Mysterious Doctor Satan
is a 1940 film serial
named after its chief villain. Doctor Satan's main opponent is The Copperhead
, a masked mystery man secretly Bob Wayne.
The serial charts the conflict between the two as Bob Wayne searches for justice and revenge while Doctor Satan completes his plans for world domination.
It was directed by the legendary serial directorial team of William Witney and John English. Doctor Satan is played by Edward Ciannelli and Bob Wayne by Robert Wilcox.
Governor Bronson, who raised Bob Wayne from childhood after the death of his parents, is killed at the hands of a world-domination-seeking mad scientist called Doctor Satan. Fearing that his death might be at hand, however, as it has been for everyone else who had opposed the Doctor, the Governor first confides in Bob a secret about his past. Bob's father was really an outlaw in the Old West, who fought injustice while wearing a chainmail cowl and leaving small coiled copper snakes as his calling card.
Following his guardian's death, Wayne decides to adopt his outlaw father's "Copperhead" persona, donning his father's cowl. Doctor Satan, meanwhile, requires only a remote control device invented by Professor Scott to complete his army of killer robots and so gain all the power and riches he desires.
The Copperhead fights Doctor Satan, rescuing the Professor and others and preventing the Doctor from completing his plot.
- Eduardo Ciannelli (credited as Edward Ciannelli) as Doctor Satan, a mad scientist. Henry Brandon, who had played Fu Manchu in the Drums of Fu Manchu, was originally intended to play the part of Doctor Satan while wearing a regular devil costume complete with horns. At the end of the 1930s, however, this would been stretching the audience's suspension of disbelief too far so a more believable villain was written in the form of a sleek, gangster-style mad scientist played by Ciannelli.
- Robert Wilcox as Bob Wayne and his alter ego "The Copperhead"
- William Newell as Speed Martin, a reporter
- C. Montague Shaw as Professor Thomas Scott, inventor of a remote control device for the military
- Ella Neal as Lois Scott, reporter and Professor Scott's daughter
- Dorothy Herbert as Alice Brent, Professor Scott's secretary
Mysterious Doctor Satan was originally scripted to be a Superman serial for Republic, but DC Comics withdrew permission based on changes Republic incorporated into their character's backstory. The material was subsequently reworked with the Copperhead standing in for Superman. The Copperhead's love interest, Lois, was not changed between these drafts. The plot has parallels with that of a comic book character that appeared the year before, Batman.
Mysterious Doctor Satan was budgeted at $147,847 although the final negative cost was $147,381 (a $466, or 0.3%, under spend). This was one of only three pre-war serials to be made under budget. 1940 was the first year in which Republic's overall spending on serial production was less than in the previous year.
It was filmed between 20 September and 29 October 1940 under the working title Doctor Satan. The serial's production number was 1095.
According to Stedman, Republic was unconsciously "observing the transfer of the costumed crusader from prairie to pavement" in the writing of this serial. The western cowboy hero would soon be replaced in popular culture by superheroes and masked crimefighters.
The serial features the "Republic Robot". It first appeared in Undersea Kingdom
(1936) and would appear again in Zombies of the Stratosphere
(1952). It was parodied
in the metafictional The Adventures of Captain Proton
"holo-novels" of Star Trek: Voyager
as "Satan's Robot."
Director William Witney considered this one of his lesser serials. He was especially unfond of the Republic Robot and proposed a more extravegant special effect to special effects head Howard Lydecker. However, the studio had neither enough time nor enough money to creat the new robot before filming was to begin so Witney was stuck with the "hot water boiler."
The Bank Robbery by Robot scene was reused as stock footage in the later serial Zombies of the Stratosphere.
The Title of Chapter 5, "Doctor Satan's Man of Steel", refers to Doctor Satan's Robot (which is made of Steel), the actor inside the robot costume (Tom Steele) and the original intent of making a Superman serial ("The Man of Steel" is one of Superman's most famous epithets).
Mysterious Doctor Satan
's official release date is 13 December 1940
, although this is actually the date the seventh chapter was made available to film exchanges.
In the early 1950s, Mysterious Doctor Satan
was one of fourteen Republic serials edited into a television series. It was broadcast in seven 26½-minute episodes (the other thirteen all had only six episodes).
Mysterious Doctor Satan was also one of twenty-six Republic serials re-released as a film on television in 1966. The title of the film was changed to Doctor Satan's Robot. This version was cut down to 100-minutes in length.
Harmon and Glut describe Mysterious Doctor Satan
as "one of Republic's best serials... [which] set the pace for others that followed." They go no to narrow it down to one of the five or six greatest serials Republic ever made. Many people involved in the serial are singled out for praise but the main one is Ciannelli as Doctor Satan, a character who steals the show from the relatively bland Copperhead. The directors, William Witney and John English are noted as the best in their field. Cy Feuer is praised for his music, which is both moody and exciting. Mention is also made of the "superior" lighting and "some of the best stunt work in the fights to ever appear on screen in any kind of film."
The tone of the serial was set by Eduardo Ciannelli's "piercing malevolent countenance. Ciannelli's performance "in a role so susceptible to overacting and scenery chewing" maintained the "exact balance between a wild-eyed lunatic with dreams of world conquest and the brilliant, gifted man of science that Doctor Satan might have been. There was a poignancy in his portrayal that gave the uneasy feeling that this cruel genius was somehow a victim of forces that drove him to evil against his basic desire. Nothing was said or done in the screenplay to indicate it, but the feeling was there, nonetheless.
- Return of the Copperhead (30 min 15s)
- Thirteen Steps (17 min 41s)
- Undersea Tomb (17 min 18s)
- The Human Bomb (16 min 42s)
- Doctor Satan's Man of Steel (16 min 54s)
- Double Cross (16 min 44s)
- The Monster Strikes (16 min 53s)
- Highway of Death (16 min 40s)
- Double Jeopardy (16 min 39s)
- Bridge of Peril (16 min 40s)
- Death Closes In (17 min 12s)
- Crack-Up (17 min 16s)
- Disguised (16 min 42s)
- The Flaming Coffin (16 min 45s)
- Doctor Satan Strikes (16 min 44s)
- Return of the Copperhead: Doctor Satan's henchman remotely blows up the experimental ship, with Lois and crew aboard, as ordered.
- Thirteen Steps: Copperhead is electrocuted in Doctor Satan's lab as he captures the Doctor and his thugs.
- Undersea Tomb: A depth charge explodes. The diving bell, containing Bob & Lois, cracks and begins to fill with water.
- The Human Bomb: Copperhead drives into a sheet of flames and his car explodes.
- Doctor Satan's Man of Steel: Copperhead is caught in the crushing grip of The Robot.
- Double Cross: Lois is bound and gagged, the door handle is rigged to electrocute the Copperhead if he attempts a rescue, and poison gas is set to be released by a timer.
- The Monster Strikes: Splashed acid burns The Robot's circuitry and sends it out of control. It topples a case of acid on itself and the stunned Copperhead.
- Highway of Death: Copperhead, fighting on the back of a truck, is knocked off the vehicle. Speed, pursuing in a car, runs him down.
- Double Jeopardy: An open can of gunpowder is knocked over when a fight breaks out in a mine. An escaping thug knocks a lit torch onto the trail which in turn sets off all the explosives.
- Bridge of Peril: During a chase across a gas works, Copperhead is knocked from a narrow beam by a block and tackle swung at him.
- Death Closes In: Doctor Satan drops the Copperhead through a trap door and activates a sliding wall in the cell beneath to crush him.
- Crack-Up: A passenger plane, controlled remotely by Doctor Satan, crashes into a mountain.
- Disguised: As the group rounds a corner, Joe the thug opens fire on them, and someone falls, shot.
- The Flaming Coffin: Copperhead hides in a box about to be delivered to Doctor Satan's new hideout. Doctor Satan suspects a poison gas booby-trap and has the still sealed box incinerated.
- Thirteen Steps: Lois and the Copperhead jump overboard before the ship explodes.
- Undersea Tomb: Copperhead shoots out the controls and escapes by jumping through a window.
- The Human Bomb: Bob and Lois survive inside an air pocket within the diving bell.
- Doctor Satan's Man of Steel: Copperhead jumps away from the car before it explodes.
- Double Cross: Professor Scott deactivates The Robot with its control panel. The released Copperhead falls into the sea.
- The Monster Strikes: Copperhead enters through the window and rescues Lois from the cloud of poison gas.
- Highway of Death: Copperhead recovers in time and rolls aside.
- Double Jeopardy: Copperhead lies flat in the road so the car passes safely over him.
- Bridge of Peril: Copperhead dives into a shallow crevice for shelter from the explosion.
- Death Closes In: Copperhead catches the block and tackle as he falls, pulls himself to a walkway and continues the chase.
- Crack-Up: Doctor Satan leaves to escape the newly arrived District Attorney's Men. Copperhead shoots out the controls using a reflective object (possibly a cigarette case) to aim.
- Disguised: Bob's plane is the one that crashed, after he parachuted to safety.
- The Flaming Coffin: Professor Williams is the one shot by Joe, who is punched out by the Copperhead.
- Doctor Satan Strikes: Copperhead had already left the box when the delivery truck parked, substituting sacks of ore to maintain the box's weight.