Yesterday was a very pleasant day. I was sitting on my front porch (the carport really) in a comfortable chair, ideal weather, aromatic cigar smoke wafting around my face, while I read a dandy Doc Savage adventure. I've been catching up on my Doc Savage reading since school has been out.
While I sat there, the UPS man arrived and delivered to my eager mitts the Warner Archives Doc Savage movie on DVD. I've long had a copy on VHS, but I've been meaning to upgrade to the DVD for years. I splurged this week. Ironically I was reading a Doug Murray essay on the movie as it arrived at my door.
I took the flick and later yesterday got around to viewing it. It's been quite a few years and I've read many a Doc Savage adventure since I saw it. Before, my interest in Doc was mostly from the comics by Marvel and the fact the great Ron Ely was playing the role. I knew a little about Doc from a few novels, but had read precious few of them before Anthony Tollin made it possible with his current line of great reprints.
Having read over a hundred of those at this point, I am better able to evaluate how effectively the movie evokes the Lester Dent stories. And I must say, I was impressed. The campy nature of the movie is regrettable still, but after reading how Doc seems so tongue-tied around women in the novels, it sure makes his "Mona, you're a brick." line go down a bit easier. And by the way, I never realized that Mona is played by Pamela Hensley who went on to play the evil Princess Ardalla on Buck Rogers, a neat fanboy double play there.
The John Phillip Sousa theme still annoys a bit, but mostly because it's used inappropriately at times, such as when Doc and his Fab Five are on the journey to the Edge of the World. The Fab Five themselves are reasonably well cast for the most part, though I do think both Ham and Monk are a bit too clownish for the roles in places. Habeas Corpus annoys me in the books and continues to do so in the movie, so no change there.
The villain, Captain Seas, seems much more typical of a Doc baddie than I realized, and even his over-the-top henchman Gorro is more in keeping than I suspected, though that satiric element does undercut the movie in places. The battle-of-a-dozen-fighting-styles at the end is cute, but lasts too long. On the upside, the brawl on the yacht seemed pure classic Doc to me.
I'm still annoyed by the sometimes slickness of the production, the nasty habit of labeling every piece of equipment Doc uses with his name seemed stupid when I saw this movie in the 70's and every time since. The movie does seem at times to be more interested in branding a toy line or something than telling a good story.
This isn't the Doc movie I'd have made then, and certainly not the one I'd make now. But I still argue the first half-hour of the flick is pretty dang good as Doc chases the Mayan gunman across the skyscraper while the Fab Five rush to help. There is a good sense of how the books unfold. More of this would've been a great help to the overall feel of the movie.
I'd still love to see a new Doc movie made, one with a real respect for the vitality of the character and not just for the surface features. Seeing the trailer for the first time in my memory is a treat (see below), as well as the fact the movie looks great on DVD, widescreen is excellent.
If you haven't seen this Doc, see it. But if you're a fan of the books, don't judge it too harshly, but rather try to love what is best. It's a movie with mostly good intentions if not always good delivery.