Monday, April 28, 2008

Matt Helm Week: Murderers' Row Part 2!

One of the main reasons why Murderers' Row stands above the other three Matt Helm movies is the presence of Ann-Margret. She is clearly the best actress of all the Helm girls (though Janice Rule in The Ambushers is more talented than the role deserves), and she seems to be having the most fun. Her character is also not written as a total airhead who serves as more of a hindrance than a help to Matt Helm, as happens with Stella Stevens in the previous movie and Sharon Tate in the final one.

Here is one of her early scenes which helps to establish her character and shows her wearing an awesome blue feathery night dress.

Another element that makes Murderers' Row the best of the series is its liberal use of hovercrafts, climaxing in an exciting hovercraft chase. The combination of awesome elements--Ann-Margret and hovercrafts--however, reaches its peak in a truly amazing action scene that is the highlight of the series and one of the high points in my entire movie-viewing career.

In a twist that would later be adopted for the movie Speed, the BIG O tries to eliminate Ann-Margret with a bomb that explodes when it reaches a particular speed. Here, however, the bomb is planted in a broach, and it's meant to reach its top speed while she is dancing. The faster she gyrates, ... well, you understand. Her dancing is incredibly frenetic and particularly exhausting to this particular viewer.

Helm, meanwhile, drives a hovercraft through the streets of Monte Carlo in order to reach the discotheque in time to save her. He then rushes into the club and, demonstrating the quick thinking that is characteristic of the super agent, rips the dress off of Ann-Margret and throws it at the wall. (This is also a common trope in the Matt Helm movies, where he is frequently forced to tear off a woman's dress.) The scene ends with a perfect coda: Helm throws the exploding dress at a projected image of Frank Sinatra on the wall, and Matt issues an apology to the Chairman: "Sorry, Frank."

Consistent with the previous film, the gadgets here are typically useless. Helm's car has a scrolling marquee on the back that sends voice-operated messages to anyone following him. And like the backwards-firing gun of the previous film, Helm gets a gun that shoots 10 seconds after the trigger is pulled. What usually happens here: Helm pulls the trigger, nothing happens, and the villain picks up the gun and looks at it, only to get the bullet himself.

Also, the villainous Coco Duquette (Camilla Sparv) has a freeze gun, which first seems only useful for chilling drinks--an essential task in these films--but later Helm uses it as a weapon to freeze BIG O thugs. This is a highly inefficient weapon, as it takes at least 10 seconds to freeze someone.

At one point in the movie, Coco reveals what is clearly Matt Helm's kryptonite: he is easily susceptible to drugged drinks, and this proves to be his weakness in other movies (also of note in the series: drugged lipstick, bombs hidden in bottles of booze). As noted in the last post, drinking is also Helm's "identifying characteristic," and he intentionally gives away his identity by grabbing a drink and kissing Coco.

When finally captured by the villainous Julian Wall (Karl Malden), Helm tries to send his boss, MacDonald, a secret message about an enemy agent that has infiltrated ICE. In order to tip off MacDonald that something is wrong, Helm mentions that he is enjoying a nice glass of bourbon. MacDonald immediately catches the tip, as he knows Helm never drinks bourbon. Therefore, we must conclude that, as often as his alcoholism gets him into trouble, it also saves him.

The concluding hovercraft chase is as exciting as one can imagine, and it must have caused a significant increase in the film's budget over the previous entry. In the end, Matt Helm and Ann-Margret are rescued from their out-of-control hovercraft by MacDonald in a helicopter, and Ann-Margret must, of course, cling to Helm's pants as they are pulled to safety, revealing Helm's cute heart boxers.

Here, for comparative purposes, are the two endings of Murderers' Row and The Silencers, respectively.

As we can see in each case, Matt Helm and his lady both end up wet, so to speak. The ending of Murderers' Row, however, is enhanced by the presence of the Slaygirls, who must spend their time hanging out in Matt Helm's pad waiting for him to come home. It should also be noted that they are still wearing their calender costumes.

And as the finale of Murderers' Row promises, Matt Helm (and Dr. K) will return in The Ambushers!


dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Dr. K, more stellar review of Dino's finest flick ever....and as you says Miss Ann-Margret is a very fine piece of the action...loves when our Dino rips off her dress to save her how cool is that...and throws the cloth at frankie's pix and sez "Sorry Frank." Thanks for helpin' to Dinoeducate the masses 'bout the wonders of Matt Helm and "Murders' Row" in Dinoparticular. Can't wait for your next Dinoinstallment...

Rogue Spy 007 said...

Another great post about the coolest of all the Matt Helm spy flicks. A big part of that is due to Ann-Margret. She's my favorite female star of the 60's. I love her in this movie. She and Dino have such great chemistry together. I do love when he's going down the street in the hovercraft to save a dancing A-M from blowing up. He rips her dress off, throwing it up at the picture of Sinatra. That's hilarious. The gadgets do tend to be pretty useless in these films, but that's what is so hilarious about them. It is neat that drinking gets Dino in and out of trouble in these films. Great video clips. I wish I had a pad like Dino's Matt Helm, with all those beautiful chicks waiting there for me.

Anonymous said...

Ann-Margret seems to vacillate in this movie; in some scenes, she does her cutesy girly-girl act. Then, especially toward the end, she turns into the most competent and efficient heroine the movie series ever had. (She even rescues Helm.) Maybe the writers made up the script as they went along.

Jack Yan said...

The Lalo Schifrin score also raises Murderers' Row above the other three. There's great pace throughout, and the Riviera locations are gorgeous (I realize there's no evidence of the lead actors being anywhere near Europe). Easily my favourite Matt Helm film.