08 Monk, a fat man in a fat suit and fake sideburns, holds his pig like an idiot
03:46 Long Tom shown to be completely effing incompetent
04:08 Doc's spidey sense kicks in to the sound of a bad synth progression
04:37 Native played by the whitest man on earth crawls up building
05:15 Massive concrete eagle's head sticks out of Doc's HQ on what must be the 30th floor
05:50 Doc's office has full length glass windows looking out into hallway
06:13 Doc: "I picked up your thought waves - came as fast as I could."
06:30 Big ugly framed key on wall from set of movie set in a Florida steak house
09:46 Renny: "We'll take The Whizzer!"
09:57 Wacky hi-jinx on stairs proves aids are putzes. "To the garage!"
10:28 Doc Savage logo on bronze car defeats stealth
10:53 Logo on bronze
12:48 Doc evades close-range expert marksman by pivoting sideways
13:00 Monk takes pig with him during chase, like an idiot
13:50 Doc owns and shoots a bronze gun
14:22 Long Tom wears idiot tool belt
14:25 Doc Savage wears a Doc Savage logo belt buckle
15:14 Doc's shirt open to his belt because it's
15:26 Rifle bounces off Doc's chest, and does no harm!
15:38 Stuffed dummy floats sideways in wind
16:19 Monk: "One thing for sure, he ain't no native New Yorker"
17:28 Doc on car running in pouring rain board points straight ahead for no apparent reason
17:48 Doc: "We'll use the extinguisher globes" instead of a regular fire extinguisher
18:21 The bad sparkly synth notes are now his trilling
19:38 Doc sniffs handle of gold dagger for no apparent reason
22:56 Large Doc Savage logo on side of plane, defeating stealth
24:33 A magical camera tracks the flight of the red baron plane
25:10 Doc: "Before we go, let us remember our code. Let us strive every moment of our lives to make ourselves better and better to the best of our ability. So that all may profit from it. Let us think of the right, and lend our assistance to all who may need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let us take what comes with a smile, without lose of courage. Let us be considerate of our country, our fellow citizens, and our associates in everything we say and do. Let us do right to all, and wrong no man."
26:04 Applause continues with added cheers as they fly off
26:42 Capt. Seas wears bedazzled dinner jacket
27:30 Tribal honcho wears white Saturday Night Fever two-piece suit
28:25 Capt. Seas' stupid evil laugh infects party guests
33:45 Gorro, a tall midget Mexican stereotype, is in a bed that rocks like a cradle
35:21 The character of Bordon is played by a very ugly actor
35:27 Cheap day-glo snake effect begins
37:00 Doc stretches on diving board to attract attention from kitchen staff who telegraph the joke
38:14 Habeas shoots out of Monk's
lap like the creature in Alien
38:20 Ham is so effeminate the ghost of Tony Randall blushes
43:56 Monk waves at bimbos like an idiot and talks like Seymour from 1960's Little Shop Of Horrors
44:52 Doc's synth trilling starts up again
45:23 Doc has a creepy frozen smile, which he uses a lot
46:41 Monk is so fat (how fat is he?) he lays back in a chair like he's still standing up
50:32 Sea's cracked front tooth is distracting
50:44 Renny's cigarette wilts in a listless erectile dysfunction joke
50:55 Renny's lighter is a Star Trek phaser
51:13 Long Tom electrocutes bad guys with house current while giggling
51:49 Ham's sword cane makes an electrical sound as it strikes
52:24 Johnny's a Chin Na expert
52:50 Ron Ely can't kick for poop
54:15 Doc hits two rows of bad guys who fall to the sound of bowling pins
54:55 Where's Doc's bullet proof vest?
55:44 In 1936 did men wear Dumbo-ear sized shirt collars outside their sport coats?
58:50 American Jewish actress plays Latin American woman
58:54 Doc's right eye twinkles as he says "You may call me Doc"
59:00 Gorro in his crib sings "La Cucaracha", which then becomes a running theme
59:57 Gorro sucks his thumb in his crib and it comes out with a "pop" sound
1:06:06 Ham says "Muchas gracias Senorita" and Monk adds "Mucho Garcia. Me too"
1:06:41 Native Mona says to native relative "Por favor. Please", adding the English for whom?
1:07:50 Doc gives a long explanation that sounds like the excuse of a closeted homosexual
1:08:53 Doc: "Mona, you're a brick" and love taps her with a fist on her cheek. She stares blankly
1:09:01 Song: "Oh bravely they ride, six righteous men , now once again uphold the law / Their hearts filled with pride, determined to discover who they're searching for / His father is dead, they must learn why he had to die before his time / There's danger ahead, Doc is cool, he'll make the fool pay for his crimes / Doc Savage, Doc Savage, thank the Lord he's here / Doc made a vow, he helps us all so let's recall it now / The oath that he swore to strive for peace ??? free once more / He's noble and strong, he's got a brain, a super brain, that will not rest / He'll right every wrong, now let's all try to sooth the savage beast/ Long live the Man Of Bronze! Long Live the Man of Bronze! / One of a kind, Doc Savage / Let's ??? find Doc Savage, and those behind Doc Savage riding, riding, riding onto freedom / Doc must succeed, a learned sleuth, who seeks the truth each place he goes / It's time to proceed, stay in your seats and hope he'll beat his evil foes."
1:17:28 Ham to thugs: "I'm a lawyer. I'll sue you for this!"
1:18:52 Capt. Seas: "This is the law here, Harvard man. The law of the jungle!"
1:21:01 Head native bad guy: "Areeya Boo Boo!!"
1:22:25 Head native bad guy: "Runga Bunga!!"
1:22:25 The green snake from the pit is instantly silver out of the pit
1:23:00 Renny: "If I had my thingamajig". He never had one to begin with
1:25:36 Monk: "Have no fear, Doc Savage is here!"
1:27:17 Martial arts battle begins with "Sumo"
1:27:38 "Gung Fu" is actually Judo
1:28:01 "Tai Chichuan" is actually Chinese snake style
1:29:17 "Bojijsu", which doesn't even exist
1:29:46 "Fisticuffs" with sound of boxing ring bell
1:30:13 Sea's island of
a bald spot exposed
1:33:16 Monk to pig: "Come back here, you son of a pig. Come back I tell ya." Laughter erupts
1:34:45 Doc's right eye twinkles for last time
1:35:00 Doc kisses Mona. Entire village applauds
1:35:38 Monk explains Doc's lobotomy rehabilitation methods are actually acupuncture. Riiiiight
1:37:30 Voice on machine: "Doc, hey Doc listen. This is an emoigency"
1:38:26 Half of Doc's rear bumper has a sign that reads "Have no fear. Doc Savage is here!" Doc is consumed by his own awesomeness
January 30, 2011 Update:
This time 'round I eBayed ten of the Nostalgia Ventures reprint books for a total of $40.00, a sweet deal as they retail for $12.95 each. They're neat little trade paperbacks, reprinting the original artwork and adding supplementary articles by Lester Dent historian Will Murray. The inside art is as random as the most recent attempts to depict Doc Savage as anything but how the pulps describe him. Some images have him as Dick Tracy while others vary from one generic "handsome" face to another. His size also magically multiplies when he's shown jumping out a window with an assistant under each arm. A number of covers have Doc as he is below on the cigarette case cover, so I'm thinking maybe there's a little Johnny Weissmuller to the character. I'd love to know if there was a particular person back then he was based on for the covers. Nice cleft chin there, fella. Many of the internal illustrations have Doc and his men all wearing suits and ties. I don't recall the pulps detailing much at all how Doc dresses, and the two things you never want to do while wearing a tie is work over moving machinery and get into fights. Jeez, you might as well wear a leash around your neck. I'm also inclined to believe double-breasted suits don't allow for free movement. I always imagined Monk dressed like a vaudeville comedian.
I'm hoping a new Doc Savage movie will get Doc's fighting style right both scientifically and as an extension of his character. The pulps have him trained from an early age in both traditional and street fighting styles, and a rare insight into his father's parenting skills has Doc as a youngster having to overcome beatings at the hands of his teachers who were given instructions to keep it coming until Clark learned how to defeat them. Except for the first pulp, which has Doc killing natives with one punch each, he doesn't fight maliciously as Monk is known to do. Doc's fighting style should be adaptive, efficient and designed to be more of a deterrent than brutal acts of violence. He generally shouldn't show emotion or exhibit strain when he fights because he's usually a few times faster, stronger and trained than anyone he's up against, and also, scientific, controlled fighting requires focus and concentration. I don't think his fighting style should be based on any easily identifiable style, but it should be internal or external depending on the challenge and goal. The military styles seen in the Bourne movies or the Krav Maga of Liam Neeson in Taken are not correct for Doc Savage because while they might be efficient they are also brutal and nasty. A hybrid set of styles should be created for a new Doc Savage movie.
I'm also thinking anyone Renny hits full force should not be getting up any time soon.
January 16, 2011 Update: Self-publishing empire Lulu.com offers a number of Doc Savage books. Two of note are The Adventures Of Doc Savage: A Definitive Chronology and How I Discovered Doc Savage. The "Adventures" book has this notation: "This is the revised edition of the original 2000 publication, with the typos corrected and revisions made based on new information. Jeff Deischer meticulously sifts through the internal evidence in the Doc Savage stories to place them in chronological order, looking at weather and vegetation, lunar phases and references to other stories." Author Jeff Deischer analyzes plants and temperature to put the stories in the "correct" chronological order, something he does a lot. Wow. Fellow Doc Savage fan Arthur C. Sippo reprints some of Deischer's assertions at Speculations In Bronze and I feel I should quote Bob Newhart and yell STOP IT! I blame Philip Jose Farmer's Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life for this wave of fictional character speculation on the same reality level as Dungeons & Dragons. Allow me to paraphrase Bill Shatner telling a room full of Trekkies to "Get a Life!": "Get a life, will ya people? For crying out loud, it's just cheap pulp fiction. I mean, look at the way you're analyzing these books. You've turned an enjoyable set of characters Lester Dent developed as a way to pay his bills for years into a colossal waste of time. I mean, how old are you people? What have you done with yourselves?"
Doc Savage is reinvented by every comic book industry nimrod into things he never was and never should be, and the mind-trust of the Doc Savage legacy sit there and do nothing to protect it. Farmer created fictional character genealogy charts, Will Murray promises new "wild" adventures based on discarded ideas from Lester Dent, Deischer puts pulp novels into the "correct" order based on flowers and clouds, Sippo proudly resurrects the Nazi Doc Savage, and Jay Ryan circles the faithful for a round of idol-worship wanky-doo. I don't see anyone promote or protect the Doc Savage legacy. They're too busy with the minutia of trivia.
Doc Savage is a fictional character based on other fictional characters. He's not anyone's blood relative, and why would anyone beclown themselves by pretending Doc Savage is a real person? It's cute for three seconds. There's no meaningful continuity and anything the writers add seem to have been incidental flourishes of background filler. The back stories of the five aides are paper thin and even Doc's story is mostly hinted at, and he doesn't talk about it much. Doc Savage functions best as an idealized summation of his attributes and adventures. The least interesting thing about Doc Savage and his aides is any possible psychological explanation of their psyches. The focus should be on fully-realized characters experiencing larger-than-life adventures. It's cheap pulp fiction, not Shakespeare. It's about time, place, characters and action.
I just re-read the 1942 Lester Dent penned The Devil's Black Rock, which features a newly discovered type of rock attracted to alcohol being violently agitated. It only appears when the story characters commit violence to alcohol. Why it doesn't jump out of the ground anywhere a bottle of booze is dropped is never explained. You have to enjoy these books at the level they were written - once a month by guys writing as fast as they could so they could pay their rent.
The How I Discovered Doc Savage book is described thusly: "... this incredible book contains 92 stories penned by fans of Doc Savage and chronicles how each fan 'discovered' The Man of Bronze in their own unique way. The cross section of authors range from top pulp scholars and illustrators to the average Doc Savage fan…from across the 50 states to other countries around the globe. Whether a story is heart-rending or humorous, spontaneous or adventurous, the one thing they do is create a compelling and enjoyable reading experience. The reader will be amazed how any one of these stories could very well be their own! The book has a brilliant full-color cover and is fully illustrated with pulp and paperback covers. No Doc Savage or pulp magazine fan should miss this publishing event!" In other words a literary circle jerk with tears instead of you know what. Like the worst AA meeting ever.
February 13, 2011 Update: It's February 13th and we're as close to a new Doc Savage movie as we were a year ago and the year before that. There are more reasons not to make one then the other way around, and if I have to conjecture blame I will. Doc Savage is an archetype for famous fictional characters including Superman (pre-flight version), Batman, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Brock Sampson. You'd think that's an instant sell for Hollywood, and as a two sentence summation it is. After that it falls apart because the Doc Savage character has been uglied and douched up. There are those who perpetuate that and others who sit back and let it happen. These are the people I blame for Doc being almost nothing like he was conceived. There's also a special place for those who've diminished the brand into generic action guy crap.
The paperback covers gave Doc a ridiculous widow's peak, and while it's a distinctive look it's also not a human one. Maybe Doc's related to Prince Namor. The Doc of the paperbacks also averages the age of 50 and sometimes looks like a mummy. That'll draw the kids and ladies!
Unless persuaded otherwise I blame most of the degradation of the Doc Savage character on Will Murray, Lester Dent's literary executor. As such he should be going nuclear when Doc's portrayed as either a steroidal maniac, a guns-a-blazing generic trouble chaser, or an angst-ridden has-been. fter Murray there's a few self-professed Doc scholars who dedicate their huge brains to studying moon phases and flora conditions to re-order the novels "correctly".
February 27, 2011 Update:
Today's funny book review is Marvel Two-In-One issue 21 from 1976, teaming Ben
Grimm (The Thing) with a scowling, jaundiced Doc Savage who can't be bothered
with sleeves or buttoning his shirt. Either that or he's
stuffed them into tight bikini brief underwear. Either way America loses. Johnny
Storm (The Human Torch) assists The Thing while Renny (hands regular size) and
Monk are there for Doc. Renny and Monk are dressed normally for the 1970s if
you read men's magazines. On page 23 Renny shoots a sniper rifle,
Monk a six-shooter, and Doc himself the blue steel automatic pistol he was never
without (Oy...). They all shoot mercy bullets, so hooray for pacifism. The story's complicated for a comic book and the
split screen/story format takes getting used to. No matter how quaint this book
is it's still light years better than new comic books that can't decide if Doc
is a soldier of fortune or a loser has-been.
March 13, 2011 Update: Sometimes I'm haunted by the cringeworthy opening narration by Paul Frees in the 1975 film of shame when he draws out the lines "This... is Doc Savage.............. The Man... of Bronze!" The last time that happened I thought that Man Of Bronze thing has to go. Think about it. Being a man of bronze means he's really tan.
He's not composed of bronze like a missing member of The Metal Men. He's not from The Bronze Age. He's super tan from being baked in tropical suns. Does he lay out by the pool to keep up the glow? Does he spray on Man Of Bronzer? I can see the actor playing Doc Savage not being pasty but it can't be his outstanding feature. That he has a great tan. So much so that it's in the title. Call the movie Doc Savage and leave the George Hamilton jokes buried where they belong. This also applies to Doc's trilling that might as well be a long, melodic fart noise for all the good it would do in a movie trying to be taken seriously.
August 14, 2011 Update: For $10 I picked up a 1987 collection of three Lester Dent stories written prior to landing the Doc Savage assignment. Will Murray pens an informative introduction. Written in 1932 the hero is scientific detective Lynn Lash, a then modern take on the Craig Kennedy character created by Arthur B. Reeve. Doc Savage was dreamed up by Street and Smith's business manager Henry Ralston and editor John Nanovic, but Dent also had his input and Doc Savage was birthed as a collaboration. Dent brought a number of ideas from the Lynn Lash stories, including the Monk character (here based on his origins in real-life gangster Monk Eastman), his secret location where he conducted experiments, night-vision projector and goggles, bullets with various purposes, a magazine clip in the shape of a ram's horn, and his fancy NYC headquarters. Lash is tall, thin, and not particularly strong or tough. He carries two large guns and experiences all kinds of facial ticks.
The stories are cheap and fast fiction but not bad once you lower the bar of your imagination. The first story, "The Sinister Ray", is badly written at times to the point of comedy. Lash says on the phone "I've got Kay Stone here -- she's a woman." He has an assistant who he might be physically abusing; "Lynn Lash frowned, lifted a long, thin, unbanded cigar from the humidor. The girl left the door quickly, took the cigar from his fingers, bit off the end with even white teeth, inserted it between his lips, picked up a book of matches and struck one." There's examples of the anti-Asian sentiments of the time when the Chinese are referred to as "slant-eyed devils", but the coup de grace is when a character tells Lash "They put it up to us. It's white of them. They don't always show us that much consideration."
There's other weird touches like saying a room was "Possibly very beautiful", "'Indisposed'? Lash made the word a question", and"'It's Olsen!' Adams mumbled". Can you mumble an exclamation point? Then there's patient yelling: "Lynn Lash said patiently: 'Sam, Sam!'" The second story was either edited by an educated person or was better written.
Lynn Lash is definitely worth reading if you're a Doc Savage fanatic.
August 28, 2011 Update: Everybody Was Doc Savage Fighting: I've been giving a lot of thought to what fighting style would be appropriate for Doc in a new film, and it should be more a set of approaches than anything specific. The 1975 George Pal thing demonstrated he was swell at all the major forms: Sumo, Gung Fu (actually Judo), Tai Chichuan (actually Chinese snake style), Karate, Bojijsu (which doesn't exist), and fisticuffs. A new film should leapfrog the obvious and come up with something better suited to Doc Savage's training, strength, and non-sadistic nature.
I prefer to see Doc as he's portrayed in the best pulps: he's generally the biggest, strongest, fastest, and most highly trained fighter in the world. Why make a film about another great pugilist or martial artist? Make one on a super yet still humanly possible scale. On my idea page I've come up with an antagonist who's bigger, stronger, and also highly trained, given the fighting advantages of sadomasochism and focus on evil rage. When they battle it's war but what about when Doc's up against flunkies and sharpsters? Does he need to go the Jason Bourne route or the more brutal and efficient Nagasu Do style seen in Taken? Don't even go there. As Doc's in essence a grandmaster in any number of disciplines, and most anyone who fights him has fractional strength and may as well be moving in slow motion, have Doc dispense with them quickly, efficiently, effectively, and humanely. Without adopting the visual cues of Aikido and Chin Na Doc can deal with most attackers the way an adult would a child, except with adults you can redirect their charge into a pile of objects and manipulate their joints until they scream surrender. Doc's fighting style should be uniquely his own and not based on something form based, stylized and seen elsewhere.
August 28, 2011 Update: Doc Savage - The Arch Enemy Of Evil: The 1975 filmed ended with a threat of a sequel titled The Arch Enemy Of Evil. The script's on sale regularly on eBay for $85.00 plus shipping but it's only $15.00 plus on eBid. The downside is the copy I bought reeks of cigarettes. The script slowly slid through my hands as I read it, leaving a sticky brown film that made my left eye twitch.
The script for The Arch Enemy Of Evil was written by Joseph Morhaim, whose undistinguished career included the first Doc Savage film. This one's not as childish and silly but it's probably as useless an endeavor. It's based on Death In Silver and The Feathered Octopus. On the plus side the plot is grittier and the characters more believable, but on the down Morhaim thinks a giant octopus can be trained to act on cue, and the script reads like an episode of a television series, not a major motion picture. It felt like the rough first draft it probably was.
Trilling comes early and often, and it would fail here even more than it did the last time since this film's supposedly less goofy. For the sound of trilling I suggest they either use the bird sounds in "Rockin' Robin" or something from the Woody Woodpecker Theme. Also on the fail train is the repeated use of the public domain "Doc Savage March". In the opening Long Tom is portrayed as a clumsy loser, but otherwise the aides aren't the bumbling nincompoops of the earlier film. Doc's ok but I still don't like that he carries a gun and isn't afraid to use it. Monk opens a truck filled with rifles, shotguns, rifles, flame throwers, and submachine guns while the rest of the script has Doc reminding everyone to always use mercy bullets as if they didn't already know.
There's an incredibly lame love interest sub-plot involving a woman proposing marriage to Doc shortly after meeting him. Earlier there's this exchange, which makes you wonder why she wasn't trying to shiv him instead:
Marge: "Doctor Savage, as the mayor's private secretary -- I -- well, what I mean is -- I want to go with you tonight. I know I can be of help."
Doc: (agreeably) "Thank you, Miss Kovas, but it's my policy never to include women on dangerous missions."
Marge: (flaring up) "That's not
fair! I'm just as brave as any man. Why should I be left out?"
Doc: "Because I say so." (giving her a little push on the nose with his finger) "The best place for you is in the safety of your home."
According to Doc Savage a woman's place is in the home. I'm surprised Morhaim didn't indicate a "Boop!" sound should be edited in when Doc pushes her nose, and then have him slap her ass as she walked away mortified.
There's a surreal scene where the mayor of New York goes on the radio to announce the bad guy's daily extortion must be paid so each citizen will be taxed a dollar a day. Seriously. Also just as insane is how an abandoned, decrepit speakeasy is magically transformed within hours into a shiny nightclub with a full band and dancing girls by people trying not to be discovered by the police, topped off by a chandelier that's also a massive machine gun. Even as fiction you can't make this up.
Doc wrestles a giant octopus and how doesn't that recall Bela Lugosi rolling around with a giant rubber monster in Bride Of The Monster. The script ends with the boys in a country south of Mexico and sets up the next amazing adventure "Doc Savage in Klantic Kountry, Koming Soon!"
November 6, 2011 Update: Neither A Book Review Nor A Rant. Well, Mostly A Rant: It took me a long time to finish the “new” Doc Savage novel, The Desert Demons, and also 100 pages to realize and understand why. It’s mostly boring and mainly a failure in most areas I like to call “Doc Savage”. I’ll admit to approximating speed-reading to get through the last forty pages, stopping only for the final scenes. The mystery is solved two-thirds in by Doc in a long speech and by the interrogation of a secondary character, and it’s based in science-fiction, not science-fact, so instead of the usual ending that can’t always cash the check of the opening chapters we get a boulder-sized dues ex machina drop from the sky to declare it's time to leave and have a nice evening.
Desert Demons is less a work to like or dislike than to wonder what the hell is going on. It's so not-right it's not even wrong. I offer no spoilers but plot-wise it’s a combination of a few original Doc Savage novels. I’m going to write of my problems with it as there’s nothing truly positive to say about The Desert Demons except Doc Savage is back!
Will Murray writes in the Afterward, “From time to time, I would revisit the opening chapters to the Doc Adventures I started so long ago, tweaking them and sometimes adding a chapter or two.” This might be why the story starts off strong with a directness surpassing Lester Dent’s original formula prose, which holds up surprisingly well, especially after putting down this book and revisiting an original like 1937’s Repel. The remainder of the Afterward details how Murray combined discarded Dent chapters and story ideas to create The Desert Demons. The result is a story that stalls for time like a gun was to its head, plus characters and plot-lines vaguely rendered and poorly structured.
I don’t care if a new story is based on something Lester Dent wrote. Dent considered most of his tales to have minimal worth so imagine how fast he’s grave-spinning knowing his discarded ideas are being recycled via combining and blending. Murray’s the undisputed expert on Doc Savage, and his writings on the subject are always worth reading. He’s also an established genre author. He should write original Doc Savage stories based on his understanding of the characters and use the benefits of an extended deadline to come up with something above and beyond what Dent was pulling off on a monthly basis while also adventurer-seeking. If the Doc Savage novels were a tv series these new novels should be feature films. Which this isn’t by anyone’s estimation beyond fanboydom and professional log-rolling.
This being 2011 and seventy-plus years after the fact of the original pulp run you’d think a consensus would exist as to the most ideal representation of the Doc Savage World to the larger world at large. It doesn’t, and Doc has no agreed upon look or age. Stick anybody’s face on a cut-out of any athletic body, be it a metrosexual Men’s Fitness model or The Incredible Hulk, and you can call it Doc Savage. For a brand that’s death. The Doc Savage of The Desert Demons is happily the idealized one – stoic, powerful, handsome, brilliant, and at least in the opening a tiny bit more human than the early (and best) novels allowed. Doc’s gone for long periods, supplanted by bit players and aides who go around in circles of repeating things and saying little of value. The book literally dies around page fifty and doesn’t pick up again for at least another hundred. Then it gets boring in more manageable lengths. I’ve never encountered this much exposition and recounting.
Exposition is clunky and the story would be better served by prefacing the story with a breakdown of the main characters and their central mission. Better that to avoid having a thug say to Ham “You are in Los Angeles. So is Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett Mayfair, more commonly called Monk. William Harper Littlejohn, who is known as Johnny, is also here. Those two are also Doc Savage’s assistants. It looks as if Doc Savage were assembling his men here.” You can smell the dull monotone of these lines.
Doc’s trilling, always problematic, is surreal and crazy in The Desert Demons. On page 22, “It grew and swelled into a banshee keening.” On page 60 someone says it sounds like crickets. Then on page 199 it's “Doc Savage stifled his trilling, which he had pitched high and made slightly sinister in emulation of the threatening drone of an approaching desert demon”. It’s either stupid or comical, and probably both.
Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny barely tolerate each other, and Monk & Ham’s feud is nasty and mean with no redeeming quality beyond an assurance they’re friends in a pinch. You’d hope the five would be portrayed as a solid team. On page 155, when asked to hand over the electrical device he was working on, “Long Tom surrendered his pet device reluctantly”. To Doc Savage he did this? Really?
Is it also not too much to ask to have the aides not be stupid? On page 151 Renny doesn’t know atoms are too small to be seen by the naked eye, and when Johnny says an astronomer discovered something through a telescope called a “Neon Nebula” Long Tom pipes in with “That’s an astrological term, isn’t it?” Yes it is, one of the world’s greatest electrical engineers. Then there’s Monk, one of the world’s top ten industrial chemists but he’s otherwise barely literate or intelligent. It’s one thing to retain your upbringing and another to frequently come across as a scrunch-faced dimwit.
Sometimes the dialogue fails. Do you think Ham would say “confounded puzzling”? Pat scores big with “I am free, white, and almost twenty-one”. Al Sharpton, call your office. There’s also this description of her, “She fumed prettily”. Gloria Steinem, expect a check in the mail.
The Desert Demons may be worth the $4.99 kindle download for the sake of marketplace encouragement but the hardcover is a rip at $40.00 plus. The hardcover comes with a bookplate signed by the autopen of writer Will Murray and cover artist Je DeVito. Long dead Lester Dent’s signature is added for morbid yucks. For that amount it should also include a computer file of all the original Lester Dent materials used to create this “new” book. There’s nothing douchier than putting a gun in Doc’s hand, and the cover dry humps the Doc Savage legacy by featuring one prominently.
December 4, 2011
Update: Since even Shane Back hasn’t the foggiest on who or what
a Doc Savage is it’s up to me to step up while the alleged scholars and official keepers of the Doc Savage
legacy are too busy with circle-jerk rapturing, tangential nonsense, and
wastebasket story stitching. A new Doc Savage movie will never be good if the
characters are ill-defined to the point of being meaningless. On the other hand major characters do need to be altered to make them more
realistic, less ugly, more relatable, and more
fun to watch. Anew film will be garbage if it’s a carbon-copy of
something else with a high concept twist here and a new sell-out angle there. A
new Doc Savage movie is worth making if it’s done right.
A new Doc Savage movie should be neither a comic book nor a superhero film. He came from the pulp era of the 1930s but is not strictly bound by the limitations of a genre seen as cheap, quaint, and dated. Doc looked to the past with Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and inspired what came after, from Superman to James Bond and The Rocketeer. A new Doc Savage movie should not exist to say Doc Savage did anything first. There's an endless amount you can do with that lineage, so done right he can take his proper place in this history and not be the joke of the 1975 film or the bastardization of the comic book industry.
The story should focus equally on Action, Plot, and Characters, and it should never trip over itself with exposition or bog down in large, expensive set pieces. CGI should be kept to a minimum and integrated seamlessly as in the Bourne movies. The film should travel the world and always move towards what comes next. Action should be realistic and tension should add an edge to scenes lacking action. The characters should prove their talents through application throughout the film, and their abilities should never be lingered on as anything more than what is, on an ongoing basis, natural for them. Whatever similarities Doc Savage has with fictional characters before and after are to be avoided, played down, or at least not trumpeted. Either the audience figures it out or they don't. Paramount is a great story with original characters doing exciting and fascinating things.
The story should be bigger than the pulps, which consisted mainly of something mysterious, deadly, and inexplicable, followed by the introduction of interesting day-players, running around while things blew up and people get shot and/or kidnapped, then a resolution where Doc proves he’s three steps ahead while the villain gets exposed and bad guys die often by their own hand. Like Scooby Doo but with murder and fascism.
A great Doc Savage film should open with a violent threat to the world, the introduction of Doc Savage and his aides, then work through a series of confrontations in all varieties of settings all over the globe, ending with a final battle and the threat of a sequel. Throughout Doc and his men display distinctive mental, physical, and teamwork skills not telegraphed by exposition or lingered on for effect. Scenes in NYC should be cramped and dark, the jungle steamy and thick, the desert hot and unforgiving, and the frozen tundra shivering and desolate.
In the pulps Doc Savage grew from 6’ to as tall as 6’8” and he was either perfectly proportioned or his tiniest muscles bulged like steel cables under his skin. His eyes were flake gold - and they swirled - improbable but sure. He was tan and his hair a slightly darker shade of bronze, and it must have been slicked back flat since he sometimes wore a bullet-proof skullcap that fit perfectly. He was “handsome” but otherwise it was left to the reader to come up with their own version of what he looked like. The pulp covers began well enough but cheapened and worsened as the art budget declined and no style guide was enforced. Inside sketches didn’t start or end well and Doc Savage renderings alternated between Clark Gable, Abe Lincoln, Dick Tracy, and generic leading man #6. The paperbacks pictured the 33+ year old Doc Savage as a late middle-age man with leathery skin and a widow’s peak stolen Eddie Munster. The comic books took the paperback covers and cos-played him as only a cheap medium for children can.
Doc Savage should look smart, handsome, large, proportional, and real. The actor playing him should be at least 6’4” in lifts, and his size and athleticism will determine his strength and abilities as Doc Savage is not a mutant or alien – he’s the product of great genetics, a photographic memory, and a scientific upbringing that’s made him the realization of the most positive take on the Ubermensch Superman. He shouldn’t do anything his size and humanly possible great strength and speed does not allow. Doc Savage can’t pick up a car over his head. He’s human. Keep the wire work to a minimum for effect, not the impossible.
For all intents and purposes Doc Savage is the richest, smartest, strongest, most handsome, most talented, and most benevolent person in the world. Someone might have more money, can lift more, or know more about a given subject, but as a package Doc is the planet’s #1. This should never be directly stated or heavily implied. The only things that keep Doc Savage from being derided for this is that he’s completely devoid of ego and guile, he does nothing for his own gain, and as the Ubermensch he carries the seriousness of the burdens of the world on his shoulders. He seeks no reward or acclaim. His words are measured and he never does or says anything funny, sarcastic, or otherwise wrong. That can be left to his assistants. Doc never hits on women and is unsure of himself when they come on to him. For all his genius he can only guess when it comes to women, and this nicely humanizes someone in his position. He doesn’t wear a belt buckle with his own name on it and he doesn’t call himself “Doc”. That’s a nickname given to him and he allows it. He introduces himself as Clark and is formally referred to as Mr. or Dr. Savage.
His five assistants need an overhaul as they’re ugly and unlikable. Renny is a golem. He should be outgoing and friendly unless he’s fighting, and it can then be let known he’s never happier than when he’s in danger. Johnny is an emaciated undertaker who chooses to not be understood by the use of big words. Make him less morbid looking but keep the vocabulary as his normal speech and a source of amusement. Long Tom is non-descript at best. Completely change him into a viewer-relatable character who can’t fight well. Ham is an effete snob fashion victim who might as well be played by Jonathan Harris. Have him be a handsome, honorable man outraged by crime and injustice, and he has a real problem with his leg that warrants carrying a cane. He wears and likes his nice clothes but it's not a prissy obsession. Monk is a mean, violent thug who’s an illiterate slob when the subject is not advanced chemistry. Make him ape-like but accessibly cute, with a shyness from knowing what he looks like and a warm aura that attracts the affection of children.
To be avoided in a new Doc Savage film: Chemistry and Habeas Corpus as there’s too many characters to begin with and they’re poor comic relief. Pat Savage is another one character too many. Doc’s trilling is silly when it’s not sad.
Each aide should have a distinctive fighting style. For Ham I have Savate, Hapkido cane fighting, and Zatoichi –style swordplay since I turned his fencing foil into a thin samurai sword! Monk fights like a street fighter of his size, shape, and ape-like appearance but he shouldn’t do anything cartoonishly ape-like, as that would be stupid. Long Tom fights like Elijah Wood as Kevin in Sin City but without the claws and dead smile. Johnny doesn’t fight well even though he tries, and he’s looked after by the others.
Doc Savage knows every fighting style and has internalized them to create a flowing, efficient set of fighting options. To him most people are moving in slow motion and in predictable ways. Everything he does is proportionate to the threat. He should be a mostly open-handed fighter and use Chin Na, pressure points, redirection, etc. When he does clench his fists and punches a face it’s provoked and deserved. He never assumes a traditional martial arts stance or strikes in a formal martial arts fashion. On sight he knows his opponents’ training and possible strategies of attack, and he reacts to them in a highly modified set of moves.
The film shouldn’t be longer than two hours. There’s no reason the film can’t be PG-13 with additional, stronger elements filmed for an unrated dvd release. By default of Doc’s character there’s no room for a traditional romantic storyline, so the appeal to whatever focus groups say appeals to women will have to come from a good story, realistic character interactions, and the appeal of Doc Savage as the complete package.
The film should have one known actor attached to it. The others should all be great character actors or otherwise expertly cast. For the villain I chose Paul Wight (The Big Show) because he dwarfs anyone you’ll find to play Doc Savage. Maybe for casting reasons you’ll wind up with another wrestler to play Monk, but let's hope not.
The most important thing about a new Doc Savage movie is that he doesn’t carry a gun. He’s a marksman of great skill, and in a film he should prove that by borrowing a rifle to kill a sniper when they’re all pinned down and time is vital, but otherwise he’s the weapon.
March 25, 2012 Update: Book Report!: Horror In Gold [Spoilers Ahoy! Read only if you’ve finished the book or have no intention of starting] To Serve Doc Savage – It’s A Cookbook!! There’s a conspiracy afoot to suggest the “new” Doc Savage novels by Will Murray, channeling the spirit of Lester Dent through sneeze patterns on old hankies, are a positive development in the ongoing saga of getting more than 317 people in the world interested in the exploits of Old Man Pointy Doo. The second tome in the new series, Horror In Gold, is as bad as the first and for the same reasons. Positive reviews of these books are logrolling and fan-boying. It makes a new Doc Savage movie even less probable because if a studio or producer reads these instead the best of the early pulps they’ll come away wondering how something so slow, repetitious, unexciting, and frankly monotone could ever warrant a major motion picture.
I’m befuddled because Will Murray is a clear, concise, and entertaining expert on all things Doc Savage. That he fails with these new books is frustrating and disappointing because if anyone was going to present the best Doc Savage for Hollywood as investors and creators of a new film, it would be Will Murray. Horror In Gold and the earlier The Desert Demons are personality-free first drafts missing Dent’s sense of wonder and excitement. There’s no mood, mystery, or intriguing peril, and it lacks descriptive language that allows your mind to paint vivid and real scenes. The title and first chapter give it all away. If the two books were plays they’d move from one sparse set to the next stalling for time by continually referencing exposition.
The first chapters of both books are pretty good. I liked the line “Horror is no antidote to curiosity”, and the simple elegance of the phrase “At the precise moment the two came to pass one another, their heads exploded.” I read both books assuming I’d like them. The first I bought as a hardcover. The second was a $4.99 Kindle download. I’m done. These are so not right they’re not even wrong.
Starting with what I liked about Horror In Gold, the stories always made more sense when he was held in high regard and had the cooperation of the police departments he happened upon. I’ve never understood the novels where out of the gate he’s on the police's bad side. Also, for a short time Horror In Gold builds up a small yet nicely paced sense of foreboding. The first Monk-Ham interaction is effective in that it’s quickly seen to be a show they put on like actors for anyone who’ll take notice. That’s about it.
Onto the bad: Doc’s trilling is even dumber this time around. It replaces dialogue and indicates tone and mood like whimsical musical cues in cheap comedies. Early on, “It had a faintly puzzled quality this time”. Later it’s “His trilling pulsed faintly. It sounded faintly baffled” and “Doc’s uncanny trilling seemed to ooze out of him, unprompted.” The funniest line is that he “Stood immobile, too stunned to trill.” Why am I reminded of the sounds that came out of Scobby-Doo?
The book states emphatically that Doc knows much more than his aides about their areas of expertise. The book notes Doc has “undeniably genuine modesty”, which is an aside, but why would he or the author take away from the aide’s purpose to the group by asserting they’re not really needed? It also makes Doc unrealistic in that if he's leaps and bounds ahead of his aides he's also leaps and bounds ahead of pretty much every other expert of every other field of serious study. In the world. This would be impossible. Doc is human, not a computer from the future. His strength has limits along with his intelligence. Don't make Doc inhuman and therefore impossible and not relatable. This is not a small point.
Horror Of Gold has no sense of futuristic wonder. Science and science fiction are explained away matter-of-factly. I know it’s no longer 1933 and what was futuristic then is now antiquated, but much of the charm of the original books was their golly-gee, as-big-as-your-imagination-can-take-you leaps of faith. That was some whimsical stuff. For it to be a Doc Savage novel you need to recreate that somehow even if the science fiction is now a boring old frost-free refrigerator. The new novels should replicate what it must have felt like in the 1930s when something new and exciting came along.
The plot of both new books move from A to B to C with minimal action and tension. Plot points get beaten into the ground. The reader (and the book’s characters) wait for something to happen. I visualized characters gazing around because they're lost. Often in the book someone is alone and they do little as if they’re wondering what their next line might be. There’s no grit, no meanness, no “Pulp Fiction” to it. It doesn’t make you feel the book was written 75 years ago. It lacks mysterious, interesting characters of unknown intentions. There’s no person in trouble to tag along early on. No unexplainable horror that often in the old novels doesn’t get resolved believably because it was too damn nutty in the first place.
Here’s more of what’s wrong in no particular order:
· Long Tom is an angry douche. Also that newly discovered "thing" about him was so obviously going to be important I laughed in embarrassment for somebody.
· Ham and Monk’s fighting happens constantly because there’s little other plot going on. Ham threatens everything but the toaster with his sword cane. He unsheathes his sword to silly effect and comes across more than ever like Dr. Zachery Smith on Lost In Space. They even have tailors fighting each other over Ham’s sartorial splendor. It was much better when the tailors followed him around to admire his clothes. Why turn it into violence?
· Monk starts a fight with Long Tom. Why have the aides hate each other? Is it supposed to be more “real”? Diarrhea is real too, but that doesn’t mean I want to experience it.
· “Doc took a large potato in each hand and gave them a simultaneous squeeze. With a single bursting noise, both potatoes were reduced to pulp. Doc made it look easy” This is the highlight of his daily training? Will moviegoers fall out of their seats in awe if Doc squishes a potato with only his hand?
· Everything is explained 31% in. I know it’s 31% because instead of pages that’s what my Kindle book indicated.
· “His bronze countenance was strange, the way metal is strange when nearing its melting point.”
Horror In Gold is a horror all right. At least now I know why Doc's staring at that giant lady's stubby ring finger on the cover.
April 8, 2012 Update: Book Report!: The Revised Complete Chronology Of Bronze, by Rick Lai: I’m torn between this being Pathologically Wrong or Harmless Nerd Conjecture. What I am sure of is I can’t think of a bigger waste of time and intellectual capacity than to 1) Pretend Doc Savage was a real person, 2) Create timelines of events in the lives of fictional characters by analyzing weather and horticulture. Over and over again, 3) Read it. You might as well put together a twelve volume set on every comic book character ever conceived -- in height order and only about height order.
Up to a point I’m happy people fill free time with hobbies and escapes from whatever it is about reality that bores or saddens them. This Rick Lai fellow may be an excellent human being but researching and writing about the “real lives” of micro-remembered fictional characters has to be a mental cul-de-sac. I paid $29.95 for The Chronology of Bronze thinking it might be a companion piece to the informative and engaging History Of The Doc Savage Adventures by Michael “Bobb” Cotter. It's not.
I tried reading the book but stopped repeatedly because I couldn’t get over how nonsensical it was to pretend the characters were real and the books mostly non-fiction. Referring to the founder of the whimsical circle-jerk known as the Wold Newton Family, Lai writes “For various reasons, Phillip Jose Farmer dismissed certain of the original pulp novels as ‘entirely fictional’ exploits and refused to include them in his chronology.” Why, because he couldn't pretend hard enough they were real events? Lai heavily borrows and piggybacks his research onto Farmer’s original work, so the book is more or less a large addendum to Farmer’s. He also leans on the work of Will Murray.
Lai takes the pulps, radio plays, and “new” Kenneth Robeson books and creates a timeline from 1918 to 1949. Thankfully he didn’t include the idiot comic books. Not that it would have made the book any more ridiculous. He indicates how many days each adventures took, horticultural clues as to season, weather, and direct references to the month. When that fails he writes things like “The novel transpired during either January, February, July, August, September or October.” Fabricating nonsense leads to thoughts such as “I once constructed an elaborate theory that the man captured by Doc was a bogus Hitler, and that the Nazis were trying to lure Doc to Switzerland with the fake Fuehrer in order to capture him. I now disown that theory. Doc really captured Hitler. Unfortunately for the world, Hitler escaped from his Swiss captivity and returned to Germany.” I’m curious as to how well Lai separates the real world from rainbows of imagination.
The last chapters go insane on the incestuous Wold Newton Family front, even pondering the Doc Savage – King Kong connection as if both were real historical figures. The only value I found in the book, and by “only" I mean the single one, is Lai correlates events in the books with real world happenings. Lester Dent was a master at tap dancing around names and places, as if to do so would reveal government secrets or get somebody killed.
Who cares what order the books should be in? There’s almost no continuity to the stories and the characters change constantly out of necessity and forgetfulness. Doc alternates from athlete to Superman to existential putz and back again, and nobody agrees on what he even looks like. You pick up a Doc Savage book, read it, possibly enjoy it, put it down, and most likely forget most of it like it was an long dream. That was their intended purpose. In the same way Old Time Radio stimulated the mind to create vivid images, Doc Savage novels mostly yielded anecdotes that combined to create a set of impressions on who Doc Savage was and what made for a great Doc Savage adventure.
How is a new Doc Savage film supposed to be made when he’s the elephant and his fans blind men? The revised Complete Chronology Of Bronze does nothing to resolve this. It pretends the stories make more sense if the seasons go from Summer to Fall, or that Long Tom is away because of what happened in the last adventure. With a Doc Savage pulp you get, for better or worse, whatever the author cooks up that month. I don’t think in terms of a great Doc Savage book. I think of Doc Savage and his men as great characters often not optimized for consistent greatness or clarity. Chronology is irrelevant when there’s fractional continuity or even a need for it. It took a lot of time and effort to put this book together. In the bigger picture it’s as useful as rearranging the deck chairs on The Titanic, or inventing a machine that informs you when one blade of grass on your lawn has grown longer than its neighbor.
May 6, 2012 Update: Don't Get Chappy With Me, Chapbook: As far as I know there are five Doc Savage chapbooks. Here's what they contain:
Doc Savage: Supreme Adventurer - Will Murray, 1980, $2.00: Murray writes an informative introduction to the rough draft short story of the first Doc Savage novel, created by Street & Smith publisher Henry R. Ralston and written by editor John L. Nanovic a year before Lester Dent's work hit the stands in March of 1933. The story, "Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer", was formulated by Ralston and Nanovic as a amalgam of the detective Nick Carter and real associates of Ralston - first and foremost Major Richard Henry Savage, amongst other things a speedy writer of pulp fiction. Lester Dent saw Doc Savage more as a combination of Sherlock Homes, Tarzan, Craig Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln. Maybe that's why some of the inner sketches of the pulps have Doc look like a young Abe.
The draft is a bit stilted and archaic ("and tramp upon the coward who shoots from behind!") but the characters are clearly and succinctly defined. Monk and Ham are not frenemies, Long Tom is described as "Nordic", and Johnny has a body "built for endurance, like a marathon runner." Doc's trilling exists as theme music and I'm glad it was altered in the final edit. The story is too short to be more than an expanded outline so there's not much to write about it except the entire valley of gold plot makes little sense. The gold has no value to the locals but they'll extract it from the mine for Doc in exchange for money, the country's government knows about it but doesn't take the gold for themselves, it's a secret or it's not a secret - that part's not well thought out. The character introductions work and I'm glad Lester Dent was able to make something better out of it. Definitely worth checking out for historical value alone.
Doc Savage: Reflections In Bronze - Will Murray, 1980, $1.25: Appearing after the two issues of Duende, this chapbook reprinted earlier articles in commemoration of Pulpcon 7 in 1978. The articles are speculative as opposed to academic, so he's pretending Doc Savage was a real person and comes up with some Psych 101 off the top of his head.
The first article, "Reflections In A Flake-Gold Eye", tries to explain why Doc changed from stoic hero to introspective putz over the run of years. This intrigues me a lot, but Murray pretends Doc's real and speculates that his heroic personality was a facade forced onto him by his father's manipulations. Doc has a load of Daddy Issues here. His trilling is a weird safety valve that keeps him from exploding. He wears brown suits to reflect his artificial personality. I hated all of it. Did Lester Dent ever explain why he changed Doc like this? That's the only thing that matters. Not speculating on the rich, unwritten lives of characters you don't need to know more about than what you're given. Who cares where Doc's mom went to college or if he ever had a cat as a child? If you're going to make a Doc Savage movie and feel the need to explain how he became the man he grew up to be, do it as part of the main plot and not as cheap psychological melodrama.
The second article, "The Girl Who Loved Doc Savage", applies the same whimpering psychoanalysis to Doc's love life. It's embarrassing how Murray channels the analysis of a hyper-emotional teenage girl into every line. I tried reading it and flinched. I skimmed and flinched some more. I can't even look at the cover of this anymore.
The Invincible Doc Savage - Will Murray, 1983, $3.95: Three episodes of the 1943 season of the Doc Savage radio program are reprinted: "The Living Evil", "The Pharaoh's Wisdom", and "The Insect Menace", based on the Street & Smith comics where Doc wears a Sacred Hood with a magic ruby set in the forehead. He never wears a shirt. The ruby gives Doc super strength and now he's a strange comic book hero with a ruby in his forehead. His only assistant is Monk, now bald. Monk has an assistant of his own, Myrtle Rose. The radio plays are unreadable unless you're an anthologist. There is nothing Doc Savage about these stories. They're the anti-Doc Savage.
The Secrets Of Doc Savage - Will Murray, 1981, $2.95: Murray's third and it's a random collection of odds-n-ends. The first article is on unpublished ideas Lester Dent had for Doc Savage novels. It's well researched and documented. Then there's something on a particular Doc Savage villain that didn't warrant the space, followed by a bit on The Fortress of Solitude, and a nice piece on Richard Henry Savage. The best value in town is still the $4.99 Kindle download of the Will Murray collection "Writings In Bronze".
Doc Savage: Inside & Out - Bobb Cotter, 1989, $4.00: Bobb wrote the most excellent "A History Of The Doc Savage Adventures" and this was a thick chappy he put together of pulp covers and inside illustrations. I have all the Radioarchives reprints so this isn't new to me, but back in 1989 I would have found this fascinating.
June 3, 2012 Update: Not All The Tarn-X In The World: Someone named Slark mailed me a DVD of Doc Savage Detarnished. He says he can't legally sell them so seek it out on your own. It's a fun little item which does its best to re-imagine the 1975 film as better than it is. It's good in that the most embarrassing elements of the original are either eliminated or toned down. Sadly, what's left is so marginal you might as well see it the way George Pal and Beelzebub intended. Slark digitally removed the flies from a stinking pile, which only goes so far.
There's a satisfaction in not seeing Monk do and say horrible things, or see that little person in his crib, or have Doc come back early from the Igloo Of Verisimilitude because he telepathically read his assistant's minds. My favorite bit in the film is Seas saying to a bimbo "You like money, right?" and she replies "Sure, Poopsie!".
Slark created a new opening that takes the form of a black & white newsreel, providing backstory using clips from the film. Some additional things I noticed were: Johnny's right glass lens is thicker than his left, which must have been painful for the actor to wear. Monk's wearing a baseball umpire's chest pad under his shirt. The rope ladder on the helicopter is held together by duct tape. Doc's surgical gloves are bronze colored.
I wanted this edit to exist. Now that I have it's out of my system and I have concluded you might as well embrace the horror of the original edit as a pile of incompetence, sadness, wrongness, and the makings of the greatest episode of MST3K ever.
August 12, 2012 Update: For A Good Cause, A Better Version Of A Waste Of Mental Energy: The call went out to buy a Doc Savage-related book to support the cause of artist Bob Larkin's wife's battle with cancer, so for $45 with free shipping I received a signed, 100 copy limited edition hardcover of The Adventures Of Doc Savage: A Definitive Chronology.
It's an updated version of a title from the early 1990's, from the same period Rick Lai finished the first draft of his similar attempt to re-order the Doc Savage pulps according to historical events, weather, moon phases, and vegetation. I can't think of a bigger waste of time, money, brainpower, and effort than to put Doc Savage books, old and new, plus radio scripts into a correct chronological order based on the whimsical assumption Doc Savage was a real person with real adventures.
There's as much need to put everything Doc Savage in order as there is for the television series "The Incredible Hulk". The pulps were written for children and manual laborers by writers whose greatest talent was for putting down on paper an ungodly amount of words each month. Each story is self-contained and any reference to something prior is filler from the memory of the author. I recall no character age progression and on a random basis they're either richer, poorer, backed by the authorities, or held in suspicion by them. Doc himself goes from killing machine to not, and later on he alternates between Freudian catastrophe, diminished peak human, and past glory.
Deischer's book is better because it's easier to digest and contains more useful information than Lai's work, which might as well focus exclusively on every reference to baked goods. Both are wrapped up in Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Family, an intellectual cul-de-sac and useless distraction for beautiful minds. Once you decide Doc Savage was "real" and related to other characters from history and literature, everything else must bend to fit that narrative. Nonsense ensues.
Deischer hints at a better approach to a book worth reading - taking the submission dates of the original manuscripts and creating a loose timeline based on historical events and found continuity. That at least makes sense. Then add complete character profiles, lists of inventions, properties, vehicles, and whatever else might interest a Doc Savage fan tethered to the real world. Provide facts and interpretations of what changed over the years and deal with the books as they were. Don't fabricate an alternative universe where Doc and Betty Boop pass each other on Broadway and Doc asks how Grampy is doing since Doc operated on his spleen.
I don't picture anyone reading either book cover-to-cover but Dreischer makes for a much better experience. If weather and exercises in fiction-is-fact were excised, Lai's book would be easier to read, but even then the endless factoids would make more sense in separate articles on series-wide topics of interest. I often found myself laughing at loud at the goofiness of Lai's book.
Yes Sir and/or Ma'am, if you enjoy reading random factoids about Doc Savage whilst pinching a loaf you won't go wrong with The Adventures Of The Man Of Bronze: A Definitive Chronology. Or the latest Reader's Digest.
April 28, 2013 Update: Skull Island Book Review. The Bar Is So Low It Rolls On The Ground: If I wrote this ten times it would come out ten different ways.
I read the latest "new" Doc Savage novel, Skull Island, written by Doc expert Will Murray along with artist Joe Devito, who helped with story ideas. It was cheap enough as a $4.99 digital download and Amazon reviewers lined up with praise for the greatest thing to happen in literature since Doc Savage was first announced to meet King Kong in the forthcoming blockbuster titled Skull Island.
The bottom line is that Murray either can't or can't focus enough to write a decent Doc Savage pulp story, and fanboys have no standards beyond having something to cheer about. Skull Island is speculative fan-fiction answering interesting yet highly secondary What If questions that might be nice to know but not at the expense of a great story. It's not an issue of ideas but of execution. Skull Island is too long, often boring, and when not boring offering little beyond generic run-and-fight sequences. It overflows with archaic lingo and drops names and ideas as if from a checklist. Reams of research on geography, topography, anthropology, horticulture, ornithology, and paleontology are emptied onto the page because it took a long time to compile it.
Will Murray is an expert on Lester Dent's Doc Savage. Beyond
the non-standards of fan-fiction this doesn't allow him to
definitively create Doc's Freudian back-story. I'd cut him more slack if he
tossed in tidbits along the way of a nail-biter of a tale, but Skull Island
is neurotically obsessed with Doc's parental issues and devoid of
97.5% of the drama, suspense, and sense of wonder created by Lester Dent. You want origin story fan-fiction? Read Skull Island. You want a
new Doc Savage book worthy of the genre, I don't think Murray's your guy.
The earlier "new" novels utilized Dent's unused story ideas and as
finished by Murray they moved from scene to scene with little happening and no
sense of the story being propelled forward via mystery and suspense. They're improv scene scenarios not properly turned into finished product.
If you've ever seen an amateur improv group practice, these new
Doc Savage novels are like that.
Skull Island is a big deal because King Kong is a marquee name and the rights to said ape were granted by the estate of Merian C. Cooper, most likely as a favor to Cooper family go-to artist Joe Devito. Kong and Doc Savage hit the screen and printed page in 1933, so that must mean something... Skull Island only kept my attention when Kong was involved. Doc's origin story and family history were meaningless and didn't answer questions I didn't have to begin with.
If you took a shot of tequila every time Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, or Nick Carter are mentioned as flashing neon signs of "Origin" you would require hospitalization.
I know Doc Savage and his assistants need to be modified. I also know what made the original stories and characters great in the first place cannot be jettisoned in the name of laziness or high-concept awesomeness. Doc Savage is genre-specific to pulp fiction, bound to certain conventions as much as serial films. What matters is what you do with the stories and characters within the confines of their worlds.
Skull Island is not a good book.
May 19, 2013 Update: Geek Scholars: Two guys and two gals podcast for 38 minutes and touched on the wire news of a Shane Black Doc Savage film. Their drive-by take on it is correct for what it is but I think a new Doc Savage film is an opportunity to capitalize on the 1930's pulp, Nietzschean Uberman, retro futuristic, and Rosetta Stone properties of the original characters and stories. It can go many places and do many things if it avoids the large set-piece and overly soundtracked mentality of superhero films. It can change look and tone to account for the different requirements of Doc Savage's world of action. It can leap the pitfalls of exposition by not being lazy about it.
Addressing their points, a Doc Savage film would benefit from a similar production value treatment given Sherlock Holmes. Doc Savage in the 1930s was partially yet specifically based on Sherlock Holmes from the 1880s. Doc was designed to be the next level above Sherlock Holmes - the Ubermensch in all its Nietzschean glory. He's Peak Human. To make him simply another good fighter is wasting the opportunity to make a film about things more important than what Generic Action Man did today to save the world. John Carter was CGI-infected sci-fi. Doc Savage can be easily followed and understood by anyone, and filmed mostly in-camera.
Doc Savage has no flaws per say but his back-story and mission does create a burden that weighs on him, and at various times in the pulps you're told he misses out on "normal" things. The female mind is a complete mystery to him. He doesn't need to be flawed and it's a cheap cliché. Incomplete or burdened can work just as well. Doc as a package is the world's smartest, richest, strongest, best looking, and most civic-minded man - yet he's devoid of ego and incapable of any form of inconsideration or self-centered concerns. A Doc Savage movie should be a great Doc Savage story involving Doc Savage and his assistants. It doesn't have to be about his personality or mental health issues.
The negative aspects of a Doc Savage film looking like an Indiana Jones rip-off is real no matter how unfair since he was Indy in the real 1930's, not the 1930's of the Indiana Jones films. Doc Savage had a Fortress of Solitude in the tundra before it was appropriated by Superman. Doc used a grappling hook and rope before Batman. For a new Doc Savage film these are off the table and it's no big deal. A new film should evoke in an original Doc Savage context the noir of New York City, the steam heat of Tarzan's jungle, the dry heat of Indiana Jones desert, and the white, unforgiving cold of the arctic. Doc Savage can stake a claim to influencing all these more famous characters by being original and true to the source material, as long as you don't give low-information viewers obvious things to call rip-offs.
June 23, 2013 Update: Authorize This: This review of the new Will Murray fan-fiction novel Skull Island caught my eye with its opening line:
"The new Doc Savage novel by Will Murray contains a record number of authorized firsts for the character. Murray digs deep into the Savage family history, Doc's relationships with his father and grandfather, and Doc's personal journey toward becoming the man we know."
Where to start. Doc Savage is specific to the 1930s and 40s and is only valid for the best of what his creators made of the characters and plots at that time. Will Murray is authorized to fabricate his Doc Savage backstories only in the sense that Doc Savage and King Kong are the intellectual properties of whoever legally owns them. You need their permission to write a novel with their characters and they usually have a say in what a writer plans on doing with their income-producing properties.
The bigger and more important issue is Artistic License, which to me Murray hasn't proved himself worthy of exercising. I believe Doc Savage doesn't require an endlessly explored and layered back-story to validate his existence. It's nice but write a great Doc Savage adventure first and tell me the gut-wrenching story of his first day in kindergarten later if not at all. Doc Savage is about "Doc Savage". It's not about "Why" Doc Savage. His grand theme is the Ubermensch and his role in interesting times specific to the 30s and 40s, such as the Depression and WWII, not anything Freudian, whose themes do nothing but diminish Doc Savage. The goal is not to make Doc "more human" but to make him do and be the best Doc Savage we all remember.
If Will Murray wrote entertaining Doc Savage novels I might allow him artistic license and not call his works fan-fiction.
July 7, 2013 Update: "What If Errol Flynn Delivered Toast Door To Door?": A scat jazz set of jaw-dropping randomness came from Shane Black in a recent TMZ-style interview with Collider.com. Watch the video. The line he walks back in the comments section is "What if Jimmy Stewart were a stone-cold killer?" The full paragraph is:
“We’re shooting it as though it’s in the 30s, including all the Capra-esque elements of 1930s films like You Can’t Take It With You. The idea of ‘What if Jimmy Stewart were a stone-cold killer?’ basically. It’s that kind of combination which we enjoy.”
Once sober he came back with:
"Allow me to clarify... Doc has always been a character with the kindness and social conscience of a Jimmy Stewart character -- qualities which persist to his core, in odd counterpoint to the his jaw-dropping physique and unique fighting skills. The abilities of a killing machine and the soul of a pacifist. And don't worry, M.H. -- we're in the actual 1930's."
He's responding directly to comment section guy "M.H.", who wrote:
"Sorry to be a stickler for details but Black said 'We’re shooting it as though it’s in the 30s,' and not 'we are shooting it in a 30's setting.' What he said sounds more like they are taking the character and putting him in a modern setting, but that they are using more of an old school style or aesthetic of filmmaking, hence the reference to Capra. Meaning it sounds like it will take place in modern day, but the character will act exactly like the Doc Savage character from the 1930's would. Or in other words expect no big changes to the character's core."
I know where M.H. is coming from but he may be confused by cheap 70's and 80's films where budgets and talent often didn't allow the luxury of realistic 1930's settings and costumes. Johnny Dangerously? Nowadays you can replicate anything you want quite convincingly. To mix modern with new now would only work in a light comedy, which the terrifying You Can't Take It With You reference points to, but more on that later.
Jimmy Stewart was 6'3" (and weighed less than a 150 I wager), his first film role was in 1934, and Doc was in draft form intended to look like Clark Gable, but besides that you're one fail away from suggesting Doc was like Fred Astaire because he was light on his feet. In a new Doc Savage movie Jimmy Stewart would be playing Johnny.
Frank Capra is as far removed from Doc Savage as anything I can think of. "Capra-esque" means either screwball comedy or melodramas reflecting the social issues of the day. I'm more a Preston Sturges fan, but either way you wind up with either Oh Brother Where Art Thou? or Lucille Ball on the chocolate assembly line. Or You Can't Take It With You - and am I supposed to be grateful Mr. Black didn't instead picture a Marx Brothers farce where Groucho and Margaret Dumont say things like "Why, I never!" and "Well maybe you should!"
If Shane Black wants bigger, more familiar touchstones than the pulps look at what was similar and also popular at the time. James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson starred in very popular gangster films. The nasty and gritty Dick Tracy strips started in 1931, two years before Doc Savage, and it's obvious to me that Lester Dent appropriated the idea of colorful, quirky bad guys from Chester Gould. Look at the good things that influenced Doc Savage, and then the good things Doc Savage influenced. There's no underlying socialist social commentary to be found in Doc Savage. There's nothing Capra-esque about Doc Savage. Make a Doc Savage movie first, last, and only.
March 16, 2014 Update: Thoughts On CLOCKWORKS by William Preston: "Clockworks" is the second yeah-but-not-really Doc Savage tale from William Preston, and while I can see where fans of this kind of fiction are coming from in loving it, I have separate lists of opinions as to where it succeeds and fails.
Preston interviews himself here and once again I'm struck by how he's having it both ways by invoking and then disowning Doc Savage. These "Old Man" stories exist and are only relevant because of Doc Savage. They're only interesting as plotted stories when Doc Savage is involved, and don't think the Old Man isn't Doc Savage. Preston surrounds him with stand-in assistants that hint at the Fictional Five.
In "Helping Them Take The Old Man Down" and "Clockworks" the separate narrators exist in a metaphysical fog of meta-introspection and insightful outward observations. There's a solid detachment and disconnect between a foggy mind and a foggy perception of events as they unfold in real time. This works as a Framing Device of sorts and can be a fresh perspective on Doc Savage storytelling. Here instead of Third-Person Narration you have First-Person Existentialism answering the bigger questions of Doc's role in the world and the true nature of his moralizing lobotomies. This works well when Preston is on top of his game of writing memorable prose like "When I'm silent, I hear him thinking" and "What I mistake for a cough becomes crying". "Helping Them Take The Old Man Down" had sharper writing in this regard but "Clockworks" did a better job thematically by setting up the conflicting modalities of Doc's surgeries vs. the Narrator's. It's discarded for the second half (I take that back. It's there but on a horror-story level), which like the first story, is told as if experienced in a dream, expressed directly by the narrator saying "It's like trying to walk along a pool's bottom".
"Clockworks" is in two parts - inside Doc's Fortress Of Solitude and in Chicago circa the early 60s. Doc's still young because of the miracle plant from Fear Cay. Part One is heavy in pondering while Part Two is action filtered through fog. Part One could have used less intellectualizing while Part Two should have brought the reader directly into the middle of the action. Whatever is set up in Part One is not resolved or even relevant to Part Two. This I found odd considering the amount of craft and time put into the opening.
William Preston is a talented writer whose narrative choices so far haven't done it for me. I appreciate the fresh approach but the prose gets lost in the dances of its intellect and measured detachment. I repeat that he should attempt a real pulp fiction third person Doc Savage novel and make it smart, in your face thrilling, and also conceptually complete and self-contained.