His name isn’t as well known as it used to be but Nick Carter is a literary character who has been around for 127 years. He first appeared in 1886 in the Street & Smith’s dime novel The Old Detective’s Pupil. From there he starred in hundreds of stories till 1933 when he was reintroduced as pulp action hero.
Carter’s original stories featured young Nick Carter who was trained to be a detective by his father from an early age. His first case had him solving his own father’s murder. Nick was a master detective and a master of disguise. He also had a large group of assistants who helped him solve cases. Nick had several re-occurring villains most notable Dr. Jack Quartz who first appeared in 1891 beating Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty by a couple of years. Quartz appeared 18 times throughout the years.
After the success of The Shadow for Street & Smith, they decided to revamp Carter and reintroduce him as the star of a new pulp magazine. 80 years ago Nick Carter reappeared as Nick Carter, Master Detective. The series wasn’t as nearly as successful as the second pulp character that Street & Smith also introduced that year, Doc Savage. Street & Smith ceased publishing Carter after three years in 1936.
But that didn’t stop Nick Carter. He appeared in a trilogy of films in the 1940’s as well as a series of comic books and in 1943 he was the star of radio program that ran to 1955. In 1964 Street & Smith revamp Nick Carter again, this time as a James Bond knock-off. Thus began the reign of Nick Carter – Killmaster. The series ran for 261 novels and ceased in 1990.
Nick Carter’s appearance in films is a strange one. The character was created in America and was American. Yet the majority of his films all come from foreign countries. In 1908 France brought Nick Carter to film with a series of serials. Nick Carter, le roi des detectives was a six serial film. It was huge hit and spawned two more serials. In 1922, the first American Nick Carter hit the screen in a couple two-reelers. Edmund Lowe starred as Carter in these shorts. In 1939 Walter Pidgeon starred in the beginning of three Nick Carter films. The first Nick Carter, Master Detective was directed by legendary filmmaker Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur also directed the sequel Phantom Raiders but left for the third film Sky Murder. Warner Archives has just released all three films on their burn on demand DVD service.
In 1964 Carter returned to the big screen in France with a couple of spy films starring Eddie Constantine as Carter. Although they were spy films and James Bond knock-offs, they were not related to the Killmaster series. Nick Carter va tout casser and the sequel Nick Carter and Red Club were successful in France but never really made it anywhere else. In the 1970’s Robert Conrad tried to bring Nick to TV with a failed pilot Adventures of Nick Carter. Carter’s finally film appearance to date was the 1977 Czechoslovakian movie Adéla jeste nevecerela. A weird cross between Nick Carter and Little Shop of Horrors.
With talk of The Shadow and Doc Savage getting revised in new films, there’s always the chance that somebody might dust off Nick Carter.
“The other day I saw in a window quite a reminder of my youth, in the form of a Nick Carter Magazine. I thought poor old Nick had slipped into oblivion a generation ago!” -H.P. Lovecraft, March 2, 1933.