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‘The Man of Bronze’ that should have been

Posted by at 8:49 pm Monday, April 25, 2011 in Doc Con, Movies/TV/Radio, News, Pulps
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The March of Time newsreel on Doc Savage

The March of Time newsreel on Doc Savage which opens the re-edited "DeTarnished" version.

For some, George Pal‘s 1975 Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze may hold a few fond memories of seeing the pulp hero on the silver screen for the first time. But those fond memories aren’t widely held.

For most, Warner Bros. turned what potentially could have been a Raiders of the Lost Ark adventure (but six years earlier) into a campy film that wasn’t funny enough or “adventure-y” enough. It was sort of an in-between failure.

The fate of the film was mostly water under the bridge — until about four years ago. A couple of fans attempted to re-edit The Man of Bronze into a better movie. One of those re-edits — Doc SaLvageD: The Fan-Edit of Bronze — was screened during the evening activities of Doc Con X.

The re-edit went over fairly well, but Doc Con viewers still felt the movie still wasn’t what it could have been.

Well, it turns out the fan editor, who goes by the alias of “slark,” heard similar comments.

“The first edit met the (relatively) modest goals I had set for it: I replaced the vocal music; got rid of the twinkles in Doc’s eyes, Don Rubio’s cradle-bed, ‘La Cucaracha’… all the most egregious stuff,” slark said via email. “It was well-enough received when it was released, but some bemoaned that more had not been done – for instance, some said they’d like to have seen the Paul Frees voiceover and the introduction of the ‘Fabulous Five’ removed from the start of the film… I began the second go-’round only months after the first was released.”

slark (yes, in all lowercase) recently posted a draft of his second re-edited version online. It’s called Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze — DeTarnished.

“One of my early goals for this second effort was to see if it would be possible to completely remove the Sousa score (I was soon enough to realize that this really wasn’t feasible),” slark wrote. “After some satisfying success on the Arctic Circle/Fortress of Solitude sequence, I hit upon a new goal/philosophy/litmus test: How far into this film can I watch without cringing?

“That question began to dictate what I must do, and what I could afford to leave be. (Not much.) Yes, it meant more work, and new learning curves, but it became more and more apparent that the end result would be worth the effort. And more goals crept in: make Captain Seas a more formidable villain; eliminate bits of business that make the ‘Fabulous Five’ seem inept; tackle continuity errors…”

A hand-drawn frame from "DeTarnished."

Some parts of "DeTarnished" required new special effects, including this attack on Doc Savage's plane.

So how is the draft version? Actually, a great improvement over the original movie (as well as the previous re-edit). You have to remember the material slark had to work with.

DeTarnished opens with a “March of Time” newsreel introducing Doc and his five aides in a much more pleasing way than the previous narrated humorous profiles. That sets the stage for a more serious film to follow. Even though slark removed a quarter of the original footage, it is impossible to completely remove the camp — it’s veins run deep into the movie. But slark has done probably the best anyone can.

So what inspired slark to take on such a task as re-editing a 36-year-old film?

“Well, it was inspired by author Jeff Rovin, who – not long after the film was released – founded the ‘Save Savage Society,’ with the goal of petitioning/cajoling Warner Bros. into re-scoring, re-editing and re-releasing the film. This effort went on for years, through the death of George Pal in 1980, the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 — even up until the release of the second ‘Indy’ movie,” slark said.

“It never came to pass, but I followed these efforts for years, and the idea stayed in the back of my mind. Of course, when I learned about The Phantom Edit [a fan re-editing of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. — ed.], and fan-editing in general, I thought, ‘Great! Now someone can finally fix Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze!’ Little did I realize that someone would be me! (I tried to get an experienced fan-editor to tackle this project, but no one did, so I took it on as a ‘learn-as-you-go’ sort of thing.)”

It wasn’t Doc Savage that attracted slark to the project, but the film’s producer.

“Actually, I did not grow up as a fan of the Doc Savage pulp novels. My attention span was too short for long-form literature,” slark said. “As a kid, I preferred the short stories of Ray Bradbury. No, I came at this project from the perspective of a huge George Pal fan. It was regrettable that, after such an excellent body of work, his final film was so ridiculous (and deserving of the ridicule heaped upon it).

“I did have the input of several very-well-versed Doc aficionados who saw to it that my aim (with non-lethal weapons, of course) was true. These fellows — who followed, and directed, my progress via a thread on the fanedit.org forum — prodded-along the evolution of this project. And ‘evolution’ it was — it grew considerably in ambition as time went on.”

The body of Don Rubio

Who is slark? I have no idea. But you can get a glimpse of him — or, at least his lower half — toward the end of the re-edit. He said he used himself to double for the body of Don Rubio Gorro.

He said, “In a perfect world, DeTarnished would serve as a ‘proof of concept’ for Warner Bros., who would see what I’ve done here and say, ‘Holy Crap! We need to do a ‘real’ version of this – give the film an extreme makeover and release it on video in time for the new Doc Savage movie coming out!’ (Yeah, right…)

“My more-realistic hope for this edit is that finds an appreciative audience among pulp- and Doc-fans. In this new incarnation, it may not be a film that can be celebrated, but at least it need not be avoided. If this became the new — and only — standard for watching this film (it already is mine), I could live with that.

“I would particularly like to invite the world of pulp fandom to give this fan-edit a chance if only to see how it showcases Ron Ely‘s performance as Doc. It deserves to be seen! I have a mailing address for Mr. Ely and will be sending him a copy of this fan-edit.”

The early version of DeTarnished is circulating on Usenet. slark says he hopes to make the final re-edit available at some point.

6 Comments

  1. Wow! Where can I go to see this?
    Eric

  2. There is an early draft floating around on the Usenet forums. slark said he will post info about the final version over at the fanedit.org forum.

  3. Thanks William. I’ll be on the lookout for it!

  4. The DVD version of the edit has been released. It is available on Usenet on alt.binaries.dvd.

    Thanks, William, for my first “positive press”!

  5. Okay Slark, William:
    Can a dvd of this re-edit be purchased, and if so, how?
    Eric

  6. Hi, Eric,

    I don’t believe it is for sale. slark released it on Usenet, but I don’t think he’s making discs. Your best bet is to check out the fanedit.org forums for more information.

    (Or, maybe if slark is checking the blog, he might answer more definitively.)

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