Sunday 16 February 2014

Silly but saved by Sharon… The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Sixties comic strip, multi-coloured pseudo-psychedelia, soundtracked by easy legend Hugo Montenegro in an attempt to make the likeable but seasoned, Rat Pack crooner hip enough for families with an increasingly-diverse cultural agenda… is there any point in watching The Wrecking Crew in 2014?

Yes it’s proto-Austen Powers Bond spoofery has genuine period charm and there are lots of groovy chicks and kung fu kicks on view (Bruce Lee choreographed the violence) but Dean Martin as a fifty-something photographer-cum-special agent? Then again, how can you take the mickey out of a film that’s way ahead of you on that score?

Dean adds up his fees for the four Helm films
Dean involves you in the joke and the joke is that he’s getting paid to walk through things pretty much as himself: singing re-worded Martin standards every time he encounters yet another beautiful woman willing to “lie down” with him to talk and always seeking out the drinks cabinet in every room he enters.

It’s knowing, exploitative and laid back, everyone loves some Deano sometimes and… we can’t just watch Antonioni and Bergman all of the time can we?

Sharon Tate
But what really made this film worthy of comment was watching Sharon Tate as the seemingly bumbling Danish tourist guide Freya Carlson who (obviously) is also a spy. This was the last of her films released before her brutal murder in August 1969 and you watch her all too aware of her tragedy to come. Yet the more I watched the more I thought that she should be remembered for her abilities and achievements rather than the manner of her exit (no matter how horrific and senseless).

The Wrecking Crew is far from the best film she made but she makes her mark with what she had and is energetic, funny and, of course, beautiful. On this evidence she was a versatile actress who would have made many interesting films but we have to appreciate those that she did make in her short span and pay her the tribute of remembering her as a person and not a victim. And this silly, occasionally funny, period piece is a part of her professional life.

Nigel Green - saved by his enduring sense of the ridiculous
The fourth in the Matt Helm series, The Wrecking Crew follows the existing formula of gadgets and girls with Helm (Dean Martin) up against a teched-up, organised and delightfully nasty baddy Count Contini (played by the always excellent Nigel Green who always seems so earnestly world-weary). Contini and his well-drilled mob hi-jack a trainload of gold bullion from a train in Denmark and are intent on using it to destabilise the markets of the western world.

Elke makes an entrance...
Contini is aided by his psychotic-but-lovely left-hand woman Linka Karensky (Elke Sommer) who makes a quite stunning entry in a close-fitting white dress slashed almost to her waist -  they really don’t make spies quite this curvaceous anymore… along with the alluring martial artist Wen Yu-Rang (Nancy Kwan).

After the robbery, the secret service calls Helm away from a surreal garden party/photo-shoot with a bevy of outlandishly attired models. He is briefed by commander 'Mac' MacDonald (John Larch) and told to follow the action to Denmark and to seek out Contini’s former confidant and squeeze, as Lola Medina (Tina Louise... as statuesque as Sommer).

Dean Martin meets Tina Louise
Helm meets Freya in his hotel and is immediately impressed by her legs if not her competency – geeky glasses and clumsy as Clark Kent she can’t be the real deal… or can she

Helm encounters Lola who seems very keen to unburden herself of Contini’s secret plan along with most of her clothes. Sadly, her former boss is ahead of the game and blows her up. Next he gets a visit from Wen Yu-Rang who is similarly drawn to Matt Helm’s magnetism: even though these women mean to kill him they want to enjoy the moment first – psycho-analyse that?!

Nancy Kwan holds talks with Dean Martin
Freya is on hand to get in the way/save the day and the two are chased up to a ski-lift by Wen’s men and we Martin performing some of the moves Bruce Lee put together – not too shabby Dean!

It’s only a matter of time before Linka tries her luck and she proves a match for Helm hiding one more gun than he expected but… so impressed is she that she wants to share the loot with him… or does she?

Everything careers towards the inevitable conclusions and you know at some point it’ll be down to a scrap between Matt and Contini but not before some entertaining gadgetry at the latter’s mansion as Helm tries to avoid being inadvertently fried by Freya. We also have a car chase in which Matt reveals that he keeps are large chopper in his boot… he and Freya assemble the mini-copter in record time and fly off to hopefully stop Contini as he heads off with the billion in bullion to a suspiciously Californian-looking Luxembourg….

 Dusty verdict: Undemanding comfort cinema is an understatement but this is a period piece worth saving for a rainy day when all you can handle is bright entertainment. Matey Martin along for the laughs and it’s really no hardship watching Louise, Kwan, Sommer and the luminous Tate.

The Wrecking Crew is freely available from all good Amazons and there's also a boxed set of all four films if you've got flu or a really bad hang-over.

Matt Helm at his day job... really.
Bruce Lee got Dean kicking
Why Miss Carlson, without your glasses, etc...
Sorry, what's the plot again?


  1. Mr. Stockton. we are tremendously thrilled to happen on your remarkable review of the fourth and last of the Matt Helm big screen epics. We deeply digs both your swank screen caps and potent prose, and truly that you are a pallie who really "gets Martin." Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool...oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth. Know that your energetic efforts in the cause of our Dino are bein' shared this day with all the pallies gathered 'round ilovedinomartin.

    1. Even when I was a kid it was clear that Dean was the coolest! Thank you for reading and for your kind words! Now following 'cos we all do! Best, your pal,Paul

  2. Paul, you are most welcome and glad to welcome you 'board ilovedinomartin. Hope we may find more Dino-action are your beautiful blog in the days ahead!

    1. Thanks Pal! You know it may well be time to watch some Dino again - a fine actor, I've always loved his playing in Rio Bravo especially!

  3. Sharon Tate finished one more movie before her death. It's called 12+1 chairs or sometimes called the 13 chairs. It was based on a true story and filmed in Italy in 1969, during her pregnancy. It has been classified as a comedy.

    1. I must seek that out - she has exceptional screen presence and is a witty performer! Sometimes it's hard to get taken seriously as an actror when you look too beautiful! Thanks for the tip and for reading. Paul