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.
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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...