THE ADVENTURES OF NICK CARTER (1972) – Rest in peace, Robert Conrad. For decades, rugged sex symbol Robert Conrad embodied the old expression “women want him and men want to BE him.” My sister Debbie was a huge fan of Robert’s incredibly tight pants and frequently-bared chest.
Thanks to television, home video and the internet, generations of viewers have been treated to Conrad’s memorable portrayals of heroes like old west Secret Service Agent Jim West on Wild, Wild West, real-life World War Two flying ace Greg “Pappy” Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron, secret agent T.R. Sloane on A Man Called Sloane and French trapper Pasquanel on the mini-series Centennial. (“Mawn uh-MEE!”)
A few years after Wild, Wild West went off the air, Conrad starred in this pilot film for a tv series based on old Dime Novel and Pulp hero Nick Carter.
Carter had been around since the 1880s but, presumably to avoid too much resemblance to Wild, Wild West, The Adventures of Nick Carter was set around 1920 instead.
(And to this day I’m disappointed that they didn’t use Nick instead of Tom Sawyer in the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)
Right up front I’ll let my fellow Nick Carter geeks know that, unfortunately, Nick’s archenemy Doctor Quartz (who actually pre-dated Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty, believe it or not) does not appear in this telefilm. If it had been picked up for a series, I’m sure he would have shown up at some point.
The Adventures of Nick Carter plays things a little too bland, depicting Nick as a standard private detective in New York City. The more colorful and exaggerated aspects of Carter’s Pulp adventures, which practically served as a blueprint for Jim West’s later antics, were nowhere to be found.
The death of an old friend serves to lure Nick into the middle of a complex conspiracy involving a tycoon’s missing wife. While it’s fun to see Robert Conrad donning disguises as he investigates, his forte was always kicking butts, looking cool and seducing beautiful ladies, not sleuthing. He’d have made a good Mike Hammer if you have to use him as a detective.
Conrad shows off his pugilistic abilities early in the story, but in a sparring match with a boxer whom Nick’s thinking of sponsoring, not as part of the adventure. Later on he does get to do a four-on-one fight scene and the former stuntman is as smooth and believable as always against superior odds. He’s like a Jackie Chan of traditional punch-ups and brawls: always impressive to watch.
There is no doubt in my mind that RC would have made a terrific Indiana Jones if the character had been introduced in the early 1970s instead of 1981. The Adventures of Nick Carter, unfortunately, does not let him shine in what should have been a perfect marriage of character and actor.
I don’t want to spoil the mystery so I’ll skip a detailed synopsis and move on to the magnificent supporting cast. You will see Pernell Roberts literally as you’ve never seen him before, along with 70s cult “singer” Jaye P Morgan before her Gong Show fame, and future Soap Opera Queen Deidre Hall using the name Deidre Hudson.
Also along for the ride are Shelley Winters, Dean Stockwell, Sorrell Booke, Arlene Martel, Laraine Stephens, Brooke Bundy, Neville Brand and Broderick Crawford.
Produced to fill a 90-minute television slot with commercials, this movie runs just 73 minutes and is well worth a watch if you’re a fan of Robert Conrad or period pieces. Hardcore Nick Carter devotees would be better served to seek out the 1970s French-Italian cartoon version of Nick. +++
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