Thursday, November 30, 2006

Films of Michael Caine #23: The Marseille Contract

(US title: The Destructors)
Cast: Michael Caine (John Deray), Anthony Quinn (Steve Ventura), James Mason (Jacques Brizard), Maurice Ronet (Briac), Alexandra Stewart (Rita Matthews), Maureen Kerwin (Lucienne Brizard), Catherine Rouvel (Brizard’s mistress), Marcel Bozzuffi (Calmet), Patrick Floerscheim (Kovakian), André Oumansky (Marsac), Georges Beller (Minierini).

Crew: Robert Parrish (director), Judd Bernard (producer and writer), Roy Budd (music), Douglas Slocombe (cinematography), Willy Kemplen (editor), Willy Holt (production designer).

Synopsis: In Marseilles an undercover agent for the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is murdered while trying to infiltrate the organisation of drug smuggler Jacques Brizard. The crime boss has political connections within France that protect him. The DEA boss in Paris, Steve Ventura, decides the only way to get Brizard is hire a professional assassin. French police inspector Briac arranges a meeting for Ventura with such a killer. The DEA man is surprised to find the hitman is an old friend, John Deray. Ventura gives Deray $50,000 to kill Brizard. The assassin infiltrates Brizard’s family by romancing the drug dealer’s beautiful daughter. Ventura learns Brizard is receiving a massive shipment of drugs soon. Brizard discovers Deray is an assassin and tries to have him eliminated. Deray and Ventura collaborate to bring down Brizard as he oversees the drugs shipment. Briac intervenes, planning to kill Brizard and steal the drugs. Briac and Deray die in a shootout but Brizard escapes. Ventura finds and silently murders Brizard…


In the winter of 1973 producer Judd Bernard approached Caine with an offer – five weeks in a warm climate shooting a thriller with Anthony Quinn and James Mason. ‘It was just after my daughter [Natasha] was born, and to get her out of London in the winter into the south of France was wonderful,’ Caine told Time Out in 1992. ‘I never even read the script. I said: “I’ll fucking do this! I’m out of here!”’

The Marseille Contract was a $2 million movie written by Bernard and directed by American Robert Parrish, who had won an Oscar for editing Body and Soul (1947) before moving behind the camera. Caine said The Marseille Contract was a bad film ‘where I had the best bloody time in my life. We started off in Nice, went to Cannes, St Tropez and wound up in Paris.’ The picture was shot almost entirely on location, with post-production at Pinewood in England. It reunited Caine with cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and stunt driver Remy Julienne, both of whom had worked with him on The Italian Job (1969).

In his 1988 book Hollywood Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Parrish recalled making the film. ‘It was a pleasure working with James Mason, Michael Caine, and Anthony Quinn. We all tried, but sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.’ The director also wrote about a studio representative on the film insisting that a main character share his initials. The representative demanded the actor playing that character be dressed in expensive monogrammed shirts, and possess a nine-piece set of monogrammed luggage from Louis Vuitton. The representative acquired all of these when shooting concluded.
The BBFC required cuts before passing the film with an A certificate in August 1974. Critics were less than impressed by the results. In America the picture was cryptically renamed The Destructors and rated PG, but also failed to catch fire. It was released on video in 1984 in the US and two years later in Britain, reclassified as a 15. Both tapes have long since been deleted and the film is not available on DVD.

Reviews: ‘A thriller that throws most of the current clichés – crashing cars, bouncing motorbikes, vigilante cops – into one uneasy story and comes up with not very much.’ – Sunday Telegraph
‘The plot … allows Mr Caine to make love and shoot a few people. But judging by his one expression, I’m not sure which he preferred.’ – Daily Mirror

Verdict: The Marseilles Contract is cut-rate thriller material laced with first-rate actors. A slight script never engages you while the actors meander through the action, waiting for their pay packet to arrive. Slocombe’s cinematography gives the picture a look far better than the production’s limited budget or imagination deserves. There’s a spectacular sequence arranged by Julienne with two speeding vehicles playfully duelling on a tight, twisting mountain round that is replicated in the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995). Otherwise, this film offers little of interest. Caine may play an assassin dressed like Jack Carter, but he spends much of his time on-screen grinning like a Cheshire cat. You will probably not share his enthusiasm.

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