Thursday, July 13, 2017
Nick Carter Really Should Avoid Airplanes
Read/Watch 'em In Order #83
If Nick Carter is ever sitting next to you on a airplane, try to get your seat assignment switched. Because, inevitably, someone is going to get murdered or the plane is going to be hijacked or something bad is going to happen.
Nick Carter, Master Detective, the first in the three movie series starring Walter Pidgeon, began with an attempt to steal secret plans out of a plane Nick was riding in. In Sky Murder (1940), Nick agrees to investigate reports of homegrown spies working for a foreign country. This leads him to be on a plane with a guy who is probably one of the heads of the spies; a pretty female private eye named Chris Cross, and a half-dozen beautiful fashion models. This actually makes sense in context, by the way.
By the way, this is yet another case in which the foreign power is supposed to be Germany, but the country is never overtly identified. It's also clear that the spies are the American Bund (and the movie makes no bones about portraying them as the brutal thugs they were in real life), but they are also never identified by name. Still, few people watching the movie would have missed the intention. I've always given the pre-war movies of Warner Brothers a lot of credit for openly identifying the Nazis as bad guys. The Nick Carter films were produced by MGM and I'm happy to see another studio going after the Nazis as well, even if they didn't do so quite as openly.
Pat, by the way, is played by Kaaren Verne, who actually fled Germany in real life and played another refugee a year later in the excellent Bogart picture All Through The Night. Type casting, I suppose, but she's very good in both films.
Anyway, it's soon apparent that Pat is being targeted by the Bund to prevent her from spilling information about them. (She's not a member, but had been pressured to join.) What follows is Nick, his sidekick Bartholomew, and Pat dodging machine gun bullets, time bombs and lethal items while trying to figure out who the Bund's head man is and how the murder on the plane was committed. The resultant story is fast-moving and a tremendous amount of fun.
I particularly enjoyed Donald Meeker as Bartholomew. In the first film, he came across as a little nuts as he simply started showing up and helping Nick even though Nick clearly didn't want him along. But Bartholomew actually helped save Nick's life at the end of that one.
In this one, he's still popping up even though Nick clearly doesn't want him around. Soon, Nick is making use of him apparently because he just won't go away. But over the course of the movie, Bartholomew comes up with an idea to save everyone when they are trapped in a jail cell with a ticking time bomb right outside. He later proves surprising adept at fighting a couple of Bund thugs, and proves equally useful in the end when Nick carries out a scheme to catch the main bad guy. Along the way, he still comes across as a little nuts and sometimes a little annoying from Nick's point-of-view, but he certainly earns his sidekick cred and, as I watch the Carter films in order, he's quickly becoming one of my favorite B-movie characters.
I don't know why the Nick Carter series came to an end after just three films--whether they had tepid box office or Walter Pidgeon was moving up to A-movies or what--but we are lucky to have the ones we do. They are gems. We'll be taking a look at the last one in the series soon.