Film (1967). Columbia Pictures Corporation. Produced by Irving Allen. Directed by Henry Levin. Written by Herbert Baker based loosely on The Ambushers (1963) and (uncredited) The Menacers (1968), both by Donald Hamilton. Cast includes Senta Berger, James Gregory, Dean Martin, Janice Rule and Albert Salmi. 102 minutes. Colour.
Matt Helm (Martin), top agent for ICE (Intelligence and Counter Espionage), arrives at the organization's training centre, in part to help uncover a double agent. There he meets Sheila Sommers (Rule), an agent and test pilot only recently recovered from Central America, where she piloted an experimental UFO-shaped craft and was forced down in the jungle. Only women can fly these flying saucers, as the electromagnetic energy which powers them is fatal to males. Sommers now has Amnesia but, having worked with Helm on a previous assignment where they posed as a married couple, recovers her memory upon meeting him again. Her craft has been captured by José Ortega (Salmi), dictator of a fictional Central American nation, who plans to sell it to the highest bidder. Agency head MacDonald (Gregory) sends the pair to recover the vehicle; again they pose as a married couple, a writer-photographer team. En route they deal with various Villains, some wearing exoskeletal Powered Armour: Helm disposes of them without too much difficulty. A further adversary is Francesca Madeiros (Berger), an agent of Helm's regular antagonist group Big O, who ends up having a romantic encounter with Helm instead of killing him as assigned. After further, often semi-humorous adventures in Mexico, Helm and Sommers succeed in returning the flying saucer to the USA, her role again being that of pilot.
The Matt Helm portrayed here spoofs Ian Fleming's James Bond and similar "spy-fi" characters, then very popular in Cinema and on US Television. Martin plays Helm as a fun-loving, wisecracking playboy rather than the cold-blooded killer described by Donald Hamilton. The Ambushers is regarded as the worst of the four Helm cinema adaptations, though its use of women as Spaceship pilots may be a first for US sf cinema. [GSt/DRL]
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