Category Archives: Stella Stevens

Blu-Ray News #330: The Matt Helm Movies (1966-69).

Dean’s Martin’s Matt Helm series of James Bond spoofs, based on Donald Hamilton’s hard-boiled spy novels, is coming to Blu-Ray in the UK, thanks to Mediumrare Entertainment. The set’s called The Matt Helm Lounge, the same name Columbia called the set they released on DVD in the US.

In 1966, it seems that the only way to compete with the James Bond juggernaut was to spoof it, as these films, the Derek Flint pictures and countless one-offs show. The lone exception might be the Harry Palmer films, starting with The Ipcress File (1965). 

The Helms bear almost no resemblance to the novels, aside from Helm’s name the the book titles. (Actually, The Silencers borrows a couple things from Hamilton’s Death Of A Citizen.) Love ’em or hate ’em, the Matt Helm films are exactly what you’d expect from James Bond spoofs starring Dean Martin. While the Helm pictures were meant to make fun of the James Bond films (and cash in on the spy craze), the Bond pictures themselves would eventually adopt the tone of spoofs like these. 

The Silencers (1966)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, Arthur O’Connell, Robert Webber, James Gregory, Nancy Kovack, Beverly Adams

Opening around the same time as Martin’s TV show, The Silencers was a huge hit. Believe it or not, at one point it was going to be a serious film, with a screenplay by Oscar Saul. It was director Phil Karlson’s idea to go for the tongue-in-cheek approach, and Saul’s script was rewritten by Herbert Baker, who was writing for The Dean Martin Show. Baker does not get credit. By the way, Baker wrote the incredible The Girl Can’t Help It (1956).

Dean Martin, Nancy Kovack and Phil Karlson.

Stella Stevens is terrific as Gail Hendricks, a bumbling agent Matt gets stuck with. She shows a real flair for comedy. It’s a shame Ms. Stevens was never recognized as the talent she was.

Dean/Matt has a tricked-out station wagon, complete with a bed and a bar, and a pistol that shoots backwards. The picture was shot by the great Burnett Guffey, a year before he’d head to Texas to shoot Bonnie And Clyde (1967). Elmer Bernstein provides a great score, that somehow mixes a little Rat Pack swing with the appropriate secret agent feel.

Murderers’ Row (1966)
Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Dean Martin, Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Camilla Sparv, James Gregory, Beverly Adams

Oscar Saul wrote a draft or two for this one, too, and Herbert Baker rewrote that. The credits are the reverse of the last one; this time, Saul is not credited.

Murderers’ Row was supposed to be shot on location, but Dean Martin refused to go to Europe, and being that he was a co-producer, he got his way. Ann-Margret is a real firecracker, as always, and Karl Malden looks like he’s having fun. James Gregory and Beverly Adams are back from ICE HQ. The gadgets this time include a cigarette that launches a tiny missile, something that would turn up in the next Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967).

The score this time comes from Lalo Schifrin, and it’s a good one. The group Dino, Desi & Billy (Dino is Dean Paul Martin, Dean’s son) appear in a discotheque scene.

The Ambushers (1967)

Directed by Henry Levin
Starring Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Beverly Adams

Every series has a low point, a weak link, and in the Matt Helm movies, The Ambushers is it. Again written by Herbert Baker, it doesn’t have quite the sense of fun of the previous two. Doesn’t have much of a plot, either. As Roger Ebert put it in his review back in ’67, “Dean plays Matt Helm again, and goes to Acapulco, and drives up and down scenic highways with ravishing beauties, and occasionally gets shot at.” There’s a UFO, by the way.

This time, Hugo Montenegro composed the score. There was no soundtrack album, unfortunately. The music’s the best thing in the movie.

The Wrecking Crew (1969)
Directed by Phil Karlson
Starring Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, Tina Louise

Getting Phil Karlson back as director was a good idea, as The Wrecking Crew is easily the best in the series, except for maybe The Silencers. A new writer was brought in, William P. McGivern, who wrote the stories that became The Big Heat (1953) and Shield For Murder (1954) and the script for William Castle’s I Saw What You Did (1965). He also wrote a couple of episodes of Adam-12.

There’s some other interesting casting. James Gregory is replaced as MacDonald by John Larch. Bruce Lee provided choreography for the martial arts scenes. And Chuck Norris appears as a henchman in a scene or two.

Bruce Lee trains Nancy Kwan and Sharon Tate train for thier fight scene.

The film’s claim to fame today is that it the last Sharon Tate released in her lifetime. She was murdered by the Manson family in August of 1969. She’s very good here as an incompetent aide to Helm similar to Stella Stevens in the first one. There were plans to make a fifth Matt Helm picture, The Ravagers, with Tate back as Miss Carlson. Some say The Ravagers was cancelled due to lackluster grosses for The Wrecking Crew, but after Sharon’s murder, Dean Martin pulled the plug on it.

I remember sitting in the back seat of the family Chevrolet and seeing this trailer for The Wrecking Crew at The Hi-Way Drive-In in Thomasville, Georgia. I was five. Funny, but I don’t remember what movie we saw, just this trailer.

Bright and breezy with great modern architecture and furniture, these films will look terrific in high definition when they arrive in April. They were originally 1.85. Not sure what the set’s region status will be, but it comes highly recommended anyway.

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Filed under 1966, 1967, 1969, Ann-Margret, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Columbia, Dean Martin, DVD/Blu-ray News, Henry Levin, James Gregory, Phil Karlson, Senta Berger, Sharon Tate, Stella Stevens

Happy Birthday, Stella Stevens.

Stella Stevens (Estelle Eggleston)
(Born October 1, 1938)

Here’s wishing a happy birthday to Stella Stevens, an actress who was often wonderful — and always under-appreciated.

Working on a commentary for her picture Rage (1967) recently, I’ve been reminded again and again of how good she is. She’s seen here in The Silencers (1966), the first of the Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin. She easily walks away with the movie.

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Filed under 1966, Dean Martin, Phil Karlson, Stella Stevens

Blu-Ray News #312: Rage (1967).

Directed by Gilberto Gazcón
Starring Glenn Ford, Stella Stevens, David Reynoso, Armando Silvestre, Jose Elias Moreno, Dacia Gonzalez, David Silva

Imprint out of Australia has brought out some terrific stuff in recent months, and they’re shining a light on Rage (1967), a film that’s spent way too much time stuck in the dark. This Blu-Ray will be a worldwide first.

Rage is a solid suspense picture. Glenn Ford’s a doctor in a remote construction camp in Mexico. He’s bitten by a rabid dog and has to race to a hospital for the vaccine. Ford is as good as ever, and Stella Stevens is terrific as an “entertainer” who comes to the camp and takes a liking to the doctor. David Reynoso and Jose Elias Moreno are both excellent.

Rage (it was called El Mal in Mexico) was the first true Mexican-American co-production. It was shot entirely in Mexico, in English. And it was one of the first handful of pictures to wear the “Suggested For Mature Audiences” badge in its advertising.

The Blu-Ray has a release date of December 30, 2020.

Special Features:
• Audio Commentary by film historian Toby Roan
• “Stella” a visual essay on Stella Stevens by Critic Kat Ellinger
• Theatrical Trailer
• Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1,500 copies

It’d been decades since I’d seen Rage, and I was really knocked out by it. Recommended.

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Filed under 1967, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Glenn Ford, Imprint Films, Stella Stevens

Making Movies: The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Here are some behind-the -scenes shots of the terrific model work for The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Getting ready for the wave to tip over the model ship.

What it looks like in the finished film.

A diver works on the model, post-wave.

It’d been years since I’d seen it, and my entire family watched it the other night. It holds up well — the movie, not the ship. One of the things that really makes the movie work, aside from performances that help us get past the soap-opera first couple reels, are the incredible upside-down sets. They sent me looking for some making-of images immediately, but about all I found were these model images.

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Filed under 1972, 20th Century-Fox, Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Making Movies, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens