Man, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Spielberg hasn’t released a movie since “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” so over a year now. That’s an unusual gap in production pace from one of the hardest working men in show business. The Spielberg machine is typically loaded so he can go from big film to small film, commercial machine to personal doodle. He’s had several false starts in the last year and a half. “Chicago 7.” “Lincoln.” Vague announcements made in interviews, and then later recants as elements didn’t quite come together.
I don’t know how serious he is about Paramount’s “Matt Helm.” Serious enough for Variety to write about it, I suppose. But I’m curious to see what Paul Attanasio, presumably working from earlier drafts by Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, has come up with. Does Spielberg want his own Bourne series? If so, will he use “Death of a Citizen” as his guide to kickstart a franchise? It’s an origin story, and the citizen who dies is Matt Helm, retired WWII military assassin. He tries to build a normal life for himself, but when his daughter is kidnapped and held in an attempt to press him back into service, he snaps and kills every one he has to in order to bring her home. His ferocity drives his family away, leaving him alone, driven back into the employ of Mac, the guy who serves as his handler for the first 14 books in the series. He’s not a spy, per se, but more the guy the government uses to kill spies. Or civilians. Or anyone they deem worthy of being killed.
Helm is a badass. A thug. A man’s man. It’s a tough, hard-edged series of books. In each one, Helm is a weapon, pointed at something and then fired, detonated, unleashed.
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Which is why the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin in the lead are so completely and absolutely insane.
I grew up in a Matt Helm house. I grew up in an Ian Fleming James Bond house. I grew up in a Travis McGee house. There were always books that my dad had stacked around the house, and I read them. All of them. I soaked them up. These were the pulp heroes I cut my teeth on. And whereas my dad was a big fan of Bond movies in addition to the Fleming books, he did not seem particularly interested in the Dean Martin campfests. I’m hoping this new Attanasio draft knows not to treat this like popcorn. I’m hoping that if Speilberg does this, he does it right. I hope he’s a real fan of the material, and I’m curious to see how he translates the attitudes and experience of a WWII veteran to today.
The Variety article suggests that the fate of this film hinges on a contractual negotiation that either will or won’t be resolved by the end of the week, at which point, this either is or isn’t Spielberg’s next film. I would assume casting will also play in a part in whether or not this comes together, and I’ll be very curious to see which way it shakes out.
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