Attempting to cash in on the James Bond phenomenon, 1966's The Silencers was the first of four films starring Dean Martin as man's man secret agent Matt Helm. Like with the Bond films' liberal interpretation of Ian Fleming's books, the Helm films took little beyond the titles and a few character names from the successful series of novels written by Donald Hamilton and the boozy, good-natured Martin bears no resemblance at all to Hamilton's embittered, cold-blooded, ex-government agent. But no matter. After an opening title sequence featuring strippers and a dance routine by the still-amazing Cyd Charisse, we meet our hero, a retired secret agent who whiles away his time as a freelance photographer (yes, this is where the first Austin Powers movie stole the idea). Pulled back into the game to stop a mad scientist (Victor Buono) who's planning to use a nuclear bomb in his attempt at world domination, Helm suavely cracks wise as he encounters danger, intrigue, and a number of busty women in tight clothing. Stella Stevens is delightful as Helm's clumsy, sexy comic foil, Charisse is coolly elegant as an aging-yet-beautiful singer/stripper, and Beverly Adams plays a hotsy-totsy dame named Lovey Kravezit. There's plenty of cheesy fun to be had with Martin/Helm knocking back drinks, smooching on dangerous dames, and using clever spy gadgets (Exploding coat buttons! A gun that shoots backwards!) while Elmer Bernstein's witty cocktail-nation score elevates the proceedings just slightly above the level of pure camp. Oh, and Dino sings a couple of tunes, too. Not the best of the Bond ripoffs that honor belongs to James Coburn's Flint films but it's still an enjoyable bit of '60s spy kitsch. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Silencers offers an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) remastered in high definition. However, it is from a sub-par source that's dirty in places and positively murky in others. The colors seem to have been bumped up from bright to garish, which doesn't hide the amount of scratches and black specks on the source-print. The monaural Dolby Digital audio does the job, but it certainly doesn't do justice to Bernstein's supercool score. Three trailers for other Columbia titles, keep-case.
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