Guest blogger Atom Mudman Bezecny continues her tour-de-force 1930’s cinematic history of Pat Savage by Columbia Pictures…
PAT SAVAGE – LADY LANCELOT (1937)
A jail guard flinches at the eerie look in Pat’s eyes in this lobby card for the second Pat Savage movie. Is that a hint of a Mona Lisa smile on Pat’s face?
Following on from Pat Savage, Bronze Knockout, which was based on Brand of the Werewolf, Pat Savage – Lady Lancelot derives itself partially from Lester Dent’s iconic Doc novel Fear Cay (1934). But despite the mention of this tale in the opening credits, fans of the original pulp story will likely be disappointed, as this movie bears little in common with its pulp predecessor.
The movie’s opening, at least, has commonalities with that of Fear Cay. We fade in to Pat in a department store sampling different perfumes. With an employee’s help she picks out a new brand called “Fountain of Youth,” which causes a man in the background to regard her suspiciously. Pat and the employee gossip a bit about recently silver thefts which have struck the city—as an amateur detective, Pat is intrigued, but is no closer to solving the mystery than the police. After buying the perfume, she sees a man drop a wallet on the sidewalk. She runs up to it and picks it up, only for a plume of gas to come out of it. She passes out and a pair of men come by and scoop her up, taking her into a nearby car.
The men drive the unconscious Pat to an empty warehouse, where suddenly she awakes and begins attacking the pair. They surrender, and ask her how she overcame the gas so quickly—she explains that she suspected the wallet was a ruse, and simply held her breath. She wants to know why they kidnapped her. While hesitant to talk, the men say that their boss, Santorini (Cesar Romero), wants to know why the gal who sent Karl Lobo to the chair is interested in Fountain of Youth perfume. (By the way, R.I.P. Karl Lobo.) Pat is completely confused, saying that she just wanted a new scent. They don’t buy it, knowing that her cousin is a famous lawman. Suddenly, one of the men throws a piece of debris at the lightbulb overhead, plunging the warehouse into darkness. Pat tries to stop the men from escaping but fails.
Now she’s been tipped off that something’s up with the perfume she just bought, Pat decides to investigate. She goes back to her beauty parlor, Park Avenue Beautician, and this is the first time we get to see it since she acquired her fortune in the previous film. The parlor’s rich splendor matches the description of the pulps to a T, and the film also has Pat employ a legion of women nearly as beautiful as herself as her staff. Pat operates by upcharging her clients stupendously, just as she does in the pulps. Her back office is spacious and comfy; here is where Pat comes to rest after a hard adventure.
By inspecting the perfume bottle, she sees that the fragrance is manufactured by a company called Fountain of Youth Inc. Their headquarters is nearby so she goes to visit. While receiving a tour of the plant, she overhears one of the employees mentioning a Mr. Santorini and a Mr. Franklin, the latter having been hurt on the job somehow. Pat recognizes the name Santorini, but plays it cool. She asks her guide (Byron Foulger) about Mr. Franklin, and the guide becomes noticeably anxious. Here’s where Pat turns on the charm: through her sweetness, Pat learns that Franklin was sent to Pancini’s Health Clinic to recover. She darts out before the poor man gets a chance to kiss her.
At Pancini’s Clinic, Pat talks to Pancini (Hans Schumm), who remembers a guy named Franklin coming in. Pancini is a rather unfortunate looking fellow, so Pat doesn’t try to get sweet on him. Instead, she pretends to be an insurance agent working for Franklin, and with this ruse she acquires the address of the hotel Franklin is staying at. She goes to meet Franklin (Noel Madison) who is suffering from a lung ailment. The doctor says he’ll probably have trouble breathing for the rest of his life—the fault of a carbon-based compound used in the perfume at Fountain of Youth Inc. In the interest of bringing the company down, he tells her that Santorini is the owner of Fountain of Youth, and that he knows that the perfume is frequently sent to a ship called the Harpoon for some unknown purpose. At that moment, a shot rings out, and Franklin cries out in pain before keeling over dead. Pat, in what is easily the series’ weakest moment, screams and runs into the hallway, seeking out a man to help. She finds the hotel manager, who is horrified to learn of the murder. “We have a reputation here,” he says, “and not the kind I like to write home to my mother about!”
Pat runs away, returning exhausted to Park Avenue Beautician. Here she rests, before going out in search of the Harpoon. She finds the ship docked in the New York Harbor, and quickly notices that the men who kidnapped her earlier are aboard. She decides to sneak aboard at night, eluding the guards keenly. Inside the ship, she witnesses something incredible: the Fountain of Youth perfume is being used as part of a serum that makes synthetic diamonds. The other ingredient in the serum is silver—meaning Santorini is behind the silver robberies. Santorini will be a rich man if he can get those diamonds to market. Bad luck causes Pat to slip out of hiding, but instead of killing her, Santorini orders her turned over to the police. She has, after all, trespassed on private property, as Santorini owns the Harpoon. Pat protests, saying that she has a famous “brother” (!) who won’t stand for this. (More on this later.) Santorini snorts that she should tell it to the cops, and soon Pat is in the local jail, with everyone laughing at her story about perfume that can be turned into diamonds.
Pat refuses to give up, however, and manages to secure her escape by stealing a guard’s gun. She becomes a fugitive from justice, with not even her beauty parlor being a safe haven. In the end, Pat manipulates her fugitive status cleverly. She waits near the Harpoon until the next shipment of silver arrives, and then charges headlong towards it. A nearby cop spots her just as she “blunders” into the case of silver. The officer rushes in to arrest her, but spots the stolen metal. Santorini’s men shoot the officer, and Pat runs away to the officer’s car. Here, she calls for help, and the police race in to stop Santorini’s gang. They find the perfume and the diamonds, and realize that explains the abnormal surge in diamond sales lately is Santorini’s fault. Pat is thanked and the gangsters are sent to jail.
Overall, Pat Savage – Lady Lancelot suffers from an inherently weak premise. Having Pat start her investigation into Fountain of Youth because one of Santorini’s men is needlessly suspicious of her is pretty dumb, and there are a few instances of lazy or contrived writing throughout. It’s never explained how Santorini discovered that perfume plus silver equals diamonds, and the synthetic diamonds plot is a fairly common one in B-movies, making its marginal sci-fi elements not particularly interesting. As my synopsis implies, the actual content of the story is fairly shallow, despite it being an undeniably busy script. Pat runs all over New York City and back again in her quest for justice, but none of the locations she stops at are particularly fleshed out, making all the adventuring rather dizzying in a bad way.
There’s also the issue that Pat is somewhat neutered in this movie. That scene where she runs away screaming from a murder is a real doozy. It’s not at all consistent with the rest of the series, and the fact that she specifically seeks out a man to help her is not flattering. The filmmakers seem to have second-guessed themselves by removing Inspector Fielding from the story—with nary a man supporting Pat in the course of this story, they had to strip her of some of her power to make her acceptable to the censors at the time. It’s sad.
That’s not to say that this movie isn’t still a fun ride. Pat breaks out of jail and goes on the lam, which is impressive to witness. Her brief time in jail is different from other jail scenes seen in B-movies of the time, being more prescient of the women-in-prison genre of exploitation movies—Pat gets in cat-fights with her fellow girls, and they call her some (censor-friendly) nasty names. All throughout, Pat is her delightfully spunky self, and Rita Hayworth doesn’t miss a beat, except for that weird moment where she says “brother” when she should say “cousin.”
Every actor makes mistakes, and in spite of my earlier praise of William Beaudine, every director makes mistakes too. But I found it unlikely that both Hayworth and Beaudine would allow a blooper where Pat calls Doc her brother instead of her cousin to make it to the final cut. I did some digging, and to my great surprise, there exists an earlier draft of Pat Savage, Bronze Knockout in which Pat refers to her famous adventurer relative as her brother. It seems that, in a needlessly defensive attempt to separate the Pat Savage movies from the Doc Savage pulps, Columbia considered changing Pat’s cousin into her sibling. The scene where Hayworth seemingly messes up the line could well represent a cut of the film that used an alternative script. It’s fascinating to consider that the series was considering modifying Doc’s link to Pat so late in the game.
(It’s possible, of course, that the “Pat Savage” we’re seeing onscreen is not actually “Pat Savage,” in the sense that we commonly understand it. It’s possible, in whatever universe these films are set in, that Pat Savage is in fact Doc Savage’s cousin, but Doc also has a sister who has been fictionalized in the movies as “Pat Savage.” But that is outside the perview of this article.)
Speaking of Doc, this movie is the only one in the series to include elements from more than one Doc Savage novel. (Though as we will see, the third film arguably nods to two different stories.) Pat’s visit to the health center is based on a similar sequence in Dent’s The Annihilist (1934), while the Harpoon is based on the ship of the same name from Spook Hole (1935). These nods do help make up for the fact that the movie jettisons most of the exciting parts of Fear Cay in adapting it. (Those seeking a more accurate adaptation of Fear Cay should check out the 1967 fan film of the same name—which has the honor of being the first movie to directly feature Doc Savage. Pat also appears onscreen for the first time since 1938, as played by Kathy Sedoff.)
There is one additional historical detail that I found interesting. The hotel where Franklin is murdered bears some resemblance to the infamous Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles (currently known as the Stay on Main). Since 1927, the Cecil has been the site of a disturbing number of suicides and violent murders. Though the Pat Savage movies are set in New York, the idea of this hotel having a “reputation” is an eerie mirror of the unfortunate real-life hotel. If deliberate, I have to wonder if this is the first reference to the Cecil Hotel in the movies.
To be concluded with…Pat Savage, Girl Gangbuster (1938)