The Ambushers (1967)
Matt Helm adventure No. 3, The Ambushers, finds the ever-sassy, always-sauced spy (Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin) ordered by Intelligence Counter Espionage (ICE) to retrieve the federal government’s super-secret, experimental flying saucer, which has been hijacked. One José Ortega (Albert Salmi, Caddyshack), a millionaire beer magnate, and his precious, all-powerful, matter-moving laser beam are to blame. Luckily for the film, Ortega and the U.S. UFO are located in Acapulco, so what’s a secret agent to do? An assignment’s an assignment, and Matt unconvincingly goes undercover as a fashion photographer.
Accompanying Matt are his alcohol-soaked bloodstream and fellow ICE agent Sheila Sommers. As played by Janice Rule (The Swimmer), Sheila is homelier than the Helm series’ average above-average female foil; compared to forbearing curve-bearers Stella Stevens in The Silencers or Ann-Margret in Murderers’ Row, the stick-like Rule looks like a PTA mom — okay, so a PTA mom who hasn’t given up on joie de vivre, but still, Rule’s casting as eye candy is eyebrow-raising curious. The Ambushers is, after all, a movie whose opening credits serve as a proto-MTV video for Hugo Montenegro’s catchy, teeny-bopper tune about how hot and sexy those hot and sexy girls are in their hot and sexy bikinis. Plus, every woman wants to bed Matt, and he, every woman.
The Ambushers’ cavalier attitude toward coupling makes a subplot of Sheila’s extra-icky and bothersome: When Ortega zapped the saucer out of the sky and onto his turf, Sheila was its pilot … and he raped her into a shadow of her former self. Still shell-shocked from the trauma, she harbors personal reasons to end Ortega’s reign.
Folks, The Ambushers is a comedy. At no point does director Henry Levin (The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm) allow anything to alter the sunshine-and-lollipops mood of the picture (and, by extension, the four-pic series as a whole). But brush all those thoughts aside so we get back to the brass tacks of our businessman/rapist: He has plans to auction the spacecraft to the highest bidder, currently “an Oriental gentleman whose name I cannot pronounce.” Oh, boy. Given those Breakfast at Tiffany’s times, I’m half-surprised Levin and screenwriter Herbert Baker (The Girl Can’t Help It) didn’t Go There and name the $100 million bidder Commander Chow Mein or something.
Sexism, racism, other -isms: all par for the course (coarse?) of that era of pop culture. Through the eyes and ears of today, these elements smart … and yet do not completely ruin the fun, of which the movie offers plenty, right down to a roller-coaster of a climactic chase. The Ambushers is a flick of literal bullet bras, killer maracas, melting belt buckles, insta-tents, giant beer bottles, beer-barrel bowling, magic bartending, deadly fezzes, funny cigarettes (not the kind laced with THC, mind you), sultry Senta Berger (The Quiller Memorandum) and constant jokes at the expense of women having bumps and folds that men do not — hee-haw! —Rod Lott