Classic Cars on Film: The Marseille Contract, aka The Destructors
Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason feature – but the real star is a Porsche 911S Targa and Alfa Montreal chase with choreography by Rémy Julienne
The Marseille Contract (aka The Destructors) is a prime example of that well known 1970s film genre; the ‘Europudding’. The location must be somewhere Continental and exotic, the title snappy and preferably unambiguous, the main cast from Hollywood, Pinewood and Cine-citta, and any language difficulties overcome by the noble art of post-synching.
Add a highly respected veteran of cinema or theatre acting, with the verve of a man paying off an Inland Revenue debt and a quite startling array of hairpieces, and you have the standard Euro-drama of 45 years ago.
Fortunately, although The Marseille Contract’s title may be badly spelled, it has almost all these ingredients, plus a score from the great Roy Budd. Best of all, there is a car chase between a Porsche 911S Targa and an Alfa Romeo Montreal that was choreographed by none other than Rémy Julienne. That's right - him of Italian Job and 007 fame.
- Top 10 film car chases you won’t have seen
- Calling all Rover 75 fans! Filmmaker needs your help
- You can buy John Travolta’s Gotti Cadillac Fleetwood!
One look at the trailer for the 1974 film should be enough to whet the appetite of the most jaded viewer:
After all, it has Michael Caine wearing an exceptionally happening pair of sunglasses at the wheel of a Fiat 238 van and evading the Peugeot 404 of Les Flics, thereby causing alarm and consternation among various Simca 1000 and Renault 4 van owners. It should also be noted that Michael has not lost one of his habits from Get Carter – ie throwing people off tall buildings.
The plot, which of course was in no way influenced by The French Connection, has Anthony Quinn as one Steve Ventura, a Paris-based CIA agent fighting the drug lord Jacques Brizard, as played by a moderately doleful-looking James Mason. It takes a British thespian to play a villain in such a drama (even if he speaks with an all-purpose ‘European’ accent), lounging in the back of his Rolls-Royce Phantom V Landaulette with HJ Mulliner coachwork as he issues orders to his ill-coiffured henchmen.
To combat such a dastardly and suave menace, Ventura hires hitman John Deray, a tall, fair-haired chap with a marked south London accent. It’s a narrative that allows Quinn to escape from a black Citroën DS20 Pallas full of hoods, giving the viewer ample opportunity to marvel at just how ubiquitous the Simca 1100 once was – and to appreciate the main car chase:
A few points here: firstly, it’s unusual for such an elaborate set-piece to be used for comedy relief, but it is a highlight of what is, to all purposes, a grandiose B-film. Secondly, who can resist the combination of fine motor cars, the cinematography of Douglas Slocombe, and Sir Michael in his best white roll-neck/black-leather-jacket combination. The film critic Christopher Bray may have claimed that ‘Caine looks less a mercenary killer than an ageing rock star’, but in these three minutes The Marseille Contract comes to life, largely due to Monsieur Julienne’s second-unit work.
Caine reputedly agreed to appear in this epic for the very simple reason that it was almost entirely shot on location: ‘I never even read the script.’ However, the result is not a bad film – with a director offfering the calibre of Robert Parrish and a supporting cast that included Maurice Ronet as the local police inspector, it would be hard for the picture to be totally unwatchable – but more a serviceable way to spend 90 minutes.
Yet, the Alfa Romeo/Porsche battle remains the centrepiece of The Marseille Contract – and it’s easy to see how it reputedly inspired the pursuit in 1995’s Goldeneye. Have a watch for yourself...
You can purchase The Marseille Contract on Amazon, if you fancy trying out some overtly 1970s visual aspects...
Classic Cars for Sale
1965 Pontiac GTO 389 ci Tri-power 360 hp 4 Speed. A true GTO, PHS Documentation. Finished in (E) Nightwatch Blue, (1) White top, (217-33) Blue interior. 1 of only 11,300 convertibles built in 65. Highly optioned; Power steering, Power Disk brakes, Power Top., Upgrades include; Digital Gauges, Wheels, 3/4 Cam, Electronic ignition, Power disk brakes, Tubular A arms, 308 Rear end, Retro Radio w/ Blue