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.

Is The Ambushers coming true?

Poster for The Ambushers (1967)

Today, the Reuters news service had a story with the following first paragraph:

“High exposure to radiofrequency radiation of the type emitted by cell phones has been linked to tumors in tissues surrounding nerves in the hearts of male rats, but not female rats or any mice, according to a draft of U.S. government studies released on Friday.”

The blog couldn’t help it, but the first thing that came to mind was the 1967 movie The Ambushers, the third Matt Helm movie starring Dean Martin.

That film centered around a U.S. built flying saucer that could only be piloted by women. Why? Well, its power source killed men but left women unharmed.

At the beginning of The Ambushers, the U.S. flying saucer is undergoing its first flight. But it’s promptly hijacked by villains utilizing a giant magnet. The audience sees the saucer is piloted by Shiela (Janice Rule) but the angle about the power source killing men isn’t explained until later.

One other then-futuristic aspect of the movie has already come true. In the movie, Dino’s Helm is taking pictures with a seemingly innocent camera. He’s force to take the film out by a thug.

But it doesn’t matter because the camera already is broadcasting a digital image (though that term isn’t used) to Washington where Mac (James Gregory), the boss of ICE (Intelligence and Counter Espionage), and his assistants can view it.

Thus, Matt Helm had a digital camera decades before they became common.

Happy 100th birthday, Dino

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter in The Ambushers (1967).

Today, June 7, is the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Dean Martin. Dino, in his day, was the epitome of cool and charm. For many, he still is.

His contribution to spy entertainment was starring in the four-film Matt Helm series produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

To entice Dino, Allen made the actor his partner. As a result, Martin enjoyed a bigger pay day for the first Helm film, The Silencers, than Sean Connery got for Thunderball. Connery noticed and wanted to be a partner in the Bond franchise..

The Helm series doesn’t get respect in the 21st century. Many who like the movies refer to their affection as a “guilty pleasure.”

The Helm movies, rather than doing straight adaptations of Donald Hamilton’s serious novels, incorporated Dino’s “lovable lush” act.

One of the movies, Murderers’ Row, even had a plot point where Matt gives his boss Mac (James Gregory) a clue by deliberately misstating his alcohol preference. (“Matt Helm never drank a glass of bourbon in his life!” Mac says as he tries to figure out the traitor in his organization.)

For the record, this blog would greatly appreciate a new Helm movie that faithfully adapted the Hamilton novels. At the same time, the Spy Commander discovered the novels *because* of the Dean Martin films. Speaking strictly for myself, I’m very fond of both, despite the flaws of the movies.

Regardless, today is a day of celebration. Bottoms up, Dino.

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.

HMSS’s favorite character actors: Roy Jenson

Roy Jenson getting kicked by James Coburn's Derek Flint

Roy Jenson getting kicked by James Coburn’s Derek Flint

One in an occasional series

Roy Jenson is one of the most famous actors you’ve never heard of.

If you look at his IMDB.com bio, you’ll see one of the most famous scenes of 1974’s Chinatown, where Jack Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes is about to get his nose cut wide open. For our purposes, he was a frequent presence in 1960s spy entertainment, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (the pilot episode and a two-part fourth-season story), Our Man Flint, The Ambushers (the third Dean Martin Matt Helm movie), Mission: Impossible, I Spy and The Wild Wild West.

Born in 1927 in Calgary, Jenson for a time played professional football in the Canadian Football League. At 6-foot-2, at a time it wasn’t common to encounter somebody that tall, he eventually found work as a stunt performer and bit part player. When the 1960s spy craze commenced in U.S. television, Jenson found frequent work as secondary villains.

The actor died in 2007 at the age of 80. To view his IMDB.com bio, CLICK HERE.

Dr. No’s 50th anniversary part V: Ken Adam’s magic

Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) gets his instructions from Dr. No on a Ken Adam-designed set.

Dr. No, the first James Bond film, had a modest $1 million budget. Ken Adam, the movie’s production designer, performed some magic that disguised that fact, making the film look more expensive than it really was. In doing so, the designer helped make James Bond’s world a special one.

Adam’s work on the initial 007 film included Dr. No’s living quarters, a mix of modern and antique; a mostly empty room with a large circular grille in the roof where an unseen Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) provides instructions to his lackey Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson); and Dr. No’s control room, complete with nuclear reactor, perfect for any ambitious villain.

Adam’s work had an immediate effect: director Stanley Kubrick snatched Adam up to work on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In that capacity, Adam’s sets included the Pentagon “war room.” That image has been said to prompt Ronald Reagan, upon becoming U.S. president in 1981, to inquire about seeing the place (CLICK HERE to see a 2001 story in the The Guardian that references this or CLICK HERE for a 2009 review of the movie that also makes mention of it.)

Ken Adam


In any case, 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, after having to forgo Adam’s services for From Russia With Love, made sure the designer was on board for Goldfinger. Adam’s sets got more elaborate. Some had moving sections, such as the room Goldfinger describes his plans to raid Fort Knox. Of course, there was the interior of Fort Knox itself.

Adam’s work influenced other ’60s spy movies. Films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and The Ambushers had scenes where a villain has quarters with moving sections. Adam, though, got more money to play with than his rivals, coming up with the Disco Volante (where a lead hydrofoil could separate from the rear section of the craft) in Thunderball and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in You Only Live Twice.

Adam (b. 1921) was already a veteran designer when Dr. No came along. He helped make Bond movies special. Adam has worked on less than one-third of the Eon Productions-produced Bond movies and his last 007 credit was 1979’s Moonraker. But his work still stands out and remains the standard others are judged by.

NEXT: Legacy

HMSS nominations for top composers for 1960s spy entertainment

In a previous post, we touched upon this subject. The more we thought about it, the more we thought we had an excuse to make another post. So, without further ado:

1) John Barry: arranger, The James Bond Theme, in Dr. No; composer, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Ipcress File, The Quller Memorandum.

Born in 1933, Barry (birth name John Barry Prendergast) helped shape the James Bond Theme and composed the score for five of the first six 007 movies. On top of that, he did the scores for two more serious 1960s spy movies. That’s an enormous legacy, no matter how you view it.

2) tie, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin. For Goldsmith: composer The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme, three episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (with those scores repeated in numerous first- and fourth-season episodes); composer, Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Our Man Flint, The Chairman.

For Schifrin: arranger of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Theme (second season), composer, Murderers Row, composer theme, Mission: Impossible plus several episodes of that series, composer, The President’s Analyst, The Liquidator.

To be honest, you could make the case for either composer. Goldsmith is no longer with us, but Schifrin (b. 1932) is still around. So we’ll make it a tie.

3. Gerald Fried: composer for numerous episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. A sometimes overlooked artist, he also composed music for several episodes of the original Star Trek series including an episode when Kirk fought Spock, which Jim Carrey used in The Cable Guy.

4. Richard Markowitz: Who, you ask. Well he composed the theme for The Wild, Wild West and quite a few episodes during that series first two seasons.

5. Robert Drasnin: composed scores for episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E, The Wild, Wild West, (including the “Dr. Loveless Theme”) and Mission: Impossible, he is perhaps the least know of the composers on this list. But he is far from the least talented.

6. Hugo Montenegro: arranger, two albums of music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.; composer, The Ambushers, The Wrecking Crew. Montenegro’s two U.N.C.L.E. albums have fans to this day. He also composed scores for two of the four Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin.