NICK CARTER IN PRAGUE (1978) – This film seems to like to hide from the millions of Nick Carter fans in the world by also going under titles like Adele Has Not Had Her Dinner or Dinner With Adele. I originally planned to review this movie last year but the passing of actor Robert Conrad prompted me to review his telefilm The Adventures of Nick Carter instead.
Created in 1886, Nick Carter was technically a private detective in New York City but really he was less of a sleuth and more of a forerunner of crime-fighting paragons like Doc Savage and Batman. Nick lasted through the end of the Dime Novel era and well into the age of Pulp Magazines, yet by the 1970s he was a much more popular character in Europe than in his homeland. Even before Nick Carter in Prague was released there had been a French-Italian animated series about Nick’s adventures.
This Czech film was directed by Oldrich Lipsky and starred Michal Docolomansky as Nick Carter. If you want a glib “pitch-meeting” style description of this movie think of it as a tongue-in-cheek effort like Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy but directed by Tim Burton and with a surreal, European arthouse feel.
The approach is wry and knowing but without stooping to the overdone camp of 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, starring Ron Ely. Nick Carter in Prague is often labeled a comedy but don’t go into it expecting laughs, just lots of smiles like during Dick Tracy or Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s more “comedy” as in whimsical fantasy touches, not hard belly laughs.
The film is set around 1905 judging by the automobiles, and the opening minutes provide a nice introduction to Nick Carter. He’s a world-famous detective/ crime fighter whose exploits earn him plenty of headlines. Police departments and Secret Services around the world bombard him with requests for help and he survives multiple attempts on his life by a variety of enemies as part of his daily routine at his office.
Nick has so many pleas for his services that he selects who he’ll help next at random. The “winner” is Countess Thun (Kveta Fiolova) of Prague, so our hero is off to then-Czechoslovakia. The countess has a lot of pull with her government and Carter is given a hero’s welcome. The tubby Commissar Ledvina (Rudolf Hrusinsky) is assigned to help Nick in every way.
The beautiful but hysterical Countess Thun hires Nick to find Gert (as in Gert Frobe), her missing dog. Containing his obvious irritation at being brought in on something so seemingly trivial, Carter compassionately consoles his new client.
Both the countess and her sultry maid Karin (Olga Schoberova) obviously have the hots for Nick, who handles it with the modest courtesy he always displayed under such circumstances in the original stories.
It’s a minor thing, but it makes for a nice change of pace to see a male hero who doesn’t act cocksure but is instead shyly taken aback by his effect on the ladies. Commissar Ledvina, with comedic understatement, sometimes follows scenes of women practically throwing themselves at Carter with observations like “I think she fancies you.”
Ledvina accompanies our hero all over Prague in the search for clues and for plenty of Pilsner beer. All the while the pair are unknowingly under surveillance by the evil minions of the story’s villain, Baron Rupert Von Kratzmar (Milos Kopecky). Sorry, my fellow Nick Carter geeks, once again we get a live-action Carter story which does NOT feature his archenemy Doctor Quartz as the antagonist.
Nick knows Von Kratzmar better as the Gardener, a mad scientist and master criminal he has tangled with in the past. The Gardener is a genius at botanical science and uses fast-growing stalks to commit high-rise burglaries, used a mutated apple to kill off his wife to get her inheritance money and, ever a cad, he used a special rose thorn to drug the noted actress Sarah Bernhardt so he could ravish her for days while she was unconscious. (Insert your own Bill Cosby joke here.)
Nick believed the villain to have died during their last encounter years earlier, but he is very much alive and plotting revenge. He presented “Adele,” a man-eating plant which he stole from a South American jungle tribe, to Countess Thun as a gift.
He had trained the plant to devour the countess’ beloved dog Gert out of spite after the dog peed on his shoes. Hence the seeming disappearance of the canine. The secondary purpose was to lure his old foe Nick Carter into a trap, since he knew the countess would hire him. He plans for Adele to feed upon Carter and an enigmatic “other” target.
When we first meet the Gardener in this movie he is puttering away in his lab where he perfects his many mobile plants which can even serve him tea and perform other duties. (Think Poison Ivy) He also has plenty of human eyeballs decorating his lab, like Nick’s archfoe Doctor Quartz had in one of the stories in which he clashed with our hero.
Baron Von Kratzmar/ the Gardener commands a gang of toughs including a midget, all led by his chamberlain, played by Vaclav Lohnisky.
Also caught up in our villain’s criminal plans are Professor Albin Bocek (Ladislav Pecek) and his beautiful granddaughter Kvetuska (Nada Konvalinkova). Naturally romantic sparks fly between her and our hero.
As part of director Lipsky’s surreal bits of humor, Nick Carter uses plenty of steampunk gadgets, many of them concealed in his hat. As a comedic poke at Carter’s well-known handguns that he has up his sleeves, this Nick also has pistols that he can fire from armpit holsters.
In a nod to early Nick Carter tales, in which the famed hero would sometimes interact with real-life figures, the detective name-drops some of the scientists who provided his gadgets, like Edison for communication devices, Roentgen for a radiation device, Nobel for dynamite cigars and so on. During the film’s climax, Nick even uses a solar rifle, which I was hoping they would claim was provided by Tesla, but no such luck.
At times the humor targets the fashions of the era, with elaborate hats for the ladies and Nick using the HUGE cuffs in fashion for men at the time to write down his detective’s notes in lieu of a notepad.
SPOILERS: As the story goes along it turns out that the Countess’ maid Karin leads a double-life as a feline-costumed villainess who serves the Gardener. One of her scenes with Nick is a fun homage to some of Carter’s femme fatale opponents from the books, like Dazaar the Arch-Fiend, Zanoni the Woman Wizard, Princess Olga of the Nihilists and others.
Ultimately our hero survives everything that the Gardener can throw at him and Baron Von Kratzmar winds up in prison. In addition, our heroine Kvetuska is saved from a fate worse than death.
Nick Carter in Prague is fun and is a nice visual treat. A few of the scenes even parody the old Nick Carter serials from the silent film era. Some of the most beautiful sites in Prague provide a terrific backdrop for the melodramatic storyline.
Obviously, people who are already Nick Carter fans will get the most enjoyment out of this production but it should also appeal to cinema fans who don’t mind subtitled movies. It’s a light-hearted taste of something different.
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