(aka Dinner for Adele, Nick Carter in Prague)
Many of you have never heard of Nick Carter.
Which is somewhat amusing because he was once even more famous than his rival detective, Sherlock Holmes.
He was a product of the dime novel era of the late Nineteenth century and appeared in hundreds of sensational pulp adventures, starting a year before Holmes’ first appearance. He was the ultimate master detective, with a vast array of gadgets, instant disguises and secret operatives he used in his work
He was also a remarkable dull old boy, despite all the tense situations, wild adventures and sinister villains, as they never bothered to give him a personality.
And those of you who think you remember him probably are thinking of the series of paperback “Nick Carter” books someone churned out during the Seventies, which turned him into a modern-day super spy in the James Bond mold, with rather more sex and violence.
But I’m not sure that version had a personality, either.
Perhaps it was that very lack of personality that convinced Oldrich Lipský to create this film. Lipský directed a lot of very funny Czech comedies, during the era when the Czech’s made some of the funniest comedies ever made.
And this is one of the very funniest of those comedies.
Nick is enjoying a quiet day in his office after finishing a major case (why, he only has to dispatch three random villains trying to murder him!). He has so many fascinating cases waiting for him from all parts of the globe that he decides to pick one at random from the mail.
Which, naturally, turns out to be in Prague.
And it doesn’t even faze him a bit that the victim who vanished from a locked room was in fact…
A very large dog.
Instead, he goes out and tackles the case in his own unique way, which involves lots of gadgets created for him by a series of famous scientists and inventors, and an absolutely insane suit he designed especially for creeping around secretly.
The humor in Czech films is somehow unique — it’s dry and deadpan, yet absurd to the point of silly at the same time. It holds onto some shred of seriousness and threat despite all the weirdness, even though it doesn’t quite seem to take place in the real world.
A big part of the fun is all the crazy gadgets and devices, including the death traps in Nick’s office, a flying bike and the all important foxtail and ebony rod Nick has dangling off the belt of what you might call his working clothes.
The suit is one of the film’s high points as Nick has a mask with what looks like an old-fashioned telephone’s mouth piece sticking out of it, a black cape, and a constantly jangling load of gadgets hanging from the belt, all topped one of his ever-present collection of gimmick-laden bowler hats.
While others have spring-loaded boxing gloves or explosive charges, this one has a pop-out propeller, which deploys after Nick puts on a chest control plate even more sophisticated than the one in the old Republic Rocketman series (with its two control knobs), and turns the whole goofy get-up into a flying suit.
Nick, naturally loves to tell us all about his wonderful collection of steampunk toys, frequently engaging in a bit of name-dropping when he does so, as when he credits his old friend Roentgen (the discoverer of X-Rays) with giving him his own pair of X-Ray Specs.
This time, Nick is up against an old enemy he thought was dead (although one should note that he’s an enemy new to this film, even if he shares a few traits with Nick’s most famous adversary, Dr. Quartz). The Gardener has created a monstrous man-eating plant named Adele and plans to use it to get revenge.
Very petty revenge at that. But then, he’s a supervillain. That’s what they do.
The Gardener is played by Milos Kopecký, who seemed to have made a career of playing eccentric villains in Oldrich Lipský films, although he also played Baron Prasil (aka, Munchausen) in Karel Zeman’s hybrid animated film. They have a lot of fun showing The Gardener hard at work in his greenhouse, with his weird plants covered with human eyeballs and with bits of human bone worked in. He’s a classic pulp-villain and Milos seems to be enjoying the role — particularly as he is winning through most of the film. His plants also provide a wide range of death traps (as well as serving tea) — although he also makes use of a dwarf, a temptress in a cat costume, and a death trap bed.
There’s even a brief appearance by the version of Fantomas that appeared in the 1960s French movie series.
Those familiar with Czech film may note the presence of another legend of Czech film, the animator, Jan Svankmajer, who animates Adele at her hungriest. I find it intriguing that he seems almost deliberately to have avoided the classic Venus Flytrap, or the bud-like design used for The Little Shop of Horrors, in favor of a lovely creation which might best be described as a lethal flower. It’s both beautiful and scary — and, as this is a Czech film, it is also rather silly, with teeth and a big tongue!
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you still haven’t figured this one out, you might start getting the idea in the first few minutes as a sequence of a conductor leading a magnificent orchestral score is soon overwhelmed by animated titles and a player piano. There’s a lot of eccentric editing and even an animated sequence, with lots of wacky little touches and a lot of Pilsner.
Not to mention a few sausages.
This is a magnificent Steampunk film from before there was such a thing as steampunk, a witty crowd-pleasing comedy and an absurdist art film all wrapped up into one tasty package. There aren’t many comedies out there even remotely like this one.
And, let’s face it, most of them are from Czechoslovakia.
So overcome your fear of subtitles, make sure you’re not wearing the hat with the death trap in it, and find a few veggies to munch on just to be sure we can keep those plants in their place.
I’m sure you’ll have a good time.
You won’t even need any sarcasm…