Most Doc Savage fans know about the 1975 film version of the first book, Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, produced by George Pal (Destination Moon, The Time Machine, When Worlds Collide) and starring former TV Tarzan Ron Ely. There's been a lot of debate over the years regarding the merits of that film.

Many decry its camp sensibilities, the changes made to the original story and the lack of faith Warner Brothers seemed to have for the project (the latter foreshadowing Disney's dismal support of John Carter several decades later). Others (including Yours Truly) are willing to accept the film on its own merits - as simply a fun piece of entertainment, in the manner of the Johnny Weissmuller "Tarzan" films or the 1960s Batman TV show. 

But a lot of Doc fans don't seem to know about earlier plans to produce a Doc Savage adventure for the silver screen. Over the years I've managed track down bits and pieces of the story, which goes something like this:

During the 1930’s and 1940’s, several attempts to produce Doc Savage serials faltered because author Lester Dent - who had no experience writing for film - insisted on scripting the character himself, as he did with the radio version whose scripts Will Murray collected into book form a few years back. Various TV plans hit that same barrier during the 1950’s. When Lester Dent died at far too young an age in 1959, that barrier vanished - but other difficulties arose in the quest to bring Doc to the silver screen. 

In 1966, after the initial success of the James Bond films, Goodson-Todman Productions  (yes, the same outfit behind the creation of some of TV's most famous game shows, such as Beat The Clock, Password and The Price Is Right) announced plans to produce a movie version of the Doc Savage novel The Thousand-Headed Man. It was supposed to be the first of in a proposed series of five Doc Savage films, similar to the initial plans announced by Pal when he began work on The Man Of Bronze a decade later. A comic book adaptation of The Thousand-Headed Man was rushed into print by Gold Key as a tie-in, utilizing the same cover art that Bantam Books had used for its paperback reprint of the original pulp novel.

A year later, according to my sources, Goodson-Todman announced they had reconsidered  their original plan and that The Phantom City would now be the first film in this series. TV star Chuck Connors (of The Rifleman fame) was announced as the actor hired to play Doc. (I can’t help wondering if Connors’ crewcut look in the short-lived 1965 Branded TV series - also a Goodson-Todman Production - was the result of his having cut his hair in anticipation of assuming the Doc role…) 

In any event, neither film ever materialized. Conde’ Nast Publications – which had acquired Street & Smith in 1961 – was unaware that the film rights to Doc actually belonged to Lester Dent’s survivors, and not to Street & Smith, publisher of the original pulps. Dent’s widow, Norma Dent, was said to be willing to negotiate, but the producers reportedly didn’t want to devote the time necessary for such negotiations; they had already scheduled the production, and had to start shooting something or lose their investment and the cast (most of whom already had firm commitments scheduled for after the planned Doc film).

So the Doc movie was shelved and, to recoup their losses, the producers simply moved the already-hired cast to an already-existing Western script, originally called Night of the Tiger and ultimately released under the title Ride Beyond Vengeance.  Although no definitive information has to date (at least to my knowledge) been found regarding what characters the main actors would have played in the Doc film (aside from Conners, that is), a look at the Ride Beyond Vengeance cast does make it possible to speculate who would’ve played whom. 

Consider, then, the possibility of Chuck Connors as Doc Savage and the following actors as his Amazing Five: Claude Akins (Battle For The Planet Of The Apes) as Monk; Michael Rennie (The Day The Earth Stood Still) as Ham; William Bryant (a veteran character actor who played alongside Conners in episodes of The Rifleman and Branded, and who also appeared in numerous films and such TV series as Gunsmoke, Batman, The Wild Wild West and Battlestar Galactica) as Renny; Jamie Farr (yes, MASH’s Corporal Klinger!) as Johnny; and Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk) as Long Tom. 

Other cast members would reportedly have included Kathryn Hays (of As The World Turns and the Star Trek episode “The Empath”); Frank Gorshin (Batman’s Riddler); and James MacArthur (Danny Williams on the original Hawaii Five-0).

Ah, what might have been...