The 60s James Bond Rivals (1): Matt Helm

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  • Gassy ManGassy Man USAPosts: 2,685MI6 Agent
    The ironic thing is the parody of Bond that the Helm and Flint movies represented predicted the direction the Bond movies would take.
  • Powers, Austin PowersPowers, Austin Powers Posts: 10MI6 Agent
    Hello, my agents. I watched two Matt Helm films (because I believe that only these two were dubbed in my country). And from what I could see, it looked like I was watching an Austin Powers movie. But I didn't think there were elements that I liked. (1960s, visual, women, comedies). Have you ever stopped to think if these films were equal to 007 and passed from actor to actor? I even liked the films being different from the books, and being more comical. Those two films were what Casino Royale 67 was not for me.
    Sean Connery: The best of all James Bond
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    Which two films were they, PAP?
  • Powers, Austin PowersPowers, Austin Powers Posts: 10MI6 Agent
    The Ambushers (1967)
    The Wrecking Crew (1969)
    Sean Connery: The best of all James Bond
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    While I love them, those are weaker than the first two IMHO.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    I watched the Silencers the other night.
    Never seen it before, or the sequels, never read the books either. But it sure looks exactly like something I've seen before.
    As Barbel notes Austin Powers owes much more to this than it does to our Bond films, Dr Evil and the chest-hair rug aside.
    Not just the photographer gig, but all the pacing, the jokes, the sightgags, the visual aesthetic, the gadgets...

    My verdict: much better than the awful Modesty Blaise film, more enjoyable than our Casino Royale but without the artistic pretensions, not so enjoyable as Our Man Flint. Seems like there was a lot more spy film spoofs than proper spy films in those days. Oh yes, nowhere near so good as any random Get Smart episode.

    Jill St John in Diamonds are Forever owes something to Stella Stevens' character doesn't she, she even repeats the machine gun gag.


    The same dodgy website where I watched this, also has the other three, so I'll keep going. I'm sure I'll be a convert by the end.
  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,237MI6 Agent
    edited July 2020
    Following on from superado's points of last year, Tarantino's 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' does indeed include a touching scene amounting to a love letter to 'The Wrecking Crew', commemorating a poor film inside a great film because of Sharon Tate's endearing performance in TWC as "the klutz" (specifically, one of her perfectly executed pratfulls, and her 'girl fight' face-off choreographed by Bruce Lee). Before I saw Tarantino's movie last August I was concerned, given his choice of subject matter, that his movie might be in bad taste, but it really isn't; it's a sweet tribute to Tate. Some Bruce Lee fans took issue with it, though; the offending scene, with Mike Moh as Lee, is hilarious imho. (No spoilers, in case there happens to be anybody out there who still hasn't seen it.)
    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 50 years.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    I'm one of the few who hasn't (can't stand DiCaprio) but what you say tempts me into watching it.
  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,237MI6 Agent
    edited July 2020
    Barbel wrote:
    I'm one of the few who hasn't (can't stand DiCaprio) but what you say tempts me into watching it.

    I'd highly recommend it. I'm no big fan of DiCaprio either, but he's good in this, it's as much Brad Pitt's movie and there's an impressive tapestry of supporting talent around them. Tarantino's DiCaprio is a different (imho better) proposition to Scorsese's DiCaprio.

    As importantly, it's full of joy, surprise and reward for anyone who loves cult film and TV of the 60s. (Hell, it even gets around, in a later sequence, to visiting Italian fare, with a pretty obvious allusion to 'Operation Kid Brother' - briefly but hilariously.) And Al Pacino's character in this would be a great participant in our live AJB live commentaries! Overall, the period mise-en-scene matches the pop-cultural references in being fastidiously accurate, a nostalgic visual and aural feast.

    Okay, this IS Tarantino skirting around the Manson murders, but it's mature Tarantino - a roomy, thoughtful, layered movie. Like I say, it's only ever tasteful/ respectful in the way it remembers Sharon Tate.



    Edit: I just rewatched this and - OMG! - right at the close of the end credits, among other fun stuff, it samples John Barry's TB score (from the climax of TB, as the good guys parachute into the sea to take on Largo's men).
    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 50 years.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    Last night at Cinema Potts: Murderers' Row

    I think this is incrementally more serious than the first one.
    Karl Malden makes for a better villain (and he is fooled into taking our hero into his employ, as bookScaramanga and movieSanchez both did).

    Ann Margret is excellent as this adventure's HelmGirl, and does lots of kooky 60s dancing. Huge chunks of the film are given over to psychedelic discotheque sequences where she never stops grooving.

    As well as specific gags reappearing in Austin Powers and the 70s Bond films, I think next year's You Only Live Twice even stole the faked death opening from this film. Why were EON tossing out Fleming and borrowing plot-hooks from Matt Helm at the height of the 60's spycraze?
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    paging Barbel!

    Was the title of this thread perhaps inspired by the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes book series?
    I'm reading a few stories from that collection right now, and the cumulative image of Victorian London overflowing with eccentric consulting detectives showing up the police at every job made me think of this thread, all the suave studly 1960s superspies who must have been tripping over each other competing to save the world first.

    Was there ever a part 3? Bond must have had more suave '60s rivals than just Helm and Palmer!
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    (1) Yes, partly. I haven't read the books but I did watch the TV series about 50 years ago.

    (2) No. I'd have to have done actual research rather than just writing off the top of my head, and I'm far too lazy for that. I did do one on Jack Ryan, though.
  • DavidJonesDavidJones BermondseyPosts: 221MI6 Agent
    The TV series is being repeated on Talking Pictures channel here in the UK at the moment.

    As for Matt Helm, I tried watching one of them it was so bad I had to switched it off a few minutes in.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    Well, it's all a matter of perspective. Either you like that kind of thing or you don't.
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,696MI6 Agent
    The Helm films are very 60s Camp, Which is not to all tastes. I love a bit of camp humour.
    Hence why I enjoy them, along with The Persuaders, The Avengers and Dept S etc.
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • DavidJonesDavidJones BermondseyPosts: 221MI6 Agent
    Barbel wrote:
    Well, it's all a matter of perspective. Either you like that kind of thing or you don't.


    Definitely. I certainly want to like them, so maybe I'll give the first one another go at some point.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    edited August 2020
    The Ambushers

    The special effects, when the flying saucer is stolen, are better than similar scenes in You Only Live Twice, made the same year, even if they are just recycling leftover Star Trek props.

    Lead Helmgirl isn't so good as Ann Margret from the previous movie or as funny as the klutzy Helmgirl from the first movie. But she does play an equally competent fellow ICE agent, even more competent than Helm since she can fly the Saucer, years before Bond met such equally competent Bondgirls as Holly Goodhead.
    I never heard of Janice Rule, but turns out she's normally a serious actress, she was in the original stage version of Picnic (the teenager who gets seduced by the drifter), and in the Burt Lancaster film the Swimmer (Lancaster's ex-lover, bitter because she was always "the other woman"). So a bit miscast, but if method actor Karl Malden can ham it up in these films then she can try too.

    Ending makes no sense. Why does she land the Saucer on a train? how does Matt Helm know where she took it? there's no engine, how is the train moving? why do they let the Saucer blow up, I thought the mission was to retrieve it? were some boring expository scenes left out that might explain this ending better?
    I worry abut this ending because the film made such perfect sense up til that point.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    bond-and-elektra.jpg
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,696MI6 Agent
    I love Matt sliding down the train
    Track on the hill. It looked very
    Dangerous to me. -{
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    I love Matt sliding down the train track on the hill.
    yes I didnt understand that either. The train didn't look like a funicular but for some reason the grade on those tracks was as steep as a playground slide.

    Thunderpussy do you have any Little Niggles with the Matt Helm movies or do the plots all all make complete sense to you?
  • ThunderpussyThunderpussy Behind you !Posts: 63,696MI6 Agent
    Caractacus I have an odd relationship with the Matt Helm Movies, as I'm a big
    Dean Martin fan. I don't look at them as espionage movies, just a Dean Martin
    adventure where he plays at being a secret agent. After all the amount of Jokes
    about his drinking etc :D
    As a Kid I did enjoy the fight sequences, as they were the nearest to actual
    Martial arts we got on TV. He could also be the reason I became a professional
    Photographer for 15 tears ;) as it looked fun.
    As pointed out by others much more knowledgeable than me, the likes of
    Moonraker has more to do with Matt Helm than anything Fleming wrote. Although
    Then again it suited the time is was made. I always thought the Helm movies were
    cheap fun churned out by the studio but ( On reading one of Barbel's posts ) Dean
    Martin refused to travel so everything had to be filmed " Austin Powers " style
    around california.
    Not to spoil anything but In one film he got a cut down Helicopter, which also
    ( to me at least ) looked frighteningly Dangerous for the pilot , as there was no
    canopy and the blades were spinning just above " Matt's" head, without even a Helmet
    Although I guess it wouldn't really have helped if the blade had cut in to him :#
    They are simply silly, fun movies so I don't hold them to the same standard of Bond
    or Bourne etc.
    "I've been informed that there ARE a couple of QAnon supporters who are fairly regular posters in AJB."
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    I don't look at them as espionage movies, just a Dean Martin
    adventure where he plays at being a secret agent.
    This is probably the healthiest attitude, the only way to watch these films and stay sane.
    Still in this case I do suspect there was some plot information that was deemed not important enough to include in the final edit.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    Finally made it to the end of The Wrecking Crew.

    I had just watched Nigel Green and Elke Sommer as near identical villains in the Bulldog Drummond movie Deadlier Than the Male, made the previous year. Strange this film should recycle the exact same villains. Elke was much more entertaining in the Drummond film. Green was better in the Ipcress File than in either of these other films.

    Tina Louise's part is much too small. She displays some acting chops, playing a very different character than Ginger, even if sleazy music still plays whenever she wiggles onscreen.

    Sharon Tate is playing a variation on Stella Stevens' klutz character from the first film, but varied with a deadpan obliviousness to her own incompetence that produces some laffs.


    I'm certainly glad I watched these, always enjoy more vintage 60s spyflicks, and good to see where so much of Austin Powers came from.
    Yet just as glad I did not invest $40- in the box set when I had the chance.

    And why were the 1970s Roger Moore Bonds borrowing ideas from these silly films when there was still so much genuine Fleming left to be adapted?
  • DavidJonesDavidJones BermondseyPosts: 221MI6 Agent
    Finally made it to the end of The Wrecking Crew.

    I had just watched Nigel Green and Elke Sommer as near identical villains in the Bulldog Drummond movie Deadlier Than the Male, made the previous year. Strange this film should recycle the exact same villains. Elke was much more entertaining in the Drummond film. Green was better in the Ipcress File than in either of these other films.

    I'm familiar with Deadlier Than the Male too, though I thought it frustratingly low-key and too London-centric for a film which was trying to ape the Bondian travelogues of the '60s. The Wrecking Ball was unwatchable, though I did try to see it twice.

    If you'd like to see Nigel Green be properly sinister, check out the blind-person-in-peril thriller Witness in the Dark from 1959.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent
    edited February 7
    I've come late to this particular party.

    I'd like to point out, in advance, I never read this thread until today. I've been watching Matt Helm all week - Sony Movie Classics (classics??? :s ) have been repeating them.

    I don't know if Barbel will agree with me....

    The Silencers

    Donald Hamilton’s series of gloomy espionage thrillers debuted in 1960 and continued up to 1993, featuring in 27 books. I haven’t read any of them, so my knowledge of Matt Helm is based solely on book reviews and the four late sixties movies starring Dean Martin as a louche American alternative to James Bond.

    Producer Irving Allen was not a naïve filmmaker. He’d made small-time actioneers, a few minor hits among them, and should have been able to construct an effective, fun and exciting movie. That he hasn’t is almost a crime to cinema; it is certainly a thumb up the nose to Donald Hamilton, who must have taken the money and sprinted away, so shoddy is The Silencers.

    Script writer Oscar Saul has taken two of Hamilton’s novels (Death of a Citizen – his debut – and The Silencers) and fashioned what I can only describe as a swinging-spy-yarn. It’s so laid back, so kitsch, so out of step even with the 1960s, I can’t imagine who would have enjoyed watching this in 1966, let alone now. I certainly didn’t and I’ve seen an awful lot of crap in my time.

    Let me be generous for a moment. I like Dean Martin. He’s not a bad actor, but he isn’t a particularly straight actor. His persona has always been based on long, sly, sexy looks at the camera. He’s almost breaking the fourth wall. He does have worthy pedigree: Rio Bravo and Some Came Running were excellent roles for him. He also had a long running popular television show, which pandered to the Las Vegas image he’d developed during the infamous Sinatra-Martin-Davis-Lawford-Bishop Rat Pack years, that of a drunken lounge lizard crooning the Great American Songbook while he seduces the ladies. It’s the songs I like the most. When he’s good, Dino is really good. Listen to Volare, Gentle on my Mind or Powder Your Face With Sunshine and you’ll see what I mean. His Christmas album A Winter Romance is a perennial favourite in our house. The Silencers should have been an opportunity for Dean Martin to shake off the shackles of Sinatra and flex some of his undoubted talents. Old Blue Eyes himself managed this successfully through a series of brilliantly gravelly performances in gritty films like Von Ryan’s Express and The Detective. Here, Dino can’t be bothered and partly that’s because the material he’s got to work with isn’t so much tongue in cheek and tongue lapping at the script. It’s not so much of a spoof as a pantomime. Frankly, watching it now almost sixty years on, I’m amazed he manages to keep a straight face. He’s by far the most watchable of a host of well-known actors and treats the material with the disdain it deserves. Sometimes his Matt Helm is so laid back snippets of songs play on his mind. A neat little money spinner for Dean Martin: he released an album with the full recordings entitled Songs from The Silencers. I don’t blame Dino – or even the remainder of game, confused-looking cast – it’s everyone else whose responsible.

    There is so much wrong with The Silencers I almost don’t know where to start. The beginning, perhaps? The credit sequence is played out over a series of titillating, near-nude strip shows. It’s a preface more akin to a 1950s musical. Elmer Bernstein was an Oscar winning composer, but he’s barely slumming it for this one. The fact the titles feature the line ‘songs composed by’ had me gawping in fear. What sort of film am I about to watch? An espionage thriller or an easy listening operetta? Next up, we meet secret service head MacDonald, played by an exasperated James Gregory, who needs to re-recruit retired agent Matt Helm back into ICE (Intelligence and Counter Espionage) to aid the battle against BIG-O (Bureau for International Government and Order). Helm’s got a nice little earner as a playboy, fashion photographer and womanizer. His sexy secretary is called Lovey Kravesit. He inhabits a luxurious mansion which resembles something Austin Powers might enjoy and Wallace and Gromit could have designed. Gadgets everywhere. So you can see where this movie’s going from the off.

    The plot is almost an irrelevance. Victor Buono’s Tung-Tze is planning a nuclear accident which will provoke an east-west war, leaving his organisation to pick up the pieces of the world. So far, so Bond. Except Eon didn’t use this storyline until the next year’s You Only Live Twice. MacDonald sends the delicious Dahlia Lavi to tempt Helm back into the fold, killing a gorgeous enemy agent in the process. I always find Lavi watchable. She’s got a slinky eroticism which appeals to my baser instincts. She’s admirable here, struggling wilfully against the constraints of the risible atmosphere as well as the zips on her beautiful gowns. Together the two agents visit a nightclub in an attempt to retrieve a stolen microfilm before the BIG-O’s hit man Sam Gunther gets his mitts on it. This is merely an excuse to allow Cyd Charisse to perform a song-and-dance number. Somehow the accident prone Gail Hendricks – Stella Stevens, struggling with everything, the material, her dresses, her dignity – obtains the microfilm. I will say this for Ms Stevens: she looks great in her underwear. Helm inexplicably takes her along for the rest of the trip, searching for clues in the Midwest town of Wigham. Maybe he wants to see more of her lingerie collection. I know I did.

    This mid-section is particularly dire, involving a car chase devoid of any excitement or laughs and an unromantic night spent in Helm’s luxury Dodge devoid of all passion and humour. Instead Hendricks gets pissed, loosens her tongue and takes an unwelcome splash in the mud and rain. These scenes do feature the best joke. Sinatra croons Come Fly With Me on the car radio; ‘Turn that off,’ says Helm, ‘He’s terrible.’ The next station features Dean Martin singing Everybody Loves Somebody. ‘Oh, he’s good,’ comes the quip. One perfect joke doesn’t forgive what saturates throughout the whole of this awful mess: a sense of limpid comedic abandon. The villains are so solemn you’re not sure whether to take them seriously or with a dose of salts. The good guys are so eager-to-please they positively ooze enthusiastic saccharine. A brief moment of genuine intrigue crops up when Helm and Hendricks [is she deliberately named after a brand of gin?] are captured by Gunther and learn that Wigham isn’t a place but a person, Wigman. The only other mystery comes when Dahlia Lavi is revealed as a villainess. Quite why she has to adorn her beautiful ebony hair with a silver streak to demonstrate this is beyond me.

    The Silencers certainly isn’t a thriller. It was never intended to be one. Nor is it a slap-dash Bond knock-off. It’s a knock-about comedy minus the knock-out punch. I’d more expect to see some of the onscreen incidents in a Doris Day / Rock Hudson domestic. Droll one-liners might appeal to a schoolboy market. So too the terrible prat falls which abound. Even the climax is faintly intentionally hilarious as Helm throws button grenades around BIG-O’s underground hideout while evading a smoking laser gun. By now Dean Martin, who early on played the thing with his natural good humour, looks as confused as everyone else. I can’t believe anyone was expected to enjoy this kind of hokum, after all there’s virtually no laughter and definitely no tension. Worryingly, having watched this less than 24 hours ago, I can’t even recall how Helm stopped the nuclear missile launch except there was some cheerless chasing about in golf buggies – another scene ripped off for Mike Myers’ International Man of Mystery. Anyway, I slept assured the world, if not cinema, was safe.

    I know this movie is something of a cult classic among connoisseurs, and I wouldn’t want to trample on anyone’s parade, but I simply don’t understand the love. Director Phil Karlson had a long, but not too distinguished, career in movies. Before this assignment, he’d recently directed Elvis Presley in one of the King’s more modest roles as the singing boxer Kid Galahad. I rather fancy Elvis might have suited this exaggerated comic material even better than Dino. He could have sung a few appropriately placed numbers as well, like What Now, What Next, Where To or It Hurts Me, perhaps even The Meanest Girl In Town. This movie is that sort of bottom of the barrel material.

    What The Silencers demonstrates is how superior a product James Bond is. Firstly Eon’s production values are better. The $3m budget for this is barely noticeable. The special effects are cruddy. The photography muddy. The set design cheap and cheerful. Most of the money seems to be spent on the costume and booze departments. That might have been the point, but it does show off the producer's tactics. Most of all though, it’s interesting how a script can be so misinterpreted that it becomes such a crass undertaking. Oscar Saul’s effort isn’t as bad as what we see on screen, yet the actors overegg almost every nuance in every sentence. Their mannerisms become excruciatingly farcical. I can only imagine Phil Karlson made these interpretive suggestions as his direction leans far too far towards the inane. Even a spoof needs some grounding in reality. The humour should hint at the silliness of what we watch, not reinforce it. That is the beauty of Bond, a film series which itself exaggerates the espionage thriller, yet never misunderstands its necessary roots. Eon’s format was so successful that as early as Thunderball OO7 had virtually begun to satirise himself. The juxtaposition of the humorous and the comic – at times the ridiculous – alongside the serious is one of the reasons the adaptations of Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer novels or to a lesser extent fare such as the sixties Fu Manchu revivals work so successfully. For some reason American attempts at the super-spy espionage genre seem to forget that tension and intrigue not humour must underline the product. Hence they all end up as contemptible parodies. And a parody flatters no one except its source. [An honourable medal must go to Our Man Flint, from the same year, 1966, which doesn’t quite pull off the trick either, but succeeds simply by being super-cool.]

    I’ll end this essay with a cutting quote from critic Judith Crist: “The Silencers is the dullest, dirtiest thud excreted by the sex-and-sadism spoofs of Bondism.” Enough said.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    I do pretty much agree with most of your thoughts, Chris, you've got it nailed. There is one terrifying point you maybe don't know yet- this wasn't the worst Matt Helm film....
    That's the thing about cult movies- they don't have to be good. And this one was enough of a financial success to warrant three sequels- again, financial successes don't have to be good either!
    And if you can, please do read the books. They're short but excellent.

    Asides- I take it you're a fellow Elvis fan? If so, we must share a PM or two. :) And you appear to be mixing up Irving Allen (producer of Matt Helm, Cubby Broccoli's ex-partner) with Irwin Allen (producer of "The Towering Inferno" etc).
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 3,850MI6 Agent
    I saw all the Matt Helm movies in the cinema in the 60’s and I thought they were terrific! Mind you, I was 10 when The Silencers premiered, but can still remember being awestruck by the women and the gadgets. Bond spoofs were ten a penny in those days, my favourite also being the Flint duo, and I used to love them so much. I watch the Helm movies occasionally, even today, and though I don’t enjoy them so much as when I was a kid the nostalgia of those times make it worthwhile.

    As Barbel states, three sequels were made and a fourth was due but Dean Martin backed out after the Sharon Tate murder. They obviously made shed loads of money (Dino made far more money than Sean did because he was on a percentage of the profits) so the audiences of the day loved them - I guess you had to have lived through that era to really appreciate them.
    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 1,000MI6 Agent
    edited February 7
    Barbel wrote:
    I do pretty much agree with most of your thoughts, Chris, you've got it nailed. There is one terrifying point you maybe don't know yet- this wasn't the worst Matt Helm film....
    That's the thing about cult movies- they don't have to be good. And this one was enough of a financial success to warrant three sequels- again, financial successes don't have to be good either!
    And if you can, please do read the books. They're short but excellent.

    Asides- I take it you're a fellow Elvis fan? If so, we must share a PM or two. :) And you appear to be mixing up Irving Allen (producer of Matt Helm, Cubby Broccoli's ex-partner) with Irwin Allen (producer of "The Towering Inferno" etc).

    I've watched them all. More reviews to come.
    Thanks for pointing out my Irwin / Irving mix up. Duly appropriately corrected.
    Yes, I am an Elvis fan. Although I'm not a super-fan. I do have a few collectable vinyl and all the official studio/live/compilation CDs from the RCA '90s reissue series. I just think he's a one in a 100 million performer - like Sinatra, Streisand, Pavarotti - stars like this do not come around very often
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 30,802Chief of Staff
    Looking forward to more. :)
    I'm an Elvis geek, I'm afraid- been so for... er... all my life. My collection goes to ridiculous levels, much like my Bond obsession.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 2,186MI6 Agent
    Looking forwards to the next three reviews from Chris

    as I work my way through the Man from UNCLE, I too am wondering about the difference in tone between the British spy series of the 60s and the Americans. UNCLE is better quality than Matt Helm, but from the beginning it too is rather silly. Were there any American made Bond rivals that took themselves more seriously?

    _______________

    I read three of the books last fall. I had intended to file a report then but, er, got distracted and forgot.
    I couldn't find a nice pulpy pocketbook type edition of the first one, so the three I read were the Wrecking Crew (1960), Murderers Row (1962), and the Ambushers (1963), all of which were the titles of films. Of these only the Ambushers bears the slightest resemblance to the film "adaptation".

    All are very quick reads, barely 150 pages, and the plot concludes almost as quickly as it begins. Novellas, I guess, no wonder he could write 27 of them. The tone actually is humourous in its own way, but its the cynical smartass humour of American detective stories rather than the lazy ratpack hubbahubba comedy of the films.

    Although I couldn't find volume 1, its events are recounted in volume 2. Helm had been part of a top-secret assassination squad in WWII, run by Mac. Since then he has left all that behind, and led a quiet life in the American midwest, working as a game hunter and a guide and a nature photographer. He has married and his wife knows nothing of his WWII career until one day she is kidnapped and Helm must rescue her. When his wife sees the violence he is capable of she leaves him, but his old boss Mac recruits him back to work for him again, now in a peacetime context but still as a topsecret assassin. The term "the Wrecking Crew" is a term other secret service departments use to refer to Mac's team of assassins.

    -the Wrecking Crew takes place in northern Scandinavia and Number24 should read it. Various lying women enter and exit Helm's hotel room, then there is a long hike through the wilderness. Helm's photography skills are required here, but he's a nature photographer not a fashion photographer
    -Murderers Row mostly takes place on a yacht in Chesapeake Bay. Something to do with a defecting scientist, if i recall correctly, but mostly about a dysfunctional wealthy family (actually reminded me of Ross McDonald's detective novels)
    -the Ambushers takes place near the Mexican border, and as the heroine is a fellow spy suffering from PTSD after being captured on her last mission is the only one that resembles the respective film. Except they're looking for a missing nuclear missile, not a flying saucer. Incredible the film could turn PTSD into a joke, but it did.
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