When the Austin Powers films were released several years ago many people called them a spoof of the James Bond series. While there was some degree of truth to that, Powers actually borrowed a bit more from some other swinging 60’s spies…one of whom was Matt Helm. Of course, the character of Matt Helm originally appeared in a series of books. In the late 60’s, four films loosely based on the character were released starring Dean Martin as Helm. Today we look at the third film in the series, 1967’s The Ambushers.
The situation is this: a top-secret government aircraft, which is literally a flying saucer, has been snatched by a mysterious force seizing it during a test flight. Luckily the pilot, Sheila Summers (Janice Rule) was recovered, pale as a ghost and with no memory of what happened, or even who she is. Meanwhile, Matt Helm is spending some time training with a crew of sexy go-go boot wearing agents. Since Matt has worked with Sheila in the past, once posing as husband and wife, he is assigned to accompany her to try and locate the saucer. She is the one that has to recover the ship since something about the electromagnetic fields that make the saucer fly are lethal to males but harmless to females!?!? So the two head for Acapulco.
The pair pose as husband and wife and Helm takes on his other persona as a famous photographer of gorgeous models. They meet up with a beer tycoon named Quintana (Kurt Kasznar) who they soon lear is in cahnoots with a general named Ortega (Albert Salmi) who it seems may have the missing saucer. Helm also meets up with another agent named Francesca (Senta Berger) who is also out to get Ortega, but who may not be as trustworthy as Helm is led to believe.
Of the four Matt Helm films, this is often listed as the weakest, but I still had a lot of fun with it. I suppose your enjoyment of this film may depend on your taste for Dean Martin. I admit, there have always been two things that really strike me about Martin. Number one: he always seems to think that any and every random thing that comes out of his mouth is absolute comedy gold. Number two: he is almost constantly in a semi-inebriated state. Martin’s take on Matt Helm bears almost no resemblance to the character from the books. Martin is essentially playing himself, but for the light-hearted tone that this series of films chose to take it works very well. Martin has a quick one-liner for pretty much every situation he’s put in and the great majority of them are quite funny. The movie is a spoof of the James Bond films, but it’s done with more of a sly wink rather than being a goofy parody.
The atmosphere of the film is simply irresistible! The 60’s fashions, decor and music are downright trippy. I also love the way this film takes elements of the Bond series and, shall we say ups the ante. Bond is known for the “Bond Girls.” Helm doesn’t just have love interests, pretty much every other agent for “ICE” is a gorgeous woman. Helm’s gadgets would make Q jealous. He’s got a device that causes metal to dissolve…employed in this film to melt belt buckles thus causing enemy henchmen’s pants to drop to their ankles. The ultimate, though, has to be the inflatable home that pops out of the trunk of Helm’s car…complete with inflatable bed, chairs and mini fridge. The villains also have their share of crazy gadgets, especially a strange gun that shoots sparks and causes objects, including people, to levitate.
Where the film does suffer a bit is in the action category. There just isn’t very much to speak of, unfortunately. Helm does get into a fist fight atop the brewery which is kind of wild. It ends with the bad guy being sucked up a pipe before being shot out of a giant beer bottle and falling many stories to the ground. The final chase also has it’s moments, including a fun but somewhat pointless moment where Helm slides down a long steep railroad incline. On a whole, though, the film gets too caught up in Martin’s quips to concern itself with Bond-style action sequences.
If you can get on board with Dean Martin’s style of humor, then there is a lot of fun to be had with The Ambushers. It’s playful and a bit silly at times, but also a groovy slice of the 60’s.
This post is Forgotten Films’ contribution to the Snoopathon hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to check out all the great posts in the series!