To the Atomic Age hipster, the spy was the ultimate bachelor badass. Reckless, yet never ruffled. Daring, yet tender. His Beretta in one hand, his other hand holstering a martini. He was an epiphany of suave. For my money, no one personified this better than Dean Martin in his Matt Helm movies. Indeed, The Ambushers is a celluloid cocktail of cheesecake and Dino mojo, shaken not stirred.
Well known critic,Michael Medved, put this film in his list of the top 50 worst films of all time. But this movie wasn't meant for squares like Medved. It was meant to entertain, and it more than succeeds in this regard. Medved wouldn't know a Hi-Fi's from a Hi-Ball - and therefore has no business even watching this movie.
The movie begins at the Intelligence Counter Espionage (ICE) Rehabilitation Center where we find spies in training. This is where highly skilled double agents develop the tools of their trade - martial arts, top secret gadgets and the expertise to handle the most dangerous of missions.
Yes, we're two minutes into the film, and I think it's already pretty obvious what kind of movie we're in for.
Cut to a scene where Helm is receiving a massage while his miniskirted secretary Lovey Kravesit arrives unexpectedly. They are obviously poking fun at the Bond films and their tendency to give women characters suggestive names. Lovey was played by Beverly Adams, a former fiance of none other than Erik Estrada.
The next scene takes place at the site of a spy training exercise on a simulated train - except, Helm soon discovers there's nothing simulated about the gun pointed at him. Once the two ladies leave
(the older lady played Maude in Harold and Maude), the man demands Helm tell him about the government issue UFO or die!
Thankfully, the boss, Macdonald (James Gregory), saves Helm in the nick of time and takes care of the evil spy by straight up murdering his ass. You may remember James Gregory from his role as Inspector Luger on Barney Miller.
Macdonald takes a moment to enlighten Helm. He explains that Sheila is the key to discovering the whereabouts of the UFO. The only problem is Sheila is, as I stated earlier, batshit insane. It's going to take a very special man to crack this crazy chick - if Helm can't do it, no one can.
Helm also raises a salient point: How'd this evil spy infiltrate the ICE rehab center? There's obviously a threat from inside the organization!
Of course, Sheila instantly takes a liking to Helm; however, in her deranged state, she thinks Helm is her husband. This fits the plan perfectly because the two are to travel to Acapulco (near where the UFO went down) incognito as husband and wife photographers.
Notice in the next image how both Helm and Sheila are smoking - it's hard to believe there was a time when you could smoke on airplanes (I still remember the little ashtrays in the armrests).
Helm and Sheila wind up at a fancy schmancy pool party when they notice the sinister, Jose Ortega. ICE suspects Ortega is somehow involved in the disappearance of the flying saucer and Sheila's bizarre brainwash.
It becomes evident that ol' Sheila hasn't exactly forgotten everything when she storms Ortega's mansion and blows his ass away. Of course, you can't kill the sadistic villain this early in the film - Ortega survives because the gun was loaded with blanks.
What's disturbing about this scene is that Ortega is played by Albert Salmi. In 1990, Salmi and his wife were found dead from gunshot wounds. It is believed to be a murder-suicide; however, the facts of the incident aren't exactly clear, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Sheila flees the scene in a stolen car, is almost raped by a stranger who emerges from the backseat (WTF?), and escapes on foot.
Meanwhile, Helm is making headway with, Francesca, a wealthy woman he's met, played by the Austrian beauty, Senta Berger. Francesca has ties to Ortega, of which Helm would like to explore.
Unfortunately for Helm, Francesca isn't so easily wooed by his charms. She drugs him using a special kind of lipstick. This, of course, immediately reminded me of that episode of Gilligan's Island which had the long fantasy sequence where Gilligan is a secret agent. In once scene Ginger attempts to poison him with a poison lipstick kiss, but secret agent Gilligan survives by wearing a pair of wax lips.
Matt Helm is driven psychotic by the drug, thrashing around, ripping off Francesca's clothes, and then passing out. That never happened on Gilligan's Island! (I wish it had)
Stay tuned for part two to the Retrospace review The Ambushers. Glad you dropped by!