Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Phantom Raiders (1940)

PHANTOM RAIDERS is the enjoyable second entry in the three-film Nick Carter series starring Walter Pidgeon.

Like the first film, NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939), PHANTOM RAIDERS was breezily directed by Jacques Tourneur. It's a well-paced 70 minutes with an interesting story.

This time out Nick is in Panama, investigating the sinking of several ships. He's aided by his improbable righthand man, a beekeeper in a bowler hat named Bartholomew (Donald Meek). Will Nick solve the mystery in time to save Captain Ramsell (John Carroll) and Ramsell's fiancee Cora (Florence Rice) from being blown to bits?

The movie has an intriguing premise, with villain Al (Joseph Schildkraut) using high-pitched radio signals to set off bombs on board the ships so that he can collect the insurance money.

The genial Pidgeon makes pleasant company -- "If I'm wrong, I'll apologize!" -- and I enjoyed Bartholomew much more in this entry, as less was seen of his bees! I like that the mild-mannered Bartholomew constantly defies expectations, always coming through just when Nick needs him.

Rice was stuck playing an unpleasant character who's all mixed up about who's good and who's bad, nor does Carroll have much to do, but Steffi Duna (seen at left) has a fun role as a Spanish-speaking gal who takes a shine to Nick. When I was a teenager I had the chance to meet Duna and get her autograph at a screening of the 1934 short LA CUCARACHA, part of an RKO series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Duna and John Carroll had actually been married briefly in the mid '30s; the year PHANTOM RAIDERS was released Duna married actor Dennis O'Keefe, a union which lasted until his passing in 1968.

The cast also includes Nat Pendleton, Cecil Kellaway, and Charles Coleman.

PHANTOM RAIDERS is available from the Warner Archive as part of a Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature. The set also includes NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE and the final film in the trilogy, SKY MURDER (1940).

There's much more on the Nick Carter series and director Tourneur in my post on NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939).


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