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Movie Critique – Phantom Raiders

For review of all movies in the Nick Carter series, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: With no mystery it has been a rather fun going along plot where even the villain can be scared; the hero will bumble along; the heroines are simply delightful even if they don’t chose the hero; and the sidekick gets the final say in the end. 

Phantom Raiders is a 1940 film featuring Detective Nick Carter. This is the second of the three movies made with Walter Pidgeon as the famed detective. Pre-World War II jitters inspired Hollywood to create a new genre of film making, spy movies. Detective Nick Carter movies fall into the same category.

Keeping with the World War II tensions, in this film, Nick Carter (portrayed by Walter Pidgeon) comes across a plan to sabotage the Panama Canal while investigating for an insurance company on why their cargo ships were being exploded. With his sidekick, Bartholomew (portrayed by Donald Meek), Nick despite his reluctance to take on the case, he proceeds an investigation that takes him to murder and conspiracy. 

Nick Carter first appeared in the story paper New York Weekly on September 18, 1886. The character was created by Ormond G. Smith. Originally appearing in dime novels, Nick Carter eventually had his own magazine, Nick Carter Weekly. Over the years among various failures, successes and changes that Nick Carter took on paper, he didn’t appear on film until 1908 in French by Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset, a French pioneer in film making. The film series titled Nick Carter, le roi des détectives had Pierre Bressol in the title role.

However, the American filmmakers didn’t have a Nick Carter film until 1939 with Nick Carter, Master Detective, the first in the trilogy that Pidgeon portrayed the titular role. Nick Carter went on to have a successful career on film, radio and book for a couple more decades since this film. 

I heard a few episodes on old time radio podcast of Nick Carter's radio shows. I didn’t imagine him to be as tall as Pidgeon. With Meek beside him, Pidgeon only more towered above all. He makes a good detective laced with humor and morals. With his famous slogan "If I'm wrong, I'll apologize.", Nick Carter certainly charmed into every fan of detective fiction and so did Pidgeon. 

However, who caught my eye more was Joseph Schildkraut portraying the role of Al Taurez. Smooth as silk, but as slimy as a snake ready to strangle anyone who comes across his path. But for such a snake he is also afraid of mongoose sometimes. I don’t get usually impressed by antagonists, but Schildkraut made one. 

As for the girls in the film, Florence Rice as Cora Barnes makes an excellent spy with border-line morals when she falls in love. And Steffi Duna as Dolores adds humor to the otherwise morbid tale with her broken and unfiltered English. Although Duna's humor gets bored after a while, Rice shines as Barnes and simply makes the film more delightful.

Yet with no mystery it has been a rather fun going along plot where even the villain can be scared; the hero will bumble along; the heroines are simply delightful even if they don’t chose the hero; and the sidekick gets the final say in the end. A decent movie for some good laughs and interesting plot.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The other two Nick Carter films that Walter Pidgeon was part of were - 1939 Nick Carter, Master Detective and 1941 Sky Murder.

b. The antagonist, Al Taurez, whenever he wants to sink a ship, has one his minions, "Gunboat" Jacklin (portrayed by Nat Pendleton) walk around his dock in Panama. Couldn’t figure out why he want himself to be seen good in the eyes of Gunboat.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The movie begins in Panama, and the opening scene involves a bet in pesos. But the monetary unit is Balboa and not Peso.

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