After making “Valley Of The Dolls” in 1967, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski married in London during January 1968 leading Tate to take a short break from work. However, by the summer of that year she had started work on what would be her last film to be released (January 1969 in the UK) before her death – “The Wrecking Crew”.
Directed by Phil Karlson (“The Silencers”, “Kid Galahad”), “The Wrecking Crew” was the fourth, and ultimately final, movie to feature the character of Matt Helm and was loosely based on the 1960 novel of the same name by author Donald Hamilton.
As the film opens we are witnessing the robbery of a billion dollars worth of gold from a train in Denmark by a gang working for Count Massimo Contini (Nigel Green – “Deadlier Than The Male”, “The Ipcress File”), who watches the action unfold on monitors in his château and is intent on causing financial chaos throughout the Western world.
Contini is aided in his quest by his glamorous sidekick and lover Linka Karensky (Elke Sommer – “A Shot In The Dark”, “Lisa And The Devil”), who makes her appearance in a quite show stopping dress.
Womanising professional photographer and wisecracking agent Matt Helm (Dean Martin – “Ocean’s 11”, “Bandolero!”) is dispatched by his organisation ICE, under direction from the US President, to Copenhagen with 48 hours to retrieve the gold and save the American economy.
Arriving at his hotel Matt is invited to the room of Lola Medina (Tina Louise – “The Stepford Wives”, “The Warrior Empress”), a dancer who was Contini’s lover until Karensky arrived on the scene, who claims to have useful information about the robbery of the gold that will help him, but Medina is killed in an explosion.
Freya Carlson (Sharon Tate – “Don’t Make Waves”, “Valley Of The Dolls”) , a seemingly inept worker from the Danish tourist bureau, is provided to Matt to help him by arranging a photographic shoot at Contini’s château as cover for his investigations. Freya wears glasses and thus Matt fails to see her beauty despite his fondness for chasing the fairer sex.
At the château it becomes apparent that Contini is on to them so Matt and Freya make a hasty exit and find themselves pursued by a variety of characters, including Yu-Rang (Nancy Kwan – “The Peking Medallion”, “Wonder Women”), and others of Contini’s hired hands.
Karensky then invites Matt to her room, claiming that she wants to enter into a partnership with him and get out away from Contini. Their head-to-head is interrupted by Freya’s arrival leading to Matt leaving Karensky with the promise that she has a deal and should call him.
Returning to his hotel, Matt finds Freya has shed her glasses and slipped into a slinky white mini-dress for what is, for me, the best scene of the whole movie as Freya dances slowly around the room whilst handing Matt and cigarette and drink – all for no apparent reason!
Matt’s boss MacDonald (John Larch – “Dirty Harry”, “The Amityville Horror”) arrives at the hotel and informs a disbelieving Matt that Freya is actually a highly trained British agent.
From there on in Matt and Freya contend with a number of scenarios involving Yu-Rang, Karensky and Contini in his quest to retrieve the gold for ICE…
There was supposed to have been a fifth Matt Helm movie, indeed as with the James Bond films this one ends with the announcement of the title of the next film (“The Ravagers”) during the end credits, but it was cancelled after Dean Martin pulled out.
Sharon Tate, meanwhile, went on to film “The Thirteen Chairs” (otherwise known as “12 + 1”) with Orson Welles and Terry-Thomas in early 1969, shortly after becoming pregnant. That film is seemingly more or less impossible to find these days, with the exception of an Italian language version on YouTube, unfortunately. Tate was murdered, only weeks before she was due to give birth, before that film’s release.
In truth, Martin was getting a little long in the tooth for the role of Matt Helm by this point, but plays things with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Tate, however, was great, showed promise on the comedy front and managed to upstage Sommer completely (despite the latter’s variety of plunging dresses) with her performance in the second half of the movie.
Ultimately this film is a light-hearted spy caper. It’s full of gentle humour, action, hip and swinging 60s music, gadgets, explosions and hot chicks.