Saturday, September 20, 2014

Matt Helm - MURDERERS' ROW (1966)

Coming off the (relative) high of enjoying the first Matt Helm movie a few days ago I jumped into the second one with a certain amount of enthusiasm. MURDERERS’ ROW came out only a few months after THE SILENCERS showing that the studio money people figured that the public was hungry for more spy movies – and they were. But I suspect that if most spy movies were as lifeless and insulting as this sad effort the genre would have collapsed much faster than it did.

I had been warned that the general consensus was that the first of this series was the best of the four and I fear they may be right.  The level of quality drop-off on display here is embarrassing. Not that the first film was brilliant but at least it hung together and, although overlong, it had SOME forward momentum. MURDERERS’ ROW is one of the most lackadaisical spy adventure movies I have ever seen. The story doesn’t even really get underway until forty-five minutes have crawled by! The script is so half-assed that there are moments when the way we are lead from one plot point to the next is by Dean Martin spouting a charming (?) quip. At times the movie seems to have contempt for its audience’s intelligence with the highlight being when Martin and Ann-Margret switch from driving a black convertible to Helm’s pimped out spy-mobile IN THE MIDDLE OF A CHASE! No – they didn’t stop one car, get out and get into the other car- they are just magically in the tricked out spy car in the space of an edit!  Did they expect us to miss this? Was it an in-joke? Were we supposed to laugh? If so there was no indication in the movie as it is never referenced at all! And this idiocy is on top of several instances of Martin just magically knowing things that he has no way of possible knowing such as the location of other characters, the likelihood of certain illogical actions and the motivations of people he has never met. This is incredibly sloppy freakin’ screenwriting or filmmaking (if this was done in the editing process instead of baked into the words on the page) and it shows that they were not trying to make a credible movie. Damn, this movie is irritating for anyone with a brain.

Don’t get me wrong- I don’t mind a silly spy movie every now and then. A spy spoof or a completely comedic take on the genre can be great fun and my love of the Euro-Spy sub-genre is public knowledge. But this film compounds the error of the first Helm film by pretending it’s a serious spy thriller while having nearly every detail played for laughs. Karl Malden as the head bad guy seems to be making a serious attempt at villainy but the efforts of his organization and its goal are stupid. Ann-Margret as the daughter of a kidnapped scientist is energetic and earnest (and mind bendingly gorgeous, of course) but her peril is played as a punchline more often than not. The film seems to be trying to slide a lot of its offenses past us by relying on the screen charm of Dean Martin and the delectable body of the lovely Ann-Margret. I like both of these things – in different ways, of course – but neither of them can carry an entire film. Ugh! I wanted this to be a fun film but what I got was an exercise in frustration. Dammit! Are the other two movies in this run as damned bad as this?


Brian Lindsey said...

It may be hard to believe, Rod, but the Helm pics only get worse... I'm talking Face-Palm Theater!

Rod Barnett said...

I can believe it! This one was.....terrible.