Likes this Mr. Johnson shares a marvelous missive of powerful prose and potent pixs in his excitin' essay tagged "The Male Ego: The Silencers (1966)." Robb does the most awesome analysis of the first Helmer taggin' his excellent efforts "The Male Ego: The Silencers (1966). It's crystal clear that Johnson really "gets Martin" and we deeply digs this Dino-thought of his that we used to tag this Dino-gram..." Matt Helm actually became Dean Martin for the film rather than Martin becoming Helm." Likes, ain't that the superbly simple and absolutely awesome Dino-truth!
And, the screen caps that Robb has shared to illustrate the powerful pleasures of this Dino-epic are top drawer in our book dudes! We are stunnin'ly smitten 'specially by one of these coolest of cool caps....the moment when our Dino as Matt Helm begins takin' off Miss Stella Stevens as Miss Gail Hendricks wet stockin's in his sexmobile....likes, if you looks closely pallies youse can see clearly that our Dino's smoke of choice is Kents as you will see on the right his pack of smokes and lighter...and the pack sez "KENT."
Likes our only saddness is that we didn't happen 'pon this powerfully potent Helmer post 'til most recently when it first appeared over three years 'go on "B-Movie Detective by Det. Abilene." Indeed we solemnly salute blogger Mr. Robb Johnson for one of the bestest of best reviews of a Matt Helm flick that we have ever had the privilege of devourin'! To checks this out in it's original source, simply clicks on the tag of this here Dino-gram.
Yours in Dino,
Dino Martin Peters
28 May 2013
The Male Ego: The Silencers (1966)
The basic plot: Matt Helm (Dean Martin) is a semi-retired secret service agent for ICE (US Department of Intelligence and Counter Espionage, who is pulled back into the spy game by his former boss MacDonald (James Gregory) in order to stop the major criminal organization the BIGO (pronounced “big o”) and its central villainous mastermind Tung-Tze (Victor Buono) – who has hatched a typically convoluted plan to detonate an Atom Bomb in New Mexico. Helm has access to an outlandish assortment of gadgets and gizmos to assist him in his mission as well has help from sultry fellow ICE agent Tina (Daliah Lavi) and the bumbling klutz Gail Hendricks (Stella Stevens), who may (or may not) be a enemy agent working with BIGO.
Det. Abilene’s rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Analysis: First published in 1960, the character of Matt Helm as created by author Donald Hamilton is a tough-as-nails assassin for the US government and his primary tasks usually involve terminating enemy agents. The Helm book series ran from ’60-’93 and consists of 27 novels and they almost instantly became noted for their gritty realism and then-shocking violence (Helm was known to torture even women in order to complete the job). Matt Helm finally made it to the big screen with this film in February of ’66, when the James Bond-fueled spy craze was at its absolute peak with literally hundreds of other spy stories flooding both film and television simultaneously. The Matt Helm of this film, however, bears virtually no similarity to character that appeared in Hamilton’s original novels, as the realistic espionage tales penned by Hamilton has become a cartoon-like cotton candied spy spoof here in The Silencers.
Supposedly, film producer Irving Allen decided to mount the film a spoof and play the adventure for comedy because he was well aware that there was no way that he could compete with the spectacular James Bond productions produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman – the exact same was true for Fox’s Saul David-produced Our Man Flint (released only one month before The Silencers) which was similarly played with tongue in cheek. It should be noted with a great deal of irony that Allen was once partners with Broccoli and they ended their professional relationship with Broccoli became insistent upon making Ian Fleming’s James Bond character into a feature film and Allen famous insulted Fleming’s Bond novels as “not good enough for television.” Allen may very well have regretted that decision after the Bond film series became a top-grossing phenomenon in the mid-sixties and apparently purchased the film rights to the Helm character in an attempt to launch his own spy series. Allen hired director Phil Karlson (best known at the time for directing the Elvis Presley vehicle Kid Galahadand would later direct the massively successful 1973 biopic Walking Tall) to push the film even further into comedic territory and cast none other than singer/actor/television personality Dean Martin in the lead role (Martin also successfully insisted on becoming a co-producer on The Silencers and the future Helm films).
It is a “chicken / egg” scenario as to whether the film’s Matt Helm came to resemble a boozy, womanizing Vegas-like lounge lizard before or after Dean Martin was cast in the role. In fact, the film’s portrayal of Helm is so similar to Martin’s own public personae that the film makes it seems as though Matt Helm actually became Dean Martin for the film rather than Martin becoming Helm. In between playing spy and stopping the bad guys, Martin gets to romance no less than four beautiful women, drink lots of bubbly, make plenty of wisecracks (with even an admittedly funny swipe at real-life pal Frank Sinatra) and even sing snippets of no less 11 songs. Regardless of how none of this even remotely resembled Hamilton’s Helm, film audiences loved it in 1966 as the film grossed over $16 million the US box office (a healthy sum at the time and more than $111 million in 2012 dollars if adjusted for inflation) leading to three more films with Martin as Helm (a fifth Helm film was planned but Martin decided enough was enough), and the Martin-as-Helm film series served as one of the major inspirations for Mike Myers’ popular Austin Powers trilogy of films.
In spite of its popularity and influence on the spy parody sub-genre, The Silencers is often harshly criticized by modern audiences and especially by fans of the original novels. As a fan of the entire mid-sixties spy entertainment, I’ve always enjoyed The Silencers and find it to be a more entertaining spoof than 1967’s Casino Royale and almost as successful as Our Man Flint – though admittedly not nearly as funny as television’s “Get Smart” (1965-1970). The film is nominally based of Hamilton’s first and fourth Helm books, Death of a Citizen (in which Helm most find his own kidnapped daughter) and The Silencers (in which Helms saves a group of US Congressmen and scientists) but the film only borrows a few elements from the novels and then largely disregards the plots of both books in favor of storyline somewhat similar to the inaugural James Bond film Dr. No (1962), with chief villain Tung-Tze obviously created in the vein of Joseph Wiseman’s portrayal of the title villain in that first Bond cinematic outing. The screenplay by Oscar Saul (with some additional punching up by Herbert Baker, who would pen the scripts for the next two Helm films) follows the regular espionage outline effectively enough to hang the various puns and sight gags on and most of the jokes here work well enough to at least bring a smile.
The film opens with an amusing send up of Maurice Bender’s famous credit sequences for the Bond films with various stripers stripping during the opening credits and the gorgeous Cyd Charisse (who was still a sexy knockout at age 45 when this film was shot) lip-synching to pop singer Vikki Car’s recording of the memorable title song. The film’s art direction by Joe Wright and set decoration by George R. Nelson amps the already grandiose spy movie spectacle to a hilariously ridiculous degree, and pushes the film’s realty even further into the realm of cartoon fantasy. Helm’s revolving circular bed, swimming pool-sized bathtub, cylinder contact dryers, etc. have become iconic staples of mid-sixties bachelor pad neo-futurism. Even the lame sight of Helm traveling in a station wagon (what kind of smooth, swinging, womanizing superspy drives a station wagon?) is somewhat redeemed by containing a both a mattress and a fully-stocked bar.
The cast is well-chosen assortment, with Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, and Robert Webber particularly fun in archly stereotypical performances of spy movie stock characters and Beverly Adams is also funny as Helm’s assistant named Lovey Kravezit (not nearly as outlandish a name as Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore, but points for effort). The only character that truly breaks cliché is James Gregory playing Helm’s boss as a more sensitive type, a somewhat refreshing change from the typical hard-boiled characterization that is usually the hallmark of such characters. Best of all, however, is the adorable Stella Stevens who takes on the well-worn role of the klutz ditz (never a favorite of feminist critics and audiences) and brings genuine heart and pathos to potentially one-note role. Taking pot shots and pratfalls that would scare off even some of the most physical of comediennes, Stevens makes a sincere connection with the audience and delivers a truly Award-worthy comic performance that stands as probably the female portrayal in any of the various spy spoofs before or since.
As for Martin himself, our male ego of the review, his performance as Helm in all four Helm movies has been largely criticized as lazy and apathetic, but I don’t feel that such criticism is valid. Martin, who was then riding high on his own self-titled variety television series (1965-1974), was cast on the basis of his own public personae (for an example of Martin really acting then be sure to check out his exceptional dramatic performance in 1958’s The Young Lions) and this largely works in the film’s favor. Martin’s innate charisma and handsome good looks lend the film an easygoing charm that’s awful hard to resist, and (even at age 49) his Italian machismo remains quite sexy – he still looks quite smashing whether in a turtleneck and dinner jacket or simply bare-chested. He may not bear the slightest resemblance to the Matt Helm of Hamilton’s novels, but Martin is still tops when it comes to comedic, swinging superspies!
If there is sad postscript to spy spoofs like the Helm and Flint movies, it is that their success made mounting a serious, realistic espionage tale more difficult for filmmakers in the following decade. Case in point, even the James Bond series eventually succumbed to parody in the Roger Moore-led seventies outings like silly box office blockbusters The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) – it wouldn’t be until 1981’s For Your Eyes Only that the Bond series would get serious again and that Moore would finally have a sincere outing as the character. Matt Helm himself would also get another chance for a more serious treatment when the character was dusted off for a television series in 1975 starring Anthony Franciosa in the title role. Although the television show was dramatic in nature, the series was little more than a routine detective show and only lasted 13 episodes before cancellation.
Bottom Line: One of the classic ‘60s spy spoofs, The Silencers bears virtually no relation to the gritty Matt Helm novels on which is nominally based but it works on its own merits as a comedy. Dean Martin is one of the ultimate swinger spies and Stella Stevens delivers an Award-worthy comedic performance.