The Silencers (1966)

THE SILENCERS was the first in a line of spy films starring the legendary Dean Martin, but it will probably be enjoyed more by fans of old Dino than by fans of the genre. For one thing, there’s no way it can be taken seriously as an action-adventure, with all of the star’s mugging and leering, his double entendres, and frequent song parodies that come out of nowhere. But neither is it really a comedy, since there is a lot of realistic violence and mayhem.

Rather, it hovers back and forth and in between the two, a world in which Martin is completely at home as the all too casual superspy Matt Helm, agent for ICE (Intelligence and Counter Espionage). You know that he’ll meander along in his own inimitable way, boozing, joking, and scoring, until he saves the world at film’s end. If you accept that, then you can kick back and enjoy the show for its low-brow humor and the adequate action.

Forget the plot. I’m not sure that I can explain much beyond relating that the evil BIG O (Bureau of International Government and Order) is out to start WWIII between the superpowers. The main bad guys are played by Victor Buono (made up to be Chinese!), Robert Webber, and Arthur O’Connell. Each of them have done far better work elsewhere, and there’s nothing in their roles here that couldn’t have been handled by a call to central casting.

The ladies are another matter. Helm is joined by a partner, played by Daliah Lavi (in a step down from the previous year’s LORD JIM), who tries very hard in her role. Making a better impression are Cyd Charisse and Stella Stevens. Charisse, the only female co-star in Martin’s “over forty” age bracket, proves that she’s still got it with a libido-raising routine during the credits, and turns up again later as an exotic dancer who passes along some vital microfilm during her act.

Stevens really livens things up, as a redhead who is suspected of being an enemy agent because she’s the girlfriend(?) of Webber, and happens to wind up with the microfilm. She’s innocent (well, at least of being a spy) but gets dragged along, accompanying Helm on his mission. Later on, her character turns out to be not quite so dumb, and does her part to battle the bad guys and save the world. While Helm is singlehandedly mowing down the enemy, she shows more ingenuity using her favorite new toy, the reverse-firing gun (a clever weapon, as you’ll see).

Again, this film will be enjoyed if you know what to expect, and you’ll know what to expect if you know Dino, who played Helm the way he played himself. If you’re a fan of his well-worn persona, then that’s probably good enough. Along with his easygoing style and humor, throw in assorted action sequences, and many beautiful women (especially sexy Stevens, who does a lot with her role), and you’ve got THE SILENCERS. It succeeds as very passable entertainment, and is certainly the best of the entire Matt Helm series.