Release Date: December 20th, 1966
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: Murderers’ Row by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Camilla Sparv, Dean Paul Martin, Desi Arnaz Jr.
Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes
“Well what shall I do with the costume?” – Miss January, “Drop it in the ashtray.” – Matt Helm
Man, I really love these Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin. There is also four of them so this is really a quadrilogy of James Bond parodies three decades before the more famous parody trilogy Austin Powers.
Dean Martin is just the epitome of cool, even more so than anyone who ever played the James Bond character. Martin existed on an otherworldly level when it came to cool and because of that, these films sort of have an edge even on the James Bond franchise. Well, at least in the realm of pure coolness.
They also have a ’60s go-go vibe, mixed with a Tiki aesthetic and feel like they could fit within the same universe as the 1960s Batman television show. These movies are fun, entertaining and pretty hilarious. Martin is just a lovable guy, even with his womanizing ways. He exudes a certain kind of panache that is missing in modern times because such characters aren’t considered “socially acceptable” anymore. While some may consider Dean Martin a relic of a bygone chauvinistic era, I think he’s a harmless and wholesome guy that just appreciates a pretty girl and isn’t afraid to express his admiration. Granted, if he existed today, he’d probably be one of the dozens upon dozens of Hollywood men accused of something naughty.
In this film, Martin is joined by Ann-Margret, who was a mega star at the time. Despite the significant age difference, which was never really an issue for James Bond, it was cool seeing Dean Martin and Ann-Margret come together and star in this film, almost working as a tandem in the second half of the story.
Karl Malden plays the villain and he was a well-known veteran actor at the time that brought some extra gravitas and legitimacy to this production. While his role here wasn’t as challenging as his roles in On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire or Patton, he looked to be having fun and he really brought something to the picture that was lacking in the first film, even though I liked Victor Buono as the bad guy in that one.
These Matt Helm movies aren’t necessarily cinematic masterpieces but they are a blast to watch. Dean Martin was always great but I love seeing him play a fun loving super spy probably more than any other role he’s had. And as much as I loved the first film, this one is a wee bit better.
Pairs well with: The Silencers, The Ambushers or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.