Matt Helm audio books coming in August

Matt Helm cover image that debuted with 1963's The Ambushers novel

Matt Helm cover image that debuted with 1963′s The Ambushers novel

Audio book versions of Donald Hamilton’s first five Matt Helm novels are coming in August.

Death of a Citizen, The Wrecking Crew, The Removers, The Silencers and Murderers’ Row will make their audio book debut on Aug. 26 and cost $49 each. You can CLICK HERE for ordering information.

The five novels were published 1960 to 1962. They were part of a 27-book series, with the last published in 1993. Titan Books returned the Helm series to print in 2011.

For a detailed description of the first five novels, you can check out The Matt Helm Dossier’s descriptions of Death of a Citizen, The Wrecking Crew, The Removers, The Silencers and Murderers’ Row.

You can CLICK HERE for the website’s list of all of the Helm books.

E-book on the Matt Helm films now available

Dean Martin as Matt Helm with Stella Stevens in The Silencers.

Dean Martin as Matt Helm in The Silencers.

There’s an new e-book about the four-film Matt Helm series available. Bruce Scivally has written Booze, Bullets & Broads: The Story of Matt Helm, Superspy of the Mad Men Era.

Scivally previously worked on John Cork-directed documentaries of the James Bond films that were part of DVD extras. He and Cork also wrote James Bond: The Legacy, a coffee table book that came out last decade.

Here’s the description from the new e-book’s AMAZON.COM LISTING:

The story of Matt Helm, spy of the Mad Men era. After his creation by Donald Hamilton, Helm went from being a literary rival of James Bond to being a cinematic rival with the production of four movies starring crooner Dean Martin as a woozy, boozy secret agent. Produced by Irving Allen, the former partner of 007 film producer Cubby Broccoli, the Helm movies influenced not only the Bond films but also Austin Powers, and remain a “guilty pleasure” viewing favorite of red-blooded males everywhere.

We’ve written before how the first Helm movie, The Silencers, had THE BIGGEST EFFECT ON THE 007 FILM SERIES from rival movies because Dean Martin got a bigger paycheck than Sean Connery. Allen made Dino a partner in the enterprise. Soon after, Connery began demanding not only more money but to be a partner in the Bond films. 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman resisted the partnership demand, contributing to Connery’s departure after You Only Live Twice.

Also, according to film historian Adrian Turner, some at United Artists were keen on Phil Karlson to direct Dr. No. But Karlson’s asking price was $75,000, which helped Terence Young get the job. Karlson ended up directing The Silencers and The Wrecking Crew, the final Helm movie.

For the Scivally e-book, the price is $2.99. You can download it for free if you’re a Prime Member of Amazon.

Matt Helm prequel available

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

Death Of a Citizen, the original Matt Helm novel.

A prequel novel to Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series of novels is out.

Matt Helm: the War Years is AVAILABLE ON KINDLE. The author, Keith Wease, says he has permission of the Hamilton family. Here’s how he described it on Amazon.com:

Although a cold-blooded killer, Matt Helm has a superb sense of humor, a sharp opinion on just about everything, and is quite capable of falling in love (or lust) during his missions. This book is about his WWII experiences, from his initial recruitment into the agency, his training, and his missions during the war. Matt Helm fans will know the ending, but it would be a “spoiler” to mention it here.

I have been a Donald Hamilton fan since the 1960s and, when he died, decided to write the prequel. Having read the Matt Helm series several times, I researched everything Donald Hamilton wrote about Matt Helm’s wartime experiences and his pre-war life. Incorporating direct quotes from the books, and my own imagination, I filled in many of his mission details (including, of course, the one featuring Tina, who shows up in the first Matt Helm novel, Death of a Citizen) and added several of my own, trying to keep the narrative authentic to Donald Hamilton’s style.

The book was approved by Donald Hamilton’s son (who is CEO of the company holding the rights), who told me that I had “captured Don’s voice quite successfully” and that it was “All in all, a quite good read!”

Hamilton wrote 27 Helm novels, starting with 1960′s Death Of a Citizen, through 1993. Hamilton also wrote an unpublished 28th novel that the family is holding onto in case a new Matt Helm movie develops. Hamilton died in 2006.

Titan Books has also republished the first four Helm novels: Death Of a Citzen, The Wrecking Crew, The Removers and The Silencers.

The non-Bond film that had the biggest impact on 007

Dean Martin as Matt Helm during a dramatic moment in The Silencers.


With the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film series, we got to thinking about the 007 film competitor that had the biggest impact. It’s really not much of a contest. It’s 1966′s The Silencers.

Now, other spy films had an impact on the style of Bond films. Studio executives told The New York Times (without letting their names be attached) in 2005 that The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy comprised the model for Daniel Craig’s rebooted 007, beginning with 2006′s Casino Royale and especially with 2008′s Quantum of Solace. Even non-spy films influenced earlier 007 films such as Live And Let Die (Shaft, Super Fly), The Man With the Golden Gun (Bruce Lee kung fu films) and Moonraker (Star Wars).

But The Silencers rocked the Bond franchise in ways other films didn’t. The 1966 movie was the first of four Matt Helm movies produced by Irving Allen, once the partner of Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of the 007 film franchise. Allen (dismissed as a “blowhard” by current Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli) had been skeptical of 007′s film potential and had insulted Ian Fleming.

Allen, presumably realizing the scope of his mistake, got the film rights to the Matt Helm series of paperback novels by Donald Hamilton. To make a Helm film series a reality, Allen needed a star. He got one — Dean Martin. But to get Dino into the fold, Allen made the Rat Packer a partner. For The Silencers, that meant a $1.2 million paycheck, more than twice the money Sean Connery got for doing Thunderball. To top it off, the Helm series found a home at Columbia Pictures. That was the same studio that passed on doing business with 007 producers Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who ended up taking their project to United Artists.

The Scotsman didn’t like that and tensions accelerated between the star and 007 producers Broccoli and Saltzman. Perhaps Connery would have tired of the role anyway. But the conflict over money — fueled by The Silencers — caused Eon’s relationship with its star to rupture. Broccoli’s relationship with Saltzman was already getting tenuous and making Connery a partner in the enterprise wasn’t going to happen. Broccoli eventually would be proven right in one respect. Once Dean Martin lost interest, the Helm film series went away.

Still, had Allen not brought The Silencers (retooled from Hamilton’s serious novels to almost an extension of Dean Martin’s variety show) to the screen, much could have been different. Perhaps Connery would have stayed longer. Perhaps On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been a lot different with Connery, rather than George Lazenby. The point is, things got a lot bumpier for the franchise as The Silencers worsened tensions lurking beneath the surface.

Other films affected Bond films but The Silencers affected the business of Bond. The new Everything Or Nothing documentary references this in an indirect way. But in a way, the impact of The Silencers is part of Bond film history.

REVIEW: Everything or Nothing

Doing a documentary about the James Bond film series, on the surface, would seem to be daunting. After all, some would say, is there really anything left to be said? The answer is yes, and, for the most part, director Stevan Riley does so with his Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007. At the same time, it’s not the definitive story and there is one major, inexplicable omission.

On the plus side, and the positives are overwhelming, the 98-minute documentary, moves quickly and tells it story efficiently. It gives James Bond creator Ian Fleming and founding 007 film co-producer Harry Saltzman their full due, something that HASN’T ALWAYS HAPPENED DURING THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR of the Bond film series. The film also makes excellent use of 007 film scores, especially those composed by John Barry.

What’s more, there are glimpses of candor: one-time 007 George Lazenby talking at length how he squandered the opportunity of a lifetime; former United Artists executive David V. Picker expressing exasperation that Saltzman and partner Albert R. Broccoli re-negotiated their deal with UA multiple times while letting Sean Connery get away; current-Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Brocoli dismissing her father’s former partner, Irving Allen, as a “blowhard” without naming him; how Saltzman favored hiring Roger Moore as 007 while Broccoli initially opposed the move; and how Kevin McClory, who won the film rights to Thunderball in court, lurked as a recurring foe to Eon Productions.

The latter, though, leads up to the one omission that’s hard to explain — because had it been included would have reinforced one piece of 007 history that’s explored in detail. Much of the first half of the documentary deals with how Connery felt he had been exploited by Broccoli and Saltzman, to the point where the star refused to do anything on the set of You Only Live Twice as long as Saltzman was present.

What’s the omission? The documentary never mentions Irving Allen beyond the one Barbara Broccoli comment. Albert Broccoli was partner with Allen for years, so the breakup probably wasn’t very comfortable. But more importantly, once Allen was proven wrong in his opinion of James Bond — Allen thought the character wasn’t movie material — the producer ended up producing THE MATT HELM MOVIES RELEASED BY COLUMBIA PICTURES.

To get that series off the ground, Allen had to make Dean Martin a full partner and that, in turn, meant that Martin got paid more for The Silencers than Connery did for Thunderball. The documentary goes into great detail about Connery felt he was being exploited. The Silencers is Exhibit A and Broccoli’s former partner Allen was a major player. As the cliche goes, Irony is so ironic. That would have been a great point to make.

Also, it would have been interesting to ask the following questions: Ms. Broccoli, your father’s former partner did the Matt Helm movies where Dean Martin got paid more than Sean Connery. Could that have contributed to the way Connery felt about his Bond salary? Or: Mr. Picker, what was your reaction when you found out Dean Martin got paid more for doing Matt Helm than Sean Connery got for playing James Bond? The answers would have enlivened the documentary even more, we suspect.

Also, the documentary’s candor seems to run short concerning later movies. It talks about the 2006 Casino Royale while not discussing Quantum of Solace very much, aside from a few quick clips.

If it sounds like we’re ragging on Everything Or Nothing, we’re not. It’s very well done. It even, for a Bond fan, flirts with perfection. There are some other omissions (there’s basically no mention of the spoof 1967 Casino Royale or how American John Gavin was signed to do Diamonds Are Forever before Connery came back).

Overall, Everything Or Nothing is a great show for hard-core fan or casual 007 viewer. It just could have been even better without much more work. GRADE: A-Minus.

UPDATE: We’re watching the documentary a second time. We didn’t mention how Lazenby says Broccoli and Saltzman “sent a girl” to his room to make sure the one-time male model was heterosexual.

Hal David, an appreciation

Hal David

Hal David, who contributed lyrics to songs in three James Bond movies, died on Sept. 1 at age 91. He’s not really remembered for his 007 contributions because he wrote lyrics to many popular songs, especially in collaboration with Burt Bacharach. But he merits mention for his Bond film work also.

The 1967 Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman is an uneven movie. Still, Bacharach’s score and the songs he did with David were a highlight, especially “The Look of Love” performed by Dusty Springfield. David went on to work two times on the Eon Productions series, collaborating with John Barry on songs for 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The main Barry-David offering was “We Have All the Time in the World” performed by Louis Armstrong.

A decade later, David worked with Barry one more time on the title song of 1979′s Moonraker, whose title song would be the third, and final, performance by Shirley Bassey in a James Bond movie.

Both “The Look of Love” and “We Have All the Time in the World” are memorable (the latter revived many years later for a beer commercial). “Moonraker” doesn’t get the kudos of other Bond title songs but it’s still a collaboration of three highly professional individuals in composer Barry, lyricist David and singer Bassey.

It should also be noted that David’s older brother Mack (1912-1993) also dabbled in the spy genre, writing lyrics for songs in two Matt Helm movies, The Silencers and The Wrecking Crew. Mack David also co-wrote the title song to 77 Sunset Strip and other Warner Bros. television shows.

The FBI/Octopussy/You Only Live Twice mashup

This just popped up on YouTube. Louis Jourdan, 15 years before he played the villain in Octopussy, played the head of a spy ring in the fourth-season opening episode of The FBI, Wind It Up and It Betrays You. By this stage, the series, starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr., was an anchor of ABC’s Sunday night schedule. Jourdan had also played a villain in a second-season episode.

One of his accomplices is played by Nancy Kovack, who was a femme fatale in the first Matt Helm movie, The Silencers. The plot was by Harold Jack Bloom, who contributed “additional story material” for You Only Live Twice and wrote the second episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Iowa-Scuba Affair.

Anyway, you may want to take a look. Given it’s on YouTube, you never know when it may get pulled.

TCM to have an evening of the Other Spies on Jan. 24

Turner Classic Movies is having an evening of the “other” spies on Jan. 24, emphasizing lighter fare.

The evening starts at 8 p.m. New York time with In Like Flint (1967), the second of two James Coburn outings as Derek Flint. The intrepid adventurer shows off his ability to talk to porpoises, infiltrates the Kremlin and ends up in outer space.

Next up at 10 p.m. is Where The Spies Are (1966) with David Niven, once Ian Fleming’s preferred choice to play James Bond in what amounts to a warmup for the 1967 Casino Royale spoof. Midnight brings Agent 8 3/4 (1964) with Dirk Bogarde. At 2 a.m. (actually on Jan. 25, of course), TCM is scheduled to telecast 1966′s The Silencers, the first of four films with Dean Martin performing a spoof version <a.of Donald Hamilton’s counter assassin, Matt Helm.

TCM’s final spy entry at 4 a.m. is Salt and Pepper (1968), with Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. The duo had done an episode of The Wild, Wild West together (The Night of the Returning Dead) and liked how director Richard Donner operated. Thus, Donner was hired to direct Salt and Pepper, one of Donner’s first theatrical films.

A few early Matt Helm novel highlights


With the news that Titan Books plans on bringing Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels back into print in 2013, those unfamiliar with the stories might wonder what the fuss is all about. So we thought we’d present a Helm sampler.

Helm isn’t so much a spy, as a counter assassin — he goes after enemy targets, with the intention of making a “touch” before those targets can harm U.S. interests. He had done during this World War II, then spent 15 peaceful years before his past caught up with him. A few quick highlights of some of the early books:

Death Of a Citizen (1960): Family man Helm is at a party in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when in comes “the girl we called Tina during the war.” Helm, back when his code name was Eric (possibly a reference to his Scandinavian heritage), he and Tina had performed an assignment during World War II.

She drags Helm back into the business, but things aren’t what they seem. We’re introduced to his old boss, Mac, with his “gray and cold” eyes who is still in business. Eventually, Helm is blackmailed, with one of his children as hostage. Helm is not somebody to be trifled with but Mrs. Helm also discovers the truth. As the book ends, “I wondered how soon Mac would get in touch with me again…I sat there and wondered how I’d answer him, when he came. The terrible thing was, I didn’t really know…”

Death Of a Citizen was done as a one-off. An editor at Fawcett Gold Medal called up author Donald Hamilton, suggesting a name change from George Helm and killing off the wife would result in a series. Hamilton renamed the character Matt. Mrs. Helm survived but the marriage would not.

The Wrecking Crew (1960): At the start of the second novel, Helm has had a refresher training course and is sent to Sweden to go after a Soviet agent called Caselius. Once more, things aren’t what they seem. Eventually, Caselius has a hostage and tells Helm to give up his weapon. “I let him hear me laugh. He was running that gag into the ground. He must really have been watching American TV, the corny ideas he kept kicking around.”

Shortly thereafter, Caselius attempts to surrender. “Like I say, he must have been watching TV.” Helm makes the “touch.” Hamilton reportedly took an unfinished story he was dissatisfied with, rewrote it to insert the Helm character.

The Removers (1961): It’s a year after Helm separated from his wife. He travels to the Reno area to visit his ex- and his kids. The former Mrs. Helm, however, seems to have a weakness for men with a secret past. She’s now married to a former mob enforcer, who’s being pressured by his former associates.

Meanwhile, the trip isn’t entirely personal. Helm’s quarry is Martell, a Soviet operative who has been embedded with the mob. This was Hamilton’s first story where he knew from the start it was part of a series. There’s also a scene where Helm goes to the “recognition room” to study up on adversaries. Among the dossiers he studies, “There were Dickman, Holz, Rosloff, Martell and a deadly female we only knew as Vadya, all with the highest priority.” Thus, Hamilton lays the groundwork for future adventures.

As for the title, Mac does the honors in a flashback scene where he addresses some trainees. “If you were working for a criminal organization, you’d be known as enforcers. Since you’re working for a sovereign nation, you can call yourselves…well, removers is a very good word.”

The Silencers (1962): The early part of the story includes seedy settings, including a strip club in Mexico across the border from El Paso. It ends up getting into Ian Fleming territory where a Soviet operative has smuggled into the U.S. an electronic device that will seize control of a U.S. missile to kill some VIPs. Hamilton’s smooth writing sucks you right in. The novel also introduces Gail Hendricks, a woman who has gotten involved in the middle of all this. Helm falls in love with her, but again Hamilton’s smooth prose doesn’t make it sound outlandish at all.

Murderers’ Row (1962): Helm is behind the eight ball right from the start. His assignment is to beat up a fellow woman agent; that agent is supposed to be interested in defecting and the beating is to make it all look good. Also, she is to get a cast, as a way to have a hidden weapon.

“I wasn’t halfway through the scientifically brutal roughing up program Dr. Perry had laid out for me when she died…she’d trusted me to know what I was doing, and it’s no fun to find yourself holding a corpse and wondering what the hell went wrong.” Things go downhill from there. Helm makes a number of wrong guesses and assumptions but works his way out of it.

“You lucked out, didn’t you?” Mac asks near the novel’s end. Helm has to admit he did and attempts to resign. But he relents when he finds out he didn’t kill the woman agent.

The Mister 8 Web site a couple of years ago did a more detailed analysis of DEATH OF A CITIZEN and THE WRECKING CREW.

45th anniversary of Dino as Matt Helm in The Silencers

This week was the 45th anniversary of The Silencers, the first of four Matt Helm films starring Dean Martin and arguably the most successful non-Bond spy series of the 1960s.

Some of the film’s cast and crew had a shot at doing Bond movies but it didn’t happen.

Studio Columbia Pictures had turned down Bond, with United Artists instead making a deal with Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; producer Irving Allen had been Broccoli’s partner but thought Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were terrible; 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum suggested Victor Buono to play Goldfinger; some United Artists executive wanted Phil Karlson to direct Dr. No, but he had a $75,000 asking price while Terence Young would work for $40,000.

Allen took Donald Hamilton’s serious novels and made them into spoofs, though the films did use some plot elements of Hamilton’s originals, particularly The Silencers. To get Dean Martin on board, Allen had to make him a partner. That’s why the films have a copyright notice reading “Meadway-Claude” — Claude was Martin’s production company.

Below is the latter part of main titles of The Silencers, in which Cyd Charisse lipsynchs the title song performed by Vikki Carr and written by Elmer Berstein and Mack David.

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