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!


dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Dr. K, first of all I wanna express my Dinoappreciation for your kind words and sharin' a link to the ol' Dinoblog..always too Dinohappy to have other Dinoholics check out the Dinoaction..also if any pallies are interested in a Dinodialgue group, I host a Dinopad also tagged ilovedinomartin over at yahoo.....thanks for sharin' Matt Helm week with us and helpin' to spread the Dinomessage. btw, pallie Dr. K are you still plannin' to share the cool Dinomag article with your's a great piece of Dinoprose....

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Dr. K, as a way of sayin' my Dinothanks for all your cool efforts on Matt Helm...a created a little Dinotrib to you over at the Urban Dic...go to...
to see the latest Dinoism and my Dinotrib to our great pallie Dr. K.

Dr. K said...

Hey, thanks, Dino! That's awesome!

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Dr. K, my total Dinopleasure dude...loves to honor those that honor our great man...hope we'll stay in Dinocommunication!

Booksteve said...

Awww, I love Sharon Tate in this! I've always felt that had she lived she could have veered away from the sex symbol role and into comedy!Yeah, the whole thing's kind of worn out by this point but to me, she brings what life there is to the picture!Otherwise, I'm just spending my time looking for Chuck Norris in his first role ever!

Keith said...

Hey there, Dr. K. While not as good as the first two, I find this one better than the Ambushers. It does rehash some old ideas. I still dig it. I'm sure much of that has to do with the ladies in this one, such as Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, and Nancy Kwan. I loved all of them.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, the Helm movies managed to take four likeable actresses-Stella Stevens, Ann-Margret, Janice Rule, and Sharon Tate-and make them obnoxious. I actually liked most of the villainesses (especially Daliah Lavi and Senta Berger) better.