Thursday, September 18, 2014

Matt Helm - THE SILENCERS (1966)

I recently picked up used copies of the first two Matt helm spy novels from 1960. Author Donald Hamilton's terse, engrossing stories have turned out to be excellent and serious examples of espionage adventure and really are perfect for the movies. I intend to gather the rest of the series and read them as I can. They are a great alternative for me since I've read the original James Bond books several times over and this character could be seen as the American answer to Fleming's creation. Truth to tell, I had been curious about them for years because of the four Dean Martin films made from the series in the late 1960's. The movies occasionally popped up on television when I was a kid and they looked like exactly what they are- jokey Bond rip-offs with Martin having a high old time shooting bad guys and bedding lovely ladies. I have decided to give the movies a serious watch to see what I think of them and how they stack up to the books.

THE SILENCERS was the first of the series and although I find it very entertaining it shows that the producers had no real desire to craft a serious DR. NO style film. Well- at least most of the time. The film's biggest flaw is that it has some odd tonal shifts that keep it from being as good as it could be. The script takes elements from the first Helm novel Death of a Citizen and later entry The Silencers, jumbles them together and slings it out there. The story they come up with works for the most part giving Martin ample time with ladies, plenty of chances to smoke & drink and, on a few occasions, smack around gun happy criminals. The women on view are gorgeous (Daliah Lavi, Stella Stevens, etc.), the sets lavish, the characters fun and the cinematography colorful but the aforementioned tone shifts are off-putting. The swings into silly ideas and sillier set-pieces makes it impossible to get too invested in the supposedly dangerous goings on so the film has to please by keeping us dazzled with its other elements. For the most part it does amuse but I think the running time is a bit excessive and the movie could have been about ten minutes shorter. If some of Stella Stevens' clumsy comedic pratfalls had been deleted things might have seemed less unrealistic and we might have worried about her fate.

Overall, a fun start to the series but these are certainly not going to be in the same league as the novels or the competing Bond series from the same period. 


Brian Lindsey said...

Can't recall if they have Deano do it in the first film, but the other ones have him crooning ballads -- 'cause, you know, that's what veteran spies tend to do in between dodging bullets and bedding babes.


Just my opinion, but I utterly DESPISE these movies... If I feel the urge for an uber-campy American-made 007 knockoff, I much prefer James Coburn's Flint flicks.

Rod Barnett said...

I can understand anyone not liking these movies but its hard for me to get upset by them. I knew going in that they were generally silly but I can enjoy that - at least in this first film- because it doesn't overwhelm the story. The Flint films are better but they had their silly elements too. Of course, the Helm books are better than both film series by a mile!