Thursday, February 18, 2016

Matt Helm

I first heard of the Matt Helm movies around 1967 when I saw a copy of the magazine, SPIES, SPOOFS AND SUPER GUYS. I already knew Dean Martin from television but I wasn't a fan of his "sophisticated" drinking man's humor or his half-hearted singing. In fact, I never did warm up to Dean all that much and when I finally did catch the Matt Helm films a few years later, I had to admit they weren't really very good. In fact, they seemed about as half-hearted as Dean's singing, not even taking themselves seriously within their own milieu. That said, it's hard to deny that a nostalgic charm has settled on the Helm films over time, giving them an almost Austin Powers feel (which is odd when you consider that the original book series by Donald Hamilton was played more or less straight!). Ann-Margret and Sharon Tate highlight a bevy of sixties beauties who appear throughout, along with Beverly Adams (the future Beverly Sassoon) as Helm's sexytary...err...I mean, secretary. One thing the movies had from the beginning though--great posters!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steve,
    The Silencers (February 1966)
    The Silencers borrows a plot element from the first Helm novel, Death of a Citizen, as it begins with the agent being coaxed out of retirement. Whereas Hamilton's books were generally serious spy novels about a former Second World War assassin who is recruited to continue killing for an American government agency, the film versions were lighthearted spy romps spoofing the James Bond series in the same spirit as Our Man Flint, which was released the previous month.
    Murderers' Row (December 1966)
    It is very loosely based upon the Matt Helm spy novel Murderers' Row . The film was the second of four produced by Albert R. Broccoli's former partner Irving Allen and Martin's Meadway-Claude Production company for Columbia Pictures. The film was originally intended to be shot totally on location, but Martin, who also co-produced the film, refused to go to Europe.
    The Ambushers (December 1967)
    It is loosely based upon the novel of the same name by Donald Hamilton as well as The Menacers that featured UFOs and a Mexican setting. This film is generally considered the weakest of the four Helm films, and is cited in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time by Harry and Michael Medved. The Medveds also cited a review of The Ambushers by critic Judith Crist which stated: "The sole distinction of this vomitous mess is that it just about reaches the nadir of witlessness, smirky sexiness and bad taste - and it's dull, dull, dull to boot."
    The Wrecking Crew (December 1968)
    As with the previous three Helm spy movies, it is based only loosely upon Donald Hamilton's 1960 novel of the same title and takes great liberties with the plot and characters. The Wrecking Crew was the second Helm novel published. Hugo Montenegro composed the score and Mack David and Frank DeVol wrote the theme song played over the opening and end credits, "House of Seven Joys", which was the working title of the film. Critical response to this film varies, with some calling it the worst of the series, where it mostly features Helm playing up to glamorous women and the storyline is the bits that join those many encounters together. There was also some poor acting and the film had many minor mistakes in it which should have been edited out as well as so-so special effects. Others called it the best due to its reduced reliance on outlandish gadgets and story lines.

    A fifth film was planned, based upon the novel The Ravagers, but Martin declined the opportunity to play the role once more, even though the title of the film was announced at the end of Wrecking Crew.

    See also for some more pics from the films.

    I don't care for The Silencers due to the embarrassing roles for Cyd Charisse and Stella Stevens. IMO, Murderer's Row was OK but the series reached its high point with The Ambushers. I agree with wikipedia's opinion of Wrecking Crew. I still recall Sharon Tate providing all the highlights of that last film.