Sunday, April 20, 2008
Coming Soon! Matt Helm Week!
This week on the Spec, I'll be posting a series of entries on the most ridiculously awesome spy movie series of the 60s: The Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin.
The four films--The Silencers, Murderers' Row, The Ambushers, and The Wrecking Crew--were released over the course of three years (1967-69) during the height of the James Bond craze. While they lack much of the quality that many spy movies of the period had, they make up for that by being contagiously fun. Dean Martin functions here in the mode that he followed for his tv series: he clearly isn't trying very hard, and most of the time he's reading his lines off of cue cards, but his personality carries him a long way. And the films do a great job of playing off the hard-partying persona he developed during this period of his career.
In fact, a lot of Dean Martin purists dislike these movies because he seems to be wasting his talents. However, I always felt that one of Dean's many talents--and perhaps his most endearing one--was that he never seemed to work harder than he had to. So, while he certainly could act, as he proved in The Young Lions, Some Came Running, Rio Bravo, and elsewhere, his talents were such that he could easily coast on his personality alone. Plus, he gets to sing a lot in these movies.
The movies also benefit from having some incredible leading ladies, including Ann-Margret, Sharon Tate, Stella Stevens, Janice Rule, Senta Berger, Camilla Sparv, Elke Sommer, and Daliah Lavi.
Here's the great opening sequence from the first Matt Helm movie, The Silencers. The music is by Elmer Bernstein, who may be slumming a bit here. Cyd Charisse performs the theme song.
This sequence captures the feeling of unbridled hedonism that these movies all celebrate. When the stripper opens her top to reveal the film's title, you know exactly what you're going to get.
And the line, "And she's 38 where it is great to measure 38"--I really don't know what to say about that, except it makes me happy.
The opening credit sequence for the second film, Murderers' Row, features music by Lalo Schifrin. The music may be better here, but the sequence contains less stripping. The design resembles a more generic 60s spy movie style than the earlier movie does, too.
So, tomorrow we'll start Matt Helm Week off with The Silencers.