The third ‘Matt Helm’ picture came out in the same year as ‘You Only Live Twice’ ( starring Sean Connery as ‘James Bond’ ), ‘Casino Royale’ ( an all-star 007 spoof headed by Peter Sellers ), ‘In Like Flint’ ( starring James Coburn as ‘Derek Flint’ ), and ‘Billion Dollar Brain’ ( starring Michael Caine as ‘Harry Palmer’ ). Two of those pictures had plots involving outer space, so ‘The Ambushers’ followed suit. After a breezy title sequence ( the catchy song is performed by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart ), the film opens at a secret location somewhere in the States. I.C.E. have been brought in to supervise security on the test flight of an experimental flying saucer. The pilot is Sheila Sommers ( Janice Rule ). No sooner is the craft in flight than an anti-gravity beam pulls it back to Earth.
The thief is one Jose Ortega ( Albert Salmi ), owner of a beer factory in Acapulco. He intends selling the saucer to the highest bidder in order to finance a revolution against the Mexican Government.
Sheila is found in the jungle some time later, badly beaten and with no memory of her ordeal. The only thing she remembers is the jingle to a television commercial for Ortega’s beer. To recuperate, she is sent to an I.C.E. rehabilitation centre by MacDonald. Also present ( on a refresher course ) is Matt Helm. Posing as husband and wife, he and Sheila fly to Acapulco to make the acquaintance of Mr.Ortega.
This is the second and last ‘Helm’ to be scripted by Herbert Baker and directed by Henry Levin. Once again Donald Hamilton’s storyline ( which had an ex-Nazi out to destroy Texas with a Russian nuclear missile ) has been clumsily grafted onto a jokey, sci-fi plot. Agents from all over the world converge on Acapulco to buy the saucer. None are aware that it can only be flown by a woman. Any man who tries to do so is killed by radiation.
The locations are beautifully photographed by Burnett Guffey and Edward Colmans and the movie coasts along nicely with plenty of action and humour. There is a wonderful scene where Matt and Sheila must spend the night in the desert and his car automatically converts into a mini ‘hotel’. Hugo Montenegro wrote the music, while Oleg Cassini ( Jackie Onassis’ fashion designer ) provided the clothes.
Albert Salmi is particularly menacing as the villain, and Janice Rule makes a classy heroine as Sheila. Senta Berger sizzles as the top pilot for ‘BIG O’ – Francesca Medeiros. Kurt Kasznar ( who also appeared in ‘Casino Royale’ ) provides the odd laugh as Ortega’s bumbling henchman. Yes, the Slaygirls are on hand again to assist Matt, some kitted out with guns in their brassieres.
At times you feel that there’s a better movie struggling to get out. A stronger emphasis on adventure and less on comedy was needed. Better S.F.X. would have helped too. The saucer and Ortega’s anti-gravity devices ( where did he get these, incidentally? ) look like left-over props from ‘Star Trek’.
For all its shortcomings, this is the best Helm movie since ‘The Silencers’. Harry and Michael Medved’s decision to include it in their book ‘The 50 Worst Films Of All Time’ is mystifying.