I first heard about the Matt Helm films after my parents had gone to the cinema to see Murderer’s Row. I was very excited about the whole thing because Dean Martin was a Smith household favourite. I was crushed when my parents returned and told me that the film was a bit too risqué” for someone of my tender years.
What I did instead of sneaking out to watch the film was borrow one of my dad’s copies of the Matt Helm series written by Donald Hamilton. I fell in love with the books and I started trying to read every single one in the series.
Later when I was actually able to watch the Matt Helm films, courtesy of American television complete with censored bits and cuts to allow for commercials, I found that the producers had opted to make the films all “Action/Comedies.” With Dino as Helm, it worked.
Booze, Bullets & Broads by Bruce Scivally is a loving look at the four films made with Martin in them and a look at how they differed from the books they were “adapted” from. He also talks about the “players” and how they developed the idea for an American James Bond. He traces the beginning of the idea of an US equivalent to the English “shaken-not-stirred” martini man and how it evolved into the “spoof” format that it became.
Producer Irving Allen, the former partner of Cubby Broccoli and all around ‘Mr Personality’ – not, was the genius behind the idea of the films. He spotted a Matt Helm paperback in an airport. Contacting the author Donald Hamilton, he bought the film rights to all the existing books in the series. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading Mr Hamilton’s Matt Helm series will know that the literary version of the “super-spook” is a complete 180 degree turn from the celluloid Helm as portrayed by Dean Martin. As I said, I got hooked on the books at an early age and I still firmly believe that if they did a more “accurate” adaptation of them, the films would break box-office records.
Still, the movies were entertaining, not very well made (as Scivally points out) but funny, irreverent, and full of the most beautiful women at that time. I mean, seriously, who would not rate Stella Stevens or Ann Margaret (not to mention Cyd Charisse) as the most beautiful women..ever?
Scivally also charts the downward trend of the films and their falling box office receipts. If you watch the films today you’ll notice that they’ve not aged well at all and unless you are a die-hard fan of old Dino, you probably won’t know what all the fuss was about. I still enjoy them and will one day own all of them on DVD.
On a sad side note, Sharon Tate was in the third film The Ambushers. In-between that film’s release and the final film’s shooting started (she was meant to be in the fourth film as well) the heavily pregnant Tate was, of course, brutally slaughtered by members of the Manson Family.
This has always put a bit of a dampener on the film for me.
Still, if you are a fan of the films and the books, you’ll like this look at the franchise (s). This Kindle book sells for just over 2 pounds so it’s affordable enough and not too taxing a read. Be warned though, if you are already a Dean Martin fan, you’re not likely to learn anything new about the man or his films, but the bits of trivia that Scivally has included in the book is at least entertaining.
A 3.5 stars out of 5 with a temptation to give it a full 4 stars just because of the subject matter.
- Booze Bullets and Broads (leegoldberg.typepad.com)
- Matt Helm Novels are Back! (retrenders.com)
- Dean Martin on Grooveshark (grooveshark.com)
- Nerve Centre: Death Of A Citizen And The Wrecking Crew By Donald Hamilton (nerdlikeyou.com)