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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Ambushers

The mid 60s saw many spy movie spoofs. The Ambushers (TA) was Columbia Picturers' contribution. TA was the third in their series of four Matt Helm films, starring Dean Martin. All four were based (very loosely) on novels by Donald Hamilton. TA only barely qualifies as a sci-fi movie, and even then, only because it features a flying saucer as the MacGuffin. As a Bond parody, the Matt Helm movies pushed the boozing, womanizing, innuendo and crazy gadgets to absurd degrees. Such parodies are the foundations for later parodies, such as "Austin Powers." Senta Berger and Janice Rule star as the lead females.

Quick Plot Synopsis
I.C.E (Intelligence Counter Espionage) launches their experimental flying saucer, which uses electromagnetic levitation which is fatal to men. It flies off successfully, but is hijacked by a controlling ray from deep in the Mexican jungle. The pilot, Sheila Sommers, wanders out of the jungle in a catatonic state of shock. She was abused by the evil Leopold Caselius, pretending to be a beer company owner. He plans to sell the saucer to the highest bidder. Back at I.C.E. Sheila suddenly comes to, but thinks she's married to Matt. (they were in the dim past). Mac sends Matt and Sheila, posing as honeymooners, to Acupulco to investigate Ortega and his beer company. Amid much scenery and shots of scantily clad women, Matt eventually gets a tour of the beer factory. Caselius is onto Matt. A fez-wearing baddie named Nassim and a pretty foreign agent named Francesca, are also following Matt. Through plot twists and turns, Matt finally learns that the saucer is hidden in one of Caselius' remote haciendas. Matt sends Francesca in first, to play the loyal buyer. Matt lets himself get captured and brought in. Nassim captures Sheila and brings her in. Both Nassim and Francesca put in bids for the saucer, but it's already sold. Caselius orders Matt shot by firing squad. He escapes this by blowing laughing gas from a specially tainted cigarette. Nassim and Francesca each escape murder too. Francesca finds the saucer first, but Nassim kills her. He goes inside to steal it, but the radiation it emits kills men. He emerges screaming. Sheila escapes being ravaged by Caselius via drugged lipstick. She gets to the saucer, but Caselius recovered and traps her inside, again attempting a ravage. Sheila kicks the power on and Caselius is radiated. Scream and die. The brakes on the railway flat car are released, so the saucer begins a long careen through the jungle. Matt chases it on a motorcycle. He catches up, lifts Sheila off the speeding flatcar with a levitation ray gun, and places her on the back of the motorcycle. The flatcar flies off the end of the obligatory cliff moments later. The saucer explodes, obligingly, at the bottom. Everyone returns stateside. Matt resumes his boozy playboy spy role. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It's a comedy. It's supposed to be fun. Granted, most of the humor is fairly low, but some jokes are okay. The saucer itself is classic 50s stuff.

Cold War Angle
Most spy movies involve infiltrator and evil despots, but not necessarily in the Cold War angst category.

Based on the Book? -- David Hamilton's Matt Helm novels were not high literature, but were at least serious spy fiction. Hamilton must have been embarrassed at Columbia's action-comedy "spoof" adaptations. Imagine Ian Fleming's Bond stories set as a Muppet Movie, with Kermit playing James Bond. It would be hard to follow the book very closely. The 1963 novel, "The Ambushers," did feature his super spy Matt Helm, and was set in Central America (Mexico is close enough, I suppose). There were a few characters borrowed, such as Sheila and Mac, but there is little affinity beyond that. In lieu of a stolen Soviet missile, the movie has a stolen flying saucer. Beyond that, the movie is packed with innuendos and boob jokes.

Got Boots? -- Note the very 60s costuming of the ladies. Tall boots and very short skirts are aplenty. Sheila goes through several outfits with tall matching boots. The white outfit is for the beer factory shoot out only. The orange outfit is for getting captured. Francesca (Berger) has her own tall boots outfits, as do many of the "Slaygirls".

1950 Dejavu -- The plot of TA is reminiscent of the 1950 film The Flying Saucer, written, directed and produced by Mikel Conrad. TFS had a secret government saucer which was stolen by enemy agents. They planned to sell it to the highest bidder. A hard-drinking secret agent and his female sidekick (who pretends to be a non-agent), track down the stolen saucer in a remote location. Multiple bad guys emerge and almost succeed. The saucer is destroyed in the end. Sound familiar? Hamilton's novel wasn't this close to TFS. It's Herbert Baker's screenplay that was.

Wasted Mod-Mustang -- Nassim, the vaguely
arabic sinister agent, drives a modified '65 Mustang fastback. It has some winged antennae thing and a taller roof, open in the back. Other than getting Nassim from A to B, this special Mustang does nothing special. Perhaps there were car gizmo scenes or a gimmick-charged chase scene that showed off what the car could do, but they were cut. A pity. The car looks like it had potential.

Joke Samples -- The humor and sex references in TA are, for the most part, aimed at a pretty low common denominator. Typical example: (Sheila wants to 'carry on' with Matt while they watch Caselius' hacienda). Matt: "In broad daylight?" Sheila: "What's wrong with a broad in daylight?" Example of the better ones: (Matt faces the firing squad. His requests for a last meal or a blindfold were turned down with a simple "no".) Matt: "Can't I have a last cigarette?" Quintana: "No, they're bad for you."

Rat Pack Inside Joke -- The "Rat Pack" of the 60s included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and a few peripherals. They regularly spoofed each other. At the end of TA, Matt is instructing a new recruit on how to make out. He puts on music -- his own "Everybody loves somebody sometime..." tune. This puts the recruit out of the mood. He then plays Sinatra's "Strangers in the night..." and the recruit turns nympho. Matt says: "I had no idea you were such a Perry Como fan." (barrroom ching) (For those not familiar with 60s culture, Perry Como was the clean-cut, good-taste crooner counterpart to the booze-n-women Rat Pack crooner, Sinatra.)

Bottom line? TA is a comedy spoof of the Bond-style action spy thriller movie genre. As such, there is little sci-fi in it. It does have a flying saucer. If Bond parodies, with lots of cleavage and innuendo, are not what you're after, but you do like flying saucer movies, you could watch the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes. That is all that has the saucer.


Anonymous said...

great post.

Anonymous said...

That thing on the stang is called a video-pod. More here: http://pics.imcdb.org/0is706/videopod800.111.jpg

Nightowl said...

Hey Anon,
Thanks for the link to the video-pod Mustang. Now it's even more of a shame that the car was just a peripheral prop.