Many years ago, probably in the seventies, CBS used to show nightly movies at 11:30 p.m. This was way before they had Pat Sajak as a talk show host and way before Dave Letterman left NBC to establish The Late Show. At that time I used to work the night shift at a restaurant in my home town and would get home just in time to catch whatever movie was showing. If it was something that didn't appeal to me, I would usually switch to Johnny Carson. At that time, if you didn't have cable, you were left watching the big three networks, or, if your reception was strong enough, the rare independent station. At that time, we lived in a rural area and cable was not an option.
Oh yes, and more importantly, usually your cable was touted as providing better reception, and at the most, you maybe had ten or fifteen additional channels. If that. Also, it was the time when HBO was first getting it's start and the big thrill there was that you could watch movies uncensored with no commercials. The only time I would get the chance to see that was when I would visit my brother who lived in Portsmouth, Ohio. Back then, if you had HBO that is usually where your channel stayed and you watched whatever was playing on it, no matter good or bad. It was a real novelty back then.
And so, getting back on topic, it was because of the CBS Late Movie that I first saw Dean Martin as Matt Helm and have always considered the series of movies one of my guilty pleasures.
Matt Helm was a fictional character created by author Donald Hamilton. He is a U.S. government counter-agent—a man whose primary job is to kill or nullify enemy agents—not a spy or secret agent in the ordinary sense of the term as used in spy thrillers. In the books, Helm was one of the most tough-minded, pragmatic, and competent of all fictional agents, whatever their roles. Dean Martin's Matt Helm, which he portrayed in a series of films from the mid to late 60's, was night. These films, produced by Irwin Allen (Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Lost In Space) were played strictly tongue-in-cheek, even more so than the Flint movies which starred James Coburn. The only resemblance to the books was the titles of the films, the name Matt Helm, and his cover identity.
Some folks may remember a TV series of Matt Helm that starred Tony Franciosa. It too deviated from the books and was unsuccessful.
Dean Martin as Matt Helm, to me, was pretty darn slick. What you basically had was the Dean Martin persona, a wise-cracking, fun loving, easygoing playboy. If you watch the films now, they are definitely dated, but so are the earlier James Bond. Like the Bond films, there is a plot where Helm has to save the world from a sinister organization. In the case of The Silencers, it is The Big O, led by Victor Buono. There are cool gadgets, beginning with Helms bachelor pad, in which his circular bed not only rotates, but also moves across the floor, elevates, and conveniently drops him into a huge bubble bath where a lovely woman awaits him.
Silly? Sure. But it is all part of the fun of a spy series that never takes itself seriously. There are bits like this all through the film.
What made me think about how much I enjoyed the Matt Helm series was when I spotted "The Silencers" at Crackle.com. While I can't embed it here, you can click here to watch it at Crackle. They also have Murderer's Row, The Ambushers and The Wrecking Crew there so that you can enjoy all four of these Helm films.
If you are interested in the TV show, starring Tony Franciosa, they have that as well. Click here to tune in.
If you would like to own all four Matt Helm movies in one great collection, you can order the Matt Helm Lounge for only 20.99 at Amazon. Click on the banner to go there. These movies are a lot of fun and even after seeing them on Crackle, I just ordered them from Amazon. Dean Martin was one of the greatest entertainers in the world and should be remembered not only for his wonderful music, his partnership in comedy with Jerry Lewis, but also for his terrific solo film career.
So, what are you waiting for, get over to Amazon and get these films.