The Silencers: a true alternate universe James Bond movie

Of all the 1960s spy entertainment produced to capitalize on the success of James Bond, The Silencers, the first of four Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin, may be the closest to an altnerate universe James Bond movie.

What do we mean by that? It was the one movie where alternate choices — the actors, crew and even studio — that could have been part of Bond, that weren’t. Examples:

Phil Karlson, the director was favored by United Artists to direct Dr. No. While Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were looking at British directors, UA was keen on Karlson, an American. But Karlson also had a $75,000 asking price. UA was happy to settle for Terence Young and his $40,000 paycheck, which turned out to be the same as Sean Connery and Richard Maibuam. (Source: Adrian Turner on Goldfinger, a 1998 book by the UK film historian and Bond fan).

Victor Buono, the lead villain in The Silencers had been recommended by Goldfinger screenwriter Maibuam to play the title character of that Bond movie. He (along with Theodore Bikel) got passed over in favor of Gert Frobe.

Irving Allen, the producer of The Silencers, was Cubby Broccoli’s ex-partner. That partnership broke up, at least in part, because the two men disagreed about whether Ian Fleming’s Bond novels were worth adapting as movies. Broccoli was for it and, in a story often repeated, Allen hated the idea intensely and insulted Fleming in a 1957 meeting. Having learned his lesson, Allen snared the rights to the successful series of Helm novels by Donald Hamilton.

Columbia Pictures had a chance at securing the services of Broccoli and Saltzman but took a pass, giving UA the opening it needed. Columbia wouldn’t correct that mistake until the 21st Century with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Finally, The Silencers arguably caused the most damage to the Bond franchise. Not because it out-grossed Bond (it didn’t) but when Connery saw that Dean Martin was getting more money, it helped cause tension between the Scottish actor and the 007 producers. The reason for Dino’s heftier paycheck: to secure his services, Irving Allen had to make him a partner. That meant Dean got a percentage of every ticket sold. He got more money for The Silencers than Connery took home for Thunderball.

Signing Dean also meant a drastic change in direction. The Helm movies wouldn’t be faithful adaptations of Hamilton’s novels, but rather a campy series playing up to Martin’s strengths.

So think about that next time you watch The Silencers on TV or DVD. Never seen it? Well, you can see the main titles by clicking RIGHT HERE. While it’s on YouTube, the user who uploaded it diabled embedding. Note: the copyright notice (which appears in a VERY interesting place) lists Meadway-Claude Productions as the owner of the film. Claude is Dean Martin’s production company, which he later sold to RCA, the then-owner of NBC.

Meanwhile, look below for the end titles:

One Response

  1. […] of the film’s cast and crew had a shot at doing Bond movies but it didn’t […]

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