The film begins with a shot of the United States Capitol being destroyed. It is actually a scale model being used in the demonstration of a heliobeam weapon in the headquarters of the Bureau of International Government and Order ("BIG O"). BIG O is a secret organization with the goal of world domination that previously appeared in The Silencers.
With the aid of a mole, BIG O conducts a worldwide assassination campaign against various secret agents working for ICE (Intelligence Counter Espionage). Matt Helm (Dean Martin) fakes his own death in preparation for investigating the scheme undetected.
Helm meets his boss, Mac (James Gregory), for a mission briefing. Helm is to track down the missing Dr. Solaris (Richard Eastham), who has developed the powerful heliobeam weapon, a device that uses the concentrated power of sunlight for mass destruction. Helm is told if he can not rescue Solaris he is to kill him, and if captured to kill himself, lest BIG O brainwash him.
Posing as a Chicago gangster named Jim Peters, an alias of "Lash" Petroni, Helm travels to the French Riviera to follow his only lead, Solaris's daughter, Suzie (Ann-Margret). Concerned about her father's disappearance, Suzie helps Matt infiltrate the island lair of the diabolical Julian Wall (Karl Malden), blow it up, and thereby save Washington, D.C. from being destroyed.Dean Martin as Matt Helm
Ann-Margret as Suzie
Karl Malden as Julian Wall
Camilla Sparv as Coco Duquette
James Gregory as MacDonald
Beverly Adams as Lovey Kravezit
Richard Eastham as Dr. Norman Solaris
Tom Reese as Ironhead
Duke Howard as Billy Orcutt
Ted Hartley as Guard
Marcel Hillaire as Police Capt. Deveraux
Corinne Cole as Miss January
Robert Terry as Dr. Rogas
Dean Paul Martin as Himself
Desi Arnaz Jr. as Himself
Billy Hinsche as Himself
The film was the second of four produced by Albert R. Broccoli's former partner Irving Allen and Martin's Meadway-Claude Production company for Columbia Pictures in the mid-1960s starring Martin as secret agent Matt Helm. Euan Lloyd, a former Warwick Films publicity specialist and producer of The Poppy Is Also a Flower, assisted Allen in production chores.
Like its predecessor The Silencers, it took a much more light-hearted approach to the source material, treating it more as a gadget-laden spoof of James Bond films than Hamilton's original serious spy story. Unlike Hamilton's world weary professional, Martin plays Helm with his own persona, a fun-loving, wise-cracking alcoholic playboy.
Co-starring is Karl Malden as Dr. Julian Wall, whom New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther describes as a "Kansas type Dr. No". Malden had the idea that his character speaking in a different accent every time he spoke would be amusing.
Also in the film are Tom Reese as his Oddjob-type henchman named "Ironhead" and Beverly Adams returns as secretary Lovey Kravezit, as do the Slaygirls, a group of beautiful and dangerous women. Columbia starlet Camilla Sparv plays Malden's assistant Coco Duquette and Soon Tek-Oh makes a brief appearance as a Japanese agent killed in his bath.
The first script was by Oscar Saul, who had written The Silencers. Herbert Baker, who had received a screen credit after he wrote the final version of The Silencers script, was brought in to rewrite Saul's first draft of Murderers' Row and received sole credit. Baker had written several Martin and Lewis screenplays and was a writer for The Dean Martin Show.
Filming began 18 July 1966.
The film was originally intended to be shot totally on location, but Martin, who also co-produced the film, refused to go to Europe. Second unit teams shot sequences in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monte Carlo and the Isle of Wight for the hovercraft and helicopter sequences instead. The then new Saunders-Roe SR.N6 hovercraft appearing in the film's sea sequences (with the land chase through the streets of Monte Carlo and scenes with Martin using a mock up) was provided by Hoverwork Hovercraft as their first assignment with a Cushioncraft CC5 appearing as well.
Henry Levin had previously directed the Dino DeLaurentiis superspy film Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die for Columbia. He would also direct the following Matt Helm film, The Ambushers. The titles are again by Wayne Fitzgerald, and James Curtis Havens continued in the series as second unit director.
Like its predecessor, the film is full of jokes, bizarre secret weapons like a Hy Hunter Bolomauser modified AR-7 pistol configuration that only fires ten seconds after the trigger is pulled, plenty of beautiful women, and fashionable mod 1966 costumes by Moss Mabry. Karl Malden's character uses a Gyrojet spearfiring pistol and a volley gun type pistol. Helm kills a guard with a dart fired out of a cigarette; a weapon also used in You Only Live Twice. Martin's Helm drove a 1966 Ford Thunderbird landau.
Released only ten months after The Silencers, Murderers' Row was the eleventh highest grossing film of the year. The film received 1967 second place Laurel Awards for Best Action Drama and Best Action Performance for Martin.
Murderers' Row was followed by The Ambushers (1967) and The Wrecking Crew (1969). A fifth film, The Ravagers with Sharon Tate reprising her Wrecking Crew character and Dean Martin doing a dual role, was announced but never produced. Martin refused to make The Ravagers so Columbia reportedly held up Martin's share of the profits on Murderers' Row.
The 1960s Helm spoofs seemed to become the template of the 1970s Bond films and in some cases Helm film setpieces were copied by the later Bonds. In Diamonds Are Forever, SPECTRE threatens the world with a heliobeam device from an orbiting satellite. The electromagnetic demise of Ironhead in the film happens to the giant "Jaws" villain in The Spy Who Loved Me, the hovercraft chase on sea and land reoccurs with a gadget filled gondola in Moonraker with that film's evil mastermind Hugo Drax making jokes similar to Julian Wall.
The film score is by Lalo Schifrin, replacing Elmer Bernstein. In addition to the driving main theme and spy time score, Schifrin includes some jazz pieces, with one having a cover version by Bud Shank, as well as a song with lyrics by Howard Greenfield ("I'm Not the Marrying Kind") for Martin that, due to contractual rights, didn't appear on the soundtrack album. It did, however, appear on Martin's LP, Happiness is Dean Martin.
Billy Strange slightly changed Schifrin's main title to be an "original" composition entitled "Spanish Spy" on his James Bond Double Feature album.
The pop group Dino, Desi & Billy (which featured Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, who calls Helm "Dad" in the film) makes an appearance and sings the Boyce & Hart song, "If You're Thinkin' What I'm Thinkin'".