Rat Pack Theatre: The Ambushers (1967)

I love the unbridled goofiness that is Dean Martin as superspy Matt Helm. These movies don’t take themselves seriously when it comes to anything except having fun and showing off some ridiculously pretty 60s chicks and that’s exactly how it should be. So far, I’ve seen The Silencers, Murderer’s Row and now The Ambushers. For whatever reason, the fourth and final flick The Wrecking Crew is the only one not available on Netflix Instant. If you’re even remotely interested in these flicks, check them out soon because they’ll be gone on January 1st.

As usual, Martin swaggers through the film with his cool composure constantly throwing out one-lines, some of which are pretty funny and many of which fall flat. This flick teams Helm up with a lady pilot who flew an experimental aircraft that looks like a UFO and runs on electromagnetism that’s been stolen from the US government. The man who orchestrated the theft let her go into the woods and she was eventually recovered, but she was much worse for wear. Thinking she was actually married to Helm (because of a previous mission the two worked together) they’re assigned to find out who took the aircraft and get it back. From there you get a fair amount of gadgets, girls and guns, pretty much everything you’d expect from a 60s spy spoof.

There were a few things that surprised me about the flick, though. See, Helm’s cover is that he’s a big-deal photographer. At one point he takes a picture of the bad guy and one of the guards confiscates his film. But that’s not a problem because he’s able to transmit the photo back to his bosses who receive the image one line at a time, 90s printer/bulletin board style. There’s also these exoskeleton suit things that the brewers use that look like earlier models of what Ripley uses in Aliens. I’m sure that tech seemed completely ridiculous to late 60s audiences. There’s also a scene where Helm blows “funny smoke” at a firing squad to get out of being shot to death, which seemed a lot like fast-acting weed. I’m kind of surprised that got through the censors.

Anyway, that’s pretty much that. I think Deano is my favorite Rat Packer to watch on screen because he’s the most fun. Sammy and Frank have their own unique appeals, but I could watch a hundred of these Matt Helm flicks, alas there’s only four. There was a funny bit at the very end of the movie where Helm is asked to talk to a new recruit which just so happens to be a ludicrously hot blonde woman. He tries playing a Dean Martin record for her, but that’s not doing it for her, so he switches to Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night” and she’s all over it. The last quip of the movie is him saying “You really like Perry Cuomo that much?” Zing!

Rat Pack Theater: Murderers’ Row (1966)

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember many of the plot points from Murderers’ Row, but I still had a great time watching the flick. See, back in the mid 60s the James Bond movies were pretty darn popular and also getting a little silly with all the girls and gadgets. Well, someone had the great idea to take hard core spy of the book world Matt Helm and hand him over to Dean Martin to make some of the swingenest spy flicks of all time. Basically spoofs, these spy movies took Dean Martin’s wildly popular lovable drunk image and transplanted it into the world of spy organizations and hoverboat races. The Austin Powers concept seems to have borrowed heavily from these movies, including Powers’ occupation as a photographer which he shares with Helm.

Anyway, watching Martin is always a pleasure (I love him by himself and with the rest of the Rat Pack), but when you throw in the tropes of spy movies (which I also love) with the aforementioned girls and gadgets how can you go wrong? You can’t, especially if you throw in the lovely Ann-Margret and Karl Malden.

See, I know Malden from a live action Disney movies called Pollyanna that my mom loves. I’ve probably seen the movie as many times as I’ve watched Mallrats (probably one of my most viewed movies) and embarrassingly far more times than I’ve seen any single Star Wars movie. I’ve got the thing memorized and could probably write a fairly accurate screenplay from memory. Anyway, in that movie, Malden plays a real fire and brimstone priest and in this he plays the bad guy. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what made him bad, but at the end of the movie he takes off in a giant hovecraft and Helm gives chase on a smaller one. What a great chase scene! I’ve wanted a hovercraft ever since I was a kid and saw commercials for a remote control one (does anyone remember the name of that toy?) For whatever it’s worth I think he came off scarier in Pollyanna.

There’s two more Helm movies I haven’t seen (I watched the first one but didn’t blog about it and don’t remember much) and plan on watching the other two assuming their both on Netflix Instant. Damn, I love this service!