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  Murderers' Row Watch them a-go-go!
Year: 1966
Director: Henry Levin
Stars: Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Camilla Sparv, James Gregory, Beverly Adams, Richard Eastham, Tom Reese, Dean Paul Martin
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: One of the livelier Matt Helm movies, Murderers’ Row sees Dean Martin back as the booze loving, skirt chasing playboy photographer and super-spy, whose persona was closer to his Las Vegas stage act than the no-nonsense literary hero created by Donald Hamilton. In a plot twist that foreshadows You Only Live Twice (1967), Helm is “assassinated” - with an exploding bed, naturally - early on.

While his adoring (and adorable) secretary Lovey Cravesit (Beverly Adams) and a gaggle of black-veiled dolly birds mourn the loss of the legendary lover, the very alive and now incognito Matt Helm heads to Monte Carlo to locate Dr. Norman Solaris (Richard Eastham), inventor of the deadly super helio-beam weapon sought by evildoers Big O. Fortunately, the good doctor has a sexy daughter, Suzy Solaris (Ann-Margret) eager to help Matt trace his whereabouts. But bickering villains, Coco Duquette (Camilla Sparv) and Julian Wall (Karl Malden) have deadly plans for daddy’s little girl.

Even more than with The Silencers (1966), this production shreds its sober source novel into a cut-and-paste comic book affair. A cocktail laced with pretty girls, silly sex gags, groovy go-go numbers and zany sci-fi gadgets. Screenwriter Herbert Baker had written several Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies and was a regular on The Dean Martin Show. He knew how to tailor a formula around his louche leading man, but Murderers’ Row boasts a host of witty gags alongside the usual lame double-entendres. Note Julian Wall’s world-conquering speech (“Men of good will have done a dreadful job of running the world. I think it’s time for a change”), the moment Suzy disables a machine impregnable to bullets and bombs with her hairpin, or the policeman who responds to Matt’s protest that he is an American citizen with: “we’ll play the star-spangled banner on the electric chair.”

Although co-producer Dean Martin was too lazy to jet down to Monte Carlo for location footage (now that is lazy!), he’s still committed enough to turn on that affable, easygoing charm. This makes it easier to spend, basically two thirds of the movie, watching him cruise around picturesque locations, booze it up and eyeball bikini clad bombshells. Martin is in his element, since these are fantasies for aging hipsters that many young people around at the time would consider strictly squaresville. There is an amusing scene where Matt stumbles inside a candy-coloured nightclub full of teeny boppers, and looks completely lost and baffled. Trying to keep up with the vivacious Suzy, he mimes some spastic dance movements, only for Dean Martin’s real-life son (performing onstage with his group Dino, Desi and Billy) to quip: “Now you’re getting it, dad!”

Nobody can go-go dance their little heart out quite like Ann-Margret, in knockout costumes by Moss Mabry. While everyone else seems bored playing cartoon characters (although Karl Malden had the idea of using a different accent in every scene), Margret goes all out, coming across like a Hanna-Barbera heroine and even proves quite adept as an action girl in the exciting hovercraft chase climax. Director Henry Levin, who made the superior Eurospy thriller Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966), maintains a zesty, comic book pace even when gags fall flat or turn crass like a zoom onto a wiggling, bikini clad bottom. He yokes a surprising amount of tension from the ridiculous exploding dress worn by Suzy, which Matt rips off and throws at a picture of Frank Sinatra (it wouldn’t be a Matt Helm movie without a Sinatra gag), while several set-pieces foreshadow those in later Bond movies like Diamonds Are Forever (1971) (the heliobeam satellite), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) (an electromagnetic death for a hulking, part-metal henchman), and Moonraker (1979) (whose gondola chase mirrors the hovercraft one here).

Silly gadgets include a harmonica listening device, a freeze gun, a cigarette that shoots a poison dart, and a pistol with a seven second delay that proves its worth in the frenzied climax. Dino croons his old hits like “I’m Not The Marrying Kind” with the soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin. He would return as Matt Helm in The Ambushers (1967).

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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