NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE is the first in a three-film MGM mystery series starring Walter Pidgeon.
I found this 59-minute detective film quite enjoyable, buoyed by Pidgeon's charm, a well-plotted story, and adept direction by none other than Jacques Tourneur, heading up one of his earliest U.S. feature films. Tourneur had previously spent a couple of years making MGM shorts, including the Oscar-nominated ROMANCE OF RADIUM (1937).
New York detective Carter poses as a new employee at a California airplane manufacturer which is being devastated due to spying and sabotage. Nick must discover how the plans are making it out of the plant despite tight security, as well as figure out who's in the ring of crooks. And is the company's attractive stewardess/clinic nurse (Rita Johnson) among them?
The only downside to the film was an annoying extraneous subplot involving would-be righthand man Bartholomew (Donald Meek) and some ugly "special effects" bees. The Bartholomew character was occasionally amusing, but the bees were not.
As of 1939, Walter Pidgeon was a busy working actor who'd already appeared in over 40 films, with an even higher level of stardom in more prestigious projects waiting just around the corner. Beginning in December 1939, he starred in three Nick Carter mysteries which were released in a nine-month period. Along with the Carter films, Pidgeon also starred in several other films in 1939-40, including Deanna Durbin's IT'S A DATE (1940), Raoul Walsh's DARK COMMAND (1940), costarring John Wayne, and FLIGHT COMMAND (1940) with Robert Taylor.
As for director Tourneur, he would direct the second Nick Carter film, PHANTOM RAIDERS (1940), but by 1942 he had moved on to RKO, where he directed the classic Val Lewton productions CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), and THE LEOPARD MAN (1943).
Tourneur's deeply enjoyable, elegant filmography also includes EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944), CANYON PASSAGE (1946), OUT OF THE PAST (1947), EASY LIVING (1949), STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951), WICHITA (1955), and NIGHTFALL (1957). Tourneur worked on a variety of films, but regardless of genre they were always richly detailed, interesting works.
The Bertram Millhauser screenplay was based on an original story, rather than a previously published Nick Carter detective story. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Lawton Jr. The airplane plant footage was shot at Lockheed in Burbank.
The supporting cast included Addison Richards, Henry Hull, Frank Faylen, Milburn Stone, Stanley Ridges, and Sterling Holloway.
NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE is out on DVD in a fine-looking print as part of the Warner Archive's Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature. The set also includes PHANTOM RAIDERS (1940) and SKY MURDER (1940) as well as trailers for all three films.
Turner Classic Movies has the trailer available online.
There's a little more on the movie by Dan Stumpf at Mystery File, who says of the Carter films "Catch these if you can."