Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Murderers' Row (also known as Murderer's Row) is my favorite of the Matt Helm spy flicks. The film, being the second one in the franchise, was released in 1966. It was put quickly into production after the huge success of the first movie The Silencers. Murderers' Row was loosely based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Donald Hamilton. Dean Martin returned in the title role of Matt Helm, also co-producing again with Irving Allen. Returning for the second film were Beverly Adams (as Matt's personal assistant Lovey Kravezit) and James Gregory (as his ICE boss MacDonald). Oscar Saul, who had written The Silencers script, was back to write the screenplay for the sequel. Herbert Baker, however, was brought in to write the final screenplay for Murderers' Row. Baker had written several of the Martin-Lewis comedies, as well as being a writer on The Dean Martin Variety Show. The film was directed by Henry Levin, who would go on to direct The Ambushers, the third film in the franchise in 1967.
The film opens with what looks to be the destruction of the United States Capitol building by some sort of solar weapon. Actually it was a model destroyed by Big O in a demonstration of their latest weapon against freedom and democracy, the Super Helio Beam. Big O is led in its dastardly plot by Julian Wall (played by Karl Malden). To make sure that Big O's evil plans aren't dashed this time, Wall has ordered the assassinations of many of ICE's top secret agents. A mole in ICE has been leaking the identities of these spies. We see several of these agents killed in various manners.
When we first see Matt Helm, he's taking shots for an upcoming calendar featuring many beautiful Slaygirls. Each month is represented by a different state. For example, January is represented by Minnesota. Matt, getting a little hot under the collar from taking all these pictures, decides that a little rest will do him some good. He's unable to take a nap because Miss January is in his bed and she's ready for some action. What Matt doesn't realize at first is that Miss J is actually an assassin sent by Big O to terminate him. She activates his bed which will slide across the floor to the his Olympic-sized bath. The Super Helio Beam is waiting there to send Matt into the afterlife. Sensing trouble, Matt hangs tight to Miss J to keep her from escaping certain death.
Matt Helm is presumed dead. ICE throws him a funeral. All the Slaygirls are there dressed the same in black and mourning the loss of their favorite playboy. Matt, of course, is not really dead. His death was faked so he'll be able to combat Big O and foil their latest villainous plans. Matt and Mac meet up at a secret location, where Mac shows him some film of the French Riviera. Dr. Norman Solaris (Richard Eastham) was kidnapped while on vacation there. He is the creator of the heliobeam weapon, which concentrates the power of the sun into a WMD. Matt's new identity will be Jim Peters. He is to head over to Europe to stop Big O's plans for the Super Helio Beam before it's too late, while also rescuing Dr. Solaris and discovering who the mole is. Mac informs him if he fails in his mission that he is to try to kill Solaris and then himself, so as to prevent Big O from brainwashing him.
His mission soon leads him to a local nightclub. There at the discotheque, the band Dino (Dino as in Dino Jr., Dean Martin's son Dean Paul), Desi & Billy are performing. Matt tries to fit in with the youth crowd by talking and dancing with a girl he met earlier. Dean Paul makes a comment about Matt Helm dancing. There are a few lines there which play up on the fact that in reality they are father and son. The girl's name is Suzie, and she's played by Ann-Margret. Suzie's usually at the club with a friend named Billy (Duke Howard). She loves dancing and wearing the hippest mod outfits you've seen. Suzie also turns out to be the daughter of Dr. Solaris. Sparks fly pretty quickly between Matt and Suzie. They definitely have some chemistry between them. Suzie wants to help Matt rescue her father.
It's not long before Matt and Julian Wall butt heads. Wall is assisted by his companion Coco Duquette (Camilla Sparv), who has a freeze gun. It seems to be first used mostly for chilling drinks, but it does come in handy later on in the movie when Matt gets hold of it. Wall's main henchman is Ironhead, played by Tom Reese. This is a guy who walks around with a piece of metal on the top of his head and nobody bats an eye. Only in a spy movie would this not seem out of place. Wall has no idea thought that this man that seems to be sticking his nose in his business is Matt Helm. Wall thinks Matt is dead, plus no one knows what he looks like. The picture of Matt Helm shows the back of his head as he's making out with a chick and holding a drink. Matt uses his cover of Jim Peters. He's a gangster for hire. Julian Wall decides to put him on the payroll.
It's not long, however, before Wall becomes suspicious of the real motives of Jim Peters aka Matt Helm. Wall had planned the murder of Suzie. An explosive charge was put into a brooch that was sent to her as a gift. It's activated by speed. We see a pretty intense scene of Suzi dancing like crazy at the club. Matt races to save her in a hovercraft, which plays a prominent role in many scenes. It's a wild scene as he races the hovercraft down the streets of Monte Carlo as he trys to get to Suzie before she blows up. When he finally gets to her, he rips her dress off and throws it up against the wall. It explodes on the image of Frank Sinatra. Matt jokingly makes his apologies to Frank.
Matt and Suzie head to Wall's island fortress to rescue her dad, while also stopping the evil plans of Julian Wall and Big O. There he reveals his true identity as Matt Helm. He's also able to let Mac know who the mole in ICE is. Matt's main gadget in this film was a gun configured to fire several seconds after the trigger is pulled. This is used to great effect by Matt Helm against Julian Wall's goons. Matt also gets his hands on Coco's freeze gun. The battle heads out from the fortress to a hovercraft chase on the water. It's an intense final clash between Helm and Wall.
Dean Martin is his usual easygoing and carefree self in this movie. His Matt Helm is James Bond meets the Rat Pack. You either love that or you don't. There's not much in between. If you're not a fan of his persona, then you had better not watch this movie. His Matt Helm is essentially Dean Martin himself. Ann-Margret is definitely one of the main highlights of this movie. She was an up and coming star at the time. She dresses in some really hip mod outfits in this movie. I've had a huge crush on Ann-Margret since I can remember. I love her in this movie. She's my favorite of the actresses to co-star with Dean Martin in the Matt Helm spy capers. She doesn't play a ditz like Stella Stevens and Sharon Tate. Her character is sexy and capable of helping Matt Helm out. Camilla Sparv is beautiful and cold as ice in this movie. She plays the vixen perfectly. The weakest link in the film is probably Karl Malden as Julian Wall. His accent seemed to change quite often for one thing. I also didn't find him to be a strong villain. The wonderful cool jazz spy score is by Lalo Schifrin. If you're a fan of Dean Martin, beautiful babes, exotic locales, cool mod costumes and sets, etc., then I'm sure you'll enjoy this film. Like I mentioned at the start of this post, this is my favorite of the Matt Helm spy franchise. It's got all the ingredients necessary to make a really cool and swingin' spy spoof. Murderers' Row is pure escapist fun. It's a blast to watch.