Dino’s Matt Helm movies to be shown Sept. 26 on TCM

Dean Martin and Stella Stevens in The Silencers.

Movie channel TCM will present all four of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films on Sept. 26. It’s part of a month-long salute to Dino, with Martin movies being shown on Wednesdays.

The Helm movies were produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Albert R. Broccoli. That partnership ended, in part, because Broccoli wanted to make movies based on Ian Fleming’s 007 novels. Allen wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea.

After the early Bond films, produced by Broccoli and his new partner, Harry Saltzman, had become a success, Allen searched for his own spy property to pursue.

He ended up with Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series of serious spy novels. But Allen got Dean Martin to participate as a partner. So the movie adaptations took a much lighter tone and, in effect, were spy versions of Martin’s variety show.

The Silencers will be shown at 8 p.m. ET, followed by Murderers’ Row at 10, The Ambushers at midnight and The Wrecking Crew at 2 a.m., Sept. 27.

For more about the Helm film series, read MATT HELM, AMERICA’S LOADED WEAPON.

h/t to reader Mark Henderson, who flagged this on The Spy Command’s Facebook page.

Matt Helm movie project resurfaces, Deadline says

 

Illustration of Matt Helm on the back cover of the first edition of The Wrecking Crew, the second Helm novel.

The Matt Helm movie project that has been kicking around Paramount for years has resurfaced, according to Deadline: Hollywood.

The latest version of the project has Bradley Cooper attached to star, and Tom Shepherd hired to write a script, the entertainment news website reported.

“George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are attached as executive producers, and Steven Spielberg is involved in some capacity,” Deadline said.

Fans of Donald Hamilton’s original novels have long wanted to see a serious version of Helm. Four spoofs starring Dean Martin and loosely based on Hamilton novels were made in the 1960s. Helm was also turned into a private eye in a short-lived series with Tony Franciosa in 1975.

In the novels, Helm was a “counter assassin” and told in the first person. They were a mix of Mickey Spillane (in terms of tone) but often had plots as fanciful as Ian Fleming’s.

Hamilton penned 28 Helm novels — 27 were published from 1960 to 1993, while the Hamilton family has held on to the unpublished 28th in case a movie got made. Hamilton died in 2006.

Whether anything comes of this effort remains to be seen.

1991: Donald Hamilton discusses Matt Helm films

Donald Hamilton

Donald Hamilton

Over on The Spy Command’s Facebook page, reader Bill Groves shared a 1991 letter he received from Matt Helm creator Donald Hamilton.

In the letter, Hamilton commented about the four 1960s Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin.

The films took Hamilton’s very serious novels and made them into comedies that incorporated bits from Dino’s variety show. The hero supposedly drank heavily (like Dean on his show) and was frequently surrounded by beautiful women. The Ambushers (1967) even had a joke referencing Martin’s birthplace of Stubenville, Ohio.

Poster for The Silencers

Poster for The Silencers

As it turns out, Hamilton wasn’t upset about the changes. Groves gave us permission to do a post about the letter. What follows is a portion of the text. The word is boldface was underlined by Hamilton in the original.

 

Dear Mr. Groves:

With respect to the Helm movies, my philosophy is that I write to entertain and once I’ve done a book or story to my satisfaction, anybody who can use my material entertainingly, and is willing to pay me for the privilege, is welcome, even if he doesn’t stick very closely to my original vision (if I may use a fancy word for it).

From this standpoint, I found the movie of THE SILENCERS enjoyable even though the playboy character played by Dean Martin was pretty far from the grimmer character I’d visualized. So it wasn’t my SILENCERS; it was still a fun movie, and I had no objections. (Of course a writer would always prefer to see his work brought to the screen the way he wrote it, but that happens so seldom, it’s only a dream.) The other Helm movies, unfortunately, were pretty mechanical and I didn’t like them much, not because they treated my ‘vision’ disrespectfully, but simply because they were not very enjoyable as movies.

(snip)

PS: For a much more satisfactory job, from the writer’s standpoint, try to catch a rerun of the movie made by William Wyler from my book THE BIG COUNTRY.

The Silencers, released in 1966, was the first film in the Helm series. It actually took material was from both 1960s’s Death of a Citizen, the first Helm novel, and 1962’s The Silencers, the fourth.

The four movies used varying amounts of Hamilton content from the books. For more details, read this 2000 article, which includes updates from 2006 and 2015.

Meanwhile, for those unfamiliar with it, The Big Country was an epic 1958 film with Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives and Chuck Connors. Ives won an Oscar as best supporting actor.

Happy 100th, Donald Hamilton

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

A 1963 re-issue of Death Of a Citizen

Today, March 24, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Donald Hamilton, creator of Matt Helm.

It has been 23 years since the last Helm novel, The Damagers, was published. It’s common for fans of the series to get out their copies every so often to re-read the adventures of the American “counter-assassin.”

The Helm novels, unlike Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, were written in the first person. The stories are like a cross between Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels and the more fantastic elements of Fleming’s 007 stories. Because the reader only discovers things as its hero (or anti-hero) does, you get sucked into the rhythms of the story before realizing just how much fantasy there is in them.

For example, with the sixth novel, The Ambushers, Helm ends up in a machete fight with an ex-Nazi while a missile is ready to be fired. But the journey to that point is pretty grim and gritty. By the time of the machete fight, you’re so caught up in the story you’re not going to stop there.

The first novel of the series, Death of a Citizen, was done as a one-off. Helm, who has been living peacefully for 15 years after World War II, is suddenly drawn back into his former violent life. An editor suggested with a few changes (including the character’s first name, George and killing off Helm’s wife) it could be turned into a series. The character became Matt Helm. Hamilton settled for Mrs. Helm getting a divorce.

The books were turned into comedies with Dean Martin, produced by Irving Allen, the former partner of James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli. There has been talk for years of a series Helm film but nothing has developed.

Hamilton died in 2006. There is one unpublished Helm novel but the Hamilton family has held onto it in case a new movie develops. For now, fans of the novel have to be satisfied with re-reading Hamilton’s well-told stories.

Who’s the next spy to be revived? How about Matt Helm?

Matt Helm as he appeared on Fawcett paperbacks, circa 1963

Matt Helm as he appeared on Fawcett paperbacks, circa 1963

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., after a long hibernation, arrives in movie theaters in less that two weeks. If U.N.C.L.E. can stage a comeback, any character can. So who should be the next ’60s spy to be revived from “suspended animation”?

How about Matt Helm, code name Eric?

Strictly speaking, Helm wasn’t a spy. He was a “counter assassin,” taking out various murderous threats to the United States. Created by author Donald Hamilton (1916-2006), Helm was the star of 27 paperback novels, published from 1960 until 1993.

Of course, the general public has, at best, a hazy memory of that. Helm is mostly remembered for four movies starring Dean Martin, which turned Hamilton’s very serious novels into light romps, which resembled a spy version of Dino’s 1965-74 variety show on NBC.

As this blog has noted before, that film series probably affected the 007 films the most. To get Dean Martin involved, he was made a partner in the enterprise. When Dino made more money from The Silencers than Sean Connery got from Thunderball, the Scotsman’s relationship with Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman soured.

In any case, like U.N.C.L.E. (which, after decades in the wilderness, arrives in movie theaters on Aug. 14), Helm has been “in development” in Hollywood for quite some time.

The last word this blog had was in 2012, when The Hollywood Reporter had a story that Helm still was on Paramount’s to-do list. If there’s been Helm news since, The Spy Commander missed it.

Regardless, you won’t find a Matt Helm movie on any list of scheduled movie releases in the near future.

Fans of Hamilton’s novels have long wished for a serious Matt Helm movie. In the jaded 21st century, audiences are more than ready for Helm’s rough stuff.

Still, Hamilton’s novels would be hard to replicate on film. The stories are told in the first person. Hamilton’s prose is so engaging, the reader gets sucked in. When Helm kills somebody, you almost find yourself saying, “Of course. What else was Matt to do?”

The beauty of Hamilton’s novels is they’re told in a gritty way (not unlike Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels), but the author could come up with plots as fanciful as anything Ian Fleming devised. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that many readers enjoyed over more than three decades.

Perhaps the operative with the code name of Eric will never make a screen comeback. Still, if Solo and Kuryakin can return to the screen…..

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 starting in August.

Death of a Citizen, The Wrecking Crew, The Removers, The Silencers and Murderers’ Row will make their audio book debut, You can CLICK HERE for ordering information. UPDATE Sept. 8: See comment below which has updated pricing 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.

Red 2 utilizes a familiar meme

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery on the set of Thunderball

This weekend’s release of Red 2 includes one of the most dependable memes of spy fiction: the hero and the femme fatale who have been more than friendly.

In the new movie, Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Katja is described as “Kryptonite” for Bruce Willis’s Frank Moses. Often the femme fatales are enemies but at times reach an uneasy alliance with the hero — at least until she starts trying to kill him again.

James Bond-Fiona Volpe (Thunderball): In Goldfinger, Sean Connery’s James Bond “recruited” Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore to the side of right. In Thunderball, Connery’s Bond tries it again, albeit unsuccessfully, with Fiona Volpe (Luciana Volpe), the chief executioner for SPECTRE. “What a blow it must have been — you having a failure,” Fiona says. “Well, you can’t win them all,” Bond replies.

Fiona doesn’t survive long after that. But Paluzzi made such an impact that in the next 007 film, You Only Live Twice, Karin Dor’s Helga seems to be a knockoff of Fiona.

Napoleon Solo/Angela-Angelique-Serena Luciana Paluzzi had a dry run before her Thunderball role. When The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot was in production, producer Norman Felton had additional footage shot for a movie version for international audiences. Paluzzi’s Angela lures an U.N.C.L.E. agent to his death and tries to do the same with Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo. The extra footage for the movie version as used, yet again, in a first-season episode of the series called The Four-Steps Affair.

Other Thrush femme fatale operatives showed up in Man’s first season, Serena (Senta Berger) and Angelique (Janine Gray). Solo has had a history with both but the viewer isn’t provided many details. Serena helps abduct Solo for a double can take his place. But at the story’s climax (the TV version was called The Double Affair, the movie version The Spy With My Face), Serena ends up shooting the double.

Matt Helm/Vadya: In the third Matt Helm novel by Donald Hamilton, The Removers, Helm goes to the “recognition room” to review dossiers of Soviet-bloc assassins. One of the dossiers concerns the mysterious “Vadya.” Helm readers don’t meet Vadya until Hamilton’s sixth Helm novel, The Ambushers. The encounter ends in a draw. Helm meets Vadya twice more in the novels The Devastators and The Menacers. She’s killed off early in The Menacers, but her death is a key part of the novel’s plot.

Meanwhile, the 1967 adaption of The Ambushers, starring Dean Martin, includes Vadya (Senta Berger again), except the character has been renamed. The character is killed before the end of the movie.