I Saw A Film!

I couldn’t help it, I dove right back into the sweet, silly genre of spy spoof. Starring the ever suave Dean Martin, who hears his own songs in his head as he’s driving around and dropping wisecracks (Perry Como seems to be humorous grit in Martin’s potato chips), and a bevy of lovely ladies.

This time Martin, as Matt Helm, is after a bit of computer data transferred from Cyd Charisse (while onstage dancing and singing – a less conspicuous moment of secret exchange could not be arranged!) to one of his tricky lady friends. On the “tape” are the means of detonating a nuke, which would trigger a third world war! Nothing too difficult to understand there. But it’s also just about the least interesting bit of the film. Much more fun, are the myriad ways in which Martin’s Helm is portrayed as a sophisticate. He lives in a posh push-button world where even the soap for his enormous bathtub/swimming pool is kept in a nifty electronically activated hide-away. Though of course, Helm doesn’t keep soap there he keeps a flask of booze. His secretary paddles lovingly around in the suds with him, as they do, and they have coffee where the mechanism does not so much seem to make the coffee but does automatically pour it at the touch of a button. So much of this stuff looks like a Thunderbirds set, and Martin himself could pass for a Gerry Anderson marionette as well.

James Gregory, the only man who could make Martin sound sober, plays Helm’s boss, and while there are lots of chuckles and fantasy mechanical leisure devices about, Helm is given a sobering one. A gun that fires backwards so that anyone trying to use it on you automatically does him or herself in. Don’t loose track of that little toy, it will figure heavily later.

While we’re meant to fall in love with Stella Stevens at Dean’s side, she’s handicapped with a role of such tragic clumsy ditzyness that it’s difficult to find her at all engaging. I realize that this is a popular film trope, the gorgeous but flawed lady, but after you’ve seen her pratfall with drinks and heels two or three times, and you start to anticipate her collapse in clownish form, you start to get angry at the director. It just isn’t that endearing to watch a lady exit a car into a muddy storm and flop hopelessly around like she were having a seizure. Get that woman medicated! Meanwhile Matt Helm, safe and dry in his snazzy rape wagon, enjoys her pleas (I may be being a bit heavy-handed there, you tell me!).

Stealing the show is Daliah Lavi, who enters the film shooting a woman in the back. A woman in Martin’s arms! Of course, said woman is wielding a blade which is revealed once she collapses and Martin starts making cocktails. Lavi is long and lovely, and gets much of the jokey banter. None of it is very funny, just wise-cracking, it feels a bit like a Rodney Dangerfield wrote the dialog. Who built this house, Smith and Wesson? after a fake panel reveals lots more guns.

You still get plenty of mid-sixties cool and schmaltz. You get plenty of sets that look like first gen Star Trek, which I studied as a kid. You also get Robert Webber, whose name I had to look up despite having seen him everywhere forever, having regularly appeared on The Rockford Files, Cannon and a million other TV shows, as a heavy. There is also Victor Buono playing an East Asian villain in such a groan-worthy fashion that it took me most of the film to realize he was supposed to be Chinese. It is honestly well that we’ve gotten embarrassed about doing this kind of comic rendition of ethnicities, and while I understand this is just a very silly comedy, relying on the racism is weak form. Also along for the ride is Roger Carmel who will always be “Mudd” in a recurring Star Trek role. He’s almost as iconic as any of the original cast!

It’s a bit sobering to realize that this film came in at number twelve in top grossing films of 1966 which had The Bible at number one (just one movie?), and Sand Pebbles at number four. Marginally beating out The Silencers was Georgie Girl (number 11) and Alfie (number 10). I suppose Dean Martin and Stella Stevens were enough of a draw in those days to make that mark. It’s a bit hard to watch so much violence played in cartoon form, but we’re not supposed to be taking any of it seriously. I also think that these are the films, in style and largely in clean content that continue to inform the Bollywood industry. While Martin never breaks out into actual song for an “Item number” as they still do in Bollywood productions, the flavor is certainly there as is the matching and shifting of various stars to “season” the products.

This will cost you 4 bones on Prime (though it’s also plastered on Youtube), and it’s good for a period lark.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s