Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Wrecking Crew (1969)

The Wrecking Crew, released in 1969, was the last of the delightful Matt Helm spy spoof movies starring Dean Martin, and it took the series out on a fairly high note.

In this installment super cool super spy Matt Helm (Dean Martin) has to track down the master criminal responsible for the theft of one billion dollars in gold. ICE (Intelligence and Counter-Espionage) is certain that Count Contini (Nigel Green) is responsible for the daring train robbery in Denmark. Matt’s boss MacDonald (John Larch) decides that if Matt can’t find Contini he’ll let Contini find Matt, so he deliberately blows Matt’s cover.

Contini doesn’t take long to find Matt. Matt does have an ally, but an ally who’s not entirely reliable. This ally is bumbling British intelligence agent Freya Carlson (Sharon Tate), but Matt frequently has to ask her if she’s sure she’s on his side.

Matt has been following up one of the few leads ICE has - an ex-girlfriend of Contini’s named Lola Medina (Tina Louise). Contini dumped her for his new girlfriend, Linka Karensky (Elke Sommer), so Lola wants revenge. She also wants one million dollars in cash as her price for helping Matt. Unfortunately Linka Karensky knows all about Lola, and Linka is not the kind of girl who likes to leave lose threads. 

Matt and Contini are now involved in a cat-and-mouse game, but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

Of course the plot is relatively unimportant in a Matt Helm movie. What’s important is that Dean Martin should be given every opportunity to ham it up, and that the supporting actors follow his lead.

In this movie those conditions are amply satisfied. As in all the Matt Helm movies Dean Martin is having great fun and the use of classic Dean Martin songs, with the lyrics given a twist to fit in with the tone of the movie, is a nice touch. I’ve heard it suggested that Dean Martin only did these movies for the pay cheque. I don’t buy that theory. I suspect he did these movies because they were great fun.

Elke Sommer made many spy movies and she knows how to play the scheming femme fatale to perfection. Nigel Green could always be relied upon for a suitably larger-than-life performance and he and Elke Sommer make a wonderful villainous team. Tina Louise makes the most of her small role, vamping it up for all she’s worth. Sharon Tate is a delight as the well-meaning but not notably efficient British agent, and she works very well with Dean Martin.

B-movie veteran Phil Karlson does a solid job as director, and he knows enough B-movies to understand the importance of keeping things moving along. Screenwriter William P. McGivern is best known as the author of the classic crime novel The Big Heat.

The budgets of the Matt Hem movies didn’t run to spectacular special effects or stunts. There are a few gadgets but they’re not terribly imaginative. The revolving bar seat that propels its occupants into the villain’s lair is a nice touch though.

This movie is available in the Matt Helm Lounge DVD boxed set. There are no extras but it’s a good print.

The Wrecking Crew sets out to be silly harmless fun and it achieves its objective very successfully. If you love 60s spy spoof movies you can’t afford to miss any of the Matt Helm movies.


Randall Landers said...

Matt Helm is just so 60's, it's wonderful. He's sitting in a car that gets around 2 mpg, drinking a martini while driving, half way paying attention to what he's doing, listening to Dean Martin on the radio, waiting to pull over to the side of the road where he can press a button and convert his car into a master bedroom suite. What a guy! I love it!

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, how cool to find this outstandin' review of Helmer quartre...know that your Dino-reflections are bein' shared this very day with all the pallies gathered 'round ilovedinomartin..and just for Dino-amore month ilovedinomartin is goin' to run your other 3 Dino-reviews as well!