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The Ambushers

Part Three of Operation: 00-Oddballs

     "Suspenders and a belt?"

-- Sheila Summers     

     "Yeah, I have trouble keeping my pants up."

-- Matt Helm     




Gonzoid Cinema




Wow. It's like he's really there!


Watch it!



Sights &
 Productions /
 Columbia Pictures
the Helm:
The Swinging
and Swaggering
Series Continues...

The Silencers

Murderer's Row

The Ambushers

The Wrecking Crew

A Spy in the
For Your Laughs
Only; a Few More




Code 7 ... Victim 5

2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World

Our Man Flint

The Venetian Affair

Deadlier than the Male

Spy in Your Eye


Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine


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Due 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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The Ambushers (1967), 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.

Not trying hard was Dean Martinís prime charm, after all. If it bothers you, have another drink fer Christís sake. Itís what Dino would do.

Our 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 Kane, either.

The 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 "go."

The thing takes off, and the stiffs applaud. But meanwhile, on a nearby sound stage that bears a striking resemblance to The Gilliganís Island 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!"

Apparently this is one control room that guides rockets and saucers using a finely calibrated system of levers and pulleys. Maybe they forgot to grease something.

The saucer sets down beside the armored truck built, Iím guessing, out of coconuts and bamboo. Inside, the pilot removes her (of course) 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.

Cut 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. Wherever 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 says.

"Everybody 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.

All 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.

A 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 Gregory), 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 details.

After 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.

"Only 36 percent more cavitiesÖ but you donít care," Dino says with a sly look. 

Incidentally, thereís a scene just like it in The Silencers, 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.

Cravesit 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."

More 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 their clothes.

Summers 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 revolver.) Interestingly, 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.

Before 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 husband.

Following 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.

Dino 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 Died For."

Mac 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, Dean is to take pictures of the organization leaders, and Summers is supposed to come too and hopefully remember details about her abduction.

Thereís 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!)

That 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:

Looking at guys using hydraulic exoskeletons to move barrels of beer:

Quintana: "They can carry a 1,500-pound load."

Dean: "I know the feeling."

The 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.

Later 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.

Thereís some intrigue with the bad guys whispering about Helm and Summers and more booze and sex jokes and then Helm meets Francesca Maderus (Senta Berger), who 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."

Wireless fax cameras and talking bras. Havenít these people ever heard of a radio?

Basically, 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.

But 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 gun.

In 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 sober (about 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.

As 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 tent. (You 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.

The 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 time. The 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.

Dino saves him in return for information. Quintana admits he told Maderus where Casseliusí hideout is and gives Dino the same piece of information. When 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 wants to). 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.

This 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.

The 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.

Maderus 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 foliage. After 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 about that.) Dino 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.

The 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.

"I always wanted a magic bartender," Dean slurs, expressing the wishes of many of us. In fact, itís one of the reasons I got married.

Quintana 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, too) 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.

Dino 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.

Casselius 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.)

Ok, starting about here the cuts come fast and frantic as the movie tries to build some steam toward a climax.

Outside, 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 himself. Dino also runs right through Casseliusí bedroom and grabs the spark gun he had used to unzip her clothes. This time, the guard looks faintly confused. Summers 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.

Back 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.

Finally, 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.

The saucer goes over a cliff.

How exactly this is a victory for ICE I donít understand, but at least the movie is nearly finished.

Cut 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.

"You really like Perry Como that much?" Dino says.

The 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 "Wr".

Credits and...

The End

I 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.

To Martinís credit, The Ambushers was shot while he was performing regularly in Vegas, recording music and starring in his own TV show. (If 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.

But the screenwriter should be found and, if not shot, than at least sobered up.

If 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.

Now 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 fact is, 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.

"Hey Dean," a music producer says, "you know what would sound good with this tune? A bunch of hokey background singers."

"Yeah, sure, Pallie. Whatever." says Dean, exhaling smoke, "Ring-a-Ding-Ding."

On 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.

The 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 Lions, Some Came Running, Rio Bravo and even Oceanís Eleven, where 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!"

The Ambushers (1967) Meadway-Claude Productions Company :: Columbia Pictures Corporation / P: Irving Allen / AP: Douglas Netter / D: Henry Levin / W: Herbert Baker, Donald Hamilton (novel) / C: Edward Colman, Burnett Guffey / E: Harold F. Kress / M: Hugo Montenegro / S: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Beverly Adams

Back to Operation: 00-Oddballs.

Originally Posted: 03/15/03 :: Rehashed: 12/28/2012

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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