Silencers, please

Dean Martin is propped up for a Bond imitation

The James Bond movies had a cultural impact like no other film series in the 1960s, spawning umpteen imitations, from cheap Europudding productions (the ones directed by Mario Bava and Jess Franco are quite delightful) to Hollywood spectaculars. There were rival series too. The most popular — and critically loathed — starred Dean Martin as Matt Helm. In Donald Hamilton's original books Helm is a tough customer involved in relatively realistic adventures. But the Helm movies — the prime inspiration for Austin Powers — are consummate '60s expressions of Playboy middle-class-male masturbation fodder, surrounding the leather-skinned, martini-slurred star (Martin's line readings often suggest he'd been propped up for the take) with chesty starlets half his age, clad in the loudest possible peekaboo showgirl or allegedly mod attire.

As pungently nostalgic as a lapful of spilled Old Spice, 1966's The Silencers at one point has the relatively mature Cyd Charisse (singing voice dubbed by Vicki Carr) performing a nightclub number. She wears a flesh-colored body stocking adorned with black suction cups that have what look like deflated yellow condoms dangling from them. Our hero delivers wheezy bons mots — more like bones mots — while fending off bombshells, including his secretary Miss Lovey Kravezit (Beverly Adams). Ever the gent, he asks each eager beaver if she has been vaccinated. Elevating matters somewhat is the presence of Stella Stevens as Gail, a haplessly klutzy tourist inadvertently pulled into Helm's bullet-dodging realm. Her wide-eyed, good-natured screwball turn brings a little heart into this silicone fantasy — even if the movie insists on finding ways to humiliate her.

Dino's Helm weaved his unsteady way through three more adventures. Murderer's Row at least has Ann-Margret in a great go-go dance wig out on the hippie discotheque floor. Anyone reckless enough to watch all four garishly remastered features collected in Sony Pictures' Matt Helm Lounge DVD set (guilty as charged) is going to lose more brain cells in approximately seven hours than Martin did in, er, an average week.


Fri/26, 6:30 p.m., $10 donation (free for members)

Mechanics' Institute

57 Post, SF

(415) 393-1000

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