The Marseille Contract (1974)
aka The Destructors
Long time director Robert Parrish joins forces with a trio of name actors that for me is just too hard to resist. Gentlemen by the names of Caine, Quinn and Mason.
I would suggest the success of The French Connection had a lot to do with a project like this one getting the green light and a distribution deal with American International. It’s the story of a desk bound police officer overseeing a sting operation mired in politics and pay offs. Anthony Quinn plays the officer and silky smooth James Mason the crime lord kingpin dealing in the heroin trade. The film starts with the killing of two of Quinn’s undercover agents and now Quinn wants Mason’s blood.
When Quinn rocks the boat too much a hit team is set upon him and after they fail to take out the two time Oscar winner, Quinn turns to a hitman played by another two time winner of the Oscar, Michael Caine to eliminate Mason once all of Quinn’s legal maneuvers get him nowhere. After pointing out Quinn and Caine both won two Oscars, it’s astonishing to realize that the GREAT James Mason never took home just one Academy Award.
Caine’s appearance is a surprise to Quinn. Through illegal channels Quinn has been sent to meet up with a hired killer. He just had no idea it was a personal friend. This proves a nice twist added to the story from writer-producer Judd Bernard. Caine heads to Marseille to study Mason’s movements and also his family’s. Mainly his attractive daughter played by Maureen Kerwin. Caine smoothly infiltrates the family as her prospective beau in order to get closer to his mark. Mason is slippery and knows Caine is more than he seems. He proves it by a simple test. He has Caine kill an informer in his employ for a cool $50K. On top of that he arranges for the victim to be identified as Caine after a little disfiguring of the corpse.
With Caine going into deep cover within the Mason organization that deals in heroin, imagine Quinn’s reaction when he hears that his friend/personal hitman has been found dead in Marseille. Now Quinn figures on doing the job himself. Things are bound to get a bit complicated and violent over the next 45 minutes of running time that will leave very few men standing at the finale.
I did see this ages ago on VHS but recalled very little about it and to be honest that’s fairly understandable as it’s a pretty routine affair and a poor man’s French Connection at best. Seeing it now I found it be a great way to spend ninety minutes with three actors I consider myself to be big fan of. Quinn has long been one of my favorite actors from my earliest days of film discovery. I grew up watching Caine films both on the big screen and TV and Mason had that voice that kept me interested in countless films including his Captain Nemo which is one of my earliest movie memories watching the Sunday Night Disney Show.
If you’ve seen this one before and were not overly fond of it think of it this way, it’s a hell of a lot better that 1968’s The Magus which teamed Quinn and Caine and is worth a revisit on occasion. Quinn would reteam with Mason again in 1978’s The Passage that saw Tony taking James over the Alps to flee the Nazi’s in a star studded extravaganza. I’d been looking for a VHS copy of this one under The Destructors title for quite some time but when Kino Lorber released it to blu ray, I quickly picked up a copy thus ending my search through dusty boxes of discarded tapes at the local good will shop. One never knows what movies you’ll come across and to prove it, read this ironic tale of movie hunting.
With the three heavyweights attached this one deserves at least a passing glance and for those like me who appreciate seeing actors of note playing opposite each other, this one scores highly and I believe it’s the only time Mason shared the screen with Caine which adds to the flavor. Quinn? Icing on the cake.