THE SILENCERS, along with Our Man Flint, led a stampede of spy spoofs in 1966, and was the biggest hit of the lot, slightly out-grossing ‘Flint’ to become the year’s 13th most-seen picture. The ‘Matt Helm’ novels written by Donald Hamilton, 27 between 1960 and 1998, were serious espionage thrillers, but the quartet of movies they inspired were all done as jokes (mostly witless), starring Dean Martin as a lecherous version of the books assassin. The timing was right, coinciding with Dino’s TV series taking off big for a 9-year run, and everyone trying to cash in on James Bond. *
When ‘ICE’ (Intelligence Counter-Espionage) determines a nuke-war threat looms from ”BIG O’ (Bureau for International Government and Order), they summon retired agent Matt Helm, enjoying sybaritic life as a photographer (for ‘Slaymate’), back into a more selfless sort of service. Laid-back but lethal, Matt faces the evil ‘Tung-Tze’ (Victor Buono). He’s assisted by hot klutz ‘Gail Hendricks’ (Stella Stevens) and ravishing ‘Tina’ (Daliah Lavi), and is armed with a pistol that fires backwards and a supply of suggestive one-liners obvious enough for a goat. He does have a revolving bed that dumps him (and guest) into a swimming pool filled with bubble bath, and grooves to assignments in a ’66 Mercury station wagon equipped with a bed.
Things gets off to a suitably tawdry tease with the title tune written by Mack David, music by Elmer Bernstein. Cyd Charisse seductively slinks while lip-synching Vicki Carr vocals. Thusly cued, Martin glides through blithely, Stevens does her comedy goofing admirably (she’s the best thing in the movie), Lavi is gorgeous. Oscar Saul’s wink-wink script is mostly painful, Phil Karlson’s direction shows none of the flair he brought to his earlier film noir winners.
James Gregory does duty as Matt’s boss; other colorless men on hand include Arthur O’Connell, Robert Webber, Roger C. Carmel and Richard Devon. Displayed ‘Slaygirls’ include Nancy Kovack and Beverly Adams—as ‘Lovey Kravezit’—har-har, get it! Arranged for $3,500,000, the harmless, outdated naughtiness made off with $18,400,000.
* Producing smiles or groans with undercover escapades in 1966: Arabesque, Modesty Blaise, Funeral In Berlin, The Last Of The Secret Agents?, Blindfold, Where The Spies Are, A Man Could Get Killed, and Bang! Bang! You’re Dead! Two serious entries, The Quiller Memorandum and The Defector, played dour catch-up.
James Coburn’s fun Flint flick produced a single wan follow-up, In Like Flint, while Dino’s innuendo-fests as Helm spawned three, Murderers Row (at the end of ’66), The Ambushers in ’67 and The Wrecking Crew in ’69. All awful, notable only for their lousy scripts and the stunning beauties who decorated them—Ann-Margret, Camilla Sparv, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan and Tina Louise. Dean somehow did what a man had to.
I loved The Silencers as a priority-defining 11-year-old, but my taste in screenplays eventually evolved. As to priorities, some things die hard. Or at least hope to…