The Silencers (film)

The Silencers is an American Pathécolor spy film spoof motion picture released in 1966 and starring Dean Martin as agent Matt Helm. It is loosely based upon the novel The Silencers by Donald Hamilton, as well as another of Hamilton's Helm novels, Death of a Citizen.

The Silencers
Australian film poster
Directed byPhil Karlson
Produced byIrving Allen
Written byDonald Hamilton (novels)
Oscar Saul (screenplay)
StarringDean Martin
Stella Stevens
Daliah Lavi
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byCharles Nelson
Meadway-Claude Productions Company
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 18, 1966 (1966-02-18) (Chicago, Illinois)
  • March 16, 1966 (1966-03-16) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$16,318,124[1]

Co-starring with Martin are Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, James Gregory and Victor Buono.


Once a photographer by day, spy by night, Matt Helm is now a happily retired secret agent, shooting photos of glamorous models instead of guns and enjoying a close relationship with his assistant, the lovely Lovey Kravezit. But then his old boss, Macdonald, coaxes him back to the agency ICE to thwart a new threat from the villainous organization Big O.

The sinister Tung-Tze is masterminding a diabolical scheme to drop a missile on an underground atomic bomb test in New Mexico and possibly instigate a nuclear war in the process. Helm's assignment is to stop him, armed with a wide assortment of useful spy gadgets, plus the assistance of the capable femme fatale, Tina, and the seemingly incapable Gail Hendricks, a beautiful but bumbling possible enemy agent.

Along the way, Helm is nearly sidetracked by a mysterious knife-wielding seductress and he witnesses the murder of a beautiful Big O operative, the sultry striptease artist Sarita.

In the end, Helm prevails, with Gail by his side as he all but singlehandedly destroys Tung-Tze's evil enterprise and plot to rule the world.




Film producer Irving Allen had been in partnership with Albert R. Broccoli in Warwick Productions, who released through Columbia Pictures. Broccoli wanted to buy the rights to the James Bond series of novels, but Allen was not interested. The partnership broke up, Broccoli went into partnership with Harry Saltzman and United Artists on the Bond films and enjoyed tremendous success.

Allen decided to make his own spy series. He read a copy of one of the Matt Helm novels at an airport - "The Silencers or The Death of a Citizen, I forget which," he said later[2] - and optioned the film rights in twenty four hours with his own money ("and it was a sizeable amount" he said[2]).

In 1964 he set up the series with Columbia Pictures. The Silencers was to be the first.[3]


Dean Martin was not the original choice for the lead. Allen said "We had wanted Paul Newman or one of the good stars but no one would go up against Sean Connery. Nobody wants to go up against a successful series."[2]

Eventually it was decided to make the film a comedy and Allen suggested Dean Martin play Matt Helm. Martin signed in March 1965.[4]

Director Phil Karlson had the idea to make the film in a tongue-in-cheek style. Comedy writer Herbert Baker revised Oscar Saul's original script. Dean Martin was a co-producer of the Helm series. Moss Mabry provided the costumes, except for Martin's Sy Devore suits.

Richard Levinson and William Link also worked on the script of this and The Ambushers, the third film in the Matt Helm series.[5]


The film was the first of four produced between 1966 and 1969 starring Martin. The film series includes James Gregory as Macdonald, Helm's superior (played by John Larch in the fourth film) and Beverly Adams as Lovey Kravezit, Helm's photo assistant (character missing in fourth film). Whereas Hamilton's books were generally serious spy novels about a former Second World War assassin who is recruited to continue killing for an American government agency, the film versions were lighthearted spy romps spoofing the James Bond series in the same spirit as Our Man Flint, which was released the previous month. The Helm series has been cited as one of the principal inspirations for the Austin Powers spy comedies of the 1990s and early 2000s.


Released at the height of James Bond mania, The Silencers was a major box office hit in 1966, earning $7 million in United States rentals that year.[6]

"It was a very lucky thing," said Allen, "great timing that Helm caught on the same time Dean's TV series took off."[2]

There were three follow-up films, including Murderers' Row (also released in 1966), The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1969). A fifth film, The Ravagers, was announced, but never produced.


Elmer Bernstein provided the score. The title song is performed by Vikki Carr, though Cyd Charisse opens the film with a sexy striptease-style dance while lip synching to Carr's vocals. Carr also sings "Santiago" on the soundtrack. Two soundtrack albums were released — Bernstein's original score on an RCA Victor album that does not feature any artwork of Dean Martin, and a Reprise album by Martin singing several songs that were featured in the film, along with some instrumentals by the Mike Leander Orchestra.

A scopitone video of the title song was sung by Joi Lansing. Carr's version of the title song was also used on the soundtrack of the film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Recently, English label Vocalion have issued full movie soundtrack on a CD, catalog number CDLK4573.


The Silencers borrows a plot element from the first Helm novel, Death of a Citizen, as it begins with the agent being coaxed out of retirement. Helm's mission is to stop an evil organization called "BIG O" (the Bureau for International Government and Order) from their plan of "Operation Fallout": diverting an American missile into an underground atomic bomb testing site in New Mexico.

See also


  1. "The Silencers, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  2. Allen at Helm of Production Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 6 July 1967: e14.
  3. Pair Acquire Rights to 'Spawn of Evil': Pakula and Mulligan Step Up Activities; Players Loyal Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 10 July 1964: C11.
  4. Looking at Hollywood: Horton Throws 79th Birthday Party Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Tribune 22 Mar 1965: b3.
  5. MOVIE CALL SHEET: O'Neal Signs for Top Role Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 12 Aug 1965: D8.
  6. "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
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