Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli once worked together as Warwick Productions, putting movies out through Columbia Pictures. Broccoli wanted to buy the rights to the James Bond novels, but Allen wasn’t interested. They broke up their partnership, Broccoli went into partnership with Harry Saltzman and the rest was history.
After the success of the Bond series, Allen decided to make his own spy movies. He read a copy of one of the Matt Helm novels at an airport, saying it was”The Silencers or The Death of a Citizen, I forget which,” and within 24 hours had the rights bought and sold to Columbia Pictures to make a series of films.
Hamilton’s books were serious spy novels about an assassin recruited to continue killing for the government, while these films are spoofs starring Dean Martin. “We had wanted Paul Newman or one of the good stars but no one would go up against Sean Connery. Nobody wants to go up against a successful series,” said Allen. Martin had no such issues.
Matt Helm is a retired secret agent, much happier to be shooting models instead of foreign agents. Ably assisted by Lovely Kravezit (Beverly Adams, Torture Garden, as well as the wife of Vidal Sassoon), he goes back to the ICE (Intelligence and Counter-Espionage) agency to battle the Big O (Bureau for International Government and Order) organization and criminal mastermind Tung-Tze (Victor Buono, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?).
The Matt Helm movies are all really about our hero meeting all manner of gorgeous women, who are often called The Slaygirls. Here, they are Daliah Lavi (The Whip and the Body), Stella Stevens (Playboy Playmate of the Month for January 1960), Nancy Kovack (Marooned) and Cyd Charisse as the singing seductress Sarita.
Matt’s boss Macdonald is played by James Gregory, who would later play General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Frank Luger on Barney Miller.
As late as 2018, there have been rumors of a new series of these films with Bradley Cooper involved. Who knows what those will be like, but I doubt Helm will have a full bar in the back of his car.
Here’s a scopitone of the movie’s theme song. These color 16 mm film shorts with a magnetic soundtrack were designed to be shown in specially designed jukeboxes. Joi Lansing was inspired by burlesque to do her own version of the theme song from this movie. Lansing appears in two of my favorite crazy films, the musical mess Hillbillys in a Haunted House and the 1970 biker monster mashup Bigfoot.