Archive for the ‘Doc Savage’ Category

Dear Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: here’s my advice on playing Doc Savage

June 22, 2016

Dear Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: here’s my advice on playing Doc Savage

Dear Mr. Johnson:

Oh, actually, I don’t know…do I call you The Rock? Dwayne? The? Please pick whatever appellation you would prefer.

I believe you make intelligent choices as an actor (being a former actor myself), and that you’ll possibly appreciate some insight from a fan of Doc Savage.

You see, while Doc clearly inspired Superman and Batman (and others), you’ll need to find a way to make him stand out, to be different from all those other heroes out there.

He is…and you can be, and still make it appealing and commercial.

You see, Doc is vastly superior to most of us, but believes that he will never be good enough.

That’s the key.

He is intensely introspective, and acutely aware of anything he sees in himself as an imperfection. Of course he is self-sacrificing…perhaps, he thinks, even in dying, he could contribute in some small way to make the world a better place…and what right does he have to stay in it?

Where does he get this attitude?

It goes back to his childhood…not to get all Sunday Supplement psychological on you.

Doc’s mother died when he was a baby. Does Doc blame himself for this? Possibly, but it’s what happens after that which shapes his sense of unworthiness.

Doc’s father was already an adventurer, a world traveler. Clark Savage, Sr., makes the decision to raise his son to be a “superman”. Doc is raised on an island, and (exclusively male…he doesn’t see a woman until he is an adult) experts are brought in to tutor him, to make him into Homo superior.

Pressure, much?

Any slight failure proves to himself that he has not achieved his father’s life’s purpose for him.

Once he gets into the real world (fighting in World War I), his obvious physical and mental superiority (in part derived from an incredible self-discipline and commitment to improvement) becomes apparent to him. He becomes a leader to a group of extraordinary friends.

In the first few adventures, he kills people right and left, perhaps a bit overwhelmed to be that superior…he may actually believe he has a chance to make the difference he was raised to make.

Then he fails.

He comes to believe that his killing people was a weakness…a proof of his flaws. He vows never to kill again, and would rather die than kill even a villain.

He is driven to, as the Doc Savage oath (not part of the original adventures, but from that time) says, “…strive, every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit from it.”

He can never be good enough. Not as a brain surgeon. Not as a pilot. Not as a leader. He can, though, be better than he is now.

That’s the core.

It explains a lot of things.

It’s why he ignores questions about what he thinks is happening in a mystery, until he is sure. He thinks he could be wrong, and his error could be disastrous.

It explains his two hours of exercises a day…exercises which include mental and sensory exercises. Why does he do it even when imprisoned by a bad guy? He’s not worth surviving as he is…he needs to be better, to closer to the goal his father had for him. If he dies, the world might be better off without him.

He risks riding on the running board of cars…his being able to see better and possibly help his associates is worth the risk of his life.

It shows his anger at being told he was more useful at home in World War II than being in the thick of the fight.

It’s why, in the later adventures, he abandons many of his gadgets…if he relies on them, he isn’t getting better, no matter how useful they are.

That’s not to say he wants to die. He doesn’t: he wants to make the world a better place, and dying for its own sake doesn’t do that.

Dying in the service of others would.

He’s not illogical in this…he knows the value his skills give to his team and to society at large. He’s not going to throw his life away on a small item.

To play Doc, work with this motivation: “I can never do enough to be as good as I should be…but I can be better than I am.”

I hope that helps! You’ll get a lot of advice about being Doc Savage, and some of it will be contrary to this, I’m sure. No doubt, there will be some who suggest you play him as supremely confident. I would say this: on the surface, he can appear confident, because he knows it benefits others that he seem to be so…but that unconscious trilling will show you that there is an uncontrolled undercurrent in Doc Savage’s thoughts.

Take the opportunity to make Doc as complex as he is…we don’t need to see it overtly on screen, but I hope to see it inform your performance in a movie I have anticipated for years.

No pressure, though…I’m not Clark Savage, Sr. 😉

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When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Doc Savage: a fan’s view

June 5, 2016

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Doc Savage: a fan’s view

I can legitimately say I’m a fan of Doc Savage.

I’ve read (and have on my shelves) all 181 of the original “adventures”. I’ve kept the Doc Savage oath (not in the originals, but still dating from that time) on my computer, and recited it for inspiration. I have a Flipboard magazine devoted to linking to Doc resources and news articles on the web (Doc Savage Fanflip), a Doc Savage category of articles on this blog, and Doc’s introduction is one of the “des-time-ations” in The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project.

Doc is one of my literary heroes: I am a better person because of Doc Savage.

I also like Dwayne Johnson: I have The Rock Clock, which is a fun alarm app from the actor/wrestler, on my Galaxy S7 Edge.

However, when I heard that The Rock was being considered for the role of Doc Savage in Shane Black’s new movie, I was not immediately convinced.

First,  there’s the physicality. I find it hard to imagine the Rock in disguise as an “ordinary person” and making it work. It’s hard to think of him as anything but big…when he walks into a room, that’s going to be the first impression. Famously, Doc doesn’t look big, until you realize how tall he is because of some item of scale. Yes, he’s tall. Yes, he’s muscled, but not broad like a bodybuilder. However, they may be able to work with that…I’m just concerned that casting someone who is that big suggests perhaps an inaccurate surface assessment of the character. I expect, though, that Shane Black has read all of the adventures, and he’s smart and a good screenwriter…I’d call it a yellow flag, rather than a red one.

Second, I tend to think of the Rock as comedic or intimidating, in most roles. Neither of those fit my image of Doc Savage, who is taciturn…an immovable object rather than an unstoppable force, perhaps.

That brings up a reason why this casting can work.

Doc evolves.

Some characters, like Sherlock Holmes, come to us largely fully formed. Outside of some practical elements, you can read any of the stories about them and it doesn’t matter much in which order you do it.

The Doc Savage stories are self-contained…it’s not that a story continues from one book to the next (although there are some callbacks to previous events). It’s that Doc in the first stories is different from Doc in the middle stories who is different from Doc in the last stories.

Maybe it was because Lester Dent, who wrote the vast majority of the stories, wrote them so quickly…in the beginning, it was roughly like writing a 100 page book with a complex plot, clever dialog, and distinctive characters…every month. I think he had to be very engaged with the character…and if Dent evolved, Doc would evolve as well. Not that they held the same attitudes at the same time, but that Dent’s philosophy and emotional state would influence how he wrote Doc Savage.

Let’s take a look at some things Doc Savage fans would tell a non-fan in describing the character and the books:

  • Doc is a physical and mental marvel. He isn’t just unusually strong as well as being fast and skilled athletically. He is literally a brain surgeon. He is an inventor. It doesn’t matter much what the scientific discipline is: Doc is at the level of the best in the world. That doesn’t change much during the books
  • Doc never kills. He would rather die than kill someone else, even a villain. This was a radical change in the books: in the beginning, it’s not unreasonable to describe Doc as bloodthirsty. He kills right and left, and kills for vengeance. He rethinks this (Doc is always thinking, and examining his own behavior), and comes to believe that killing is wrong. He develops special non-lethal weapons (guns that fire “mercy bullets” that only knock people out, anesthetic gas glass globes…). Because his associates respect him so much, they adopt the same policy…at least officially. Monk, one of Doc’s aides, never really seems to get on board with this…he doesn’t kill because Doc doesn’t like it, not because the rule is part of his moral core
  • Doc has gadgets…he even wears a “utility vest”, the forerunner of Batman’s “utility belt”. The pockets are full of all kinds of things, including  underwater breathing apparatus, the aforementioned gas globes, a grappling hook, and so on. In later books, though, he eschews these, believing he has come to rely on them too much (again, being introspective). The “gadgets” extend to vehicles: a submarine, an autogyro (sort of like a helicopter), cars, planes…and a high-speed elevator in the skyscraper headquarters
  • There are five “aides” who accompany Doc on his adventures: Monk, a chemist who looks so much like an ape he is sometimes mistaken for one; Ham, a Harvard lawyer, and Monk’s “odd couple” verbal sparring partner; Long Tom, an electrical engineer; Renny, a civil engineer who, unlike Doc, is immediately noted for how big he is (especially his fists); and Johnny, a geologist and archaeologist noted for his use of big words. Outsiders might think of this as being a team, like the Justice League or the Avengers, but that’s not the case. They are friends, and Doc is the leader in their group…but being a Doc Savage aide is not a full-time job. Any of them may be too busy to join an adventure (and we usually hear what they are doing instead)…think of it more like buddies going on a road trip than an organization of crimefighters. Doc might even have an adventure with none of them around
  • Doc is disciplined. He does two hours of self-improvement every day, regardless of the circumstances.  These are often described as “exercises”, but it’s important to note that this is not just a physical workout. Doc does math problems in his head, practices identifying smells, hones his sense of hearing

I think that discipline is key to the character. Doc is always trying to make himself better…and that doesn’t just mean new personal records. It also means being a better person, for the benefit of society at large. Doc, like Mr. Spock on Star Trek and Kwai Chang Caine on Kung Fu, believes he is imperfect morally…a failure, in a sense. Rationally, he knows he is superior to most people physically and intellectually…but that doesn’t mean he thinks he always does the right thing. Doc repeatedly ignores questions when his aides ask them…it’s not because he doesn’t respect the aides, it’s because he thinks he could be wrong.

That part of the character is where Shane Black and Dwayne Johnson will have to convince me yet. There’s a real temptation with an iconic character like this, who has every reason to believe he is the best in the world, to play him as supremely confident. Doc doesn’t need to have angst on screen…he doesn’t have to doubt his cause to do good in the world, he never questions that. He has to doubt that he is morally strong enough, and to always think he can be better.

I am looking forward to the movie, and there is no question that casting Dwayne Johnson has called a lot more attention to it than it would have had as this stage. I like Shane Black. I like Dwayne Johnson. I like Doc Savage. I just hope I like them all together.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


Supergirl is a hit! Thanks (again), Doc Savage

October 28, 2015

Supergirl is a hit! Thanks (again), Doc Savage

The new Supergirl series on CBS debuted to strong ratings. While a pilot does not a staple make, it appears that Greg Berlanti will again demonstrate expertise in bringing DC Comics to television (if not to the big screen…see Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern).

It certainly looks to be a bigger relative hit than the

1984 movie version (a AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

starring Helen Slater (who has a role in the new series).

There is a lot of discussion about how this is the first TV series in some time to have a female superhero as the lead, and that’s understandable.

Where did Supergirl, as a character, come from?

Perhaps the same place Superman, as a character, did…the fertile mind of Lester Dent, who wrote the pulp series Doc Savage.

Oh, that’s not official, of course, and I’m not blaming anybody for anything…just pointing out some…similarities. 😉

I’ve remarked before about how Superman appears to have some of the same data points as Doc Savage…and Doc (who was a very popular character) had them first.

Doc was introduced in 1933, Superman in 1938.

Doc’s first name was Clark; Superman’s first name was Clark.

Doc was the Man of Bronze; Superman was the Man of Steel.

Doc had a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle (while hinted at from the beginning, it solidifies in 1938, even being the title of one of the adventures); Superman had a Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic Circle (the name appears in 1949, but the one we really know starts in 1958).

The two characters certainly had vast differences, and as Superman incorporated additional elements over time (including flight, which wasn’t there from the beginning…see When Superman wasn’t so super), they became even more different.

Doc Savage is a human being, and his superiority over the average person is largely earned: Doc’s father wanted to turn him into a “superman” (a term reportedly used in Doc Savage advertisements: UPDATE: here’s a link to what appears to be a reproduction of that ad: The Pulp Net), and Doc continued striving for that goal throughout his life. That included a regular routine of exercises: not just physical, but mental.

Superman was super…due to environmental issues, being an alien benefiting from Terran conditions.

However, Doc also clearly had good genetics…and one of the clearest pieces of evidence for that is Doc’s blond** female cousin, Patricia (“Pat”) Savage.

Introduced less than a year after Doc himself, Pat is a worthy member of Doc’s team of do-gooders…or would be, if Doc would allow her to be.

Pat is physically superior, smart, and brave.

Eventually, even Doc comes to recognize that.

She appears in close to 40 of the original 181 adventures…even starring in one.

So…Doc has a blond, female cousin (introduced in 1934’s The Brand of the Werewolf); Superman has a blond, female cousin, introduced in 1959. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s about the same time that the Fortress of Solitude is defined in Superman: maybe somebody was looking back at Doc Savage at that point, to find new ideas for Superman…or maybe it’s all a coincidence. 🙂

A new Doc Savage movie (with Shane Black involved) has been in development for several years. I’ve thought that a Pat Savage TV series could work well. It wouldn’t be like Supergirl: there really are “no flights, no tights” (a reported rule for the Smallville TV series) for Pat Savage, nor would there ever be. There would be some similarities with TV’s Agent Carter: a period piece with a strong female lead, dealing with the attitudes of society.

However, it wouldn’t be bound up with all the Marvel mythology. Stories could largely be stand-alone.

There is a precedent in the recent

Doc Savage Special: Woman of Bronze (at AmazonSmile*)

written by David Walker, although it certainly wouldn’t need to be an adaptation of that.

I can see this being a way for Amazon to get into the original “superhero” series game, even though Pat technically isn’t a superhero…in the same way that Batman isn’t. Pat Savage might attract people who aren’t comic book fans, while still having a name draw for geeks, with an occasional appearance by her famous cousin (and more appearances by Monk, Ham…and I would think Long Tom ((a prototype tech wizard/socially inept sidekick character)), at least).

So, welcome to small screen success, Supergirl…and thanks, Doc…er, Pat Savage!

** Reader Al reasonably points out that Pat’s hair is described as bronze…which, arguably, is not blond. See the comments section. Thanks, Al!

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get.


Shop ’til you help!


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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