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Film / The Wrecking Crew

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The Wrecking Crew is a 1968 film directed by Phil Karlson and starring Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and Sharon Tate. It is the fourth and final entry in a series of American comedic Spy Fiction films featuring Martin as secret agent Matt Helm, a spoof of James Bond.

Helm (Martin) is assigned by his secret agency, ICE, to bring down an evil count named Contini (Nigel Green), who is trying to collapse the world economy by stealing a billion dollars in gold. Helm travels to Denmark, where he is given a guide, Freya Carlson (Tate), a gorgeous but bumbling woman from a Danish tourism bureau. Equally gorgeous women are Contini's accomplices, who attempt to foil Helm's plans.

This was the last of Tate's films to be released in her lifetime before her murder at the hands of Charles Manson's followers on August 9, 1969. Excerpts from the film are prominently featured in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is set at the time of said murder.

The Troping Crew:

  • Ahem: As Matt makes out with Yu-Rang, Freya makes her presence known by coughing, which brings the pair to a halt.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Contini, the Big Bad of the film, is a count.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Even a casual glance at a map would reveal that there is no reason for a shipment going from America to England to pass through Denmark.
  • Aside Glance: Matt looks at the camera in exasperation as Freya takes her time putting on a hat when they're in the middle of being chased.
  • Badass Fingersnap: Yu-Rang rarely gives her mooks verbal instructions and only has to snap her fingers to get them to do whatever she wishes. Contini and Linka also do it one or two times.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Linka (Elke Sommer) gets herself and a couple of her henchmen thoroughly riddled by submachine-gun fire, but not only is there no blood from all those bullet wounds, there aren't even any visible wounds at all.
  • Bomb Whistle: The explosive gadgets Matt wields make the iconic whistling noise when activated (they don't have to be thrown). At one point that's how he realizes he accidentally handed Freya a bomb instead of a handkerchief.
  • Bribe Backfire: Contini tries to get Matt off his back by offering him a share of the gold he stole. Matt declines, saying he'd hate himself in the morning.
  • Captain Obvious:
    • About 40 seconds into a car chase where they have been repeatedly rammed by their opponents, Freya informs Matt that "They're trying to kill us, Mr. Helm, they're trying to kill us!"
    • Freya wades into a river to test how deep it is. It seems okay at first, then she takes another step and goes straight to the bottom, after which she slowly comes back, soaking wet and looking sheepish, and tells Matt "It's too deep."
    • Freya is "afraid the car is broken". No shit, she just threw a bomb at it.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Freya is clearly annoyed whenever she sees Matt paying attention to the henchwomen, and does her best to cut into his time with them. Justified, since the women are on Contini's side and Matt could compromise himself.
  • Clock King: Contini is obsessed with ensuring his plans adhere to his projected schedule.
    Contini: Ten seconds behind schedule.
    Linka: Is that catastrophic?
    Contini: Yes. I deplore sloppiness.
  • Crash-Into Hello:
    • Freya Carlson makes her debut by running straight at Matt and getting in his personal space, resulting in him accidentally knocking her to the floor when he turns to acknowledge her.
    • Right before that, Lola Medina invokes this as she pretends to trip and bumps into Matt, deliberately bringing them close together in a ploy to seduce him.
  • Cute, but Cacophonic: Matt and Contini tend to visibly wince and sometimes cover their ears when Freya gets loud.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Freya bumbles her way through the movie. She's even introduced tripping all over herself. Matt is annoyed by her, but not enough to prevent him from falling in love.
  • Dark Mistress: Linka is engaged to Contini, and she's described as being "as gentle as a barracuda" by MacDonald. She displaced Lola, who's not happy about it and offers to help Matt as revenge, only for Linka to assassinate her. Then after Linka is killed at the House of Seven Joys, Contini implies to Yu-Rang that she can be the replacement once their plans are fulfilled.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Whereas Matt has several scenes of beating up and getting beat up by Contini's goons, Freya's only full-on fight scene is a karate bout with Yu-Rang.
  • Double Entendre: Matt takes issue with Freya insisting she was ordered to "work under him".
    Freya: I was told to work directly under you and you refused to cooperate.
    Matt: You say that again and I'm gonna teach you to watch your language.
  • Dragon Lady: Yu-Rang is main villain Contini's Asian henchwoman, skilled in martial arts (as seen in her fight with Freya), up for some sexual trickery (she seduces Matt with the intent of stabbing him), and frequently wears clothes that at least resemble qipao, with a 60's twist.
  • Evil Brit: Taken to logic-defying levels; the Big Bad Massimo Contini has an Italian name, but the accent he speaks with is definitely British. The good guys all have American accents, even Freya who's supposedly a British agent.
  • Feng Schwing: A rare example of a female, Lola Medina, having a room like this (including mood lighting), which she uses to try to seduce Helm.
  • The Film of the Book: Adapted from Donald Hamilton's 1960 novel of the same name.
  • Girl of the Week: Matt flirts around with four girls in this movie. The main one is his unhelpful ally Freya Carlson, and then there are the vamps Linka Karensky, Wen Yu-Rang and Lola Medina. Out of the four, only Freya survives the movie and there were even plans to make her a recurring character due to her popularity, but due to Tate's death and the movies getting canned as a result, this didn't happen.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Lola offers to work with Matt against her former boss/lover Contini. However her motivations are not very noble, being driven by jealousy that she was replaced with Linka. Whether her siding with Matt would have led to a full face turn will never be known because she is killed in an explosion just as they celebrate their agreement.
  • Hero of Another Story: Freya seems to already have quite a long career in espionage, if her encounter with MacDonald, with whom she goes way back, is any indication; she reminisces about a mission in Prague, and was involved in something called the Jefferson affair.
  • High-Speed Hijack: After using a ploy to slow it down, eight of Count Contini's men climb aboard a moving train, kill the guards and hijack its cargo: A billion dollars in gold.
  • In Name Only: The Matt Helm book series also had an entry titled The Wrecking Crew, but it seems as if all that this film has taken from it is the title and a vaguely Scandinavian setting (the book is set in Sweden, while the film is set in Denmark). The book's plot is about Matt trying to assassinate a Russian agent.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Despite Yu-Rang being Chinese, Matt and Freya associate her with Japanese things; Matt quips to Yu-Rang that he won't see a yen of the gold Contini stole, while Freya says she knows "where Yu-Rang hangs her kimono" (i.e. where her headquarters are). The "ah-so" expression that gets mocked in the movie's theme song is also Japanese.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Twice does Freya interrupt Matt just as he's getting cozy with Contini's henchwomen. The first time she awkwardly stands there, coughs and informs Matt his "date" has a knife in her hand; the second time, she's outside and interrupts by honking the car horn, upon which Matt resignedly says "she's here" and leaves.
  • Kick Chick: During their fight, Freya and Yu-Rang rely very heavily on kicks, with Yu-Rang using them almost exclusively. This contrasts with Matt and Contini's male minions, who use their fists a lot more.
  • Last Girl Wins: Freya is the last of the women to be introduced to the audience and she's the one Matt ends up with. (Although in terms of when Matt personally meets them, Freya is only the second one.)
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: The last installment in the Matt Helm movie series has some quirks compared to the previous entries.
    • It's the only one not to feature his secretary Lovey Kravezit (she's not even mentioned).
    • The evil organization BIG O does not figure into the plot at all and, like Lovey, isn't even mentioned.
    • There's no Take That! aimed at Frank Sinatra.
    • There is no appearance of or reference to Matt's bed and its ability to dump people into the hot tub.
  • Leg Focus: When Freya is switching out of her dorky yellow outfit into a sexy white miniskirt, the camera focuses on her legs as Matt sings a ditty paying homage to said body part.
    "I haven't seen your face, dear
    But your legs will do~"
  • Leitmotif:
    • Matt's is a sensual and relaxed lounge-sounding tune.
    • Freya's is groovy and high-energy.note 
    • Yu-Rang's is an instrumental version of the theme song "House of 7 Joys".
    • Lola Medina's is flamenco.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Freya and Yu-Rang salute each other before fighting, despite being on opposite sides and having no friendliness for each other (and also, Matt is fighting for his life at the time).
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Freya spends the first half of the movie in modest clothes, pinned-up hair and unflattering large-framed glasses. She definitively loses those last two after she and Matt go to his apartment and bask in their sexual tension after dodging Linka's assassination attempt.
  • Meaningful Name: In a story ostensibly set in Denmark, the main Girl of the Week's name is Freya, after the Norse goddess of love and beauty.
  • Modesty Shorts: Yu-Rang is wearing shorts under her skirt during her fight with Freya, preserving her modesty even with all the kicks she throws.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: This film may have been the direct inspiration for the "England looks in no way like Southern California" gag in Austin Powers. The movie takes place in Denmark. Some portions of the film, though perhaps only second-unit stuff, appear to have been shot in Denmark. However, the part involving an exciting car chase along twisty mountain roads that ends with a confrontation on a cable car connecting two of the Danish Alps... wasn't. In reality, the highest point in Denmark, Møllehøj, is 170.86m high. The caption for Wikipedia's picture of Møllehøj, notes that the actual high point is "obscured by the farm buildings" in the picture's foreground. California locations doubled for the "Danish Alps".
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Linka and a nameless henchman meet their demise through machine gun fire in a trap meant for the heroes.
  • Murder by Mistake: Linka and another henchman of Contini's are mistakenly shot to death in a trap meant for Matt at the House of 7 Joys.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Whether Freya is supposed to be British or Danish, the accent she speaks with is definitely American, her actress' default.
  • Operation: [Blank]: Contini's plan to steal the billion in gold is codenamed Operation Rainbow (perhaps in reference to the idea that there is gold at the end of a rainbow).
  • Panty Shot: Freya, when she trips and falls backwards over some luggage while first meeting Matt in a hotel lobby.
  • Pillow Pistol: Linka hides a pistol under her pillow with the intent to seduce and kill Matt, but he spots her doing this and calls her out on it. What he didn't expect is the pistol hidden under the other pillow. Either way, she's too charmed by him to actually do it.
  • Plucky Girl: Freya is determined to accomplish the mission and certainly seems more serious than Matt about it. Her repeated mess-ups also barely put a dent in her ability to be chipper even under serious circumstances.
  • The Pratfall: Freya's debut quickly establishes her clumsy nature as she falls butt first on Matt's camera case.
  • Primary-Color Champion: Freya is introduced wearing a blue and red outfit, as if the movie means to communicate that she is the only trustworthy one out of the four main women in the film.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Lola, Yu-Rang, Linka and Freya (in that order) all have scenes in which they don some skimpy article of clothing and recline in a bed as an invitation for Matt to have some fun with them.
  • Redheads Are Uncool: The redheaded Freya (played by the naturally blonde Sharon Tate) is framed as a geeky, hapless klutz. None of Contini's henchwomen are redheaded and they come across as more elegant and worldly in contrast to Freya.
  • Rule of Pool: Matt and Freya pass by Contini's pool while escaping his mansion and Freya takes the time to shove Linka into it.
  • Shave And A Haircut: Freya victoriously honks the car horn to this tune after getting Matt away from Linka.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Matt is floored when Freya gets rid of her glasses, pinned-up hair and somewhat conservative outfit, which made her seem less overtly sexy than the other female characters. The "transformation" sticks for the rest of the film.
  • Skewed Priorities: Freya genuinely admiring Yu-Rang's fashion sense after saving Matt from an assassination attempt, Freya taking her time in putting on a hat when they're in the middle of a car chase, Freya wondering whether her hair is a mess after she nearly fell off a speeding train...
  • Smart Ball: Freya is very competent at the House of 7 Joys, as Matt lampshades, managing to fight off some goons all on her own. She is never so competent again (except for when she fights Yu-Rang) and Matt sarcastically quips it must've been the wig she was wearing for the mission.
  • Storming the Castle: The climax of the movie sees Matt and Freya invading Contini's chateau, which is rigged with explosives that make their job difficult. There they have their last showdown with Yu-Rang (meanwhile Contini has escaped in a train with the gold).
  • Tap on the Head: Freya is fond of using karate chops on the opponent's neck, though due to her clumsiness they're usually ineffective, or hit someone she didn't mean to, like Matt.
  • Train Job: The film features the train robbery of a fortune in gold bullion.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Freya is sent to aid Matt in his mission, but her clumsiness often creates more problems, as Matt keeps lampshading.
  • Villain Ball: Contini's brute force efforts to get rid of Matt only make it clear that yes, he is the thief that ICE is looking for.
  • V-Sign: Freya gives one to Matt as she waits in the car after he gets away from Linka. He responds with the insulting variation of the sign. Freya is unfazed and winks at him.
  • Wall of Weapons: Yu-Rang is introduced chilling in her headquarters, whose walls seem to hold a collection of guns.
  • "Will Return" Caption: At the end of the film, there's a caption that says "Matt Helm will return in The Ravagers". The Ravagers would have been the fifth Matt Helm film, but it was never made.
  • Woman Scorned: Lola Medina was Contini's squeeze before Linka came along. She tries to partner up with Matt to get revenge on Contini for dumping her, but she's killed in an explosion set up by Linka before that goes anywhere.