License To Kill (1964)

aff_nick_carter_casse-01Country: 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-killLicense 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.

License To Kill (1964)

Nick Carter: Death Orbit

Author: David Hagberg
Publisher: Charter Books
Published: 1986
Book No: 217

Only a certain type of person would pick up a novel called Nick Carter: Death Orbit, and I happen to be one of those people. And if you’re like me, you would expect certain things from that novel – chiefly, no matter how contrived, Nick Carter, Agent N3, Killmaster for AXE, gets to go into space and fight dirty Commie saboteurs. This he does. This novel ticks all the boxes it should – and tells its tale in a fast-paced, energetic fashion. It moves so fast, that the contrivances wash over the reader, to the point that you could actually believe Carter could become an astronaut in a week. It’s only when you put the novel down, that you realise that it is a crock.

The story starts with a routine shuttle mission, which is trying to launch a communications satellite. Two of the crew, Major Tom Young and Major John Richardson suit up to leave the shuttle, to assist with the deployment.

During the deployment, Richardson is shot, and the mission is aborted. Upon return, Tom Young is the prime suspect – simply because, as he was the only person outside of the shuttle with Richardson, he is the only man who could have done it. He is the only possible suspect. The problem is, Young has an impeccable record. The powers that be, don’t believe he could have done it. It didn’t make sense. So AXE is called in to solve the mystery, and Nick Carter is chosen as the man for the job.

He is sent to the NASA Space Center on Merritt Island to investigate, and is immediately introduced to the Security Chief, E.J. Norcross and his assistant, the beautiful Lin Doi Chan. Norcross explains that oxygen supplies on the shuttle are monitored, so nobody else but Young could have murdered Richardson – but still he has his doubts.

As often happens in Carter novels, he is invited by Lin, to her beach side home that evening for dinner – and other horizontal refreshment. Nick is such a man! Later, during the night, Carter awakens to find Lin no longer at his side. Fearing something is wrong, he gets up and steps out onto the porch as the building explodes. He is thrown clear.

It is revealed that Lin is actually a Commie agent, working in concert with anothr Commie, Anatoli Marakazov. Before Carter can round them up, they flee to the Soviet Union. Suspecting that they may hold the secrets to what happened in orbit, Carter follows them to Moscow.

As I alluded to at the start, the story turns full circle, when Carter returns to the United States, to participate in the next shuttle mission, which will replicate the last – with the same crew, with Carter taking over from Richardson.

Nick Carter novels are mindless entertainment, and do not apologize for it. Nor should they. A quick glance at the cover should tell you what type of tale you’re in for. This cover has three elements – a ‘Space Shuttle’, ‘Nick Carter shooting’ and a ‘woman with large breasts’. All three of those elements are in the story. There’s your truth in advertising. Death Orbit delivered everything it promised – no more or less.

Nick Carter: Death Orbit

Nick Carter: The Algarve Affair

Author: Jack Canon
Publisher: Charter Books
Published: 1984
Book No: 185

The Algarve Affair is another red-blooded entry in the Nick Carter Killmaster series, written once again by Jack Canon (who also wrote Night of the Warheads)

There is one current problem that readers of the Nick Carter or Mack Bolan series face – and that is reading the books in chronological order. It is virtually impossible to do unless you are a millionaire with adept internet shopping skills, or are very, very patient. The Executioner series and spin-offs such as Able Team and Phoenix Force number around 600 titles (and counting) and Nick Carter ran to 261 titles. Granted that the books from the individual series aren’t ridiculously hard to track down, but it is rare when you can find a seller with a complete set or even a complete section.

Due to this, many people will not read the stories in order. This is probably not so important for Nick Carter, as each story is pretty self contained. For Mack Bolan, the underlying story arc, and progressive character development become an integral part of the stories, so it is of benefit to read them in order – but not essential.

But for review purposes, beyond the stories themselves, there is also another reason to read the books in order – and that is to analyse the contributions of the individual authors. Recently I reviewed Night of the Warheads, which I liked, but also acknowledged that it had some slow patches. The author was Jack Canon, who is also the author of The Algarve Affair (Book 185) – however this book was written before Warheads (Book 189). The thing is, had I read The Algarve Affair first, I would have been much harsher in my review of Warheads. The Algarve Affair is a superior book in nearly every aspect, and furthermore, the best parts of Warhead appear to have been recycled from Algarve.

This particular entry in the Killmaster series has Nick Carter, Agent N3 for AXE investigating a heroin distribution network in Portugal. This heroin has ended up being distributed at a European NATO Base, where increasing number of staff have been developing habits. However a stool-pigeon named Jorge has information that will lead Carter to the source. Unfortunately, the bad guys are onto Jorge and kill him before he can be of too much use. But Jorge’s sister, Leonita, is a willing ally in Carter’s quest to find and shut down the organisation behind the drug network. She also proves to be the romantic interest in the story – the romance being of the typical Nick Carter bump and grind variety.

As this is a Nick Carter book, a simple drug investigation is not enough to supply the requisite espionage thrills demanded by readers of the series, and as such, there is a nice twist towards the end, which I won’t spoil here, which lifts the novel to a higher level. The action passages are quite well handled, and there is a bit of enjoyably subtle humour, where Carter has to elude an endless parade of watchers. The supporting characters are drawn well enough not to be simply cardboard cutouts, and Carter utilises them well, so the story becomes more about teamwork (with Carter in the lead), rather than Nick Carter, one man army.

The Algarve Affair – like most of the Nick Carter series – is a sprightly read, and provides everything you could want from a Carter book. Although, possibly the sex is toned down a bit more than some of the earlier entries in the series. But that doesn’t bother me. Personally I find some of the Carter sex passages rather incongruous, but I think that was a hangover from the 1960s, when the series was trying to out-Bond James Bond.

This is certainly not the worst novel in the series. Indeed, it is a pleasant way to kill an hour or two commuting to and from work.

Nick Carter: The Algarve Affair

Nick Carter: Night of the Warheads

Nick Carter: Night of the WarheadsAuthor: Jack Canon
Publisher: Charter Books
Published: 1984
Book No: 189

Once again we join Nick Carter, Agent N3 – Killmaster for AXE on another mission to save the world from certain disaster.

This time he takes on the Basque terrorist organisation ETA (Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna), who have got their hands on eight nuclear missiles. So right from the get-go, Nick is in the thick of the action.

Although, when it comes to the ladies, ol’ Nick is a bit slow in this adventure. The novel is 43 pages into the story before Nick seduces his first woman. What was the author thinking?

The author in question is Jack Canon who penned at least thirty-seven Nick Carter books, starting with The Ebony Cross in 1978 and finishing in 1990 with the last book in the series, Dragon Slay. That’s roughly three books a year over those twelve years, which is an impressive feat in its way. I only have a couple a Canon’s Carter adventures, and a cursory look at them would suggest that he was one of the authors who preferred to write his stories in third person (the bulk of the Carter stories that I have read, have been scribed in first person). Beyond that, there is very little I can tell you about Jack Canon. The ‘Google Machine’ doesn’t shed much light on him – the only snippet I found was reference to a book called A Hangman for Paradise – (1980) allegedly from the Michael Paradise series – which I also cannot find any information on. I do not know if Canon was the sole author of this series, or simply a contributing writer. If any vintage pulp fiction fans have any clues, or information, feel free to drop me a line.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. Nick, after taking out a band of terrorists, working for a group calling themselves Latinos for Freedom, stumbles on to information linking these particular two-bit terrorists with the militant Basque Separatist Movement. And further along the chain, through a rogue ex-CIA agent information on how they have hijacked eight nuclear weapons, and kidnapped men with the scientific knowledge to launch them.

To get close, Nick poses as a hitman named Nick Carstocus, who lives in luxury, in the tiny nation of Andorra, in the Pyrenees. As a perk, Carstocus is also a swinging Lothario, so in setting up his cover, he has to wine, dine and seduce as many women as possible. Thankfully most of this happens off the page, or it would get rather tedious – but his ploy works, and he soon attracts the attention of Armanda de Nerro, who happens to be the matriarch of faction of Basque terrorists.

The twist to the story (minor spoiler ahead), is that Carter, as ‘hitman’ Carstocus, has been paid to kill Armanda by the head of another Basque faction. The winner of this power-play will ultimately have control of the eight stolen missiles and be able to hold Spain (and the rest of the world) to ransom, in their violent quest for independence.

The action passages in this Nick Carter adventure are pretty sprightly (and appropriately bloody), but some of the more ‘investigative’ elements of the story are a bit plodding.  But I have read worse (and I am sure I will again).  Ultimately Night of the Warheads is routine Carter adventure that doesn’t strive to be anything more than it is. If you’re a fan of the Carter series, you’ll find this acceptable – if not, this book is certainly not the one to convert you.

Nick Carter: Night of the Warheads

Nick Carter: The Kali Death Cult

Author:Robert E. Vardeman,
Publisher: Charter
Published: 1983
Book No: 176

Nick Carter, Agent N3 for AXE is at it again in The Kali Death Cult.  Sometimes when writing a blog of this sort, you come across a character who makes you believe you have bitten off more than you can chew. Nick Carter, from the Killmaster series of books is such a character.

With some 250+ books in the series, it is hard to know where to begin, and to know where Nick Carter began. Well Nick Carter didn’t start his life as the suave sophisticated killer, Agent N3. In fact he began his career as a sleuth in nickel and dime periodicals. Carter first appeared in 1886 (that’s not a misprint) as a protege to Seth Carter, a venerable sleuth in a series of adventures written by John Russell Coryell.

But Nick Carter really took off hen Frederick Marmaduke van Rensselaer Dey took over writing duties, and for seventeen years pumped out Nick Carter detective stories.

In The Classic Era of Crime Fiction (Prion Books 2002- page 60), Peter Haining had this to say:

Nick Carter appeared in stories in various formats and as a result was the only important dime novel hero to have survived the collapse of the form in the early twentieth century. Later he would return in his own pulp magazine to fight organised crime and more recently in paperback where he became a suave secret agent with a knack for seducing beautiful women.

That’s the Nick Carter I am interested in – the dashing secret agent. The Nick Carter novels were written by many novelists – some of them quite famous – but all of them hid under the name Nick Carter; almost as if the stories were autobiographical. It helped that the bulk of the stories were written in ‘first person’, although there was a brief period where they were written in ‘third person’.

Each story starts with a dedication:

Dedicated to the men of the Secret Services of the United States of America.

That spiel alone, has had Carter described as the American equivalent to James Bond. I always find those sort of comparisons, where a series attempts to ride on the coat tails of James Bond to be interesting. Carter, in another form, existed fifty years before Bond, so it is strange to suggest he is a Bond knockoff. But certainly, like a few pulp heroes, once the popularity of Bond was established, Carter was modified to tap into the new burgeoning spy market. Another to receive an update was Sexton Blake, and while Blake didn’t become a secret agent, and remained a detective, his adventures in the Sexton Blake library in the 1960s certainly became more Bondian.

But that is enough waffling on. The Kali Death Cult starts with Carter tracking down a politician, Clayton Ducharme who has been selling secrets to the Russians. When Nick finds Ducharme, he is in hospital for a minor procedure – and also about to pass on a valuable piece of microfilm to his Russian contact. Carter kills the contact and then confronts Ducharme, retrieving the film.

After completing the mission, Carter is debriefed by his superior, David Hawk who upon analysis of the microfilm, is worried that the Soviets are planning an incursion into Pakistan, via the Khyber Pass. Once the Soviets have conquered Pakistan, they intend to press on through India – the point being that the Soviets are keen to get a warm-water ocean port.

Carter’s mission is to go to Pakistan and gather evidence that the Soviets are building in strength along the border and planning an incursion. With that information, the Pakistani Government can be convinced that the threat is real and take measures to stop it. Currently they are sceptical.

So Carter heads to Pakistan, and guess what? The Soviets are already sending advance troops through the Khyber Pass. Now it is up to Nick Carter to stop them. But he can’t do it alone. He needs help, and finds it in the form of some villagers on the Pakistani side of the pass.  However, men able to stand against the might of the Soviet war machine are few and far between in this part of the world, and when a guerrilla force wipes out the village, Carter finds himself having to look elsewhere.

Next, Carter attempts to enlist some rather unusual help. With the aid of Hindu girl, Ananda, and her brother, Dusai, he is led up high into the Hindu Kush to meet with The Old Man of the Mountain. The Old Man is considered a conduit to the Goddess Kali – and he is in charge of an enormous clan of Thuggees – a quarter of a million – who live in a city, hidden from the outside world inside a mountain.

Convincing the Old Man and the Thuggee cult to take up arms against the Soviets is no easy task, however, and Carter finds that he first has to prove himself worthy of their assistance. The first challenge is by combat, and Carter and Dusai find themselves fighting off a dozen Thuggs. The second challenge, and this will come as no surprise to regular Carter readers, is a trial by sex. Yes, sex! Yes, our hero, Nick Carter, has to make it with Ananda as a crowd of Thuggs watch on cheering and chanting Kali’s name. The question is, after the physically demanding rigours of the trial by combat – and at altitude – is Nick Carter up to the challenge?

As I have mentioned, the Carter novels are written by a multitude of different authors, and as such they have different tones. Randall Masteller at Spy Guys & Gals, on his informative Nick Carter page suggests that The Kali Death Cultis the 176th book in the series and was written by Robert E. Vardeman, who wrote eight books in the series. When reading Vardeman’s Carter, I hear (or picture) Carter as an older man – his dialogue almost reminds me of Powers Boothe as Phillip Marlowe in the 1980’s television series. Which I don’t actually mind, but I am guessing that is not how most people see the suave killing machine that is Nick Carter. At one point, as Carter escapes through a small crawl space, he even has to ‘suck in his gut’. So this incarnation of Killmaster Carter seems at bit older – and a bit wiser.

Picking on a Nick Carter novel because of its lack of imagination or artistic integrity is a waste of time. The Carter novels are what they are, and anyone who expects more is just mean spirited. And truth be told, I thoroughly enjoyed The Kali Death Cult. It’s a solid entry in the series, presenting all the requirements for a Carter adventure; violence and sex told at a brisk pace. Really, I don’t think you can ask for more than that.

Nick Carter: The Kali Death Cult

Nick Carter: Operation Snake

Author: John Messmann
Publisher: Tandem Books
Published: 1969
Book No: 51

I hate to admit it, but I was a Nick Carter virgin. I had never read any of Carter’s adventures, which is practically a criminal offence for a spy fan. I figured I’d better quickly rectify the situation and ducked into the nearest second hand book shop. I only had two to chose from, and for an old paperback, at a fairly inflated price. They must be collectible around here?

The two choices were Operation Snake from the late 1960’s and Tunnel For Traitors published in 1986. Just by looking at the cover image, you can tell why I went for ‘Snake’ first.

This adventure starts with Nick Carter, Agent N3 for AXE travelling in an old DC3 to Khumbu in the heart of the Himalayas. During his flight he flashes back to his mission briefing with Hawk. In Nepal, a religious leader named Ghotak – the Head of the Teeoan People and Snake Society – is planning a coup which will see the Red Chinese taking over Nepal. The Nepalese people fear Ghotak because all who have opposed him have been slain by the Yeti. Yes, the Abominable Snowman. Carter’s contact in Katmandu is Leeunghi, who is an aid to the King.

Carter lands in Khumbu and meets his first contact. He is a fellow agent named Harry Angsley. Angsley is in hospital on his deathbed. He tells Carter that he must go to the Tesi Pass, where he will be met by a guide who will take him the rest of the way. Adding to the mix is a meddlesome English reporter named Hilary Cobb. She tries to tag along with Carter, but he refuses. In response she arranges for Carter’s equipment to be stolen. Carter realises she is behind the theft, and pretends to have changed his mind. She can come along after all. He will co-operate.

Cobb returns his equipment, but suddenly the fun and games are over. Carter strips her down, ties her to a chair, slaps her across the face and tweaks her nipple. Politically correct, Nick Carter aint! He tells her to go home, and leaves her tied up.

Carter then begins his trek through the mountains to the Tesi Pass. Here he is met by a guide who leads Carter further up into the mountains. As they rest, the guide attacks Carter, and tries to send him flying over an ice ledge. Carter gives as good as he gets and kills the impostor. He then marches back down to the pass and meets his real guide. Her name is Khaleen, the daughter of his contact Leeunghi. Naturally she is a looker. She leads him to Katmandu and into the world of Ghotak. Ghotak isn’t happy to have Carter in his world, and arranges for a trio of killer monks to take care of him. But, as you’ve guessed, Nick Carter knows how to take care of him self and gives the monks a lesson in the ways of unarmed combat.

Later that night there is a ritual being overseen by Ghotak. A ritual to honour the fertility of the Spirit of Karkotek, Lord Of All Serpents. It’s at this ritual that Carter and Leeunghi intend to expose Ghotak as a charlatan. Their plan doesn’t go as planned. The ritual is more of an orgy than a religious ceremony and Khaleen get’s drawn onto the stage, and starts to writhe around and disrobe. Nick goes to her rescue, while Leeunghi enters into a slanging match with Ghotak. As it is one man’s word against another the Nepalese need a sign or symbol to show who’s telling the truth. The end result being that Leeunghi has to go up into the mountains. If he speaks the truth, in three days he will return safely. If Ghotak speaks the truth, then the Yeti will slay Leeunghi. Now it’s up to Nick Carter to reveal the truth and save the day.

As my first introduction to Nick Carter, I was pretty impressed with Operation Snake. It was better written than I though it would be. It has some good, tight, descriptive passages. And as expected, it was fast paced, violent and with a healthy does of sex thrown in. I realise that the Nick Carter books are written by different authors, so the story telling quality can vary from one book to the next. I notice that this one is written in first person, where Tunnel For Traitors is written in third person. I am fond of first person narratives, as you feel you are making the journey with the hero, rather than just having it reported back to you. So on this level, if your a Nick Carter fan, I would highly recommend this entry in the series.

Nick Carter: Operation Snake