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to somebody's running headstart at celebrating the pending New Year, the
regular writer of this website has, well, kinda disappeared for
a weekend bender. Fear not, faithful readers, Operation:
00-Oddballs marches right along thanks to the timely intervention
of long time reader, and even longer time friend, Endless Dave Hudson. And
m'man has drawn a plum assignment, dissecting one of Dean Martin's Matt Helm
films. And though this series of spoofs isn't exactly what author Donald Hamilton envisioned with
his pulp novel spy hero, it did help cement Martin as one of the
Kings of Cool in my book. Enjoy!
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is the third of four Matt Helm spy films starring the
preternaturally-loose, turtle-neck-clad Dean Martin. While Martin
was capable of excellent dramatic work (more
on this later),
this movie is best seen while in a state of relaxation just short of
coma. Donít expect its 101 minutes to make much sense, for the
location footage to match the sound stage shots or for anyone
involved to try particularly hard.
trying hard was Dean Martinís prime charm, after all. If it
bothers you, have another drink fer Christís sake. Itís what
Dino would do.
opus opens with bikinied girls dancing to the title song sung by
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart: "They getcha in the sun. They
getcha in the shade. Theyíre the ambushers!" -- sure, itís
not Cole Porter, but this ainít Citizen
first scene of the movie proper gives us the launch of Americaís
first flying saucer. A group of military and CIA types watch a big
screen in a control room and a voice says everything is
thing takes off, and the stiffs applaud. But meanwhile, on a nearby
sound stage that bears a striking resemblance to The
set, a satellite dish atop an armored truck emits sparks and an
eerie sound is heard as the saucer falters and is sucked back to
earth. Back in the control room, Vince, one of the crew cuts, is
heard saying "Itís jammed! Everything is jammed!"
this is one control room that guides rockets and saucers using a
finely calibrated system of levers and pulleys. Maybe they forgot to
saucer sets down beside the armored truck built, Iím guessing, out
of coconuts and bamboo. Inside, the pilot removes her (of
helmet. The saucerís door opens and, there, leering away, is a
dude with a white, collarless jacket and rose-tinted glasses. The
scene closes with a guitar-chord <pit-tang!!> that
really wants to be the one used in the Bond films.
to somewhere else Ė I donít believe weíre told where. Itís
the Intelligence Counter Espionage (ICE) Rehabilitation Center. Sort
of a de-tox center for spies was my guess, knowing who our star is.
we are, itís warm. The girls arenít wearing much. Dressed in
red, white and gray outfits baring their flat, sexy tummies, the
girls are topped with berets with pom-poms and tassels. So itís
sort of a Qís lab/testing center facility, but instead of a new
Astin Martin DB5, thereís a gadget that dissolves belt buckles.
And although it works fine on the department-store manikin used in
the test, "I like my way better," one of the trainees
loves Somebody" coming out of an open window heralds our hero,
who is discovered necking with a blonde on a couch as a turntable
spins nearby. Dean looks pretty good, wearing the first of a medley
of turtle-necks. They go at it until we hear a shot. The girl was
wearing a loaded bra in more ways than one; thereís a gun barrel
sewn into the bra stays. You reach the moment of glorious unlatching
and blammo! youíre done. Thankfully, the cartridges were blanks (falsies?).
After some off-color jokes, we gather that Dean is there for
training in the oppositionís newest gadgets.
thatís set-up, though. The first major plot point comes when a
white-faced woman in a straitjacket
runs into Martinís arms as he walks across the grounds leaving his
coursework. Itís Sheila Summers (Janice
Rule), we learn,
one of Martinís former partners. A doctor-type says that she
stumbled out of the jungle recently and canít remember anything.
Sharp eyes will recognize the pilot of the flying saucer.
girl in a scooter drives up to tell Martin heís got a
long-distance phone call. And after some more off-color jokes Ė
during which Dean coyly glances our way with a raised eyebrow Ė he
rides off seated behind her. On
the phone is MacDonald (James
Martinís chief. Gregory also played the bad guy in the John
Wayne/Dean Martin western The
Sons of Katie Elder
and was, I think, a regular on I
Dream of Jeanie. [Editor's note: And don't forget Barney
Miller.] He tells Dino that the case involves Summers (startling
revelation, huh? I do like the way the movie explains itself for
those of us who have used alcohol to get through it...) and that his private secretary would fill him in on the
a couple of comic set pieces that frankly donít play too well
today, Dino is interrupted in the midst of a massage that is
regrettably "just a massage." Doing the interrupting is
Dinoís private secretary, Lovie Cravesit Ė a name that is always
repeated at least once when first introduced so the boozers in the
audience can come around. She brings his mouthwash Ė apparently a
fifth of whisky.
36 percent more cavitiesÖ but you donít care," Dino says
with a sly look.
thereís a scene just like it in The
except he asks for his shampoo and is handed a tiny airline bottle
of liquor, which he drinks, saying "Ah, I feel clean all
over!" or something like it.
doesnít know anything about the plot, but her bra does. Undoing
the catch while theyíre in the steam room starts a recorded
message. The key to the caper is Summers, the recording of Mac says.
"I want you on top of this from morning Ďtil night."
information comes our way after a set piece in a mock railroad car.
MacDonald, who arrived just in time to save Dino from a David Niven
look-alike, explains another little wrinkle. Owing to the
"electromagnetic propulsion" the saucer uses, only a
"female of the species" can fly it. Men curl up and die
after, we discover later, turning bright, Magic Marker red, even
is ICEís best pilot, man or woman. Unfortunately, she canít
remember anything. Because of Deanís history working with Summers
Ė during a case where they posed as newlyweds Ė MacDonald thinks
Dino can help her remember. ("Me?"
Dean says, pointing nonchalantly at his chest with a .38 caliber
this seems a bit like a homage of From
Russia with Love,
where thereís a tussle in a railcar where Bond and his Chickie de
Jour posed as newlyweds. Though,
on further reflection, I think perhaps homage is stretching it.
Lazy, half-assed tip of the snap brim pork-pie is more like it.
leaving the train, Dean says he thinks thereís a traitor in
ICEís midst. In the split second between cuts, Dean and Mac have
already rooted out the fink. Quick work. Summersí white-coated
"physician" is about to inject her with "just
something to quiet you." Dino hits him or something Ė anyway,
Mr. Whitecoat falls down as Dino gets near him Ė and Summers
embraces Dino, already thinking, or so it seems, that he is her
the logic inherent in these foleyed fistfights, you could stand
across the room from somebody, swing your arm through the air and
across the room heíd fall down.
gets a little bit more briefing when a filmed boxing match he and
Mac are watching is interrupted by a commercial for Montezuma beer.
Girls shaking their asses to a jingle that Mac explains is actually
the marching tune for a sacred European organization. He walks over
to a phonograph to hand Dino the album cover: "Songs Men Have
tells Dean the leader of the organization is a cat called Casselius
and that the beer company, owned by a man named Quintana believed to
be mixed up in it, is based in Acapulco.
(What did we expect? A real beer town like Milwaukee, Wisc.? The
girls would have to wear clothes.) Now,
is to take pictures of the organization leaders, and Summers is
supposed to come too and hopefully remember details about her
the obligatory stock footage of that south-of-the-border paradise,
and an absolutely paralyzing scene with Summers and Dino drinking
and smoking in enormous-seeming airline seats. (It
was a different world, baby, back when flight attendants were called
stewardesses and were hired for their looks.)
Just behind the Helms is a guy in a fez and sunglasses. He also
shows up at their groovy Mexican hotel, where Dean grabs a drink
from a tray on a passing pink Jeep. (He
does his own stunts! Later weíll see him drink his own liquor!
Take that McQueen!)
evening they go to the brewery, where the receptionist oohs and ahs
about his pictures. They meet Quintana and a bunch more dancers. I
donít know why they were there. They just file out of Quintanaís
office. During the following tour of the brewery thereís some
pretty good jokes:
at guys using hydraulic exoskeletons to move barrels of beer:
"They can carry a 1,500-pound load."
"I know the feeling."
exoskeletons, by the way, look like something made out of cardboard
for Halloween. You and your 12-year-old big brother could do better.
Iím sure of it. And I donít even know your big brother.
the same day, at a big swinging party, who should arrive in a
helicopter but the dude in a rose-tinted glasses. It is clear by the
particularly motionless fixity of Summersí face Ė even more
stony than her signal for other emotions Ė that she recognizes
"Jose Ortega," as heís called.
intrigue with the bad guys whispering about Helm and Summers and
more booze and sex jokes and then Helm meets Francesca Maderus (Senta
looks pretty good.
(Everybody looks pretty good in the movie, but they all look they
were out too late the night before.) Dino
takes Ortegaís picture, holding the camera all wrong, pinched
between his fingers with his crooked pinkie sticking out. A nearby
thug demands the film, telling Dino that Ortega is sensitive about
"the scar," which I hadnít even noticed. The
thug, who was standing like 5 feet away when the photo was snapped,
should have prevented the photo, because it was instantly sent via
wireless fax to ICE headquarters. Later, Dino dons a pair of Mr.
Magoo glasses to read ICEís reply which becomes visible on a piece
of film: "Ortega is Leopold Casselius."
fax cameras and talking bras. Havenít these people ever heard of a
weíve got some intrigue and shit
in this section which doesnít make a lick of sense. I donít see
any reason to waste your time with it. What it comes down to is that
Ortega recognizes Summers and begins steps to eliminate her and
Dino. Maderus saves the pretend newlyweds from a musician in the
band who holds a pair of maracas with gun barrels that poke out the
ends like nipples. Chased
by bad guys, Summers and Dino run into the parking lot, which
Summers leaves behind in a huge, black Lincoln. Meanwhile Dino hides
behind the fins of an equally huge 1961 Cadillac while he extends a
pistol barrel from his Swiss Army camera (does
everything but actually expose film).
Meanwhile, several of the girls from the ICE training camp appear to
run interference. Spotting
a motorcycle, he runs for it, shooting and using a buckle
disintegrating ray on a group of bad guys, who push their pants down
as they run while they act like theyíre trying to hold them up.
Itís an embarrassingly stupid scene just as pitiful as a guy
wrestling with a limp rubber octopus.
it only gets worse, for some enormously convenient reason the
marching theme -- from "Songs Men Have Died For" -- plays,
halting the bad guys, pants around their ankles. Dino just weaves
between them on his motorcycle as they stand at attention. (He
weaves beautifully. Practice, baby, practice.) Meanwhile,
in the Lincoln, a bad guy has come out of the back seat to menace
Summers. They park off the road and are both in the back seat when
thereís a gun shot. Summers comes out alone, safe and sound. The
henchman is slumped over in the back seat, another victim of the bra
the new scene Dino is visiting Maderusí hotel room, where he
discovers two album covers, S.M.H.D.F. and "Sinatra
Sings." She wants to know the identity of Casselius and the
location of his headquarters. Dino refuses a drink, saying,
"Iím not too fond of that chlorohydrate," but doesnít
refuse a kiss. Pretty soon heís lying on the bed, dazed and
mumbling. The antidote to the knock-out drug was in the drink, as it
turns out. Summers
arrives and demands that he be gotten out of it. Once more or less
as good as youíre going to get),
Dino asks Maderus why sheís after Casselius. It turns out sheís
more or less a good guy, charged with putting down Casselius in
order to calm the unrest in Mexico. They
decide to work together. Driving with Dino back to the brewery,
Summers also says her memory came back when Dino and Mac saved her
from the syringe-wielding bad guy at the beginning. She played crazy
so that she could come back and kill her captors.
darkness falls, Summers and Dino pull off a real road and magically
onto the Gillianís Island set, where they plan to spend the night.
They look for blankets in the Lincolnís trunk, find a lever there
and pull it, releasing an inflatable "outdoor Hilton." A
camouflaged inflatable tent unrolls from the trunk. As Dino and
Summers stand before the tent, the sped up film quickly inflates the
can see Dino and Summers jittering back and forth on their feet,
obviously having to wait an actual half hour to get the footage.)
Inside, their an inflated round bed, lamp and refrigerator --
probably stocked with inflated gin and inflated tonic.
next scene finds them seated outside the brewery like a couple of
sleepy Mexicans beneath comically huge sombreros. A worried looking
Quintana arrives, followed by the goon who was working for Maderus.
Dino follows them into the brewery, wearing a yellow turtleneck this
brewery guard is dead and the goon is firing at Dino, slowing him
down even further, because he seems compelled to drink from every
bullet-punctured, beer-spewing pipe. Ducking from a bullet, Dino
plunges into a vat of beer. "Ah! Saved!" he says. Treading
beer nearby in the same vat is Quintana. Heís not doing so well.
saves him in return for information. Quintana admits he told Maderus
where Casseliusí hideout is and gives Dino the same piece of
they escape the vat, Quintana is shot but Dino escapes with the help
of Summers, whoís wearing the exoskeleton, rolling beer barrels at
the bad guy. The tables soon turn, with Dino chasing the henchman
Ė hampered, as Dino was most of his life, by his compulsion to
snag a drink here and there. The
chase comes to blows (and
I have to say that Dean can throw a convincing looking punch when he
Finally the bad guy falls into a huge open trough of beer which runs
into a transparent pipe ascending to the ceiling. The pipe feeds a
sign or sorts Ė with a raised hand eternally pouring beer into a
mug. Poured from the giant bottle, the goon overshoots the rim of
the mug and another sawdust-filled dummy falls to its death. Dean
looks over a ledge following the fall of the dummy, then raises one
of his beat-up, crooked hands in a farewell. The camera pulls back
the instant he says "Ole!", revealing Dino to be standing
surrounded by the word "ole!" in lights.
fight scene in the brewery and its dťnouement is probably the
strongest sequence in the movie. It moves nicely and is well
choreographed. Dino, it has to be said, is far more convincing as an
action hero than his little runt of a buddy Francis Albert Sinatra.
Anyhoo, the next scene finds Dino and Summers in a Ford Bronco heading to
Casseliusí jungle hide-out. They come upon Maderus, whose car
couldnít take the desert road. Dino, knowing she knew where the
hide-out was and that she had papers to get safely inside, had told
her the road was good. (I
donít remember the part about the papers, but damned if Iím
going to watch this turkey again.) The
three of them cook up a plan. Maderus is to go inside saying that
she is being followed by Dino. After Dino allows himself to be
captured, heíll use a dart-gun camouflaged to look like a packet
of cigarettes (Smokingíll
kill you, kids.)
to free himself. He gives the smokes to Maderus so that he wonít
have the pack when searched. Meanwhile Summers is to find the saucer
and fly away.
sad thing about the scene is that Summersí reaction shot to Dino
and Maderusí kiss late in the scene was shot on a lushly green
sound stage far, far away from the dusty Southern California road
the rest of them are on. Itís obvious on first viewing.
leaves in the Bronco, and Dino, Summers and two body doubles climb
through a combination of real jungle, sound stage jungle and
Southern California desert to reach a ridge overlooking Casseliusí
compound. They use a 50-year-old Speed Graphic camera loaded with
"heat picture" film to locate the saucer through the
dark, Dino takes off carrying another pack of cigarettes, this time
Mexican cigarettes loaded with "happy gas." (Uh
huh, sure. Yeah, I went to a liberal arts college, too. I know all
gets himself captured, but so does Summers. Brought into
Casseliusí palatial underground hide-out (is
there any other kind?),
Dino tries to get the dart gun cigarettes from Maderus, but she
turned them over to Casselius (Albert Salmi). Bringing down Casseius was only a
small part of her mission. Maderus, an operative of the Bureau of
International Government and Order (BIG-O), also wants the saucer.
fez guy is there, too, also making a bid on the saucer. Although
Casselius says the bid is generous, he already accepted a bid of
$100 million. "Who would have thought the first men on the moon
would be eating Chow mein," he asks rhetorically. In
celebration, Casselius makes drinks for everybody using a
spark-shooting gun. Like its larger cousin on the truck, it makes
things levitate. The strings are only faintly visible.
always wanted a magic bartender," Dean slurs, expressing the
wishes of many of us. In fact, itís one of the reasons I got
finally arrives with his arm in a sling to warn everybody that Dino
is on his way. Casselus Ė obeying the evil madmanís prime credo (always
make sure your assassins are incompetent)
-- tells Quintana to kill Dino. As they leave, Maderus gives Summers
(oh yeah, sheís there,
a little make-up and a drink -- the knock-out drug and its antidote.
Itís meant for Casselius, but more about that later. The
fez guy and Maderus escape. While they travel to the saucer
separately, they arrive together. Maderus is strangled unconscious
by the fez guy before she can initiate the saucerís take-off
process. The fez guy gets that far but dies horribly Ė horribly
for him and horribly for us. Itís a long death. He turns bright
red, screams and stumbles out of the saucer, his arms stiff and
straight down his sides, and finally out of the scene.
meanwhile is lounging nonchalantly in front of a firing squad
commanded by Quintana. Heís ready to die but wants a last smoke.
After securing a match from a helpful leetle Mexican. Dino starts
puffing on a happy cigarette, blowing smoke toward the nearby
Quintana, whoís working his way through the "Ready, Aim,
Fire" routine. Naturally, he busts out laughing before he gets
to "fire." Dino
doses the squad the same way. They helpfully give him their guns and
lie down in the dirt to look up at that happy old, smiling sun and
dream the rest of the day away. Meanwhile,
Casselius is going to get it on with Summers. He tells the guard
outside his bedroom door to keep his eyes straight ahead and not to
investigate any strange sounds. The guardís smirk, offered in
reply, stands as the best piece of acting in the film.
uses the spark gun to unzip Summersí dress. Summers gets sexy and
plants a big drugged smackero on Casselius, who starts to go down
for the count. He shouts, but naturally the guard just smirks
bigger. Summers runs away, leaving through the door guarded by the
smirking henchman. This time he shakes his head a little. (Boy
that Casselius! He be having a good time.)
starting about here the cuts come fast and frantic as the movie
tries to build some steam toward a climax.
Dino is running rampant. Disarmed, he takes off his belt and runs it
under a stream. It gradually straightens and gets hard (Hey,
the same thing happens to me in the shower).
He runs off, using it as a sort of blade. About
this time Casselius revives and tells Quintana to intercept the girl
(Summers) at the saucer before leaving
also runs right through Casseliusí bedroom and grabs the spark gun
he had used to unzip her clothes. This time, the guard looks faintly
arrives at the saucer and gets ready to start it. Casselius appears
in its doorway holding a gun. Dino
arrives at the ship and the armored truck sitting nearby, taking out
two guards with the spark guns. He also plays chicken with Quintana,
who also holds a spark gun. Dino wins and disables the satellite
dish. Quintana is knocked unconscious.
in the saucer, Summers starts the saucer as she holds Casselius
down, killing him. Dino
gets the armored truck going, firing at the soldiers on a nearby
building as he drives away. Meanwhile, Quintana comes to enough to
pull the lever that releases the train car the saucer sits on. It
starts rolling down hill. Chasing
it, Dino sits on a roller mounted on the track. Basically he slides
down the steel rail like itís a polished wooden banister ... Leaving
the rail behind, Dino steals a motorcycle and sidecar and continues
riding along the track. Itís a pretty embarrassingly bad
back-projection shot with Dean hunched over the handlebars facing
into a breeze from a fan. People off camera throw palm fronds at
him. The motorcycle goes through a river and comes out with an
alligator in the sidecar. At some point Dino loses the sidecar, but
continues without it.
Dino catches up with the saucer and uses the spark gun to carefully
lift Summers from the saucer through the air and into the space
behind him on the motorcycle.
saucer goes over a cliff.
exactly this is a victory for ICE I donít understand, but at least
the movie is nearly finished.
to the epilog: Dino, wearing a jacket with his turtleneck now, is
back with Mac at ICE. Mac says heís supposed to teach the new
agents some tricks. Heís shown into a room where a hot blonde is
seated on a couch (This
is a movie that begins and ends with blondes on couches).
Dino explains how she should be soft and yielding when it comes to
seducing an enemy agent. Music is important, he continues, putting
on "Everybody Loves Somebody." It doesnít move her. Dino
plays "Strangers in the Night" by his buddy Sinatra and
she gets turned on.
really like Perry Como that much?" Dino says.
music comes up and
words appear on the screen: "Next in View: The Necking
Crew." The "N" is crossed out to be replaced by a
like this movie, and I like it mainly because of the star. Itís a
sloppily written, sloppily filmed movie from a sloppy decade. You
get the feeling youíre not meant to watch it sober.
Martinís credit, The
shot while he was performing regularly in Vegas, recording music and
starring in his own TV show.
a guy who showed up 30 minutes before taping and read off cue cards
can really be said to be the start.) Considering
that and considering that heís the best thing in the picture,
youíve got to give him credit. Janice Rule, who plays Sheila
Summers, also gives a nice, crookedly-smiling performance. In fact
all of the principals do a good job.
the screenwriter should be found and, if not shot, than at least
this review is your first experience with Dean Martin, donít let
it be your last. Heís far, far better than this movie. He
had fantastic comic timing, good looks and an unearthly voice Ė
naturally richer and smoother than his pallie Frank Sinatra.
I have four Sinatra CDs -- all reissues of classic Capitol platters
of the 50s -- and only two Martin CDs, a stellar "best of"
and a very good Christmas album. (And
naturally Iíve got piles of LPs by each of them, most of the
Martin disks hijacked from my father. Thanks, Dad!) The
Sinatra produced better work over the course of his career. Martin
recorded a lot of clinkers along with the gems. He was like the
slacker in the back of the class who could think rings around the
birds in the front of the room but didnít care.
Dean," a music producer says, "you know what would sound
good with this tune? A bunch of hokey background singers."
sure, Pallie. Whatever." says Dean, exhaling smoke,
the other hand, Sinatra was combative, competitive and often an
asshole Ė and recorded the greatest collection of tracks ever laid
down in wax and iron oxide tape. In front of the camera, he earned a
supporting actor Oscar.
things Martin did well were the things that were effortless for him
Ė crooning and comedy. Acting took effort, though, which is why
there are only a few dramatic performances where Martin shines. Check
out The Young
Came Running, Rio
Bravo and even Oceanís
Martin tries to dissuade his cohorts from the Vegas caper. (Also
see that movie for a collection of the sharpest cut suits ever to be
immortalized in celluloid.) Heís as
good as anybody in the speech that ends "The percentage is
always with the house. With the house!"