Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: Murderers’ Row (1966)

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

Review:

“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 WaterfrontA 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.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersThe Ambushers or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: The Silencers (1966)

Release Date: February 18th, 1966
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Oscar Saul
Based on: The Silencers and Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, Roger C. Carmel

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

the_silencersReview:

I didn’t even know about this film until recently, when I discovered it on a list of recommended movies on a tikiphile message board. I also discovered, after watching it, that there are two sequels.

The Silencers is a damn fun movie! It stars Dean Martin as a playful James Bond wannabe. In fact, the film is a parody of James Bond movies and the popular spy genre of the time. Truthfully, it is better than some of the films it parodies and as hammy as Martin was, he still didn’t cross the line like Roger Moore. I really love Roger Moore, by the way.

I guess this movie can be best described as sort of the Austin Powers of the 1960s. It also is a part of a trilogy like those Powers films. The thing is, this is much better than any Austin Powers or Mike Myers movie could ever dream to be. It isn’t gratuitously stupid and it has stood the test of time better. It is a more authentic feeling parody. Although, coming out in the same era as those films, probably has a lot to do with it feeling more true to the vibe and style of the spy genre.

Dean Martin is great as super spy Matt Helm. He has a sense of humor and a wit that few can match. I guess this is why he was so successful at hosting those celebrity roasts in the old days. In fact, there is a great moment in this film where he casually roasts his best buddy Frank Sinatra.

Martin has two leading ladies, because which super spy doesn’t have at least two? Both did really well with the material. I thought the performance by Stella Stevens was a step above Daliah Lavi but they both put in solid performances.

Being a fan of the 1966 Batman television series, I was really excited to see Victor Buono (who played the villain King Tut on that show) as the sinister Tung-Tze. We also got Roger C. Carmel (who played the villain Colonel Gumm in Batman and Harry Mudd on the original Star Trek) as a top ranking henchman.

The Silencers literally had me laughing out loud several times. Dean Martin was suave and hilarious throughout the entire picture. Few men have ever matched his swagger and those that did were already in the Rat Pack.