Doc Savage (Ron Ely) returns to New York City following a visit to his Arctic hideaway. He learns that his father has died under mysterious circumstances while exploring the Central American Republic of Hidalgo. While examining his father's personal papers, Doc finds himself the target of an assassination attempt.
Doc Savage chases and corners the sniper on the nearby Eastern Craymore Building, but the would-be assassin loses his footing and falls to his death. Examining the body, Doc discovers that his assailant is a Native American with peculiar markings; his fingertips are red, as if dipped in blood, while his chest bears an elaborate tattoo of the ancient Mayan god Kukulcan.
Returning to his penthouse headquarters, Doc finds that intruders have destroyed his father's personal papers. Vowing to solve his father's murder, Doc Savage flies to Hidalgo with the The Fabulous Five, his brain trust.
Waiting for Doc Savage's arrival is the international criminal and smuggler Captain Seas (Paul Wexler) who repeatedly attempts to kill Doc and his friends, culminating in a wild melee onboard his yacht, the Seven Seas.
Doc's investigation uncovers that, years ago, Professor Savage received a vast land grant in the unexplored interior of Hidalgo from the Quetzamal, a Mayan tribe that disappeared 500 years ago. However, Don Rubio Gorro (Bob Corso) of the local government informs Doc that all records to the land transaction are missing. Doc receives unexpected help from Gorro's assistant, Mona (Pamela Hensley), who saw the original papers and offers to lead Doc and his friends to the land claim.
Following clues left by his father, Doc and his friends locate the hidden entrance into a valley where the lost Quetzamal tribe lives. Doc separates from the group and finds a pool of molten gold. Doc also learns that Captain Seas is using the Quetzamal natives as slave labor to extract the gold for himself.
Meanwhile, Seas' men capture Mona and The Fabulous Five, and Seas unleashes the Green Death, the same airborne plague that killed Doc's father and keeps the Quetzamal tribe under his control.
Doc overpowers the Captain after a protracted clash of different fighting styles and forces Seas to release his friends, whom Doc then treats with a special antidote. Seeing their leader captured, the Captain's men try to escape with the gold, but exploding dynamite causes the pool of gold to erupt, covering the henchmen, including Don Rubio Gorro, in molten metal.
Freed from Captain Seas, Chief Chaac (Victor Millan) offers the gold and land grant to Doc, who replies, "I promise to continue my father's work ... his ideals. With this limitless wealth at my disposal, I shall be able to devote my life to the cause of justice."
Doc Savage returns to the United States and performs acupuncture brain surgery on Captain Seas to cure him of his criminal behavior. Later, during Christmas season, Doc Savage encounters the former supervillain, who is now a bandleader for the Salvation Army, flanked by his former paramours Adriana and Karen.
Arriving back at his penthouse from shopping, Doc hears an urgent message about a new threat that could cost millions of lives.
Doc Savage leaps into action and speeds to his next adventure.
Other noteworthy casting included:
As co-creator of Doc Savage, author Lester Dent retained the radio, film, and television rights to the character as part of his contract with Street and Smith Publications, publishers of the Doc Savage pulp magazine. Although Dent succeeded in launching a short-lived radio program, he was never able to interest Hollywood in a Doc Savage film. Upon Dent's death in 1959, his widow, Norma Dent, acquired the radio, film, and television rights to Doc Savage.
The production team of Mark Goodson and Bill Todman announced the intention to produce a Doc Savage film to cash in on the popularity of the re-issued pulp novels by Bantam Books and the James Bond craze sweeping the movies.
Unfortunately, the producers and Condé Nast Publications, the new copyright owner to Doc Savage brand, failed to secure the film rights from the estate of Lester Dent. By the time the legal issues had been resolved, the production team and cast had moved on to do the offbeat western Ride Beyond Vengeance.
Producer George Pál secured the film and television rights from Norma Dent with the intention of launching a film franchise like the James Bond movies. Ever the businessman, Pál envisioned marketing and production savings from such a series, with an eventual sell to television to recoup any back-end costs, followed by an eventual television series, just as Sy Weintraub had done with Tarzan and Irwin Allen with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. However, to make a franchise work, the first movie had to be successful.
George Pál and Joe Morhaim wrote the screenplay based on The Man of Bronze, the first Doc Savage adventure, with additional story elements from other Doc Savage adventures, such as the November 1938 novel The Green Death and the January 1935 novel The Mystic Mullah.
The villainous Captain Seas, played by Paul Wexler, was based on the flamboyant and brutal Captain Flamingo from the February 1936 pulp novel Mystery of the Sea. This should not be confused with the Canadian television character Captain Flamingo.
English director Michael Anderson would helm the first Doc Savage movie. His specialty was action-adventure films, such as Dam Busters, Battle Hell, The Wreck of the Mary Deare, and Operation Crossbow. His most noteworthy effort had been Around the World in Eighty Days, the Best Picture of 1956.
Although there were reports that Pál planned to do location filming in Central America, principal photography was confined to southern California. Scenes involving the fictitious Eastern Cranmoor Building in New York City were filmed underneath the clock tower of the art deco Eastern Columbia Building in downtown Los Angeles.
Ron Ely's involvement extended beyond starring in the lead role. He reportedly directed several second unit sequences, including staging the fight onboard Captain Seas' yacht Seven Seas, which featured stuntman Dick Durock who later starred in the Swamp Thing films and television series. Also, the portrait of Professor Clark Savage, Sr., in Doc's penthouse headquarters actually shows actor Ron Ely wearing a vintage safari outfit and pith helmet, with a handlebar moustache.
Pamela Hensley made her film debut in this motion picture.
Paul Frees, who provided the uncredited voice-over narration for the opening title sequence, also made a rare on-screen appearance in the 1953 version of War of the Worlds as well as performing the narration and other voice work for the 1960 fantasy film Atlantis, the Lost Continent, both produced by George Pál.
Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze was visually faithful to the novels and characters, which included such elements as:
Some aspects of the Doc Savage mythos were modified for the movie, including:
Finally, Long Tom (Paul Gleason) mentions that Monk, Ham, Renny, Johnny, and he first met Doc Savage while fighting in the trenches during World War I and vowed to work together against evil-doers after the war. The 1991 novel Escape From Loki by Philip José Farmer retroactively tells the story of how Doc first met the The Fabulous Five in a high-security German POW camp in 1918.
The film is remembered for its theme song arranged by Frank De Vol around John Philip Sousa's The Thunderer. Sousa’s music was intended to evoke a patriotic theme for Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze and attempted to emulate the success that director George Roy Hill and composer Marvin Hamlisch had achieved when they used the ragtime music of Scott Joplin for the 1975 caper film The Sting. Both Sousa and Joplin were turn-of-the-century contemporaries, and their music were not contemporaneous to the period that these 1930s nostalgia films were set.
Lyrics of the Doc Savage March by Don Black are as follows:
The credit acknowledging Sousa's score has the letters "USA" of his last name highlighted in red, white, and blue.
Producer George Pál reported to Edward Felipe in the magazine Castle of Frankenstein that "We made it too good." However, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze proved to be inferior in every production category - set design, art direction, costuming, hair style - to Chinatown, The Sting, Murder on the Orient Express, and other 1930s nostalgia films released during this period. Even Pál's trademark visual effects and matte paintings were mediocre, with the depiction of the Green Death as animated serpentine vapors being particularly unconvincing (see image at right).
The decision by Warner Brothers to shift the release date from the Spring of 1974 to Easter 1975 denoted a lack of confidence in the production and its box office potential. However, a 16-page press kit was prepared, and Ron Ely participated in a press junket that included an appearance in the WSB-TV annual Fourth of July parade in Atlanta, Georgia.
Reviews were scathing, with Daily Variety noting: "Execrable acting, dopey action sequences, and clumsy attempts at camp humor mark George Pal's Doc Savage as the kind of kiddie film that gives the G rating a bad name."
The movie proved to be a disappointment for both die-hard Doc Savage fans and the general public. The film did not do well at the box office, and it soon disappeared in a summer dominated by the blockbuster box office of Jaws.
A sequel, Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil, was announced at the conclusion of The Man of Bronze (see photo, right). Based on a screenplay by Joe Morhaim, and according to contemporary news accounts, it had been filmed in the Lake Tahoe area simultaneously with the principal photography for the first Doc Savage.
According to the screenplay that was posted on the Internet, the sequel was based very loosely on the October 1934 pulp novel Death in Silver, which also featured a deformed, German-speaking supervillain and a man-eating octopus found in the September 1937 pulp novel The Feathered Octopus. However, due to the poor reception of the first film, Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil was never completed or released.
However, with Schwarzenegger now serving his second term as governor of California, and both Darabont and Russell involved in other projects, this remake appears to be improbable.
In late 2006, director-producer Sam Raimi announced plans to make a film involving several Street and Smith pulp heroes, including The Shadow, The Avenger, and Doc Savage. A screenplay is being written by Siavash Farahani (Ruse) but no plot details were available.
Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze was initially released by Warner Home Video in a clamshell box, at the time denoting a family film, with cover art (see photo, right) designed to capitalize on the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film was also released onto Laserdisc and there is a DVD available in Germany (with German and English language).
Johnny Littlejohn: Well, I'll be superamalgamated! I thought I knew the markings of every tribe on Earth, but I've never seen anything like this before.
Johnny Littlejohn: An unravelable configuration of knots.
"The Doctor is in! Doc Savage" by Michael A. Beck. Baby Boomer Collectibles (April 1996)
“The Bronze Age” by Will Murray from James Van Hise, ed., Pulp Heroes of the Thirties, 2nd edition (Yucca Valley, CA: self-published, 1997).
Sequels & possible remakes