Monday, March 30, 2009
The Wrecking Crew, released in 1969, was the fourth and final film in the Matt Helm spy franchise starring Dean Martin. I have previously covered the other three films in their own posts, which are The Silencers (1966), Murderers' Row (1966) & The Ambushers (1967). You can check out those posts if you never read them. This film was loosely based on the Donald Hamilton novel of the same title, which was published in 1960. The book was actually the second of the Matt Helm novels written by Hamilton.
The film can be viewed as a reboot of the franchise after the disappointing box office returns and negative reviews of The Ambushers. I stated in my post about The Ambushers that it's my least favorite of the Matt Helm spy spoofs. Phil Karlson, who directed The Silencers, returns behind the camera for this film. Crime writer William P. McGivern was brought on to write the screenplay. Dean Martin is back once again as the cool & swingin' spy Matt Helm. This is the only film not to feature his luscious assistant Lovey Kravezit (Beverly Adams). MacDonald, his boss at ICE, is played in this film by John Larch. The character had been played in the other three films by James Gregory. The film has a bevy of beautiful ladies, such as Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan & Tina Louise. Nigel Green plays the main villain in the film. He's actually one of the better villains in the franchise. Elke Sommer and Nigel Green had played together in the spy movie Deadlier Than The Male in 1967.
Count Massimo Contini, played by Nigel Green, has masterminded the theft of one billion dollars worth of United States gold traveling through Europe. He will profit greatly by the instability of the financial markets, which will pretty much collapse, when the news leaks out. MacDonald orders Matt Helm, who had been photographing and relaxing with some hot models, to take on the mission of proving Contini was behind the heist and getting back all the gold. Mac even blows Matt's cover to smoke out the Count. He's sure that the Count will make a move against Helm. Our favorite lush of a spy goes to interrogate (if that's the right word - lol) Lola Medina, a go-go dancer and the disgruntled ex-lover of the Count. Lola is played by Tina Louise of Gilligan's Island fame. Let's just say that it's an explosive meeting between these two and leave it at that.
Matt is aided, or I should say really hindered, by a clumsy Danish tour guide named Freya Carlson. She's played by Sharon Tate in one of her last roles before her tragic murder. Freya is supposed to be helping Matt get around Denmark. The character of Freya will remind viewers of the character of Gail played by Stella Stevens in The Silencers. She's very accident-prone and always goofing up something. Matt gets fed up with her constantly. She's always getting in his way. These two are hilarious together. Later on in the movie, Freya takes off her glasses and starts to dress sexy. We learn that Freya is actually a British secret agent sent to help on Matt's mission.
There are a couple of beautiful women working for the Count. Linka Karensky, played by Elke Sommer, is engaged to Count Contini. She's very calculating and cunning in her own right. Linka uses her sexual wiles to try to seduce and kill Matt Helm on several occasions. Nancy Kwan plays Chinese operative Wen Yu-Rang (gotta love these names in spy movies lol). She has a group of hoodlums under her command, plus she's the mistress of a club called the House of Seven Joys. Yu-Rang also uses her beauty as a way of manipulating Matt. You can never tell if these women want to kill him or just make out with him. There's a fight scene in the movie between Sharon Tate's Freya Carlson and Nancy Kwan's Yu-Rang, which was actually choreographed by Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris has a small and uncredited role in the film.
Matt is in a race against time to get the gold back before the theft of Uncle Sam's gold supply is revealed. The world's financial markets will be devastated by that news, which will definitely cause quite the global financial crisis. There are some really good action scenes in the movie, including one at the House of Seven Joys and Matt's assault on the Count's home. Of course, Matt Helm has his share of gadgets (such as a camera that shoots out gas) in this film as well. While I always have liked the gadgets he used, they did always seem comical and/or second rate. That's what makes them so much fun. There is plenty of sex appeal with all the sexy ladies in this film. The Wrecking Crew definitely doesn't disappoint in that department. They aren't just eye candy either in this movie. The female characters play a major part as either allies or adversaries of Matt. Plus Sharon Tate does quite a good comical job as the bumbling Freya. There are some really hysterical scenes in the movie between her and Dean Martin, especially one involving their car later in the movie. I got a good chuckle out of that.
The Wrecking Crew did have a smaller budget than the previous films. The Ambushers had not performed that well at the box office. Plus while the Bond films were still moving along, the spy craze that resulted in so many spy spoofs was running out of steam. These factors, plus the horrible murder of Sharon Tate, probably played a big part in the decision not to do a fifth film which would have been called The Ravagers. I think this film is a good way to end out the franchise. I know that fan reaction is mixed on this movie Some people enjoyed it, while others thought it was the worst of the series. It is interesting to see that Denmark (where most of the film was set) looks so much like California (where the film was actually filmed). You know what though. That's one of the things that I loved about these movies. They don't take themselves seriously. Dean Martin could probably play the role in his sleep because he's so at ease with the role. This spy caper and the previous ones in the franchise never tried to be something they weren't. They understood that they were meant for breezy entertainment. It was pure escapist fun. There's nothing wrong with that at all. There was action, humor, hot chicks, hip music, exotic locales, diabolical madmen, etc. The highlight was always the King of Cool himself. Dean Martin played Matt Helm as Dean Martin. He wasn't the cold and ruthless Matt Helm of the books. Instead he was a cool and randy fella who loved to drink, seduce some chicks, croon some tunes & fight some bad guys. I wouldn't have him any other way.
P.S. Here's a pretty cool scene from the movie featuring Dean Martin and Sharon Tate. I love this part. I hope you enjoy it too.