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September 22, 2015

The Destructors

the destructors poster.jpg

Robert Parrish - 1974
KL Studio Classic BD Region A

For those who saw this film outside of North America, the title was The Marseilles Contract. I wish I knew why the suits at American International Pictures thought calling this The Destructors was a good idea because it doesn't evoke anything, or at least anything pertinent to what's goes on here. On the other hand, maybe someone thought The Marseilles Contract seemed too much like The French Connection, which was pretty much the point. And while Robert Parrish's final film is no French Connection or, alas, a French Connection II, there are some moments worth checking out.

The story involves gangsters, cops and drugs, but also cars. And while there is nothing here that compares to William Friedkin's wild car chase in The French Connection, one of the best moments here is a race choreographed by Remy Julienne. What begins with Michael Caine and Maureen Kerwin trying to outpace each other becomes, at certain hairpin turns, a duet with the cars turning simultaneously, as they maneuver the narrow French roads. Eventually Caine and Kerwin get together in the flesh, but their roadside manners make for the film's most erotic scene.

Copper Anthony Quinn hires old pal Michael Caine to put a hit on drug kingpin James Mason. For the top lined stars, this was probably done for the paycheck. Better are a couple of French actors, two fairly familiar names, Maurice Ronet as a French cop working with Quinn, and best of all Marcel Bozzuffi, from The French Connection, as Mason's right hand man. Everybody gathers in Marseilles, where there's a big drug shipment due, with Quinn hoping to bust Mason.

Quinn and Mason share the screen near the end, briefly. Before moving to the director's chair, Robert Parrish was an Oscar winning editor. I don't know how much of that scene with Quinn and Mason was personally cut by Parrish, but the timing and coordination of the shots is superb. Without giving too much away, the scene takes place at a dance for French society hosted by Mason. There is motion in each of the shots making it crucial regarding where the two actors are in relation to each other within the crowded floor. The effect is as everything else was building up to this one climatic scene.

Almost as good is the scene with most of the principle actors shooting at each other. Again, there is the sense of space, of placement of the actors, and meticulous timing of each shot, both film and bullets. It is quite possible that the shaky cam chaos of more recent films makes a scene like this look better than it is for someone who prefers old style craftsmanship, but this is another moment that redeems the leisurely paced set up.

The Destructors was one of the few films written by producer Judd Bernard. Notable is that Bernard was the producer of two classics, Point Blank and personal favorite, Deep End. Also of note is a card game that Quinn walks in on, with a who's who of Paris based expatriates including Variety contributor Gene Moskowitz, author James Jones, and JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger.

marseille contract poster.jpg

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 22, 2015 05:42 PM