Warner Archives continues to release some great low budget
detective flicks on DVD, and one of their latest releases, the Nick Carter Triple Feature, is one of
the most fun series they put out yet.
Filled with fairly interesting mysteries, great humor and a lot
B-movie thrills, it's a bit surprising that they didn't continue the
longer than they did. As it is, these
three films are the only ones MGM made with the character.
Nick Carter has a long history. The
detective first appeared in a dime novel
in 1886 and since that time he's had his own pulp magazine, a radio
ran for over a decade, a series of novels that lasted even longer,
Columbia made a movie serial based on the character's "son," Chick
Carter, in order
to get around paying royalties, and there was even a made-for-TV movie
William Conrad. In 1939 MGM bought the
rights to all 1,100 Nick Carter stories that had been published, and
original stories for the three films they made.
Walter Pidgeon started as the ace gumshoe and the first and
are wonderfully directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Nick Carter, Master
Detective (1939): Even though the US
not entered WWII, the country was still worried about 'foreign agents'
movie illustrates. When the Radex
Airplane Factory encounters a series of 'accidents' and thefts that
from finishing their new, revolutionary airplane, they hire Nick Carter
to the bottom of things.
At first, Nick suspect a stewardess, Lou Farnsby (Rita
Johnson) of being the spy and has her grounded.
(He instructs the president of the company to assign her to the
doctor. "They're all nurses, aren't
they?") The sabotage doesn't stop, even
thought the security precautions that are being taken make it nearly
impossible. How are the plans being
stolen, who is behind it, and how can they be stopped?
Only Nick Carter, with some unwanted
assistance from the beekeeper who lives next door, can figure it out.
This was an incredibly fun movie on a couple of different
levels. The mystery is somewhat
engaging, but what's more interesting is seeing the attitude of the
these days just before the US
entered WWII as well as the fact that the foreign agents, from an
all speak with heavy German accents.
A young Walter Pidgeon does a magnificent job. He's
great on screen and has a lot of
personality. From the way he dissects a
case to the catchphrase he uses whenever he spins a theory, "If I'm
apologize," he's the perfect lead.
The comic relief was provided by Donald Meek who plays Bartholomew,
the B-man. He was a bit obnoxious, but
Meek does such a great job playing the bizarre character who keeps his
in his pockets that it's easy to overlook the irritating parts.
There are some great thrills in this film too, including a
suspenseful testing of a new plane, and a n exciting battle between a
of spies and an airborne Nick Carter armed with a machine gun.
This film also has a scene that has become a favorite of
mine. Nick has narrowed the search for
the crooks to the docks and the police, always willing to help a
have given him a ride down there. As he
leaves their patrol car, giving them some orders on what to do (which
they appreciated) Nick reaches up and takes down a Tommy Gun that's
vehicle, attached to the roof, saying "Say, I'll take this with me." The officers don't have any lines, but I
assume they're thinking "Mi Thompson submachine gun es su Thompson
gun. After all, your tax dollars pay my
salary. If you want to snag a machine
gun and run around town, be my guest."
(1939): The second installment of this
series sees Nick facing a perplexing problem.
A group of young girls make a short flight in a private
when they land a man accompanying them is found dead in his locked
stateroom. A nail file belonging to the
last person to see him alive is found in his neck, but the woman says
innocent and Nick tends to believe her.
What's worse is that a group of fifth columnists are recruiting
of the populace by passing out pamphlets decrying capitalism. The government could shut down the printing
press and round up some of the lower-level flunkies, but that wouldn't
good. They need the leader of the group,
so a US
Senator asks Nick Carter to help the government out by find the ring
breaking up the anti-American organization.
This was another fun flick with a pretty interesting
mystery. The main problem is that the
locked-room problem is forgotten for most of the running time and is
discussed at the very end. Tom Conway
plays a villain at the beginning, which is a bit ironic because in two
time he'd go on to play The Falcon, another suave detective that likes
Phantom Raiders (1940): The
final Nick Carter film is my favorite,
mainly because of the great villain.
Several cargo ships heading toward England
after passing through the Panama Canal
disappeared at sea soon after leaving port.
The company that has insured the ships, Llewellyn of London,
Carter (and his loony sidekick Bartholomew) to figure out what's going
on. Most people think that it has to be a
that's sinking the vessels, but it's not.
As revealed early on in the film, it's actually a local
Taurez (Joseph Schildkraut), who is planting explosives on board
radios he gives the crew, and detonated remotely. He
then has splits the insurance payout with
the owner of the shipping line. Nick
suspects Al from the beginning, but the question is how is he doing it
can the detective prove it?
This was my favorite film of the series and quite a lot of
fun. It's the funniest of the films too.
There's a hilarious subplot with Nick wooing an attractive
who speaks English, but only phrases that she's heard sailors use and
doesn't understand what they mean. Al's
sidekick, the strong but dim Gunboat, played to perfection by Nat
both humorous and acts as a nice foil for Carter. It's
not a comedy however. The exploding ships
and violent murders make
it a solid thriller.
These are incredibly fun pictures. They
inhabit a nice area between straight
mysteries and light comedies. The films
aren't as serious as a noir, but they're not as irreverent at the Thin
movies. There are some thrills, some
jokes, and some detective work all wrapped up in a package that gently
viewers that Europe was at war and that we should get ready. It's sad that they didn't make more of these,
they're very enjoyable.
All three films (running about an hour each) arrive on a
single DVD-R in a keepcase.
The mono audio track is very good. The
dialog is clean and clear and the
background noise is minimal at worst.
Fans will be pleased.
Warner Archives did a great job with this disc. I
was a little worried when I discovered that
there were three films on one DVD, but these are so short that there
any compression artifacts worth noting.
The image was clean and the detail was very good.
These films looked excellent.
In addition to the three movies there are trailers to each
film which are great. They make the
movies look more action-packed than they are, but that's the point,
I thoroughly enjoyed these three films, as did my two
teenage sons. Walter Pidgeon does a
great job as the unflappable detective and the sidekick, Bartholomew,
is one of
the odder assistants to be found and he's wonderfully played by Donald
Meek. Filled with fun, excitement, as
well as a nice look into the atmosphere in pre-war America, this set comes highly recommended.