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Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature

Warner Archive // Unrated // April 23, 2013
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted May 9, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:
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 of B-movie thrills, it's a bit surprising that they didn't continue the series 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 show that ran for over a decade, a series of novels that lasted even longer, comic books, 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 staring William Conrad.  In 1939 MGM bought the rights to all 1,100 Nick Carter stories that had been published, and then wrote original stories for the three films they made.  Walter Pidgeon started as the ace gumshoe and the first and third movies are wonderfully directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Nick Carter, Master Detective (1939):  Even though the US had not entered WWII, the country was still worried about 'foreign agents' as this movie illustrates.  When the Radex Airplane Factory encounters a series of 'accidents' and thefts that keep them from finishing their new, revolutionary airplane, they hire Nick Carter to get 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 plant's 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 studio in these days just before the US entered WWII as well as the fact that the foreign agents, from an unnamed nation, 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 wrong... I'll 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 pet bees 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 boat full 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 private eye, have given him a ride down there.  As he leaves their patrol car, giving them some orders on what to do (which I'm sure they appreciated) Nick reaches up and takes down a Tommy Gun that's inside the 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 submachine gun.  After all, your tax dollars pay my salary.  If you want to snag a machine gun and run around town, be my guest."
Sky Murder (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 airplane, and 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 she's innocent and Nick tends to believe her.  What's worse is that a group of fifth columnists are recruiting members 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 do any good.  They need the leader of the group, so a US Senator asks Nick Carter to help the government out by find the ring leader and 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 only discussed at the very end.  Tom Conway plays a villain at the beginning, which is a bit ironic because in two year's time he'd go on to play The Falcon, another suave detective that likes to chase ladies. 
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 have disappeared at sea soon after leaving port.  The company that has insured the ships, Llewellyn of London, hires Nick Carter (and his loony sidekick Bartholomew) to figure out what's going on.  Most people think that it has to be a ship that's sinking the vessels, but it's not.  As revealed early on in the film, it's actually a local businessman, Al Taurez (Joseph Schildkraut), who is planting explosives on board disguised as 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 and how 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 native girl who speaks English, but only phrases that she's heard sailors use and she doesn't understand what they mean.  Al's sidekick, the strong but dim Gunboat, played to perfection by Nat Pendleton, is 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 Man movies.  There are some thrills, some jokes, and some detective work all wrapped up in a package that gently reminds 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.
The DVD:

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 weren't 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, isn't it?
Final Thoughts:
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.
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Highly Recommended

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