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.

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Dr. No’s 50th anniversary part II: the $40,000 man

Terence Young, wearing a Turnbull & Asser shirt.

Terence Young is heralded for establishing the James Bond film style when he directed 1962’s Dr. No. It was he who got star Sean Connery, who grew up in modest circumstances, familiar with Saville Row suits, Turnbull & Asser shirts and how to navigate a wine list. By many accounts (such as the Inside Dr. No documentary directed by John Cork), that’s all true.

He was also nobody’s first choice for the job. Sometimes, screen legends are molded by the fourth (or even fifth) option.

According to Inside Dr. No, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted an English director. Three — Guy Hamilton, Guy Green and Ken Hughes — said no.

Meanwhile, according to British film historian Adrian Turner, United Artists had an American in mind: Phil Karlson, known for tight, efficiently made movies such as 1955’s The Phenix City Story. He also worked in television, including helming a two-part 1959 presentation of The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The title? The Untouchables, which ended up launching the 1959-1963 television series.

Karlson’s agent asked for $75,000 to direct Dr. No and that took the American director out of the running, according to Turner. Meanwhile, Terence Young, who had directed films that Broccoli had made with former partner Irving Allen (The Red Beret/Paratrooper, Zarak and Tank Force) emerged as a candidate and snared the job. He received $40,000, according to Turner’s account in Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

As it turned out, the $40,000 man and the subject matter were made for each other. In addition to his appreciation for the finer things in life, Young had been a tank commander in World War II. Thus, he had experienced danger for real. By the time Dr. No went into production, Young had 17 films as a director under his belt. He knew Ian Fleming’s Bond and worked to bring that to the screen.

Young would direct three of the first four films in the Broccoli-Saltzman 007 series, departing after 1965’s Thunderball. His record would include the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark. But many of his other later films aren’t terribly well remembered (The Klansman and Inchon, among them).

Barbara Broccoli, now co-boss of Eon Productions, said in an interview published at Comingsoon.net that, “We’ve always wanted a director that would put a stamp on the movie, so we’ve never been one to hire directors for hire.”

Terence Young was a director for hire. His price for Dr. No was $40,000. It ended up being among the best-spent money in the history of the film series that celebrates its golden anniversary this year.

Meanwhile, CLICK HERE to view an obituary of Terence Young that originally ran in the fan newsletter For Your Eyes Only.

NEXT: “A pretty rough diamond”

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.

The American who almost directed an official 007 movie

Reports (at least partially confirmed) that U.K.-born Sam Mendes may direct Bond 23 point out something viewed as tradition — that the directors of the official James Bond series are either British or are from the British Commonwealth.

Aside from German-born Marc Forster, director of Quantum of Solace, the others directors of the official series fit the pattern: Terence Young (a Brit born in China); Guy Hamilton (British, born in Paris), Lewis Gilbert (born in London), (Peter Hunt (born in London), John Glen (Sanbury-on-Thames, U.K.), Martin Campbell (New Zealand), Roger Spottiswoode (Ottawa, Canada), Michael Apted (U.K.) and Lee Tamahori (New Zealand).

But once upon a time, specifically when Dr. No was in pre-production, there was a possibility that an American might have directed an official 007 adventure.

British film historian Adrian Turner, in researching his 1998 book on Goldfinger, discovered that United Artists was keen on Phil Karlson, who had helmed modestly budgeted films such as Kansas City Confidential, The Phenix City Story and, on television, a two-part story on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse that became the de facto pilot for The Untouchables series.

According to Turner, Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman initially favored Guy Hamilton, but he turned them down. United Artists wanted Karlson but the director’s agent asked for $75,000, Tiurner wrote in Adrian Turner on Goldfnger (page 49). Problem: Broccoli and Saltzman were due to only receive $80,000 as a producer’s fee, plus 50 percent of the profits. So the producers instead hired Terence Young, who had a $40,000 asking price, the same amount that was paid to screenwriter Richard Maibuam and star Sean Connery.

Today, Karlson is fondly remembered for some of his tough crime dramas. Karlson also directed the first and fourth Matt Helm movies, The Silencers and The Wrecking Crew. Here’s a scene from the latter:

Meanwhile, it should be noted that Americans did direct two unofficial 007 movies: John Huston was one of five directors on the 1967 spoof Casino Royale while Irvin Kershner directed Connery in 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

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: