Monday, January 26, 2009

Dean Martin As Matt Helm In The Ambushers

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It's time for another review of one of the Matt Helm spy spoofs. I've purposely been delaying posting this particular review. I'll honestly admit that I'm not a big fan of this particular film. The Ambushers, released in 1967, is the third and weakest movie in the Matt Helm spy franchise. It follows two really cool movies The Silencers and Murderers' Row, both which hits theaters in 1966. The Wrecking Crew, which was released in 1968, would the last of the Matt Helm spy capers. I always felt like it rebounded the franchise and sent it out on a high note.

a Matt Helm Lounge The Ambushers DVD Review Dean Martin PDVD_005

Dean Martin once again returns as Matt Helm. Beverly Adams (as Helm's sexy personal assistant Lovey Kravazit) and James Gregory (as Helm's ICE boss MacDonald) are back for a final time. Neither of them play in The Wrecking Crew. Lovey is nowhere to be seen, while Mac is played by John Larch. Henry Levin, the director of Murderers' Row, was again behind the camera on The Ambushers. The screenplay was written by Herbert Baker, who had also worked on Murderers' Row. While I enjoyed what Levin and Baker did on that film, I'm not sure exactly what happened here.

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Uncle Sam has manufactured an experimental flying saucer as the latest weapon in its vast arsenal. ICE is supervising the security of the flying saucer. Sheila Summers (played by Janice Rule) is the ICE agent who is piloting the spacecraft. It seems that the saucer has a unique quality about it. The electro magnetic field produced by it is deadly to men. It must be flown by only the female of the species. The flying saucer is hijacked in Mexico where Sheila is captured and assaulted.

a Matt Helm Lounge The Ambushers DVD Review Dean Martin PDVD_006

When we first see Matt Helm, he is at ICE's training center to brush up on his skills and help in the instruction of newer agents. It seems that all these agents in training are gorgeous young women. They are known as Slaygirls. The scenes at the center are actually some of my favorite of the movie. Matt is definitely in paradise here with all these hot babes.

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He encounters a crazed white-haired and pale woman who refuses to have anything to do with men. He discovers that this is Sheila. They go way back. It seems that they had once worked on a mission together. When some bad guys make an attempt on her life, Matt rushes to the rescue. Sheila comes out of her catatonic condition, but she nows believe that she is the wife of Matt Helm. Their cover on a previous mission had been as a married couple. Sheila begans to remember a jingle for a beer company in Mexico. They believe it might be a link to what happened to her and the missing saucer. She tags along with Matt on his mission to Acapulco. Matt's cover will be that he's going to do a photo shoot on the brewery.

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There Matt and Sheila meet up with Quintana (played by Kurt Kasznar) who runs the brewery. Quintana is a top henchman for Leopold Caselius aka Jose Ortega (Albert Salmi), the exiled ruler of a rogue nation. I don't want to give too much away, but it's not long before Matt and Sheila are fighting for their lives. They not only face Ortega and his men, but also other baddies who have come to Mexico. It seems that Ortega plans to sell the saucer to the highest bidder. Those seeking to buy the craft include Francesca Madeiros (played by Senta Berger), the best pilot employed by Big O, and a Middle Eastern assassin named Nassim.

a Matt Helm Lounge The Ambushers DVD Review Dean Martin PDVD_008

Senta Berger, one of my favorite female stars of the 60's and 70's, is not featured enough in this film. Her part as Francesca is way too small. She's one of the major highlights of this film for me. It's just that we don't get a chance to see enough of her. I love anytime she is on the screen. She has great chemistry with Dino in this movie. One of my favorite scenes is when she plays a seductive game with Matt Helm. I won't tell you exactly what happens there.

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I have nothing against Janice Rule. I think she's a fine actress. I just think she was wrong for a Matt Helm spy spoof. She seems so out of place here. She's very different than the usual type of actresses that have played in these movies. There's something really missing in the movie. Another actress might have been better suited in this role. She just doesn't have the electricity that Stella Stevens or Ann-Margret had in their roles in the previous two films.

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I'm also not a big fan of the main villain in this film. Albert Salmi as Ortega just doesn't intrigue me the way the madman of a spy movie should. He's my least favorite villain of the four films in the Matt Helm franchise. He is too sinister. He doesn't have that wicked sense of humor that the other villains tended to have. I actually much prefer his henchman Quintana (Kurt Kasznar), who really hams it up and chews the scenery so well. There is a really hilarious shoot-out between him and Matt Helm at the beer factory. Just imagine the boozy Dino and lots of beer. You should get the picture.

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The special effects in the Matt Helm franchise do tend to be pretty standard for the era. I would have hoped that they might have been a little better this time around since the film has such a science fiction quality to it. Gadgets used by the various characters in this film include a bullet shooting bra, a device that makes men's pants fall down, a weapon that doesn't do much more than make drinks, cigarettes that emit laughing gas, lipstick laced with drugs, etc. Matt Helm even has in his truck a portable bachelor bad. This thing has to be seen to be believed. It's always funny to see what sort of cheesy gadgets will be used in each film.

The musical scores for the first two films were done by Elmer Bernstein and Lalo Schifrin. This time Hugo Montenegro was the man in charge of the music. I'm a huge fan of his style of music. His lounge score is really groovy and catchy. It infects the movie with such a cool and hip vibe. The intro sequence to The Ambushers features a theme song by Boyce and Hart which considers women to be the real "ambushers."

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There is definitely lots of eye candy on display throughout the film. Besides the gorgeous and luscious Senta Berger, there are the female ICE agents at the beginning and end of the film, as well as some models at a fashion show down in Mexico. This film doesn't disappoint in that department. There is also a very hot (no pun intended) scene of Matt and his assistant Lovey in a steambath at the start of the film.

I hope I haven't been too hard on this film. I do want you to see if if you haven't. The Matt Helm movies are not high art. They never pretend to be. They are just good campy escapist fun. That's how they should be enjoyed. I do think that this one was a little substandard to the other three. There are still plenty of things I liked in this movie. I'm glad I saw it. I do believe that are things that could have been improved on. These four films are all available in the Matt Helm Lounge DVD set. It's not like you have to buy it separately. You get all four spy flicks together. I hope you'll give it a chance if you haven't seen it. Cheers!


18 comments:

Planet Mondo said...

What a post - fab stuff Keith. I used to love those Matt Helm films - (and the James Coburn 'Flint' films)

Keith said...

Hey Dave. Thanks. Glad you liked it. I'm a big fan of Matt Helm, Derek Flint, etc. Cheers!

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Keith, this is one stellar Dinoreview of Helm numero 3....as you know this is my least fav of the Dinocapers as well...but you have breathed new life into this flick with you Dinocommentary. Loves the steam bath scene where Lovey sez..."Haven't they taken care of you?" and our Dino resplies, "There is takin' care and there is takin' care." Immediately Lovey starts to meet our Dino's needs...and I loves the scene at the end of the flick where Dino provides a new recruit with his personal attention...hopes you don't mind, will be sharin' this Dinoreview with all the pallies over at ilovedinomartin....thanks for a great piece of Dinoprose...

Keith said...

Hey pallie DMP. Thanks for the comments! It was great hearing from you. I'm glad you enjoyed my review of this film. It's my least favorite of the four as well. I tried to be fair to it and not just trash it. It does have some highlights. I love those scenes that you mentioned. The best scenes are generally the ones where there are some hot babes and Dino. He's always so cool and randy in those. Of course, I don't mind if you share it at ilovedinomartin. Thanks again for the comments. Hope you stop by my blog more often. Take care. Cheers!

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Keith, thanks for the Dinoapproval...just 'bout finished gettin' it ready to share at ilovedinomartin....of course will be sendin' pallies your way to checks it out in it's original Dinoformat....

Keith said...

Hey pallie DMP. That sounds cool. I'm glad you liked enough to want to share it at the Dinoblog. Thanks. Take care. Cheers!

Mary said...

Hey great review, As usual.
I love all The Matt Helm flix. I'll take em good or bad. He is the coolest.
A+++ Keith
Mia

Keith said...

Hey Mia. Thanks so much. Glad you liked the review. Yeah, I'll take the best and the not as good Matt Helm movies any day of the week. Cheers!

Steve Langton said...

Greatly enjoyed reading your review, which is fair and balanced as always. I really do need to get this boxset, big-time!
Good job the bullet shooting bra didn't catch on, as it would have made leisure activities decidedly dodgy.

DINO-GAL said...

I LOVE YOUR POST HERE PALLIE KEITH. I TOO TEND TO AGREE WITH YOU AND PALLIE PETERS ON THE MATT HELM FLICKS. #3 IS MY LEAST FAV, BUT I WILL WATCH ANYTHING WITH DINO INVOLVED! THANKS FOR THE FABULOUS POST HERE ON THE AMBUSHERS. CHEERS!
DINOGAL

Keith said...

Hey Steve. Thanks. I appreciate that. Glad you liked my review. I tried not to be too harsh on the film, but I did want people to know how I felt about it. I hope you do get this box set. It's so awesome. Matt Helm has some really funny lines about the bullet shooting bra in this movie. Cheers!

Keith said...

Hey pallie Terri. Thanks so much. It was great hearing from you. Glad you agree with me and DMP on this one. I still like it. It's just my least favorite of these flicks. But I'll definitely watch anything with Dino in it. Cheers!

Nancy Sinatra Fan said...

Hello Keith. This was a good review of this film. This is also my least favorite of these four films. I still liked certain parts of it. I'm like all of you. I'll watch anything that Dean played in. I look forward to seeing you cover "The Wrecking Crew."

Jeremy Richey said...

Awesome Keith....man I love the Helm films and this one is a classic. I love the lobby cards and photos you found as well.
Your blog is looking awesome as well, I love the way you have the ads and such placed. Very cool!

Robert M. Lindsey said...

I just did a review of The Silencers over at my blog retrohound.com. Yours is better though. I came here from Retrospace.

Keith said...

Hey Phoebe. Thanks for the comments. I think most of us like this the least of all of them. I still want people to see it who haven't. Cheers!

Keith said...

Hey Jeremy. Thanks so much. It was great hearing from you. I appreciate your comments on my blog. I'm having a lot of fun doing this and my other blog. I'm glad you like the way things look around here. Of course, I love your blogs. Take care. Good luck with everything. Cheers!

Keith said...

Hey Robert. Thanks. It was nice hearing from you. I just checked out and left some comments on your post. I'm adding your blog to my blog links. I want to visit it again. I covered The Silencers and Murderers' Row in the past up here. Sometime soon I'll do a post on The Wrecking Crew. Stop by anytime you like. Cheers!