Page 14, 8th April 1966

8th April 1966
Page 14
Page 14, 8th April 1966 — Super-spy send-up with verve

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Locations: Moscow, London, Paris


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Super-spy send-up with verve

MATT HELM (Dean Martin) is supposedly the American James Bond. Like Bond, he operates ICE—Intelligence Counter Espionage— at the highest international level. Like Bond. he is accompanied and aided every'where by a positive chorus of underdressed girls.

Like Bond—or like Napoleon Solo--he commands an armoury of magic modern weapons of which the most useful seemed what I could only describe as a gun firing in reverse (not to be confused with backfiring).

For here, long after Bond, after Solo, even after "Our Man Flint", after the cinema (and television) seemed swamped and surfeited with spies, Matt Helm lands in London in The Silencers ("A", Odeon, Leicester Square) to display an astonishing amount of life still left in the legend of the superman spy. Especially one who laughs at himself and invites the world to laugh with him.

Americans generally, Dean Martin personally, and the director Phil Carlson, have none of the diffidence which can be fatal to this sort of debunking fun. Martin has had invaluable experience in some of his "send-up" pictures with Frank Sinatra. He has an invaluable flair for playing with all-out conviction even with his tongue almost visibly in his cheek.

The fun is fast and furious. One striptease dancer (Cyd Charisse) is murdered by a musical cowboy. Redhead Gail (Stella Stevens) is persistent enough to build up some sort of suspense as to whether she is among the girls whose kisses kill.

Matt's girls struck me as slightly more distinguishable from each other than Bond's. Perhaps the picture gains most from those especial Hollywood virtues (technically speaking) of production, pace, verve and certainty which are decidedly less evident in the week's other movies.

Not that Viva Maria ("X", Curzon) is without attractions. The two principal ones, costars Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot, are of course considerable. Either actress is a pleasure to see individually; the idea of doubling them together seemed full of promise.

It was not surprising to hear the director, Louis Malle, say on television last week that this idea of matching the two contrasted stars was the whole basis of the film. For it develops rather like a vast edifice of cards built upon a gimmick.

I do not refer here to the extraordinarily far-fetched and convoluted pre-credit sequence introducing Bardot as the child of an early Irish anarchist, trained in bomb-laying. Her subsequent skill with a rifle and more sophisticated weapons is an unusually persuasive argument for terrorist tactics, but hardly relevant.

Bardot, the baby terrorist, is escaping on the roof of a train carrying a circus or troupe of travelling actors when she pushes her head, then the rest of her, into Jeanne Moreau's carriage window. As long as they remain teamed as a sisteract singing songs about Paris, doing a decorous striptease or gay can-can the whole thing recalls the Moulin Rouge.

Too soon, alas, we are all aboard the magic troupe train, via Gibraltar, for Latin America. There, in the land of dictators, all can profess their revolutionary faith, declare death to tyrants and, with Bardot manning the machine-gun, strike a blow for the liberation of prisoners and the conjuror's dove of peace.

The loyalties, including a persistent anti-clerical streak, are puerile and trite when they are not more offensive.

Malle has always been a brilliantly gifted director without apparently much of substance to say. This extravaganza has clever and amusing passages too, but is frivolous in the worst sense in squandering some very serious subjects for the most frippery ends.

I suppose Bing Crosby in Cinerama's Russian Adventure ("U", Coliseum) is not a misleading title to audiences accustomed to seeing Bing host a TV programme. He does much the same here as commentator,

introducing a mass of scenes of Soviet life — Russian whalers, Russian clowns, Russian dancers, Russian acrobats, the Moscow circus, Russian cars, Russian dogs, Russian pigs.

To the unsophisticated these will probably be fascinating. But the Cineratna looks primitive with all three joins showing and the structure tedious. The Circus animals distressed me, most deeply the lions on horseback. Even when I watch the fabulous Russian acrobats and strong men, I feel that where life can be so dangerous and rigorous it may seem easier to train in these arduous disciplines.

Freda Bruce Lockhart

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