'Doc Savage' and 'Time After Time', As Seen Through Older Eyes, Now

Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)

We can see, now, that Nicholas Meyer learned the lesson of George Pal's Time Machine, even if Pal didn't.

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

Director: George Pal
Cast: Ron Ely
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1975
Release date: 2016-11-01

Time After Time

Director: Nicholas Meyer
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Mary Steenburgen
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1979
Release date: 2016-11-15

Warner Archive has issued two new Blu-rays of ‘70s fantasies that occasion very different memories in your nostalgic reviewer.

By now, Dear Reader, you must have learned one of the rules: Avoid most movies you loved as a kid. What struck my squeaky post-toddler self as cinematic masterworks, like Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), look dull and pale today.

This is why I've never revisited Disney's Million Dollar Duck (1971), the first ever first-run film I saw in a theatre. It had a fowl who laid golden eggs! It had Dean Jones and Joe Flynn! It had a big chase with Sandy Duncan driving a cherry-picker! She frantically manipulated the gear-shift and wailed "Oh, how do you work this darn thing?" as it sped toward an overpass! I bounced in my seat! My parents and I screamed with laughter! It was a movie! In my memory, the eggs aren't the only thing golden, and I don't wish to discover now if it's not all it's quacked up to be.

I see that I liked big, broad, simple movies with clear images and straight stories. Movies like George Pal's Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze (1975), with its rousing chorus singing to a John Phillip Sousa march while Ron Ely spent the whole movie posing, smiling, and shredding his shirts. Here's Doc Savage at his pre-Superman Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle. Here's his flashy New York penthouse and his big car. Here are his bland cohorts, the Fabulous Five, including the chubby one with a pet pig as comic relief. Here they are discovering a lost South American tribe with a pool of molten gold and green cartoon snakes who slither through the air.

My youthful eyes were just faintly sophisticated enough to pick up on the Batman-esque "campy" qualities, like the gimmicky gleam in Ely's eyes. I loved the way the trailer's announcer said "When you're all doomed to die a horrible death" right before the native chief intones "We are all doomed to die a horrible death". It was a clean vision of comic adventure, with the right dash of absurdity. Now, alas, it feels like clumsy plod that's shot like a contemporary TV pilot movie, and on the same backlots. There's little of the visual pizzazz injected by Pal in his better movies, like The Time Machine (1960) and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) -- more movies best seen in childhood.

Malcolm McDowell in Time After Time (1979)

Someone who learned from The Time Machine was writer-director Nicholas Meyer, whose Time After Time has worn so much better thanks to its charming process effects, its rousing Miklos Rosza score, its clever romantic script, and its endearing performances. Meyer had written The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) and would go on to direct two Star Trek movies. His hit debut as a director, which links Victorian pastiche with science fiction, proved crucial in his career.

Although Malcolm McDowell's portrayal of H.G. Wells isn't very accurate, he's presented as a Fabian socialist and exponent of Free Love, which is probably a first for any Hollywood hero. That's why he's so charmingly befuddled by a modern, sexually liberated woman (Mary Steenburgen) after his funky little time machine drops him into ‘70s San Francisco in pursuit of Jack the Ripper (David Warner).

Please don't adblock PopMatters.

We are wholly independent, with no corporate backers.

We can't survive without your support.

The slasher story doesn't dominate but lends urgency to what's mostly a fish-out-of-water romance played by two leads who fell in love during filming (McDowell and Steenburgen would be married for 10 years.) One can question various conveniences, but the script balances its elements with care, keeping the viewer engaged and, when necessary, lulled and misdirected.

In the articulate commentary by Meyer and McDowell, the former says he should have done this and he might have done that, but his simple approach worked, which is why the film's popularity remains. Indeed, a TV series is in production for 2017, which is another explanation for this Blu-ray upgrade.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.