“An amazing weaving of diverse cinematic texts, which creates a web of living, breathing, heartfelt fiction.” – Atom Mudman Bezecny
“Audacity always audacity…” – André Vathier
The newest Doc Talos book is now available for pre-order!
Montage is the first Doc Talos Double — a sophisticated take on the classic “Ace Double” format, where you flip the book over to read a second story.
Epic in scope, Montage tells the story of the night James Talos Sr. died — poisoned by the Red Death — atop the Empire State Building in 1932. On the flip side, his son, James Talos Jr. (Doc) has a fateful meeting with his father’s murderer thirty-two years later, in 1964 (not so coincidentally the year that Bantam began reprinting the canon of Doc Savage pulps). All of this is set against a backdrop of three decades of subversive, life-changing film…including the secret behind “the greatest film that never was”, Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness…a trip deep inside the underworld of film in war-torn 1945 Berlin…a controversial Biblical epic…and two horror films, obliquely exposing the man who was once Jack the Ripper.
Special features include two Introductions (one on each side). Atom Mudman Bezecny explores the connections to a remarkable period of transition in 20th Century filmmaking…and André Vathier looks at qualities that can make pulp literature and art uniquely memorable.
Author R. Paul Sardanas also provides two Forewords, exploring the background, history and emotional impact within the montage of story elements.
Montage will release on April 21, and after that will retail for $30 plus shipping. If you pre-order before release day, your cost will only be $20 plus $5 US shipping (international shipping will be calculated for you if you reside outside of the United States). You can make inquiries or place your order by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
A PDF download of the book will also be available for $10.
Montage, presented by Gromagon Press in partnership with Tetragrammatron Press, is a 6 x 9 deluxe paperback, 222 pages, by R. Paul Sardanas, with 60 stunning full color painted illustrations by Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, as well as over 100 in-narrative artistically-enhanced color images from film sources. The book has mature content, and is for adults only.
Last weekend author/critic Dr. Arthur Sippo interviewed me for his podcast ArtsReviews, and we had a great, far-ranging talk about pulp writing, the creation and evolution of the Doc Talos series, some of my own personal history from the 1960’s to the present, and more. A link to the interview is below…and here are some highlights with photo accompaniment.
We chatted about my adventures as a teenage writer in the 1970’s, including my happy addiction to the Doc Savage novels and the pulp creations of Phil Farmer…which led me to attempt a Doc pastiche called “Doctor Fenris” at age fifteen.
In my personal life, we explored some of my strange upbringing, including nine years beginning in my teens basically on the run from the law (my father was a somewhat notorious character…a uniquely brilliant but troubled con man, who pretended to be both a doctor and a scientist — he was neither — and secured university and medical clinic positions until he was found out, and he went off the grid to escape prosecution, dragging his wife and children into the wilds).
Despite the privations of those years, they were also the beginnings of my authorial life…submitting (and being rejected by) a number of legendary SF magazines of the day.
We chatted about my attempt to interest Conde Nast in an updating (yes, I was pretty cocky in those days) to the then-present 1980’s of the Doc Savage series (a concept which — of course — they rejected outright…)
My writing career then took a turn in new directions, with classical, poetic, historical and philanthropic works, and a long stint as a very active member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Ultimately we discussed my joining forces creatively with artist/creator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon, and the wildly audacious project we have undertaken for the past eight years…to craft a massive pastiche universe based on the Doc Savage canon and in the adult style of Farmer’s powerful A Feast Unknown.
Fifty years ago this month, I turned fifteen, and knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer, and was filled with intense energy which I focused on that goal.
In addition, I knew exactly what I wanted to write…a pastiche of Doc Savage, but one that I aspired to make in tune not with the 1930’s and 1940’s of the pulp era, but the dynamic (and to me, irresistibly powerful) shifting mores and sensibilities of the early 1970’s.
Doctor Fenris was born that year, his first novel written in longhand (which is the way I still write)…and in the same year he faded into oblivion, as I just couldn’t make the concept work.
I was, of course, pretty young, and though no doubt I would have resisted being labeled thus at the time, I was a tyro. I’d read Phil Farmer’s A Feast Unknown that same year, and that was the type of tone I wanted to take with Fenris. I chose the name of the Norse Wolf of Ragnarok because I wanted the character to have an edgier, more dangerous feel than the traditional pulp Doc. And yes, I resisted the urge to call him “Doc”, as at that time I felt “Doctor” had a little more gravitas.
I made up pastiche names for the five aides and Pat…which hung in there in my memory until circling back to the creation of Doc Talos, in 2015. So those were the first echoes of Rickie, Andy, Theo, Big John, Bill and Tom.
The Fenris novel was called, in pulp fashion, “The Manhattan Goblin”. The plot included a brutal serial killer, a lot of intense sex, and great stuff like obsession, revenge…and balancing that, the underlying idealism that was a great part of my love for Doc Savage, as well as an equally integral part of the 1970’s counterculture sensibility.
It was all pretty much a train wreck…way too ambitious for me to pull off with my teenage writing chops. When it was done I set it aside in pretty much a state of authorial dismay.
I never came back to Doctor Fenris. A dozen years later, flushed with more ambition and hubris, I set out to write actual Doc Savage stories set in the present day (of the 1980’s at that point). That became the novel “The Day of Black Sunlight”, which I thought was a better effort, but when I approached Conde Nast with it — this was before the Will Murray novels had begun — they ignored the very idea of an unknown scribe taking the reins of their brand.
So Doctor Fenris, and Doc Savage in the 1980’s fell into the literary abyss. But this month, marking a half century since Fenris (and with a whole shelf of Doc Talos books done, with no end in sight)…it’s fun to look back, and wonder what might have been.
R. Paul Sardanas and Iason Ragnar Bellerophon are putting the finishing touches on a special short story/mini graphic novel featuring the incomparable Rickie Talos (pastiche of Pat Savage). It’s a wild tale of 90-year old pulp colliding with modern virtual reality, for an intense story-and-art experience. Here’s the Foreword for the upcoming special book release of “The Hills of the Unconsoled Dead”.
Rickie Talos and Pat Savage share the same birthday, naturally enough: August 13, 1915. When thinking about her teenage years for the anthology book Rickie, I wondered what might have been her preferred reading material…her favorite authors? Given her wayward and headstrong nature and her intense love of adventure, the answer about her absolute favorite author seemed obvious: Robert E. Howard. So for the opening story of the anthology, set in 1930 when she was fifteen, I had her reading (and fantasizing fiercely about) a Howard tale of Solomon Kane, The Moon of Skulls.
A year later, Doc Talos co-creator and illustrator Iason Ragnar Bellerophon and I were having one of our always-wild brainstorming sessions about all things Talos, and he came up with the idea of resurrecting a character from our novel Savages – Miles Harmon. Miles was a pastiche of Philip José Farmer’s Tchaka Wilfred, described thus in Chapter 14 of A Feast Unknown:
Tchaka Wilfred was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He had been a professional football player until he had been caught after holding up a bank to finance a militant black organization. He escaped from prison and joined another organization in Harlem. There he had run afoul of Doctor Caliban, who had taken Wilfred prisoner but had not turned him over to the police. Instead he had sent Wilfred to the private sanitorium, where Caliban rehabilitated his criminals. By surgery.
Wilfred has a relatively small but memorable part…his personal history, behavior and speech pattern were a bit stereotyped in the mold of late Sixties “blaxploitation” books and films, but that was a quantum leap from the blatantly racist stereotypes of the 1930’s pulps. Wilfred dies fairly early in Feast, and that is mirrored by Harmon in Savages. So he was certainly a character left largely undeveloped.
The idea at first was to have Doc Talos use a serum similar to that which Doc Savage developed in the pulp story Resurrection Day to bring Harmon back, so he could have an African adventure alongside Rickie. Incredibly tantalizing notion…but as I tried to work it out plot-wise, I kept running into continuity issues with the timing and methods used by Talos in the later novel Madonnas, which also carries a resurrection theme.
But the answer was straightforward. Rickie has been shown in many later Talos tales to be enthralled by Virtual Reality tech – and given her literary love of Robert E. Howard, it would be perfectly natural for one of her earliest forays into VR play to have a Howardian theme. She would be a little embarrassed at playing out her pulp-style fantasies with Doc (who, throughout the Talos saga, has often expressed exasperation with the pulp stories of his literary doppelganger, Doc Savage). She had liked Miles – a rough-edged, tough-talking individual not unlike herself – so why not choose to include him in her VR fantasy?
Iason, with a burst of his characteristic artistry, had created a number of AI images of pulp-feverish scenes featuring Rickie and Miles, which were both thrilling and inspiring. In some of them, menacing figures with an undead-like aspect could be seen lurking in the background. Lights of course, went off in my head at the sight of these, when considering the Rickie/Robert E. Howard connection. Another Solomon Kane story, 1930’s The Hills of the Dead, would certainly also have been devoured in that year by pulp adventure enthusiast Rickie.
Young Rickie, I imagine, would have happily cast herself in the role of Kane (as I did myself when first reading the story in the 1968 Donald Grant hardcover collection Red Shadows – cover art by Jeffrey Catherine Jones; and a little later in a splendid Marvel Comics adaptation by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams). So the pieces were suddenly in place for a rousing tale of violence and passion. Just the way Rickie likes it.
But as is often the case with Talos tales, a layer of very sophisticated 20th Century literature has worked its way into the narrative…in the form of Kazuo Ishiguro’s deeply bemusing, strangely moving book The Unconsoled. I consider it one of the most difficult books to follow that I’ve ever encountered (almost on a par with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake), as it takes the form of scenes that change and shift with a sense of being unmoored from reality, while simultaneously being deeply immersed in it. At times you have to look very hard…to focus, in order to not become cut adrift. At other times, if you let yourself go, anything feels possible.
Pulp fiction can feel that way too, taking us to places where the dead can walk side by side with the living, where bodies can be interchanged…where souls are lost but can, almost beyond hope, be regained.
As this detailed look at the 1970’s Marvel/Curtis black and white Doc Savage magazine continues, we have reached the climax of the second issue, and its tale “Hell-Reapers at the Heart of Paradise”, by author Doug Moench and artist Tony DeZuniga.
The story centers around a favorite theme of the original pulp canon: the “lost world”. In this instance it is a hidden cavern in the frozen north, which has attracted greedy interest from the villains of the story first through what ultimately proved to be a red herring — gold from a sunken treasure ship — which becomes a more modern treasure trove, as the cavern contains a hugely rich deposit of uranium.
Doc, his aides, and a woman named Sandy Taine have come to the cavern for a more humanitarian reason…to find Sandy’s father, who was lost in a previous expedition. The early part of the story included kidnappings of other old expedition members, and a somewhat over-the-top villain called “The Mad Viking”. When we left off, Doc’s expedition has found most of the kidnap victims, and is being threatened by “reptilians” that live in the cavern.
As the reptilians close in, Doc & Co. prepare to repel an attack.
As the situation deteriorates, the kidnap victims show their true colors.
Doc shows an unusual degree of emotion here…incensed at the killing. This was a trait that author Moench displayed more than once in this series, portraying Doc in more of a middle ground between the highly self-controlled persona of the classic run of 1930’s pulps, and the more emotional Doc of later pulp years. To me as a reader I found Doc’s occasional outbursts in the series to be a bit jarring, but it’s not really a wildly uncharacteristic portrayal (in the first few pulps Doc was much more violent), and in the 1970’s storytelling milieu there was often an effort to imbue heroes with more nuanced character traits than the old pulps were wont to do.
In any case, the good guys and bad guys in this tale are finally delineated.
We now see Sandy’s missing father, who has in fact joined the reptilian denizens of the cavern. And remember the glimpse of the window broken in the wrong direction earlier in the story? Here it is revealed as the clue which informed Doc of the real state of things. A trope of the pulps is invoked here in interesting fashion…Doc’s habit of withholding information from his aides during the course of an adventure. In this case the habit goes wrong, leading to his companions being in the dark at a critical moment…another shading of 1930’s storytelling into more gray areas prevalent in tales penned in the ’70’s.
The exposition here to present the reptilian society is a bit labored…everything from the costumes to the setup of the village to the transformation of the humans into reptile forms really doesn’t hold up logically, which is one of the weak points of the story. But in terms of comics storytelling even just the effort to make it plausible is more sophisticated than much of the comics landscape of the ’70’s, which was littered with cardboard characters in completely implausible situations. In that context I was quite prepared as a teenage reader to let most of the absurdities slide, and the story was compelling enough to keep me rolling along with it.
Now the pieces begin to move toward the peak of action, with Doc setting out to rescue Long Tom (a somewhat unfortunate holdover from pulp cliche is the constant capturing of one or more of the aides, requiring the save from Doc). Monk in these scenes is shown in a thankfully competent light, making the harrowing descent by plane into the cavern with style…while Long Tom is close to making his own escape by the time Doc arrives.
The fight scene and the plane’s descent are spliced together through dual points of view, which was deftly done. Fight scenes in the comics (or in pulp narratives) are challenging to frame with a feeling of real tension (the good guys generally prevail), but the two tense situations layered in this way upped the reader sensations of conflict and peril in the tale.
After apparent victory and success, things take an abrupt turn for the worst. One repeating theme of the Marvel/Curtis Doc stories is the “unhinged villain” (there was also a similar round-the-bend take on the bad guy in the first issue)…and Rutter, recovering from Doc’s haymaker, promptly loses it completely.
The blasts destabilize the whole cavern, which begins to flood with alarming speed. Doc tries to get as many as possible into the plane, though his offer to take the reptilians out is implausible…the plane hardly seemed large enough for a full exodus. In any event, Sandy’s father refuses, and she is stricken with grief and sadness to realize he is also insane.
The story wraps quickly, with escape barely achieved. It ends on a poignant note, as the mask worn by Sandy’s father is washed up from the flooded cavern into the light of day, before freezing.
It was, of course, unusual for the old pulps to incorporate elements of pathos into their storytelling. But that was very much a part of the tone of 1970’s comics, and I found it fit well with the Doc Savage style of adventure, adding some emotional weight to the tales. Moench certainly incorporated it into much of his writing in that era, and we will see it numerous times as this series continues.
After the first two issues of the new Doc Savage magazine, I was thrilled. The stories had their flaws, but they were exciting, and it felt to me that Doc’s literary legacy was being honored and enhanced.
Guest blogger Atom Mudman Bezecny wraps up her look at the 1930’s Columbia Pictures movie series featuring the magnificent Pat Savage. The films that never were…but should have been.
PAT SAVAGE, GIRL GANGBUSTER (1938)
Saving the best for last: the poster for the third Pat movie captures the glamour and giddiness the series embodied.
Pat Savage, Girl Gangbuster (or Gang-Buster, to use the poster’s parlance) marked the first Pat movie in which Rita Cansino was credited as Rita Hayworth. Hayworth’s rising fame may have partially influenced the series ending on this entry, but it’s more likely that falling box office returns were to blame. This is entirely too bad, as Girl Gangbuster shows that the series was in many ways just getting started.
Girl Gangbuster is based on Dent’s Doc Savage novel Death in Silver (1934), and it starts off with a bang—literally. Our villains are the Death’s Head Moths (loosely based on the Silver Death’s Heads from the pulp), a gang of masked criminals who are blowing up building in New York for seemingly no reason! The stock market is going crazy, and theories as to the crooks’ identities and motives abound, from foreign spies to a cult of sun-worshippers. When her girls at Park Avenue Beautician give her news about the United Bank blowing up, Pat is as jumpy as she can be. She’s been ready to take a crack at this case for weeks now, and she’s finally managed to clear her schedule. Her secretary tries to force more clients on her, as her personal services are in high demand, but Pat blows her off and heads to the streets. Her girls wonder if they should unionize.
Pat rushes to the ruins of the United Bank, where a variety of discussions are taking place. Bankers are fretting about all the money that was destroyed, while others celebrate the fact that selfish millionaire Taylor West, a slumlord who abuses his tenants, lost all his money in the blast. Pat wonders if maybe the Death’s Head Moths were setting their sights on West. Talking to the police, she learns that nearly every attack the Moths have committed has involved a millionaire in some way. Pat wonders why this pattern has never been commented on before, but the cops explain that the city’s rich folk are paying the papers to hide it.
Pat presses the officers on their phrasing “nearly every attack.” They spill that one of the bombings targeted the house of a working class man, John Withers. Withers (Marc Lawrence) and his wife Lorna (Lynne Roberts) survived the attack, and at once, Pat suspects they know something. She tracks them down to Lorna’s sister’s house, and interviews them.
John Withers is unsure why he and his wife were attacked, but during the conversation, Pat observes that Lorna is nervous. She finds time to talk to Lorna alone, and the terrorized young wife explains that she was approached romantically by her employer, Hugo Burgess, who owns the company she works for, Silver Spoon Industries. Lorna rejected Burgess’ advances instantly, but is scared of telling her husband, fearing that she’ll think she’s a liar. Pat, who is understanding, asks Lorna for information on Burgess, but Lorna doesn’t want to talk in the house. Pat asks her to write a letter to her at Park Avenue Beautician. As she says this, we transition to the parlor, where an imposing-looking man (Skelton Knaggs) approaches the front desk, and dryly requests an appointment.
The secretary is shocked, but pulls herself together and explains that this is normally a place for women. The man wants a manicure—he demonstrates his nails in a way that highlights his long fingers. The secretary remains hesitant until the man gives her a big wad of cash. She agrees to book him with the manicurist immediately. When she asks his name, he replies: Hugo Burgess.
(All throughout the movie, Burgess’ long fingers will be highlighted throughout the movie, along with Burgess’ tendency to dress all in one color. This will be discussed below.)
Pat returns to her parlor unawares. Her secretary greets her, concerned, and explains the situation with their strange guest. Upon hearing the name Burgess, Pat tenses up, but quickly produces one of her trademarks from the pulps—her six-shooter. After two movies worth of trouble, Pat is ready this time. She strides confidently into the back parlor and levels the gun at Hugo Burgess’ head. His sinister face splits open in a grisly smile as he lets forth a rare, brief rattle of a laugh.
Burgess explains that he heard of Pat’s legendary services, and praises her manicurist on the job she did on his nails. Pat tells him to stop being coy and explain why he’s here. He explains calmly that her visit to the Withers house was spied on. He always has someone watching that house, with a radio set on hand. He doesn’t like anyone messing with “his” Lorna, male or female; he always gets what he wants, and he wants Lorna.
Pat wonders if he wants more than her. Maybe he wants whatever a man could get from being leader of the Death’s Head Moths.
To her surprise, Burgess immediately confesses to being the leader of the Moths. He challenges her to bring him down. The cops won’t help her, as she has no evidence. She’ll need to find some to gain any ground against him, but meanwhile he’ll be working against her. “It’s war, then,” Pat says simply. “Oh, yes, I’m afraid so,” Burgess replies.
And war it is. From the moment that Burgess steps out of Park Avenue Beautician, with his splendidly-done nails, he and Pat fight spectacularly. Their clashes are of a scale usually only attained by chapter serials. The Pat Savage movies have always had a resemblance to the serials, starting all the way back with Karl Lobo’s status as a hooded mystery villain, but here the intensity and relentless of the action resembles the most brutal serials of the time, such as The Spider’s Web (1938). In rapid succession, we see Pat foil several attempts by the Moths to blow up her beauty shop, only to be confronted with some of her girls being kidnapped. As she rampages across the city to rescue them, Burgess sends men to attack the Withers house. To Lorna’s horror, the Moths murder her husband, and take her prisoner—Pat valiantly saves her from death.
So much of this action is better seen than described in a review, so I’ll refrain from describing the other subplots of the movie’s middle act. At the end of it, Lorna has revealed that John was working on a secret government project to develop a new kind of submarine. Burgess was interested in working with him to develop these subs, but John, perhaps sensing Burgess’ attentions towards his wife, snubbed him on the contract. Pat begins to get an idea about where the Moths retreat to once they’re done blowing something up. With Lorna’s help, Pat gets in touch with government officials who have developed John’s blueprints into a working prototype. Pat explains that she believes that a spy in the department copied the blueprints, and that the Death’s Head Moths have built a sub of their own first. The department worker she’s meeting with, Crawford (Roy Barcroft), disagrees with that theory. Pat decides to check Crawford out, hiding in the government base after-hours to spy on him.
When she goes back to Crawford’s quarters, she finds him communicating to Burgess on a radio, saying that Pat is onto him. She breaks into his office and demands that he take her to the sub. He explains calmly that she’ll be arrested and convicted for espionage for what she’s doing. She counters he could be subject to the same thing. He tries to attack her, but she disables him with a punch to the face. Someone outside the room hears the commotion and starts knocking, but instead of fleeing she searches the room. Eventually she finds a copy of the sub blueprints hidden in Crawford’s desk, proving he was a spy. However, Pat isn’t ready to turn over the evidence yet. She breaks back out of the office and speeds to the base’s dock. Here she finds the submarine prototype, and climbs inside. She intends to use the blueprints to steer it.
Now Pat’s managed to piss off the Army. Soldiers try to break their way into the sub, but she locks them out. Working quickly, she pulls away from the dock and heads out into the cold waters of the Atlantic. If her theory is correct, then the Moths’ base can’t be far away. If she’s wrong, she’ll go to prison for life.
Sure enough, however, she finds another submarine, one far larger that the one the government developed. Part of the sub opens and she is able to guide her ship inside. Upon stepping out of her vessel, Pat finds herself surrounded by Burgess’ gunmen. Burgess compliments her, saying she’s nearly as deadly as her cousin.
Pat says that she’s owed an explanation, and Burgess agrees. He confesses that he doesn’t really care overly much for Lorna Withers—he desired her because he wanted her husband’s plans, and because stealing her would hurt a man who snubbed him. As for the other millionaires he’s hurt or killed, he’s done so either to eliminated rivals or to use his company’s resources to seize their assets. Once he kills Pat, nothing will stop him from continuing with his industrial takeover. Maybe at some point, he suggests, he’ll go into politics, and impose his own sense of order on the world.
This time, Pat doesn’t wait for her lawful pursuers to catch up with her. She still has her six-shooter, and she’s going to blast her way out. She explains calmly that she’s seen the blueprints for this submarine—Burgess has modified it, but it’s general design is the same, and it still needs special air-compression chambers to submerge. Some of those chambers are kept in this very room. One of her bullets blows a nearby tank open and sends Burgess’ men flying. The gang charges at her, but she drives them back with her gun, resorting to her fists when she runs out of bullets. It’s a fantastic battle sequence, wherein Pat’s stolen submarine is damaged, falling free from its restraints and sinking. One by one the goons fall, until at last the fight ends with Pat chasing Burgess to the head of the ship. The damage she inflicted earlier is causing the submarine to flood. At the head of the ship is a smaller sub which Burgess intends to use to escape. Pat knocks him out and drags him into the pod, using it to escape herself. Burgess’ ship goes down, and Pat takes its captain back to the government base—where a small army of soldiers awaits them.
Pat explains Burgess’ scheme to an Army General (Onslow Stevens), who agrees to pardon Pat of the theft of the sub and take Burgess into custody. It is not to be, however—Burgess breaks free from captivity, and tries to run back to the sub to escape. The soldiers are forced to shoot him when he gets his hands on a gun. And so ends Pat Savage’s last cinematic adventure.
The sheer wildness of the action in Pat Savage, Girl Gangbuster can’t be understated. This is an earth-shaking movie, where Pat gets in a literal street war with a supervillain and sinks a submarine with a six-chamber revolver. These reviews have probably made the Pat Savage of these movies seem like a bitter hardass, but that exciting humor that Hayworth is so adept at prevents Pat from becoming a vicious figure. She’s always fun to follow, from the first frame to the last, whether she’s gossiping with her girls at her beauty parlor or throwing herself clear of bomb-blasts. This is a particularly strong entry for Park Avenue Beautician, with its able team of girls getting a good amount of the spotlight this time around. One gets the impression that Pat teaches these girls to fight even as she shows them hot new makeup tricks.
There are some interesting elements of political satire in this script, which may well be accidental. The film is never particularly sympathetic to the millionaire the Moths blow up, and those of them we see are shown to be quite awful people. The police have been shown to be inefficient all throughout this series, but now both government bureaucrats and the U.S. Army are skewered as well. It’s an enjoyably cynical touch which gives the movie a sort of covert progressive nature. It’s a movie where the working class are the heroes—though one wonders if Pat, in her opulent salon, fully counts as working class.
There’s also an elephant in the room, which I’ve been trying to save discussing up until now. Hugo Burgess is clearly based on the most popular Doc Savage villain of all time, John Sunlight. Sunlight first appeared in October, 1938’s Fortress of Solitude, two months before the release of Girl Gangbuster. This movie was in production in October, and it is doubtless that the writers decided to borrow Sunlight for their film, despite their contract not allowing them access to him. (Pat Savage doesn’t appear in Fortress of Solitude.) Hugo Burgess derives his name from Bedford Burgess Gardner, the villain of Death in Silver, whose real name is Hugh McCoy. But his monochromatic style of dress and long fingers makes his connection to Sunlight clear. Skelton Knaggs is thus the only actor in history to have played John Sunlight in a movie (that I’m aware of). He does a fantastic job, conveying Sunlight’s quiet creepiness with great subtlety.
I think the writers knew that this would be their last hurrah, so they decided to pit Pat against someone they saw was a truly formidable villain. They decided to go all-out with the production in general—and I believe they did so because they fell in love with Pat, as so many writers and pulp fans have before. They wanted to celebrate her before the grim reality of capitalism took her away from them. They succeeded in their goal of making a worthy capstone to her series, which has been a blast to revisit. I can’t recommend these movies enough—and of them, Pat Savage, Girl Gangbuster is undoubtedly the best.
There were other attempts to bring Pat Savage to the screen after the end of the 1930s series. Pat’s famous cousin would finally get his own studio film with 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, but Pat didn’t appear in that movie. Previously Doc had appeared in the ’60s fan film adaptation of Fear Cay, and had nearly starred in an adaptation of The Thousand-Headed Man in 1966, a film whose resources would be reshuffled into the Western movie Ride Beyond Vengeance. But Pat’s own turn in the movies back in the ’30s sparked interest in putting her, specifically, back in films.
In 1952 Edgar Ulmer, the director of such classic films as The Black Cat (1934) and Detour (1945), expressed interest in making a continuation of the Pat Savage films for United Artists. Ulmer wanted to cast Irish-Welsh actress Peggy Cummins, star of the unforgettable film noir Gun Crazy (1950), to play the titular character in The Daughter of Pat Savage. Story details are vague, but the story centers around Sally Savage, Pat’s daughter by an unspecified father. Unfortunately, legalities would stand in the way of this film’s productions. At the time, there was some ambiguity regarding the film rights to Pat Savage, with neither Lester Dent nor Columbia certain as to who owned the rights. So this film never made it off the ground. Ulmer’s screenplay, said to be complete, has never been found.
Pat reappeared in an unconventional form in the late ’60s, as part of an apparent attempt to cash in on the recent Bantam re-releases of the Doc Savage series. 1967 saw sexploitation director Barry Mahon release a quartet of movies based on John Cleland’s 18th Century erotic novel Fanny Hill—these were Fanny Hill Meets Lady Chatterly, Fanny Hill Meets the Red Baron, Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico, and finally, Fanny Hill Meets Pat Savage. Pat in this crossover film was played by actress Cleo O’Hara, perhaps most famous for her turn as the psychotic Sister Sarah Jane in the 1972 horror film Evil Come, Evil Go. O’Hara’s sapphic interactions with Susan Evans’ Fanny are quite sensuous, but Pat doesn’t really get to do much besides roll around on a bed. The overall quality of Mahon’s Fanny series ultimately pales in comparison to Nouvelle Gauche Studios’ evocative 1971 epic, The Ghost of Che Guevara Meets Fanny Hill. (The chronology of all of these films suggest that either Fanny Hill is a time-traveler, or has many descendants, presumably through her daughter Kissey from the 1966 film The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill.)
At the end of the day, we will always have the Rita Hayworth Pat Savage movies. They are true gems, honoring their majestic protagonist with the kind of excitement she deserves. Though unjustly obscure today, like Tim McCoy’s 1943 turn as the Avenger, these movies are a fine distillation of all the fun these old B-movies can provide. It’s easy to see why Doc Savage fans have held these movies close to their hearts for decades.
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)
Many thanks to guest blogger Atom Mudman Bezecny, who takes us deep into the movie career of Pat Savage…that never was. But oh, if it only had been…
In the early days of cinema, movie theaters operated rather differently than they do today. Instead of offering a single A-tier feature for the price of a ticket, theaters would run showings that would typically consist of a cartoon or short, a serial chapter, an hour-long B-movie, and then finally the feature presentation. The origins of these programs involve the long, complicated history of the Hollywood studio system and the practice of “block booking,” wherein theaters would effectively be forced to buy inexpensively-produced movies alongside the desirable A-movies, which would ensure that the studio would make on a profit on what were often lower-quality productions. In spite of their lower budgets, however, a great many of the B-movies produced during this period are just as entertaining as their blockbuster counterparts, and part of this is due to their willingness to adapt “lowbrow” media to the screen. When studios in the 1930s and 1940s needed B-movies for their revues, it was only natural that they’d turn to popular media that had proven to be successful in its original format—and so began the Golden Age of Pulp Movies. Dozens of characters from pulp magazines and pulp-like fiction began appearing in movie form, from The Shadow and Bulldog Drummond to The Spider and Tarzan. Legions of detectives, monsters, sci-fi heroes, jungle explorers and more flooded the screen, entertaining viewers of all ages.
But one of the most famous pulp characters of this era was conspicuously absent from the world of movies: Doc Savage. Though Doc Savage’s home magazine ran from the dawn of the ’30s to the end of the ’40s, and sold millions of copies, Doc and his fabulous team of aides were apparently never even considered for movie options during this time. That’s not to say that Doc’s world, sans Doc, didn’t make it onto the screen, however. In 1937, Columbia paid Street & Smith Publications for the rights to make a series of B-pictures about Doc’s adventurous female cousin Pat Savage. For the role of Pat, they chose one of their up-and-coming players: a lovely young woman named Rita Cansino, who would very soon become more famous under the name Rita Hayworth.
The casting of Rita Hayworth as Pat Savage more than makes up for the lack of Golden Age movies starring Pat’s cousin. It is an almost unbelievable casting, one only made possible by Hayworth’s inauspicious start in B-movies. Pat is a cult favorite among the pulp fandom, and to have such a talented and gorgeous actress as Hayworth in the role is superb. Hayworth infused Pat with the sort of fiery energy which not only reflected the original pulp character, but also gave a rare sort of raw feminist energy to this era of cinema. The only character comparable to Pat in these movies is Torchy Blane, played variously by Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane, and Jane Wyman in a series of nine movies made between 1937 and 1939—the brilliant, bold journalistic adventures Torchy embarked on were a huge inspiration on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Lois Lane. Pat has a youthful, spritely energy that contrasts and complements the moody passions of Hayworth’s later roles, such as her turns in the seminal films noir Gilda (1946) and The Lady from Shanghai (1947).
The Pat Savage movies were still B-movies, in spite of a young Hayworth’s presence, and that meant there were some stipulations on what the writers were allowed to do. First of all, the rights secured by Columbia only covered Pat herself. While the films were allowed to mention that Pat had a famous adventurer cousin, they could never name or show Doc Savage. They were also forbidden from featuring or mentioning Doc’s five aides and any of the villains from the pulps, and locations such as Hidalgo, the Fortress of Solitude, and the 86th floor headquarters were off-limits as well. Pat’s beauty parlor could appear, and would indeed be her “home base” during the films, but that was it. There were some allowances, however—in the interest of keeping a connection between the films and the pulps, Street & Smith permitted the filmmakers to use the storylines of novels in which Pat appeared to build their own stories. At the time of signing, this gave Columbia ten Doc novels to use, within the limits of their other guidelines (the contract included Red Snow, in which Pat only appears via phone call).
Because minimal expense was the goal of any B-picture production, studios employed directors who were able to work quickly. One director who was consistently reliable in this regard was William Beaudine, who commonly provided quality material in short time. Contrary to the rumor spread by Michael and Harry Medved, who called the director “One-Shot Beaudine” in their 1978 book The 50 Worst Films of All Time, Beaudine did not neglect to do retakes of flubbed scenes. Comparing his B-movies to others of the period, especially his crime and horror entries, shows that he was an above-average director with very few obvious blunders onscreen. In fact, Beaudine had been A-class director in the silent era, and he worked on and off at Columbia until 1931 when a bad encounter with producer Sam Briskin left him shut out of higher-end productions. Briskin left Columbia in 1935 to work at RKO, and only returned in May 1938, when the final Pat Savage movie was already scheduled for production—in Briskin’s absence, Columbia held no ill will towards Beaudine, giving him one of the more lucrative jobs of this period of his life. And this is to the series’ great benefit, as Beaudine helps infuse the Pat films with his typical energy and humor.
With all of that history in mind, I’d like to take a look at the three Pat Savage movies and give my thoughts on what makes them some of the most entertaining pulp B-movies of the ’30s.
1. PAT SAVAGE, BRONZE KNOCKOUT (1937)
Columbia adopted a “simple but stylish” approach for the poster of the first film of the Pat Savage franchise.
The “Bronze” in the title refers exclusively to Pat’s hair; she is far paler in the films than her bronze-skinned pulp counterpart, probably so that the filmmakers could avoid having to darken Hayworth’s skin.
The first film in the series is very loosely based on the first Doc Savage novel in which Pat appears: Lester Dent’s Brand of the Werewolf (1934). That story sees Doc Savage and his team travel to Canada, where a criminal called the Werewolf has murdered Doc’s uncle Alex, Pat’s father. Pat joins Doc and his team as they battle the Werewolf over an ivory cube that contains a map to a cache of pirate treasure. For the most part, the film adopts the same general premise, but in addition to filling Doc’s role in the story with Pat, the story splits off in many ways from the original pulp. In spite of these deviations, this is a fantastic first entry for a movie series.
The movie opens as the novel does, on a train. Unlike in Brand of the Werewolf, however, where the train carries Doc Savage from the U.S. to Canada, here the train is bringing Pat Savage from Canada to New York. The first emergent oddity coming from Pat taking Doc’s place is that Alex Savage has been changed to being Pat’s uncle as well. The identity of Pat’s father in the movies is never specified, but aside from a transplant to the States, the role of Alex Savage is the same for Pat in this movie as it is for Doc in the original pulp. Pat has received a request from her uncle Alex to come see him right away, on apparently urgent family business. The wealthy Alex (who will be played by Oscar O’Shea when we see him) has long considered Pat to be the daughter he never had (ironic, given their pulp relationship) and, suspecting that he wishes to discuss his will, Pat fears her uncle is dying. She meets a fellow passenger, Inspector Fielding (Jonathan Hale) of the NYPD, who is returning from a vacation in Canada. As she is explaining the situation to Fielding, Pat is suddenly accosted by an eccentric elderly woman who speaks to her of a “plague” in New York named “Lobo.” After Fielding shoos the old lady away, Pat’s curiosity is piqued, and Fielding says that he received a telegram a week ago about a crime lord named Karl Lobo who has been ransacking seemingly random homes in Long Island. As her uncle Alex lives in Long Island, Pat is understandably concerned, but also fascinated. She’s never been in the same city as a real live crime lord before.
We get our first allusion to Doc Savage in this scene when Pat mentions that her cousin is “a real famous science-detective,” of whom she is “green with envy.” She longs for an adventurous lifestyle such as his, and sort of always has. Fielding is clearly skeptical of a pretty girl getting into the crime-fighting business, but he entertains her excitement, largely because he enjoys scoping out her legs.
Upon meeting up with Alex, Pat’s worst fears (and perhaps greatest hopes) are confirmed: her uncle has been receiving threatening notes from Karl Lobo, demanding that he give him “it.” Alex is a collector of rare objects, but he has no idea what Lobo wants specifically. Pat asks him if anything weird has been happening around the house, but he hasn’t seen anything. Later that night, Pat is retiring to bed when she overhears her uncle arguing with a man outside. Suddenly, Alex seems much more certain of what object from his collection Lobo is after. Pat watches as Alex goes to one of the back rooms of the house, and inspects a chest. When he crosses her path coming back to his bedroom, she feigns a trip to the kitchen, which fails to fool him. He warns her not to meddle in his affairs, suddenly taking a gruff demeanor with her—but she’s not intimidated. Instead, she stays awake until her uncle finally falls asleep, and then creeps back downstairs. Opening the chest, she finds a strange white cube inside. As this happens, a gunshot goes off, and Alex cries out—when Pat runs to find him, it’s too late, and her uncle is dead. Shocked, she calls the police.
When the cops arrive, they are led by Inspector Fielding, who is pleased to see the pretty young lady from the train again. Pat immediately realizes that the much older Inspector has developed a crush on her, and slyly manipulates this to avoid being arrested as a suspect in her uncle’s murder—something advocated by the other officers, given that Pat was the sole heir in Alex’s will as well as seemingly the only one in the house at the time of the murder. Thanks to Fielding’s interference, Pat is given a slap on the wrist and told not to skip town, leading her to shoot back: “If you think I’m gonna run away from the craziest thing to ever happen to me…you’re nuttier than Karl Lobo!” With that, she launches into an investigation of her own.
At first, Pat decides to take the white cube to a historian she knows named Smith (played by Charles Quigley). While on the way to Smith’s antique shop, she is attacked by a thug who demands that she hand over the cube. Pat defends herself, and she does with an astonishing level of viciousness for a woman in a late ’30s film. Movies have never been averse to women slapping male aggressors, even in eras of high censorship, but the punches and judo throws that Pat gives out allow her to easily surpass any male combatant in films of the same era. There is no comedy surrounding Pat’s efficiency either; it is played entirely straight, for the sole purpose of promoting how awesome the character is. For 1937, this is an astonishingly forward-thinking move, and Smith, when he emerges from his shop to watch Pat dust her hands off, praises her instead of undercutting her. (Smith may also be coded as gay, but that’s just my own perception.) Pat mentions offhandedly to Smith that her skills are something her cousin taught her. This incarnation of Pat has evidently met her version of Doc before the events of her first story—sadly, their first adventure together was never explored.
Upon inspecting the cube inside the shop, Smith ascertains that it is a puzzle-box left behind by the pirate Henry Morgan. His sources indicate that cube contains is a map to the pirate captain’s treasure. He has no idea how it’s meant to open, but according to an old Indian legend, “the howl of the wind spirit” will unlock it. Pat leaves the cube in Smith’s safekeeping while she goes to research the Indian legend—warning him that people may come for it. Smith says he doubts that Lobo’s men will know he has it.
Unfortunately, he is wrong. Later that night, while studying an old book from his library, Smith is attacked by a hooded figure, who clubs him over the head and steals the cube. As Smith slumps to the ground, he takes his book with him, and ensures that it falls a certain way.
In the morning, Pat heads back to the shop to investigate, but finds Fielding and his men already there. Smith has been taken to the hospital—he’s in a coma, and might not make it, so he won’t be able to say if he saw anything. Pat asks to inspect the crime scene, and when Fielding refuses, she flutters her eyelashes at him and lectures him on how giving a lady what she wants can lead to splendid rewards. Fielding’s heart races, and when he rushes in to take Pat in his arms, she ducks past him and runs into the house.
Here, she finds the overturned book, and before Fielding rushes in to arrest her, she catches a glimpse of what Smith was studying: Rock Grotto Cave. The Inspector, furious at having been tricked, throws Pat into the back of his cop car to bring her downtown, now being more than willing to process her as a suspect not only in the case of her uncle Alex, but that of Smith as well.
On their way to the station, however, a car runs a red light and T-bones Fielding’s car. The Inspector is knocked unconscious and two men rush out and kidnap Pat, gagging and blindfolding her and dragging her into their own car. Once in the backseat they tie her up and take her to an old house outside of town. Though blindfolded, Pat listens to the bumps in the road, biding her time. At the house, the men take her inside and tie her to a chair, and a voice behind a curtain calls out that he is Karl Lobo. He has tried for the last several hours to open the ivory cube, and suspects that Pat knows something that he doesn’t. He intends to have his men interrogate her, by whatever means necessary, to learn how to obtain the treasure map inside.
Pat is still blindfolded, which the gangsters try to take advantage of. One of the men takes a cigarette lighter and runs it over her feet, claiming it’s a red-hot poker. Pat flinches from the heat. The men chuckle, as they take a sharpened piece of ice and jab it against the heel of her foot. She cries out, and then laughs. “That’s an old sorority trick,” she muses. “Don’t try any more—I invented half of them.” Karl Lobo growls at his men to torture her for real—she won’t fall for any psychological stuff. One of the men takes out a knife and begins pressing it against Pat’s skin. She pales, realizing that this is real trouble. Just as Lobo commands his man to start cutting her, Pat runs her fingers over the man’s sides and tickles him. As he giggles, he drops the knife, severing the rope that holds Pat’s feet. In an instant, she kicks the man away from her, sending him reeling.
What follows then is one of the most thrilling sequences in the series, as Pat, still bound at the arms and blindfolded, battles the gangsters with just her footwork. The goons rush her again and again, each time falling victim to her strong kicks, while she struggles to break the ropes binding her to the chair. From behind the curtain, Karl Lobo rather ineffectually calls to his men: “Get her! Get her!” Pat breaks one of the ropes by grinding it into the edge of the chair’s arm. She quickly frees her other arm and removes her blindfold. At that moment, Lobo runs out from behind the curtain, his face hidden under a hood (he is the one who attacked Smith). He has a gun, and fires rapidly at Pat. She manages to evade his shots, and runs for a nearby window. Diving through the glass, she sprints off into the wilderness. Men stream out of the house in pursuit of her, heading for the nearby woods. As they enter the forest, however, we see Pat dart out from hiding behind a tree—she runs back to the house. She finds another window, this time taking the time to open it the right way. She enters into a large parlor room, where she begins searching for the cube. She is forced to hide when Karl Lobo enters into the room. The fast-paced action sequence becomes one of steady suspense.
While we don’t yet see Lobo’s face, Pat does, reacting when he lowers his hood off-camera. Pat accidentally creaks a floorboard, and Lobo swiftly throws his hood back on. He searches for her, but fails to locate her—he decides to continue on his way. When at last he does leave the room, Pat continues searching, until she finds a box with the cube inside. She takes it and heads back out through the window, where she once more runs into the wilderness.
As she runs, we see flashbacks of her listening to the bumps in the car. She knows where she is, and as such knows how to get to Rock Grotto Cave. After a long run, she heads into the cave, where she finds a passage at the end that opens up into an underground river. An odd-sounding wind blows through this part of the cave, formed by a face-shaped hole in the rock resembling a demon. When Pat holds the cube up to this hole, the sound causes it to vibrate. To her delight, the lid pops open, and inside is a folded manuscript—the preserved treasure-map of Henry Morgan.
Pat turns to leave, and finds herself standing face-to-face with a man named Gunter (played by Dwight Frye). He is one of Lobo’s heavies; he has a gun, and he’s come for the map. He explains that his boss saw her in the parlor, and allowed her escape with the cube. Now that she’s opened it she’s saved them all a whole lot of trouble. Left with no other choice, Pat hands over the map—she tries to sneak a peek at it, but fails thanks to Gunter’s keen eyes.
Inspector Fielding arrives shortly after Gunter flees, and when Pat asks the Inspector how he found her, he explains that he noticed the same thing she did—that Smith was researching Rock Grotto Cave when he was attacked. He came down here on a hunch, and Pat’s glad he was right. She explains that Lobo now has the map, and Fielding frets that with the treasure, he could hire more men than ever, and sweep over the city in a massive crime wave. Pat then reveals that while she wasn’t able to look at the map, she snagged a tiny strip of it on her fingernail, and pressed it under her nail to avoid Gunter finding it. The fragment doesn’t show much more than a small piece of coastline, but Fielding believes that Morgan’s treasure is somewhere in New York, narrowing down the possibilities.
At the police station, Pat and Fielding pour over a dozen maps of New York, passing long into the night. When the Inspector goes to get more coffee, Pat finds that the map fragment matches a stretch of coast near to a tiny village called Fata Morgana. Realizing the connection between the town’s name and Captain Morgan, Pat exits the police station before Fielding returns, and tells a young officer that the Inspector is allowing her to borrow a police car. The officer doesn’t believe her, but she speaks confidently enough that eventually he lets her pass, giving her the keys, too. She speeds off in the cop car, running the sirens the whole time. “For the first time in this caper, everyone’s getting out of my way!” she cries triumphantly.
In the town of Fata Morgana, Lobo’s gang is working their way down to the beachfront, where they plan to excavate the pirate treasure. In a small beach cave, they find a small symbol made from stacked rocks which Lobo (still hooded) names as Morgan’s family crest. They start digging, but Pat pulls onto the beach outside in the police car. She pops open the glove compartment, and finds a service pistol inside. “They should be careful who they give these things,” she mutters. Then, she heads off towards the cave.
She comes up behind two of Lobo’s men, and orders them to stick ’em up. The men drop their guns, but there are two others who still have their rods. Lobo mocks Pat, saying her coming here will only get her killed. She returns that the cops probably won’t let someone who stole a police car get very far. True to her word, a small fleet of cop cars swoop onto the beach, intent on getting Pat for her theft. The officers rush into the cave and Lobo tries to take Pat hostage. She replies by putting him ahead of what W.C. Fields might call a kitten stocking—a sock on the puss. The cops disarm Lobo’s men, and unmask Lobo as a mean-looking tough. Inspector Fielding is about to arrest the man for the murder of Alex Savage, the attempted murder of Carson Smith, and the burglaries, when Pat interrupts. She points out that the man named Gunter is in fact the real Karl Lobo. She saw his face when he took his mask off. No doubt by posing as one of his lesser thugs, Lobo was hoping to serve a lighter sentence, and reorganize his operations more quickly. She wondered why “Gunter” didn’t just kill her in the cave and get it over with, but this “switcheroo” explains it: he wanted to avoid a direct murder rap. But now, he’ll face the full consequences of his crimes.
Pat’s uncle wanted to keep the treasure a secret from her because he intended to leave its wealth to her in his will. That was why he had tried to act gruff around her. She speculates that if he had just told her the truth, maybe she could have done something—but now it’s too late. Fielding mentions that on the plus side, Smith has recovered splendidly in the hospital. He then asks if Pat is going to stay in New York now that she’s a wealthy woman. She replies that she intends use her uncle’s money to open a beauty parlor. The old man immediately asks her out on a date, and she agrees, writing him her phone number before leaving. An officer comes up behind the lovelorn Inspector, and bursts his bubble by pointing out that Pat gave him the non-emergency number for the police station.
For anyone who feels that the series might be bogged down by Pat being chased around by a much older man, don’t worry—Inspector Fielding never appears after this first movie. And so much the better. Pat didn’t need a male sidekick for these films—she easily carries them all by herself.
This movie is a feast of wild, anarchic pulp-fiction energy. Pat fights Lobo’s men like a hell-born wildcat, and her stunts build on each other until that last climatic rush when she steals the police car. She’s always two steps ahead of nearly every other characters, and runs circles around them with ease—though she’s not invincible. Modern viewers may find her a touch sociopathic for the aplomb and excitement she demonstrates after the murder of her beloved uncle, but the tone is never so dark that this affects the viewing experience. In fact, Hayworth’s performance is so fine that it suggests that Pat copes with grief by throwing herself into the fray. Movies made later in the century, more serious ones, would have built on the horror of Alex Savage’s death, but like many other pulp B-movies, this film is effectively a live-action cartoon. There’s not gonna be much deep emotional weight. People cry their tears and then the action picks up again.
There are some definite faults to be found in Bronze Knockout—the “old Indian legend” is a pretty cheap story element for resolving the riddle of unlocking Morgan’s cube. This bit is a relic of the Native American elements in Brand of the Werewolf. But reducing these elements of the story to something so minor is probably for the best when one considers the racism of the original pulp tale—many a Doc Savage fan still cringes at the depiction of the Native character “Boat Face.” Karl Lobo is in many ways a weaker villain than the Werewolf, but there are still some elements about him—mostly his hooded appearance, and his portrayal by Frye—that make him stand out.
Frye really is one of this movie’s best stars, helping to support a low-key spookiness that haunts the entire procession. This movie is rife with plenty of enjoyable minor horror moments, from Lobo’s hooded face to the demon-visage in Rock Grotto Cave to the creepy abandoned house where Lobo and his men interrogate Pat. It gives the movie an eerie feeling that the Doc Savage pulps, including Brand of the Werewolf, relished in.
Overall, Pat Savage, Bronze Knockout is cinematic gold, one of the most enjoyable action-adventure B-movies of the period—to say nothing of being a great start for Pat’s movie career. Unfortunately, the sequel would go on to miss the mark a little bit—showing that this was a tough act to follow.
To be continued…next: Pat Savage, Lady Lancelot (1937)
Gromagon Press is proud to announce the release of Atom Mudman Bezecny’s powerful tale Leon Shatters the Easter Eggs.
This is a prestige hardcover, with wraparound Gustav Klimt cover, and illustrated within by classic century-old Decadent and Symbolist paintings and drawings.
To set the mood for this remarkable story, here is the Introduction, by Doc Talos author R. Paul Sardanas:
And here is a sample from the narrative…the story’s Preface:
Atom Bezecny is one of the most powerful and innovative authors in the landscape of independent storytelling today. Don’t miss this beautiful presentation of one of her most mind-bending, consciousness-expanding tales!
Leon Shatters the Easter Eggs
by Atom Mudman Bezecny — prestige hardcover, 59 pages, with full color artwork
$19.95 plus shipping
To inquire about or purchase this book, please email email@example.com, and GP customer service will process your order.
As writers and readers of pulp fiction, I think sometimes we feel a detachment in our work and entertainment from some of the realities of society around us. It’s all just pulp adventure and escapism, right?
The answer can be yes, and that said without judgment. That is a large part of the allure of pulp fiction — it’s fun, it’s wild…it plays with the trashy and exploitative alongside an innocence that can be very comforting and comfortable.
But make no mistake, creations of this sort can and do have an effect on people’s perspectives, even if, during the escape into a fun, thrilling read, we might not be fully cognizant of it.
In the Sixties, when I began reading pulp stories and my lifelong love of the genre was kindled, I was nonetheless troubled by sometimes appalling racism and sexism in the texts. I needn’t go into the details…just pick up any adventure or mystery pulp from the 1930’s and you will find those things woven into the subtext…sometimes in the background, sometimes in the forefront. Homophobia was certainly present as well, though perhaps less frequently spotlighted, as pulp writers of the era often avoided going near the issue at all.
In some ways the world of 2023 is vastly more enlightened and humanistic than 1933…but there are times, reading in the news about hate crimes, intolerance and dismissal toward fellow human beings, I feel as if very little has changed.
As an author, I made a conscious decision long ago to actively oppose and reverse the attitudes toward race, gender, sexual identity and more that I had seen in the pulp genre I so loved. When I undertook the vast project of creating a modern pastiche of the heroic fiction world through the Doc Talos tales, I wanted very much to take the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant attitudes of intolerance and make a very different statement: none of us — readers or the characters we channel in stories — are stereotypes. We all deserve dignity…we all deserve acceptance and respect.
The above image, of the character Rickie Talos (avatar of Pat Savage) in a suit and sporting a You got a problem with me, pal? expression — an alternate cover/ultimately interior illustration for the 2022 Rickie anthology — would have been inconceivable as a cover painting for a 1930’s pulp magazine. Sexual roles were expected to be conformed to…and that was the tip of a conformity iceberg.
To write about human beings, infinitely complex as they are, is a responsibility I feel even pulp writers must embrace. And so I have striven to portray that complexity in every corner of the stories told in the Doc Talos world. A few examples include the fact that in addition to being dynamic, intelligent, a shrewd businesswoman and a skilled aviator, Rickie is bisexual. There are familiar characters within the pastiche who are gay. No bias is laid at their feet whether they are hetero or otherwise. The primary power-character threaded through the tales is a woman of color. One of the Seven (analogous to Phil Farmer’s Nine) is a transwoman. LGBTQ+ characters take important roles right alongside white, hetero males.
And the point is not just to give the diversity of people a place and strong, nuanced voices, but to involve those characters in the tales as a perfectly normal part of the storytelling. There are laudable, notable, fascinating qualities within every character. The diversity spectrum includes heroic characters, villainous ones, supporting characters.
I present everyone in the tales as imperfect…but (I truly hope) none are two-dimensional; their human qualities impossible to sum up with a pre-judged, cardboard façade.
No doubt I make mistakes, and errors of judgment in the writing. But I hope, ninety years from now (as we are, in 2023, nine decades down the line from the Depression-era pulps) that if the stories survive that long, they reflect a society that is certainly still grappling with enlightenment, but following that long moral arc of justice that sees people through a societal lens of respect.
May more and more of the stories we create and enjoy take us along that road.