Dean Martin, these were spoofs that had some fun with the spy movie that was at the height of its popularity thanks to the success of the James Bond franchise. In the last week or so, TCM had a spoof night and wouldn't you know it, another Matt Helm movie was on. Having already jumped into these movies mid-series, I caught up with the first Helm movie, 1966's The Silencers.
Mulling over what to write about this one, all I could come up is that this wasn't going to be a very long review. Judging by the two movies I've seen in the series, these are basically cookie-cutter variations on themselves. To a point, the Bond movies are like that too, but there's almost always something unique, something different in each entry. Not so much with the Helm movies. I didn't think Murderers' Row was that good, but I gave it a lukewarm positive review because it was still mildly entertaining. As for The Silencers, it wasn't nearly as good, not even close.
Brought out of retirement, ICE agent Matt Helm (Martin) is given a dangerous mission that involves the prevention of the destruction of the world....well, sort of. Supervisor MacDonald (James Gregory) informs him that an organization called Big O (oh, that's too easy) has a plan to explode an atomic bomb over an American nuclear site in Alamogordo, and that Helm must stop the plan. Working with an old partner/fling, Tina (Daliah Lavi), Helm heads to meet an agent who may have key information on the plan, but she's killed and the only suspect is a ditzy redhead, Gail Hendricks (Stella Stevens). Working with Gail, all Helm has is a phrase mumbled before the agent's death to work off of and time is running out.
This is one of the more pointless plotlines I've ever come across in a movie. It takes quite awhile to even get the story to a point where something is revealed, and then Helm spends the next half hour seducing every woman he meets. Then with 15 or 20 minutes left, it seems director Phil Karlson remembered they had to wrap things up and gets back to the story. Everything is wrapped up nicely with a bow, and voila, let's move on to the next 3 Matt Helm movies. I'm not looking for a Bond-esque twisting and turning storyline, but something, anything at all would be nice.
This was Martin at the absolute height of his popularity with his Rat Pack fame turning into a variety show that aired for almost 10 years. The same thing I wrote for Murderers' Row applies here with Martin playing himself and doing a lot of drinking and seducing whenever he gets the chance and singing much of the soundtrack -- including one good dig at Frank Sinatra. I'd have to go back and watch, but I'd bet no more than a minute goes by whenever he meets a woman from being introduced to kissing her. If you thought James Bond got around, all I can say is check out Matt Helm. And then there's the drinking, including one very dated scene where Helm is guzzling scotch while at the wheel of his -- wait for it -- secret agent station wagon dubbed 'the sex wagon' by Stevens' Gail. Not exactly an Aston Martin if you ask me.
With that flimsy storyline, it seems a waste to misuse this great cast. Gregory is the straight man, always shaking his head at Helms' antics, and Lavi is the sex kitten with a past with Helms. In the few movies I've seen with her, Stevens shows a knack for comedic timing, but here she's the clueless ditz along for the ride. Of those movies, this does continue a trend of having her in the slinkiest costumes around. Also here for this debacle are Robert Webber and Arthur O'Connell as O agents with Victor Buono as an Asian O mastermind behind the diabolical plan. None of these typically solid actors is given much to do and are generally wasted.
There are some funny moments, like a gun that fires backwards and turns Stevens into a hardcore spy too once she figures it out, but overall this movie is easily forgettable. All I'm looking for in a spy spoof is some laughs here and there, but even in that department this one fails. Now I'm wary of checking out the other two Matt Helm movies. If nothing else, they can't be as bad as this one.
The Silencers <----TCM clips (1966): * 1/2 /****