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Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Sony released the four Dean Martin Matt Helm movies in a box set called "Matt Helm Lounge" on standard DVD a while ago. The titles are "The Silencers", "Murderer's Row", "The Ambushers" and "The Wrecking Crew". The other series called "Martini Movies" (i.e. "The Anderson Tapes") would've been a more appropriate title for this set.

This is one of those cases where I got a real kick out of the movies but it's difficult to recommend them unless you like this type of camp. I will say if you enjoy the "Austin Powers" series and "Get Smart" TV show they will probably amuse you. Otherwise you might shake your head in astonishment of how bad they are. But bad can be fun if you'e in the right frame of mind.

The other prerequisite for enjoying these pictures is if you like Dean Martin's 'Rat Pack' persona and haven't read the legitimate spy novels they were based on. Fans of those books hate these features.

First you have to know some background on Dino Crocetti who adopted the name "Dean
Martin" when he became a singer after a brief prizefighing career. His friends called him
"Dino" which was his nickname for the media. Dean has a very unique way of putting over a song. Very laidback with unusual phrasing and more often than not, he sounded like he was trying to seduce a woman. Dean was a good looking guy but with a large nose which undermined his appearance. Lou Costello was a fan of the singer and paid to have his nose fixed. He probably regretted it in the long run because in some clubs he was performing in, a young comedian named Jerry Lewis did a heckling routine that amused audiences. Dean played along with it, brought him on stage with him and before you know it...a new comedy team was created that later replaced the aging Abbott and Costello as the top partnership in the fifties.

Dean and Jerry moved into features and made a popular series of films together from
1949 through 1956. Many were in Technicolor and I reviewed a box set of some of
them elsewhere for reference. They were a strange team in that many people today
cannot understand why they were so popular because Lewis utilized an annoying,
whiny fake voice as part of his act. Dean holds up fine in these movies as an ultra
cool womanizer. I think they're amusing in small doses but the relationship and banter
between them isn't as univeral as Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy.

The team didn't get along that well and were barely on speaking terms by the time
they made "Hollywood or Bust" which was their last picture together. Curiously,
it's one of their best and they work fine together in this swan song. After the split,
Lewis went on to work a solo act which at first wasn't too bad but as time went on
the quality of his movies got worse and worse until he fizzled out. Everyone assumed
Dino was history after the break up but the opposite happened. Martin became more
and more popular as a single than when he was with Jerry. His later career split into three
categories. The first was his singing career. Dean was a very popular crooner and his
records had a broad demographic appeal and some of his vinyls outsold the "Beatles"
records. Songs like "Baby, It's Cold Outside" are very entertaining tunes with lots of
sexual innuendo which became his trademark. For adult women it sounded like he was
trying to seduce them directly. For young and older men it sounded like a primer on
how to score which was more useful than "I Wanna Hold Your Hand".

Martin also had a career as a movie actor and against all odds, he wasn't a bad
one either. When he wanted to, Dean could act and he gave very good dramatic
performances in movies like "Rio Bravo", "The Young Lions" and "Some Came Running"
which surprised critics. Lewis didn't give a good dramatic performance until decades
later in "The King of Comedy" which also suprised both fans and detractors.

But it was the third part of his career that he seems known for by most people which
was his "Rat Pack" persona. In this venue he did his variety show, a series of features
with his cronies in the pack (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop)
and these Matt Helm movies.

It was probably inevitable that Dean would do a spy series since after the release of
"Dr. No" came a 'spy craze' that lasted until the late sixties. As I detailed in earlier
posts, cinemas and TV was glutted with both legitimate espionage series ("Ipcress
File", "I Spy") and tongue in cheek spoofs ("Our Man Flint", "Get Smart").
The Matt Helm series is prehaps the most outrageous of all. Not a second of any of these pictures is meant to be taken seriously and unlike the Austin Powers lampoons, these are the real McCoys with lots of sixties cultural references and inside jokes. You'll either find them a riot or excrutiating to sit through.

To enjoy this box set you have like Dean's Rat Pack 'act'. Dean pretended he was inebriated and and was rarely without a martini and cigarette in his hand. The smoking gave him lung cancer in the long run. As he told interviewers later on, he didn't drink while he worked but wanted to give that impression. This was to justify his bloopers (blowing lines, looking at the audience) in his club act in Las Vegas, variety series and these movies. Martin didn't like to rehearse and preferred to just show up then spit out his lines with a smirk and wink (often slightly slurred). So if you find that funny, you'll like these movies. None of them have anything to do with the books or character they were based on, similar to the Roger Moore Bond films which just used the titles and name but nothing else from the novels.

The scripts of these four movies have to be heard to be believed. Basically they are
a string of risque and raunchy puns. For example, in the first few scenes of "The Ambushers" I lost track of how many breast jokes they worked into the dialogue since the female lead has guns that can shoot from the tip of her bra. So that's the level of humor in these things. But...I ended up laughing in spite of it or perhaps in disbelief.

Since they are all bascially the same story and 'act' spread over four features there
isn't much to say about them individually other than they all have vibrant color (like
the Bond movies), absurd weapons (bullet shooting bras, coat buttons that are grenades), terrible stunt work (Dean cannot fight convincingly even though was a prizefighter) and hammy acting by the villains (Victor Buono, Karl Malden).

I guess I could rate the female leads in terms of sex appeal and performance...and I don't
mean acting abilities. Ann Margret is the hottest of the lot doing her 'sex kitten' act
from "Bye Bye Birdie" in "Murderer's Row". Stella Stevens is the funniest playing a
accident prone, klutzy femme fatale in "The Silencers" which is the best of the series.
Janice Rule looks a bit bewildered and out of place in "The Ambushers" but she can
act compared to some of the other starlets that roam around clueless in the background.

The funniest part of these movies is Dino's bachelor pad which has a round bed that is
automated to slide him into a pool where his secretary is always waiting for him naked.
These movies are 'politically incorrect' in the extreme which is another aspect that is
amusing. Aside from his non-stop womanizing and chain smoking, Dino has a portable bar in his sports car and drinks and drives. Pretty outrageous stuff. Another common factor are the dream sequences. Each movie has Dean dreaming about his conquests while they work in some of his pop tunes on the soundtracks. All of the women wear wacky outfits in these fantasies. Like most matinee idols back then, all of Dean's body hair was shaved off which I always found a bizarre trend. It gives an adult man the body of an adolescent. Each movie ends with a title card stating that "Matt Helm will return in..." as did the Bond films. However, he quit the series after the fourth installment even though it announces "The Ravagers" as the next feature. The reason is very disturbing.

The female lead in "The Wrecking Crew" was Sharon Tate whom Dean became close
friends with. Tate was massacred by the Charles Manson cult and they used her
blood to write 'Helter Skelter' on the walls of the house. This so upset Martin
that he didn't want to continue the series. Another creepy footnote is that Dean's
son "Dino" appears as a guest star in "Murderer's Row". Dino was killed in a plane
crash in 1987. So two tragic deaths hang over this series somewhat undermining the
fun. I only add that while I hate to speak ill of the dead, Sharon Tate was a terrible actress and the worst female lead in the series.

All four discs are in the 16:9 format anamorphically enhanced with 2 channel mono
sound. They look and sound like a typical sixties spy film which means garish color
and acceptable audio but they didn't have the original separate mix elements to
create a new 5.1 track as they did with the Bond movies. As with most films of
that era, the optical effects and stock footage are very grainy.

So I cauciously recommend them providing you understand all the provisos detailed

In summary picture quality B +, sound design B, cinematography B +,
performances, story and screenplay...beyond criticism.

526 Posts
Wow, I never knew all ofthat, but I agree with you. These filma are beyond criticism. I grew up becoming a huge Sean Connery fan. Then there was Our Man flint, and In like Flint with that crazy phone!! Then, there was the Matt helm movies. Listen, these in my book are all for fun, not to be taken to seriously, spoofs on the Bond stuff.

I`ll by them all!!

Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·

A writer for the fanzine called "Ghastly Horror" is doing a survey of
what really frightens people. So he gets a camcorder and interviews
a set of strangers in Times Square asking them that question. After
the article is published each of the subjects primal fears come true.

It was photographed in 35mm in the 1:85 (16:9) ratio and was mixed
in 5.1 surround sound. Lots of over the top gore and stylish use of

Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks. I'll let everyone know when we have a screening and/or make
a video deal. And it is very bizarre with some off the wall gore effects.
But it's not a splatter movie. I did spend some screen time developing
the characters so the audience has some stake in their fate. The only
thing left to do is the commentary but I'm still tracking down other
participants to try to get them recorded before I fill in the rest with
my take on it.
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