The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Murderers' Row

The huge success of the James Bond series in the 1960s opened doors for all sorts of other spy movies to take over the market, both good and bad.  And after all those serious takes on the spy movie came the spoofs like James Coburn in the Flint series and Dean Martin in the Matt Helm movies.  These aren't spoofs like Scary Movie or anything of the like, but spoofs that were for one, good, and two, they were more tongue in cheek than stupid humor.

Martin made four Matt Helm movies over a three-year span, all of them fairly successful with audiences to the point a fifth was even brought up.  They're basically all James Bond movies except the name has been changed, and the humor has been ratcheted up a few hundred notches.  Now I say this having seen exactly one of the four, 1966's Murderers' Row, but it's not hard to judge a spy series with Dean Martin as the star.  Here's the formula, Martin drinking, smoking and throwing one-liners, ridiculous bad guys, beautiful women, and exotic locales.  It's all incredibly ridiculous, and still pretty entertaining almost in spite of themselves.

After faking his own death, ICE (Intelligence and CounterEspionage) agent Matt Helm (Martin) is given a mission.  A brilliant scientist has been kidnapped by a madman, Julian Wall (Karl Malden) who wants to use the scientist's abilities to hold the world ransom. The scientist, Dr. Solaris (Richard Eastham), has figured a way to control the power of the sun's rays into a beam of light able to destroy cities in seconds.  Posing as a mob enforcer, Helm heads off to Monte Carlo to look for Solaris and instead meets up with his daughter, Suzie (Ann-Margret), who's also looking for him.  Time seems to be running out though as Wall gets closer to utilizing Solaris' death ray on Washington D.C.

This has all the workings of a Bond story from a crazy plot to take over the world to complicated gadgets that would never actually work.  Then's there Ann-Margret and Swedish babe Camilla Sparv frolicking around in next to nothing for most of the movie in bathing suits, mini-skirts, and lingerie as Helm Girls instead of Bond Girls.  Instead of M, there's McDonald (James Gregory) issuing orders to an agent who does things his own way instead of by the book.  And my personal favorite, a gun that fires on a 10-second delay which does provide some rather humorous -- God, that sounds wrong -- killings.  We even get to meet some of the nameless thugs who usually ran around in the background, except here they get their one or two lines and then they're killed.

Playing super secret agent Matt Helm, Dean Martin seems to be having a ball because let's face it, he's playing himself.  It's almost alarming how much he drinks and smokes on-screen.  He's the American James Bond who's got a reputation for his way with the ladies as well as his unorthodox ways of getting the job done.  An IMDB reviewer points out Martin didn't care much for rehearsing or even reading the scripts, and it doesn't matter in the least.  He doesn't so much have lines to memorize as a series of one-liners meant for laughs throughout the movie.  This may all sound rather negative, but it's anything but.  Martin is one of my all-time favorite entertainers, and he was perfectly cut out to play a roguish, boozing, brawling secret agent.

While it's a lot of fun to watch Martin do his thing, the movie has its fair share of flaws.  One of the strengths of the Bond movies is that the villains and their plans are absolutely nuts, but they're developed at least a little.  Karl Malden is an all-time great actor who is completely wasted here as Julian Wall.  He's not intimidating in the least, his plan is dull, and he never seems to be much of a threat to Helm.  The more interesting villain is Tom Reese as Ironhead, a killer with a iron plate for a skull.  He at least poses a challenge to Helm, especially the way his demise is handled.  You can see it coming miles away, but it's still funny.

There are other flaws here with a story -- or lack of -- that drags in the middle sections.  One very long scene has Margret dancing like crazy in a club while Martin races to rescue her from a broach bomb (that's right, a broach bomb) on her dress.  Check it out HERE.  Some jokes are overplayed and instead of using them once they're reused several times.  These are all minor things, but when added up they get tiresome and kinda annoying.  Still, it's an entertaining enough, mindless movie, and I'll probably check out the other ones too.  You can watch Murderers' Row at Youtube, starting HERE.  A stupid movie but worth seeing for Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, and in general, one of the better spoofs to come out of the Bond series.

Murderers' Row <----trailer (1966): ** 1/2 /****


  1. Hey pallie, likes Mr. Tim what a delightful review of Helmer numero to find 'nother pallie who gets Martin! Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool...oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth. Know that your MR thoughts are bein' shared this very day with all the pallies gathered 'round ilovedinomartin.

  2. Thanks, dino, glad you enjoyed the review! And thanks to for the link!

  3. Hey pallie, likes Mr. Tim no problemo dude...just showin' what we calls some true Dinopalliedom.