Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Matt Helm Week: The Wrecking Crew!
Despite some nice moments, The Wrecking Crew is probably my least favorite of the Matt Helm movies. It was directed by Phil Karlson, who also directed The Silencers, and its main problem is that repeats a lot of bits from the first movie. For example, Matt is introduced here through another dream sequence where he fantasizes about the models he's photographing.
However, here, the models are just standing around while he takes his nap. Huh?
There's also a line in one of the songs about "a cow that gives scotch." That's just too much.
The plot of The Wrecking Crew involves the theft of $1 billion in gold from a train guarded by ICE agents. Matt is brought in by the president himself to find the missing gold in 48 hours, before the markets get wind of the loss and a global financial collapse occurs. ICE is pretty certain that Count Contini (Nigel Green) is behind the theft, but they need to find the location of the gold, and Matt is sent to interrogate Contini's disgruntled ex-lover, Lola Medina (played by Gilligan's own Tina Louise).
Lola, however, is killed by an exploding scotch bottle while preparing Matt a drink, once again reinforcing the series' ambivalent attitude toward alcohol.
One of the film's major weaknesses is the presence of Sharon Tate as Helm's bumbling partner, Freya Carlson. Freya is primarily an extension of Stella Stevens's clutzy character in The Silencers, and Tate plays her with little enthusiasm. It is difficult to tell if Tate is a bad actress here, or if she is resisting playing the character as ditzy as the script demands. The script certainly isn't much help, as it requires her to vascillate inconsistently between competence and ineptitude. In the first movie, Stevens, at least, seems to be enjoying herself playing a similar role, and perhaps Tate would have been better off playing a more effective, competent partner like the characters that Ann-Margret and Janice Rule play in the previous two movies. By the end of the movie, it even seems like Dean is getting fed up with her.
Elke Sommer appears as the femme fatale and Nigel Green plays the villain, Count Contini, and next to Karl Malden, he's probably the best villain in the series. He performs the Count as a bored aristocrat who is completely confident in his plan, or "schedule" as he so frequently says with that particular British pronunciation. Both Sommer and Green appeared in similar roles in the 1967 Bulldog Drummond film, Deadlier than the Male, one of my favorite of the Bond knock-offs of the period.
Here's an early meeting between the Count and Matt Helm, which also leads to one of the film's first fights. The camera Matt uses is meant to blind anyone exposed to the smoke.
While The Wrecking Crew may be the worst Matt Helm movie, Dean Martin does kick somebody in the face, so it has that going for it. Also, one of the goons in this scene is played by Chuck Norris, and Bruce Lee is listed as the "Karate Advisor" for the film. All that should make this an awesome film, but it only ends up making it a curiosity.
Mack David and DeVol perform the film's theme song, "The House of 7 Joys," which wins the award for the most culturally uncomfortable theme song in the series, featuring a chorus that contains the line, "Ah so, ah so, welly nice!" Here is a lengthy scene that takes place in "The House of 7 Joys," and it's one of the more entertaining parts of the movie, with a nice pay-off at the end. You also get to see Nancy Kwan as the unfortunately named villain "Yu-Rang."
And finally, here's the fight scene between Sharon Tate and Nancy Kwan. The scene, unfortunately, does not live up to the potential that a girl fight between these two actresses, choreographed by Bruce Lee, should have.
It seems clear to me at the end of this scene that Dean Martin has become impatient with Sharon Tate, as he appears to be treating her a bit rough.
The ending of the movie promises the return of Matt Helm in The Ravagers, but the fifth movie was never made. I'm not sure why the series ended at this point, though it seemed to have run out of steam, and the whole spy craze was coming to an end as well. But, nonetheless, Dino cranked out four of these movies in three years, and they're all loose, fun portraits of their era and perfect vehicles for Dean Martin.
Thanks to everyone who showed up here for Matt Helm Week, especially dino martin peters and rogue spy 007, who provided fun, encouraging comments every day. Check out dino martin peters's I Love Dino Martin blog, which features some great Dinopix in the monthly Dinocalender.
I have some plans for covering other 60s spy movies here in the near future, so keep checking back!