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Matt Helm
October 14, 2009 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Matt Helm is a fictional character created by author Donald Hamilton. He is a U.S. government counter-agent—a man whose primary job is to kill or nullify enemy agents—not a spy or secret agent in the ordinary sense of the term as used in spy thrillers. ... The character appeared in 27 books over a 33-year period beginning in 1960... A movie series was made in the mid-to-late 1960s starring Dean Martin... the series bore no resemblance at all to the character, atmosphere, or themes of Hamilton's original books, nor to the hard-edged action of Bond. One reason was the attitude of the filmmakers that the only way to compete with the Bond films was to parody them. - Wikipedia (links may be mildly NSFW)

We reported earlier this year that the messy breakup of Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures may have killed the director's opportunity to bring the swinging, pulp fiction super-spy, Matt Helm, back to the big screen... a source close to the project tells us a new director has his hands on the project — none other than Gary Ross, writer-director of "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit"... - The Playlist

The first - and by all accounts the best - of the Dean Martin films is The Silencers. It can be viewed in its entirety here. Don't miss the opening credits - featuring Elmer Bernstein's razzmatazz score and a bombshell performance by Cyd Charisse. (previously)
posted by Joe Beese (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Although the later Helm books (and-- sorry Joe Beese-- the movies) are utter crap, the first half-dozen-or-so books, along with Hamilton's pre-Helm thrillers, are quite well-written and excellent examples of the genre. They hold up to anything else of the era, including Fleming's James Bond novels and John D. MacDonald's pre-Travis McGee work. Here's a good article on Hamilton in particular and the the mid-Century thriller in general.
posted by dersins at 9:48 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ha ha!

I was going to mention in a previous thread that my liking Matt Helm as a twenty-something was probably as bewildering to my parents as modern hipster praise for "Spies Like Us" is to me.

-----
As a further aside, I got into a conversation this very weekend where I noted:
  1. I consider myself a big Dean Martin fan though I consider most of his work to be crap
  2. I don't respect Brad Pitt as an actor though I like pretty much everything I've seen him do

posted by mazola at 9:49 AM on October 14, 2009


Here's a good article on Hamilton in particular and the the mid-Century thriller in general.

Ha! In my zeal to share I somehow completely missed that you linked that article in the first sentence of your post. I am a fool and a buffoon and am ashamed of myself.
posted by dersins at 9:52 AM on October 14, 2009


It has the feel and look of the original Batman television show with all that colorful camp and 60s styling. I half expected Adam West to pop out at any minute to make an appearance.
posted by cazoo at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009


One of Donald Hamilton's non-Helm books, Night Walker, has been reissued by the incomprable Hard Case Crime. I enjoyed it.
posted by dortmunder at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2009


Huh! I just finished re-reading The Ambushers, found while cleaning up our attic. Lord, I thought this was great stuff in my teens, on par with Ian Fleming, then still alive and writing. And The Ambushers still holds up - good, honest pulp - probably better than Fleming would. Pity Helm never got a good Hollywood depiction.
posted by mojohand at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2009


If James Bond is a spy, why is he never undercover?
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 10:44 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


James Gregory almost makes the Matt Helm films worth watching. He rocked.
posted by mazola at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2009


dersins: "Although the later Helm books (and-- sorry Joe Beese-- the movies) are utter crap..."

I guess I should have been clearer that "the best of the movies" is a very relative term.

But those Silencers opening credits... man. I think my latency period ended the day I saw that on the 4:30 Movie.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:59 AM on October 14, 2009


I don't respect Brad Pitt as an actor though I like pretty much everything I've seen him do

Don't know why you don't respect him, he is pretty good. I think his appearance often causes people to underestimate his acting ability.
posted by Edgewise at 12:18 PM on October 14, 2009


I know. I doesn't make sense.
posted by mazola at 12:27 PM on October 14, 2009


Man, I was confused the first time I saw a Matt Helm movie. I had read a couple of my dad's Helm books, so I was kinda psyched when I saw they were showing a bunch of the movies on late night cable. In the books, Helm was a stone killer and not at all silky smooth like Bond was supposed to be. You can imagine my surprise when it was all Austin Powers with Deano in the starring role.
posted by electroboy at 1:16 PM on October 14, 2009


Also, this pic on the back of every Helm book kinda made you suspect the author was equally bad news.
posted by electroboy at 1:18 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


And The Ambushers still holds up - good, honest pulp - probably better than Fleming would. Pity Helm never got a good Hollywood depiction.

What about the movie version of The Ambushers where he drowns the bad guy in a giant beer? And doesn't he have a ray gun that dissolves the bad guys' belt buckles and makes their pants fall down, or is that a different movie?

If James Bond is a spy, why is he never undercover?

Oh he was under the covers in all of the movies.

[] If you know what I mean.
[] A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat! Snap snap, grin grin, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more?
[] Hi-yo!
posted by kirkaracha at 2:43 PM on October 14, 2009


If James Bond is a spy, why is he never undercover?

Theory 1: He's a decoy. The joint US/British intelligence operations send in Bond, who inevitably makes a scene and, while he's off crashing a helicopter into Big Ben or something, Felix Leitner puts on a ski mask and starts handing out Colombian neck-ties, all quiet-like.

Theory 2: He does regular spy stuff in between the movies. He's actually a "normal," low-key operative most of the time, as per the beginning of "Tomorrow Never Dies." He spends most days doing routine surveillance or paperwork explaining how he demolished another expensive prototype of something or other, but every once and again, when even those simple activities manage to go off the rails, Bond steps up to the plate and, say, steals back the jet with the nukes on it, whereas a normal spy would have turned up as another star on the wall at Langley (or however they do it at MI6).

Theory 3: He's a necessary evil. His M.O. has escalated over the years, as his villains have gotten more ostentatious. Real world spooks wouldn't have much success with somebody like Dr. No, because who really expects flame-throwing dragon tanks and trap-doors leading to shark pits? Bond, that's who. That's why they keep him around. The regular agents can deal with Al Quaeda; if you want someone to beat the guy who's building a giant laser in a hollowed-out volcano, you need another guy who'll happily jump a motorcycle off a cliff sans parachute in order to catch a plane in nosedive. Some Georgetown grad with a degree in International Relations ain't gonna cut it. The rest of the year, they just pay him to sit around and gamble, and they don't tell him he isn't actually doing anything valuable.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:46 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Less ellipses...please
posted by mattking17 at 4:17 PM on October 14, 2009


I loved the Matt Helm books! He was my favorite hard-boiled private eye (I particularly always liked his advice to never threaten people with a gun, instead to just man up and shoot them before they killed you). Back when I first found out about the movie adaptations I was excited to watch them before I read the wikipedia article and realized that they would be total crap. I hope that Gary Ross makes that movie and makes it well.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 6:44 PM on October 14, 2009


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