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When a US intelligence agent is unable to bring a ruthless drug baron to justice, he resorts to hiring a contract killer. That's the basic plot of The Destructors (1974), which is also known by its alternate title The Marseille Contract. The latter title, in which the distributor didn't bother to spell Marseilles correctly, was obviously an attempt to cash in on the popularity of The French Connection (1972) and even featured one of the major villains from that film - Marcel Bozzufi - in a key role.
The film was of so little importance to Michael Caine that he didn't even bother to mention it in his autobiography, What's It All About?. According to Christopher Bray in his book, Michael Caine: A Class Act, the actor decided on doing The Destructors when "he read the location dates - a 1973-4 winter shoot on the French Riviera - and agreed on the basis of the more agreeable weather he would likely encounter there. 'I was offered a part which started in Nice, went on to Cannes, then St. Tropez, Marseilles and ended up in Paris. They said "will you do it," I said "Yes," they said "we'll send you a script," I said, "don't bother.'
"Part of the problem with the movie," wrote Bray, "is that Caine was hardly moving into mid-life gracefully. As freelance hitman Johnny Deray, a man of state-of-the-art stereos and slash-cut leather jerkins, Caine is clearly meant to cut something of a dash. But with that once incipient, now all too present, pot belly straining at his leathers, Caine looks less a mercenary killer than an ageing rock star. Even that salty old ham Anthony Quinn, whom Caine had run rings around in The Magus only five years earlier, comes better out of The Marseille Contract than its ostensible leading man. Whether it was Robert Parrish's direction or Caine's gamely trying to send the movie up, the decision to play Deray - putatively the most lethal assassin of his age - as a lascivious winker and grinner was a mistaken one."
The British critics were no kinder when The Destructors was released theatrically. Sunday Telegraph deemed it "a thriller that throws most of the current cliches...into one uneasy story and comes up with not very much;" and The Financial Times called it "a mindless potpourri of car chases, drug trafficking and assassination." Other reviewers lamented the waste of a great supporting cast with James Mason singled out the most. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times commented that "All that is asked of Mason is to supply an air of steely authority and suggest the slightest of French accents."
Producer: Judd Bernard
Director: Robert Parrish
Screenplay: Judd Bernard
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Music: Roy Budd
Production Design: Willy Holt
Film Editing: Willy Kemplen
Cast: Michael Caine (Hohn Deray), Anthony Quinn (Steve Ventura), James Mason (Jacques Brizard), Maurice Ronet (Inspector Briac), Alexandra Stewart (Rita), Maureen Kerwin (Lucienne), Catherine Rouvel (Brizard's Mistress).