So far we’ve been looking at the very early history of serials in America, but of course we weren’t the only country to realize the potential of continual stories presented as a way to draw patrons back to the theater each week. One of the other early adopters of the form was, unsurprisingly, the French, who were producing their own movie serials at least as far back as 1908, which was the year that Nick Carter, le roi des détectives (Nick Carter, The King of Detectives) was released.
As his name implies, Nick Carter is actually an American invention, a master detective who first appeared in 1886 in a 13 part serial story in the magazine New York Weekly entitled “The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square”. The story was written by Ormond G. Smith, the son of one of the founders of the publishing company Street & Smith.
Carter proved to be a popular enough character to get his own magazine (Nick Carter Weekly, which eventually became Detective Story Magazine), and later was revived as a pulp hero during the height of that genre’s popularity. He also got his own radio show during the Golden Age of Radio.
In 1908, the Nick Carter stories were also being published in France, so the E’clair studio chose him to feature in a six-part serial. Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset was tapped to direct, and Pierre Bressol starred as Carter. Like The Hazards of Helen, which I wrote about last time, whether you consider this to be an actual serial or just a series of short films could be a matter of preference, since each film stood on it’s own, though they were released every two weeks over a limited period of time, so for our purposes we’ll let the designation stand.
The six episodes and their release dates were: Part 1: Le Guet-Apens (The Doctor’s Rescue) 8 September 1908; Part 2: L’Affaire des bijoux (The Jewel Affair). 22 September 1908; Part 3: Les Faux Monnayeurs (False Coiners), 6 October 1908; Part 4: Les Dévaliseurs de banque (The Bank Burglar), 20 October 1908; Part 5: Les Empreintes (The Imprints). 27 October 1908; and Part 6: Les Bandits en noir (The Bandits in Evening Dress), 15 November 1908.
The serial proved popular enough to garner two follow-ups: Nouveaux aventures de Nick Carter in 1909, and Zigomar contre Nick Carter in 1912.
I wonder how well Carter would have done escaping the poison gas that The Crimson Ghost had used to trap our hero last week? My guess is that he’d have done pretty well, but maybe we’d better get on with Chapter 5 so we can see how he might have done it, hadn’t we?
Next time: Chapter 6 of The Crimson Ghost: “Mystery of the Mountain”, and more movie serial history. Be here!