Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Review of Matt Helm Movies - Just my take.

Re: Spy Femme Fatales -Review of Matt Helm Movies- Revised, text and pictures separated



This is just my opinion on the films and the ladies in them. If you have a different take please post a comment.

THE SILENCERS 1966

Link for pictures from this movie:

https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=kZIGx3XZE0luw1h9LqF9SY6qqKezYmgMmF77


I always assumed Murder’s Row was the first film because it has more of the feeling the way into the character and it has the better production values. This first iteration has some memorable scenes, namely two of them. Cyd Charisse’s opening number is unforgettable for the pure sexiness of the woman, her dancing and singing. Cyd nails it on all fronts.

fter that beginning it's hard to think it could be topped. We have to wait a bit, but it shows itself in the form of Nancy Kovack, Barbara, a Big O assassin assigned to kill Matt and just to be sure she gets his attention, as if anyone could ignore her, she leaves a trail for him to follow.

Unfortunately I could not find a good picture of the initial scene when he opens the door as the camera pans up, most splices are poor and don’t do justice to it. Hopefully the pictures here compensate for that.

Nancy plays her far too short time on film for all its worth. Sexy throaty voice, amazing seduction skills with her walk, and body motion and her words. But I think I speak for everyone when I say the man’s shirt and the heels are what make this scene so memorable, probably, and just my opinion, but the one scene I remember the most from the entire four picture series.

Just as side comments I had always assumed and it looked like from the scene that she had the knife concealed in her hair, it certainly was long enough and thick enough to work. Also there was another scene with her in it that was cut. It's made reference to right after she is killed when Tina tells Matt about another agent and that she killed him as well. They filmed the scene, only a few stills remain, but cut it from the end result I guess figuring that it was repetitive.

Enter Tina, Barbara’s killer and one of Matt’s old partners.

This is not fair to Daliah Lavi, but after Nancy it's hard to compete and really she never does. None of that is on her, the script is weak for her, you never warm up to her character and at times she’s overly made up, in terms of makeup and general looks kind of like the director is trying to get you to forget about Nancy (aka Barbara) and like her, so much so that they introduce someone even worse than her, Stella Stevens, (aka Gail Hendricks) whose only tie to the story is a sketchy boyfriend who’s soon gone leaving her behind to play the comedic foil to Matt, which grows really tiresome very quickly, but never stops, going right to the end of the movie. I honestly think the producers and director wanted you to pick one of the two remaining women and you choose neither, but fear not just when you thought it would not get better it does, Cyd Charisse comes back into the movie as Serita, a dancer with vital information about Matt and Tina’s mission.

Cyd does a sexy nightclub song and dance and is promptly shot and killed, which leaves us right back where we started.

Anyway the movie stumbles along, Matt and Gail end up in Big O HQ where it's revealed Tina is a double agent named Cowboy and she wants Matt to switch sides. Don’t ask me what happened because it takes a concentrated effort to take a pretty woman like Daliah and turn her into what is below.

Parts of this movie feel like it's actually the second film in the series. Dean seems to have the part down pat, playing his made up image as a womanizer and boozer to the hilt and continuing his role as straight man for the jokes with the occasional smart comment. The production values are ok for the budget and type of film it is, but it's the casting that really needed to be fixed and this plagued three of the four movies. I don’t think I’d be the first or the last person to wonder what it would have been like with Nancy Kovack being the female lead instead of Daliah Lavi and using Cyd Charisse as either Barbara or in another expanded role. She’s actually closer to Dean’s age than any of the others.

So my completely biased and yes sexiest ranking of this movie and the women of the series is as follows:

Movie Ranking: # 2

Nancy Kovack: #1 of all the women in the series.

Daliah Lavi: #9

MURDER’S ROW 1966

Link to the pictures for this movie:

https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=kZaUx3XZAo1fJOLq500vil8pbJEAz85izdty


The second go round was released later the same year. The only of the four without ‘The’ in the title, not that it matters. This time we get Karl Malden as the bad guy, and he’s good at playing what if you watch carefully is a psychopath, completely detached from compassion and remorse with his own God like delusions that all bad guys who are just trying to do good seem to have. Tagged along is his henchman with part of his head that requires regular chrome polishing to keep up appearances. This movie has it all, secret evil guy island base and just so it remains secret they place it on the French Riviera, hovercraft and a Death Ray, I mean Heliobeam. Matt has a trick gun, a continuation of the theme used in The Silencers, but with a twist. I guess since the movies were so close together the script writers just recycled what they thought worked from the first one. Unfortunately they also recycled the use and writing of the female protagonists.

But let's start off with Corrine Cole, Miss January and a BIG O agent. Matt’s cover in the movies is as a famous photographer, which as covers go, is a pretty good one. Anyway he’s photographing Miss January for a calendar.


Given her brief film time Corrine does a superb job of looking sexy and being evil, especially when dhe takes the bomb she wants to plant to kill Matt from her hair and activates it. Pity she dies because she did make a good bad girl and arguably the best lady in the film. This leads us to the other two women in the film, Ann Margret and Camilla Sparv, one good the other bad, but not really wanting to be.

First we get to meet the good girl, Ann Margret, Suzie, she just happens to be the daughter of the American scientist who’s been kidnapped by Big O to make their Heliobeam work so they can destroy Washington, DC.

Ann plays her part well, the spunky daughter who helps Matt out when he needs it and she always looks good in spite of her limited wardrobe, but who cares about that when you get to see her in a baby doll.

The other woman is Camilla Sparv (aka Coco Duquette) and to give you an idea of how important to the plot or story she is, the summary of the movie on Wikipedia does not even mention her.

Again, no fault of the actress, Camilla is a very beautiful
woman, she’s just given nothing to do except trying to be
the moral compass to her bosses, Karl Maldens
psychopathical delusions and in the end its costs her her
life as he kills her in a very nasty, for the temperment of
the film, way.

She looks great, although the green outfit does nothing for anybody. She shines in the pink dress, but you see so little of her it’s of no consequence. It's like the writers and then the director did not know what to do with her, much like Stella Stevens in The Silencers, but here, it's with a main player. It's a shame because she is a classic beauty.

Murder’s Row has by far the best production value of the four movies which is strange since its the second one, you’f think they would done that with the first since Dean had signed for four pictures, plus an option for more, but more on that later. The movie just seems really serious and Dean seems to be finding his way with what Matt is supposed to be. He’s nowhere near as fluid with the part as he is in The Silencers and the others after that. Easily, it's the most forgettable of the four films, but far from the worst,

Movie Ranking: # 3

Camilla Sparv: # 8

Ann Margret # 6

The Ambushers 1967

Link to pictures for this movie:

https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=kZWGx3XZWwB8j6Q0HtpBBjvWkb0aS7WeBVUX


Dean hits his stride with this one as the producers and director finally decide to play the movies for light entertainment and over the top nonsense and it works. Sadly this is the last film with Matt’s personal secretary, Lovey Kravzit, Beverly Adams.

The plot revolves around a stolen space craft that BIG O, ICE’s opposite plan to sell to the highest bidder. Dean is sent to get it back or destroy it but he has to take along the female pilot of the craft, Sheila Sommers, Janice Rule, who was captured by the villain of the movie, Ortega and while not stated it is implied she was abused during her capture before she escaped. Matt’s none too thrilled about taking her along because he wonders if she can still function as an agent.

Janice Rule has stated many times that she hated doing this movie, not because of the cast, but because of the silly nature of it and considers it the worst movie she was ever in. That;s a pity because the casting of the two leading ladies, her and Senta Berger, is perfect. They are polar opposites, rivals, but in the end they understand each other, even respect each other, one saving the other's life.

Shelia is easily the best partner Matt has in the movies. She’s not the most beautiful, but she is deadly and a skilled agent who bails Matt out on more than one occasion. She gives as good as she gets and doesn’t back down displaying a confidence that is refreshing to see without letting her adversary know about it until it's too late.

Her opposite number in every possible way is Francesca Mederios (Senta Berger). It's clear she is no athlete, but she doesn’t need to be. Francesca is all about control, in every situation. She reads trouble before it shows up and deals with it. Her control is evident when she prevents Matt from being killed at the party by getting the crowd going and the music loader. From there it just goes into overdrive with her seduction of Matt at her Cabana. Her nightgown, while revealing nothing of her is used for just that purpose, it gets Matt off his game by wanting to see more of her. From there she leads Matt on a merry chase about her place pausing only to let him get close only to spring away again. Her confidence level is so high she even gives him a close up look at her weapon, as she applies her drugged lipstick, then offers him the antidote. Once the game is played to her satisfaction and only then does she let Matt catch her, he falls into her arms only too willingly and her trap. Only more little chase to tease him then she reclines at his side and questions him only to have Sheila show up and rescue him. Senta clearly had the time of her life doing this scene, she plays the femme fatale to the hilt.

After losing out on the bidding for the spacecraft and seeing that Sheila is going to be subjected to the same abuse that she previously escaped from, Francesca uses the excuse to fix her up for the General, the villain,by giving her a coating of her special lipstick and the antidote in her drink. Obviously she didn’t have to do it, but it shows she’s not the enemy she’s made out to be. Unfortunately she meets an undeserving end. It would have been interesting to see both she and Sheila trapped on the saucer together and forced to cooperate, what could have come from that.

So not the best production values, but on par with The Silencers, same goes for the story, but it more than makes up for it with two fantastic women who both look great and have plenty to do along the way. Best way I can think to explain the two women is Sheila’s the girl you trust completely, she’ll always be there for you. Francesca’s the girl you can’t always trust, know she’ll dump you the minute something else comes along, but you just can’t resist her. For me, this outing gets it right in all areas.

Movie Ranking: # 1

Janice Rule # 4

Senta Berger # 2


The Wrecking Crew 1968

Link to the pictures for this movie:

https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=kZwvx3XZdHsy8OYtl2yRQSQYB43SGuym3C6V


This is what happens when everyone involved in something is just going through the motions. There’s a story somewhere in the script, nothing two or three revisions wouldn’t correct. Instead we get the first draft of something that they made into a film and it didn’t stop there. Dean is 50 by the time this is made. His leading ladies, Elke Sommer is 28, Nancy Kwan is 29, Tina Louise is 34 and Sharon Tate is 25. So it's a little more than creepy that Dean is amourous with at least two of his co-stars who he could easily be the father of in Elke and Sharon, maybe even Nancy at a stretch as well.

I’m not going to go into the plot except to say it involves a gold heist from a moving train by a supervillain in order to bring the world economy to its knees. Even the opening song is in poor taste and racist and they even get that wrong using the Japanese phrase Aa! Sou meaning “Oh really” that westerns say as “ahso” problem is Nancy Kwan is Chinese, not Japanese, I guess it was too much trouble to check.

After that disaster we are treated to what I think is the second best introduction of the female antagonist in the series in Elke Sommer and her amazing slit gown.(Nancy Kovack is first)

The heist is done, Matt is sent to get the gold back and he needs to make contact with a nightclub singer/dancer named Lola Medina (Tina Louise). Her character is just a lift from the Cyd Charisse/Serita in The Silencers and she lasts about as long in the film.

he whole scene is cringy and embarrassing and completely unnecessary to the story. Watching it it looks like Dean either forgot or is ad libbing his lines as the pauses in dialogue are very noticeable. Tina Louise does the most embarrassing Eastern European accent ever, goes over the top and not in a good way with her part. It feels like she’s channeling Ginger doing a parody of Ginger from Gilligan’s Island. Luckily the scene ends when her apartment is blown up.


I will never say anything bad about Sharon Tate. She was saddled with this turkey. She’s another victim of lazy writing as her character Freya Carlson is just Stella Stevens revisited. Sharon does not have a gift for physical comedy so making her do the pratfalls only makes them less humorous and all the while we’re supposed to believe she's a trained ICE agent, sure.

Even under the ridiculous outfit she wears you can clearly see she’s a very beautiful woman. I guess the writers and director thought it would be a big surprise when she was revealed as a knockout. Anyway, Sharon has little to do except to be the comedic foil for Dean until she becomes a compettiant agent all of a sudden.

Moving along we meet Nancy Kwan or as her character is cleverly called Wen Yu Rang. Maybe funny in the 60’s, but even then it most likely fell flat. She’s an associate of the head bad guy so naturally she has to have a romantic scene with Dean as well and here again lazy comes a calling. The trail of clothes she leaves in his suite is of course right out of Nancy Kovack in The Silencers (her name keeps coming up.)

If the Tina Louise love scene was bad this is a very close second. Both Dean and Nancy clearly look uncomfortable. It starts with a bad and tasteless joke using Nancy’s character's name as a punchline, neither looking happy about having to do it. Their postures even when on the bed are stiff and each looks like they are pushing the other away. The kisses are forced and just pecks at best, the whole thing is uncomfortable to watch. Nancy must think so too as she never removes her sandals as she gets on the bed to entice Matt.

Elke has a try at killing Dean as well, it's just another excuse for a romance scene, although she gives a good performance in a very attractive gold gown and she is a convincing kisser. Then there’s a forced bit with Sharon and Dean where we see her as the attractive woman she is, but again, it's a forced bit and it somehow manages to diminish the effect it was going for.


On it goes until we come to the end and the showdown at the bad guys mansion. Dean fights off guys outside, at one point when he is doing an army crawl you can visibly see the artificial grass carpet bunch up. Meanwhile Sharon finds the controls to the booby trapped complex in the bad guys bedroom and proceeds to cause mayhem as she tries to act scatterbrained and flustered when Nancy (Wen Yu Rang) shows up setting up a fight between the two, the best and at the same time, most disappointing part of the movie.

Bruce Lee choreographed this bit but that’s stretching it to the snapping point. Nancy Kwan started out as a ballerina attending the Royal Ballet School in London, an injury forced her to turn to acting. In her youth she also studied Tai Chi, so she certainly had the athleticism, poise and grace to do the scene. Sharon I don’t know about but during the movie you get a sense she has the ability to be physical and one partner can make another less skilled partner look great. My thinking is that Lee was given very limited time to make something and given the constraints he went with throwing in a few things for Nancy to show off with. In the end it just leaves you unsatisfied and disappointed, like the whole movie, so maybe it actually succeeded.

With Tina blown up by an exploding scotch bottle, Elke killed by machine gun fire in a spinning restaurant booth (along with Chuck Norris, who says there is no god) and Nancy blown up on an exploding bed inside the mansion that just leaves Sharon. Dean fights the baddie, kills him, takes control of the train, touches a few controls and out pops a bed, a bar and record player. On queue enter a new Freya (Sharon) romance scene and the end with the promise of another film, The Ravagers.

This is what a franchise out of steam looks like, a rehash of old plot devices, bad dialogue, cheap production elements and badly cast parts. Someone perhaps thought that more girls the better, after all if two work well four will work better, right? Wrong! The scenes are jammed together without any thought to continuity or set up to the point where even Dean looks kind of tired of doing another love scene.

Nancy Kwan is miscast badly. Tina Louise is a TV actress who should never be on the big screen. Elke Sommer needs way more to do in this movie than just be the bad guy's girlfriend, she’s too talented for the limited and poorly defined role she has. Sharon Tate is wasted in this her second to last film and she shows it at times in her face at the frustration of her characters scope. However, she does her best and gives the movie its two best moments.

As for the next movie, well there are two stories about it. One is that Dean declined because he was so upset by the murder of Sharon Tate that he declined rather than have her part recast.

The other story is that the film did so badly at the box office that it was never going to happen. I have also heard that the producers were thinking of making Matt Helm meets Tony Rome (Frank Sinatra’s character). Who knows that could have been the plot outline for The Ravagers as the films borrowed very loosely from the Neil Hamilton books. The other reason is that at 50 plus Dean was really past it for the part.

Movie Ranking # 4

Nancy Kwan # 7

Elke Sommer # 5
   
Sharon Tate # 3

Tina Louise # 10

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this, just a little side rail as an escape from story writing. If you have other thoughts let me know, I’d love to hear them.

Cheers, Steve

Sunday, January 2, 2022

CAPTION & LINK




This is a link to my pcloud account where I store video's that relate to this topic.  Have a look around, download if you want and if you have ones that are on topic that I don't have please make a suggestion.

https://u.pcloud.link/publink/show?code=VZIMX3XZOBNJxKSicWkcALl4uzeSvkYqJy5k