Thursday, March 28, 2013

In short: The Marseille Contract (1974)

aka The Destructors

Parisian bureau US drug agency chief Steve Ventura (Anthony Quinn) could feel happy with his cushy little position: Paris is great, there's not much going on there, and he's sleeping with the wife of one of his men on a regular basis. Alas, over in Marseille, drug kingpin Jacques Brizard (James Mason) basically does what he wants. He's so well protected politically, he's now managed to have the second US agent after him murdered, and nothing at all will happen to him. Said second agent just happened to be a friend and the guy with whose wife Ventura sleeps, which may explain why he's all the more insistent on getting to Brizard somehow, be it legally or extralegally.

A helpful French cop (Maurice Ronet) is able to provide a contact for the latter solution in form of professional killer John Deray (Michael Caine). Ventura decides that hiring hitmen is just the thing to do for a cop, and is quite surprised when he recognizes Deray as an old buddy of his.

Deray is quite willing to take care of Brizard, but takes it upon himself to michael-caine himself into the man's confidence, as well as sleep with his daughter, before he does the deed. The situation becomes more complicated when Ventura finds a more cop-like way to handle Brizard, and needs to get in contact with Deray to call him off.

Robert Parrish's The Marseille Contract is a rather curious effort. For half of its running time, it's a rather indifferent crime thriller, and only comes to life in its action sequences and whenever Michael Caine is on screen. It often feels like two different films that were only stitched together halfway through the production, with little care taken for tonal consistency or decent pacing.

The film's lame half suffers from various problems. There is a rather dubious performance by Quinn, for once eschewing his usual mugging and scenery-chewing for portraying a man who is supposed to be intense and at the end of his moral and mental tether as if he were an elderly guy who just really really needs a nap. I'm also not very fond of James Mason's French accent, though his usual pompous smugness works rather well for Brizard. And then there's the script, full of interesting possibilities it never decides to think through or do much with, resulting in a film that seems to go out of its way not to involve its audience.

Parrish's direction outside of the action scenes is perfunctory without being truly bad. In fact, the action scenes, particularly the car chases, are filmed so differently one can't help but think that one of the film's assistant directors must have been rather instrumental in letting them turn out so well.

Still, half an hour of good 70s action and Michael Caine in his prime are enough to make The Marseille Contract something worth watching once, at least if you can get over its wasted chances.


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