Review Date: 3/25/17
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, James Gregory, Roger Carmel, cameos by Nancy Kovack, Cyd Charisse, Beverly Adams
America's answer to the James Bond craze was Matt Helm. Unfortunately, Hollywood preferred to spoof the genre instead of embrace it, which fails to make the character interesting or endearing. Having retired from being a government agent, Matt Helm (Dean Martin) is enjoying life as a glamour photographer. Much to his disdain, he's called back into service when an international syndicate of bad guys led by creepy Victor Buono attempts to start World War III by detonating an atomic bomb on US soil. A mix-up at a night club implicates Gail Hendricks (Stella Stevens) as an enemy agent and Helm forces her to help him stop the impending global disaster.
For the most part, Dean Martin just coasts through the picture with complete disinterest, getting drunk and bedding every woman he meets. He occasionally erupts into violence when bad guys need to be beaten or shot, but he's not very convincing. It's the women who steal the show, and Stella Stevens delivers an outstanding performance as the clumsy and dim-witted Gail, who also happens to be incredibly sexy. Stevens is a fascinating woman, and her range and commitment are very impressive. Daliah Lavi also gives a commanding performance as Matt's super sexy partner, Tina. In fact, all of the ladies are quite extraordinary, including cameos by Cyd Charisse, Nancy Kovack, Beverly Adams, and the various models and showgirls that entertain Helm. It's also fun to see Roger Carmel (Star Trek's Harry Mudd) show up as a villain.
The production is pretty slick, although the action scenes suffer from an overabundance of rear projection and undercranking. Helm gets his own arsenal of custom weaponry similar to James Bond, which comes in handy later in the film. However, unlike Bond, Helm drives a decidedly unsexy Mercury station wagon instead of an Aston Martin. The music matches the lighthearted tone of the film, although the inclusion of Dean Martin singing in his head is very odd. The film definitely favors sex over violence, and it opens with an overly lengthy montage of sexy dancers, followed by a sexy dream sequence and a racy bathing scene. Helm's treatment of women isn't especially palatable, but it's no worse than James Bond's chauvinistic and misogynistic temperament. The film eventually finds a more serious groove, but it's unfortunate that it resorts to humor more often than action.