Cast & Crew
When American Intelligence learns that an enemy ring led by Tung-Tze is planning to divert an American missile so that it will destroy a vital atomic testing base in the United States, retired secret agent Matt Helm is persuaded to take the case. Clues lead Helm and Tina Batori, his former colleague, to Phoenix, where they witness the murder of Sarita, a strip tease dancer, by a man named Sam Gunther. Before she dies, Sarita gives an American scientist's computer tape to Gail, a woman who had been with Gunther. Helm forces Gail to take them to Tung-Tze's hideout, and there they meet "The Cowboy," a double agent who is the real leader of the spy ring. Helm destroys the equipment designed to divert the missile, kills the members of the spy ring, and goes back into retirement.
Roger C. Carmel
George R. Nelson
Charles J. Rice
The Silencers opens with Helm in retirement. But he's quickly lured back into action by his old partner Tina (Daliah Lavi) who's discovered a plot by Victor Buono of the Big O organization to drop atomic bombs over most major American cities. Since this is clearly not a good thing, Helm sets out to stop the dastardly villains, helped by the delightfully clumsy Gina (Stella Stevens).
In a sense, The Silencers was something of a game of catch-up. At one time producer Irving Allen had a partnership with Albert Broccoli but they parted ways when Broccoli wanted to adapt the Bond novels, something Allen sensed would be a disaster. Well, you've probably heard that the Bond films were definitely not disasters so Allen, along with half the free world, decided to make his own spy films.
The Matt Helm books more or less satisfied Allen's need for a super hero after a few alterations (in the books, for instance, Helm is married with three kids). The Silencers was based on two novels from the Helm series, the first Death of a Citizen and the fourth The Silencers. Along the way the grim tone and sudden violence of the books was replaced by Martin's own style of easy-going charm and comic high jinks. In fact, Herbert Baker, who wrote several Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies, was enlisted for help on the script. Brought in to direct was B-movie veteran Phil Karlson who had a reputation for tough, hard-edged films like The Phenix City Story (1955). At one time, he had planned a tongue-in-cheek spy thriller with Richard Widmark called The Secret Ways but Widmark wanted realism instead of a spoof and despite the director's protests, the star actor got his way. (The Secret Ways (1961) was eventually released without fanfare and failed to attract few filmgoers). Widmark would later change his mind about Karlson's original suggestion: After The Silencers became a big hit, Widmark decided that the time was right to do a comic spy film with Karlson but the director had other plans.
Stella Stevens seems to be perpetually under-rated but few people can bring such comic timing and naturalism to what could have been just another "dumb blonde" role. She's best remembered now for the original The Nutty Professor (1963) but worked with John Cassavetes (Too Late Blues, 1961), Sam Peckinpah (The Ballad of Cable Hogue, 1970) and Peter Bogdanovich (Nickelodeon, 1976), not a bad resume. Also bringing a touch of class to the proceedings were composer Elmer Bernstein, a thirteen time Oscar nominee, and Gene Kelly's dancing partner, Cyd Charrise (her singing in the film is dubbed by Vicki Carr). Israel-born Daliah Lavi is a familiar name to cult buffs for her key roles in another spy spoof Casino Royale (1967) as well as such European productions as Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body (1963). Lavi had been "discovered" by Kirk Douglas when he was filming in Israel; during the 70s she became a popular singer in Germany and eventually gave up acting.
Oddly enough, shooting for The Silencers finished on September 9, 1965, the same day that The Dean Martin Show premiered on TV. When released, The Silencers became a big hit earning $7 million which made it 1966's seventh highest grossing film. Three sequels followed: Murderer's Row (also 1966), Mike Myers' favorite entry in the series - The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1968). A fifth was being planned but Dean Martin felt he had done enough. In 1975 there was a Matt Helm TV show starring Anthony Franciosa; it lasted only one season.
Producer: Irving Allen, James Schmerer (associate producer)
Director: Phil Karlson
Screenplay: Donald Hamilton (novels The Silencers and Death of a Citizen), Oscar Saul
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Costume Design: Moss Mabry
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Principal Cast: Dean Martin (Matt Helm), Stella Stevens (Gail), Daliah Lavi (Tina), Victor Buono (Tung-Tze), Arthur O'Connell (Wigman).
by Lang Thompson
Matt Helm Lounge Set - The Matt Helm Lounge Box Set on DVD
Helm works for a government agency known as I.C.E. (Intelligence and Counter Espionage), the American equivalent of MI-5, though he only works on the rare occasion that the agency can get him to set aside his extracurricular activities: drinking, womanizing, and lounging in a circular bed that will, at the click of a button, glide forward and dump him into an indoor pool.
The first film in the series, The Silencers, finds Helm called out of "retirement" by I.C.E. chief MacDonald (James Gregory of Barney Miller) to track down the head of the evil "Big O" (Bureau of International Government and Order). Big O is lead by Tung-Tze (Victor Buono), who has stolen the timetables for the U.S. Government's underground nuclear tests and plans instigate "Operation Fallout," in which he will use a device of his own design to amplify the blasts and set off World War III! With the help of fellow-agent and certified klutz Gail Hendrix (Stella Stevens), Helm races to stop Tung-Tze before he destroys the world.
Murderers' Row has Helm on the track of a kidnapped inventor Norman Solaris (Richard Eastham), who has created a death ray that can incinerate an entire city. The trail leads to Blofeld-wannabe Julian Wall (Karl Malden), who intends to use the ray to wipe out Washington, D.C. With the help of Solaris' groovy go-go dancing daughter Suzie (Ann-Margaret), Helm infiltrates Wall's remote hideaway to free the doctor and stop Wall. In The Ambushers, yet another criminal mastermind is on hand to steal America's newest superweapon, which just happens to be a flying saucer. Along with sexy fellow agent Sheila Sommers (Janice Rule), Helm fights to retrieve the saucer from evil overlord Leopold Caselius (Albert Salmi) and femme-fatale Francesca Madeiros (Senta Berger), who comes equipped with drugged lipstick.
The last film in the series, The Wrecking Crew, features Nigel Green as Count Massimo Contini, another criminal mastermind who has successfully stolen a trainload of gold bullion, leaving the U.S. and England on the brink of economic collapse. Along with gorgeous but accident prone agent Freya Carlson (Sharon Tate), Helm is dispatched to attempt to retrieve the gold,. Fully aware of Helm's proclivities, Contini sends out two beautiful accomplices, Linka Karensky (Elke Sommer) and Wen Yu-Rang (Nancy Kwan), to get rid of him.
The Matt Helm series is a bewildering quartet of films for the time in which they were made: with the British invasion already having transformed the music industry virtually overnight, and the country rocked by social upheaval as American youth rebelled against the social order, Martin and his Rat Pack cronies were becoming increasingly anachronistic. While buddy Frank Sinatra was attempting to turn back the clock with his "Tony Rome" films (Tony Rome, Lady in Cement), which at least had the courage of their convictions, the Matt Helm films try to meld the Pack's cool, gin-soaked personae with the youth-oriented "mod" world. The result is something like putting Olivia Newton John and Gene Kelly together in Xanadu. The only possible appeal was to the quickly dwindling backyard luau crowd, who had long since worn out their copies of Arthur Lyman's Taboo.
Martin, who was capable of some fine acting, tried here to bring the same lackadaisical, laid-back charm to the big screen that audiences were enjoying on his popular weekly television variety show, produced at the same time as these films: but what worked so well on the small screen is disastrous on the big screen, particularly in a genre that requires a more high-wattage performance to make it funny. Martin sleep-walks through the films as if he were laying back on his television couch and crooning a chorus of "Welcome to My World."
And the passage of time has been even less kind to the series: at a distance of forty years what little charm the films had to 60s audiences has long since been forgotten. The best of the lot is The Silencers, mainly due to Stella Stevens' hilarious performance as the goofy Hendrix. Janice Rule nearly steals The Ambushers from Martin, if for no other reason than that she appears to have been awake during the filming; and the underrated Elke Sommer seems to be the only one of the bunch with a full grasp of what kind of film she's in.
In the end, the best that can be said about the Mat Helm series is that they are marginally better than the Salt & Pepper films.
For more information about Matt Helm Lounge, visit Sony Pictures. To order Matt Helm Lounge, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
Matt Helm Lounge Set - The Matt Helm Lounge Box Set on DVD
Released in United States 1966
Released in United States 1966