Murderers’ Row (1966)

*. Murderers’ Row was the second of four Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin. I’m not a big fan so it may be the only one you’ll see any notes on here.
*. Don’t bother going to the source, which is Donald Hamilton’s novel of the same name. The movie has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Instead this is a generic Bond spoof, of a kind that were very thick on the ground at this time given how successful the Bond franchise had become.
*. It’s interesting that so many people tried to spoof Bond without trying to really imitate him. The Flint films, to take another prominent example, are spy comedies too. But while the Bond movies have a lot of funny bits that make them ripe for parody, they aren’t comic vehicles.
*. Director Henry Levin came to this project right after making another such Bond spoof, the Eurospy romp Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. I don’t know if this movie is any better, and I don’t blame Levin. Instead I’d look first at Dean Martin.
*. Kiss the Girls was set in Rio and its star Mike Connors (who narrowly missed out being cast as Helm) was a game player who even did his own stunt in being lifted on a helicopter ladder from the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Martin, on the other hand, wouldn’t even go to Europe to do any of the location shots for this movie. I don’t know why. Turning down a working vacation on the Côte d’Azur?
*. As a result there are a lot of bad process shots that have to be worked in that don’t sell us on the fact that Martin really isn’t there. There’s also the fact that Martin was pushing 50, and in those days (and with his lifestyle) that was a very old man. Connery was 13 years younger, and would be 52 when he came out of retirement in Never Say Never Again, where I think everyone agreed he was much too old for the part. Even Martin’s voice sounds old here, too mellow and avuncular for the part.
*. Maybe that was part of the joke. Like the way he complains about the mod scene at the disco, and is called “Dad” by one of the band members (who was, in fact, played by Martin’s son). It goes with the way that Martin never projects any sense of danger, or even good health. He always seems to me to be about to keel over, last drink in hand. He’s just here to goof around, enjoy the booze, and swing with some younger ladies. Like Ann-Margret. Over twenty years younger. Sounds right.
*. “It’s called a discotheque!” Ann-Margret tells him. He would have to be told. That was a word that was quite new in 1966. Merriam Webster lists its first English usage as 1960. I think it only started being used to refer to a modern dance club in France in the 1950s. I wanted to look that up because we tend to think of discos as very much a part of late ’70s culture, reaching a peak with Saturday Night Fever in 1977.
*. Something else that was relatively new at the time is the hovercraft. They’d only started coming into commercial use a few years earlier, and their use here was probably pretty impressive. Though I don’t think they add much to the movie.
*. But of course a Bond spoof needs its gimmicks, large and small. The main one here is a gun with a delayed firing mechanism. It gets used quite a lot. There’s also another gun that fires a freezing spray. Works well on drinks and bad guys.
*. Most of it plays as second-rate though, and no better as such than Kiss the Girls or even Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. There’s a swinging score by Lalo Schifrin, and Karl Malden doing his best as the bad guy, but they just had nothing to work with. I don’t even know if they had much in the way of a budget. Even the way the bad guy with the chrome skull is disposed of — off-screen, with only the flash of an explosion — reeks of cheap.
*. So a bargain Bond spoof without anything memorable about it. Only for fans of Dean Martin or ’60s culture in general (I’m guessing there’s some overlap). Most of it has dated very badly. Which makes one wonder why the Bond movies of the same period remain so timeless. Perhaps Bond himself was just a figure as at home in 1962 as he would be in 2020. Dino? Not so much.

7 thoughts on “Murderers’ Row (1966)

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I don’t think Martin was really all that physical a guy to begin with, and by this time he was getting on. His limitations as an action star sort of dictated the direction this series took.

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