Country: France | Italy
Director: Henri DeCoin
Starring: Eddie Constantine, Daphné Dayle, Paul Frankeur, Barbara Somers, Jean-Paul Moulinot, Charles Belmont, Mitsouko, Yvonne Monlaur
Music: Pierick Houdy – although not credited on the print I viewed.
License To Kill, despite it’s title is not another James Bond ripoff. The roots of this film are much older. In the film Eddie Constantine plays Nick Carter. Carter these days may not be a household name, but he is one of modern literature’s oldest surviving characters. He started life in three dime store sleuth detective magazine stories penned by John Russell Coryell in 1886. Although Nick Carter was part of a double act in these stories, he was the protege of Seth Carter, it wasn’t long until the Little Giant, as he was known, took off on his own in a series of amazingly popular adventures penned by Frederic Marmaduke van Ransselaer Dey. But as they must, times change. Nick Carter detective fell out of favour – but he was reborn again at the height of spymania as the Killmaster – a secret agent N3 working for AXE. Between 1964 and 1990, there were a staggering 261 Nick Carter spy novels written.
Having said all that, this film isn’t about the Killmaster. It goes back to the old Nick Carter detective stories. The film opens – possibly in France – with a distinguished looking gentleman being shown to his car by the valet attendant. No sooner has the attendant walked away, and the car explodes in a fireball. A newspaper report the following day explains that a renowned scientist has been assassinated. Next we see another academic type (Horn-rimmed glasses / Van Dyke beard) walking the street. A car rushes past with goons leaning out the window with guns. The academic is shot down. A newspaper report informs the viewer he was a physicist named Von Brantchitz. On both occasions, as these men were killed, an Asian lady (played by Mitsouko) watches on from a balcony above.
The film skips to the USA. World famous detective, Nick Carter (Eddie Constantine) is about to go on holiday. To that end, he is refusing to take any cases, or phone calls. His long suffering secretary, Gladys (Barbara Sommer), a Moneypenny type character who loves Nick, but whose affections are not reciprocated, valiantly attempts to fend off all phone calls. Then a French journalist arrives in person. Gladys shows him around, pointing out the pictures on the wall, mementos of previous cases undertaken by Nick Carter’s father (it is never mentioned if his name is Seth). One of these old cases was the case of the Shanghai Stranger – and the case was solved with the assistance of a man named Fromentin. When Nick receives an urgent telegram from his Father’s old friend, Fromentin, he cancels his vacation and finds himself traveling incognito on a plane to Nice, on the French Riviera.
In Nice, Nick hires a car and races around the scenic coast road to Fromentin’s home. However news of Carter’s arrival has leaked and somebody is watching and waiting with a rifle, and as Nick rounds the corner, they open fire. The car goes over the edge and rolls down the embankment, crashing into some rocks beside the ocean. The car bursts into flame. Surely Nick’s goose is cooked!
Miraculously Nick survives. Although it is never stated, he may have been wearing some protective trenchcoat – later on in the story it is revealed that Nick does have a few gadgets on his person. Nick climbs out of the car and quips, “Wow, we start with a bang!” Luckily, he crashed right next to a small bar. Despite it being mid morning, it is packed with youngsters frugging and grooving out to the latest beats. Nicks arranges a lift to Fromentin’s home. There he also meets Fromentin’s grand-daughter, Catherine (Daphné Dayle).
Here Fromentin explains why he sent the telegram to Nick. Fromentin, like the gentlemen killed at the start of the movie, is a scientist working a top secret device – much like a miniature, remote control flying saucer – named Gyros Number One. Fearful that the killers will target him next, he wishes for Nick to find out who is behind it all. Before you can say sacré bleu, Nick’s up to his armpits in trouble.
License To Kill is pure pulp – as it should be. Although it could be classed as a ’60s Eurospy flick, it plays like a serial from the ’40s, with Nick finding himself in one scrape after another. I found this film to be a hoot from go to whoa – but it won’t be for everyone. It is a French Italian co-production, so it will either be dubbed or subbed (the version I watched was dubbed), and it’s in black and white. And truth be told, it is rather formulaic – I happen to like the formula – however if originality is your thing, it would be best to steer clear of this one.
Eddie Constantine made at least one other Nick Carter film, Nick Carter and the Red Club in 1965.
Hat tip to MB.