Dean Martin

By: Mark Kingwell
June 7, 2011

Somebody should have told DEAN MARTIN (Dino Paul Crocetti, 1917-95) that his canary-yellow turtleneck in the Matt Helm movies didn’t flatter a face tanned like saddle leather. Martin was already an established Hollywood and Vegas property when he made The Silencers (1966), first of four campy perversions of Donald Hamilton’s tough, witty spy novels, and subsequent influence on everything from Mel Brooks’s “Get Smart” series to Mike Myers’s Austin Powers franchise. The opening sequence has Helm sliding from a tilting circular bed into a vast bubble bath with his ‘secretary’ Lovey Kravezit then emerging to be buffed with power towels and fitted with silk kimonos dropped from above — the bachelor-pad equivalent of overcomplicated battle-prep assembly lines in Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds Are GO (also 1966) or Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers (1993). The Helm movies are tedious babe-parades loosely draped over supervillian-in-underground-lair-bent-on-global-domination plots, but they mark an important shift in Dino’s long and unstoppable career: from cherished if slightly goofy crooner-comedian of the Martin-Lewis and Rat Pack heydays, to dinner-jacketed hunk of boiled meat. Hosting the Dean Martin celebrity roasts of the 1970s, laboured televisusal festspielen that skewered a gallery of hilo notables ranging from Barry Goldwater and Ralph Nader to Truman Capote and Evel Knievel, Martin reached his nadir. Always in the middle seat, making with the conspicuous guffaw, highball and cigarette reliably in hand, there was tan-tan Dino, cocoa-butter shell of a man. Kick in the head is right.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Prince and Michael Cera.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods generation (1914-23).

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What do you think?

  1. As well-done a “defense” of the nearly-unwatchable-to-me Matt Helm flicks as I can imagine. And I love love love Dino but for the big screen it’s mostly “Rio Bravo” and “Kiss Me Stupid.”

    On the small screen, by comparison, the hot choices are bountiful but let’s start with–

    Deanie & Pops–

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FCrk98Fjsg

    Dean & The Step Brothers–

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dob3Nq0uNZo

    Rowan & Martin & Bill Cosby & Dino–

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHCFUTSBUlE

    Dean & the Mills Brothers–

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66jdM8ebDs8

  2. Christopher, you’re right. Though it also ran until 1970, the year after the last of Martin’s Helm movies. So I figure there is at least a plausible case for influence. Probably more like mutual cross-fertilization, all under the shadow of the Connery Bond films (1962-67).

  3. Wikipedia lists an enormous number of Bond parody movies — a trend that seems to have begun in 1964 — but most of them weren’t nearly as popular as the Matt Helms films. With the possible exception of the Beatles’ “Help!” (1965) and those “Our Man Flint” movies from 1966-67.

  4. The satirical “The Book of Bond, or, Every Man His Own 007” (1965) was penned by one of Mark’s and my favorite writers, Kingsley Amis. Who was a friend of Ian Fleming’s and went on to write a non-tongue-in-cheek guide to the books and films, and also of course the 1968 Bond novel “Colonel Sun.” Another rare example, for those of us who follow such things, of a comedy/satirical version of a phenomenon preceding the serious/tragic version. (The movie “Little Big Man” preceding “Dances With Wolves” is a favorite example of this.)

  5. Dino was the best at whatever he tried. He had the top rated show on tv twice. His movies were the top moneymakers in the years they were introduced. His music hit the top of the pop charts for two generations and Dino and Jerry lewis were the biggest niteclub act of their generation, and Dino and Frank Sinatra were the biggest act in Vegas. He was well liked by coworkers and fellow celebrities in a business with more than its share of aholes.

  6. Hey pallie Professour Kingwell. Thanks for liftin’ up the life, times, and teachin’s of our Dino in this way on the 94 anniversary of his landin’on earth. While I certainly agree with you on the profound influence our Dino had on the culture of his day…’specially the way many desired to emulate our Dino’ Matt Helm character….I can’t agree with your evaluation of this quartet of Helmer capers…to me they are simply our Dino doin’ what he does best…playin’ his oh so cool, oh so hip, oh so randy Dino-persona. Know that your Dino-reflections are bein’ shared with all the pallies at gather at ilovedinomartin…

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