A thriller without any real thrills, The Destructors is nonetheless quite watchable simply because of narrative economy, production values, and star power. Shot on location throughout picturesque Marseille and Paris, the movie zips along at a strong pace, throwing together an assassin, a drug dealer, and a pair of policemen in a plot filled with deception and intrigue. The film has enough beautiful women, fast cars, and shootouts at unusual locales for a James Bond flick, and its cast is topped by three big names: Michael Caine, James Mason, and Anthony Quinn. Plus, as photographed by the great British DP Douglas Slocombe, the movie is slick and occasionally beautiful, with scenes set at dusk featuring particularly interesting qualities of light. What’s missing? Well, that would be tension, of course.
It’s hard to tell whether screenwriter Judd Bernard or director Robert Parrish dropped the ball, but whatever the case, The Destructors might be the politest movie ever made about killers. Nobody ever seems especially upset about being targeted for murder, and only Caine summons a smidgen of intensity during his most dangerous scenes. Still, if likeable actors and pretty locations are enough to make so-so romantic comedies palatable, can’t those qualities be enough to make a so-so thriller palatable?
The story itself isn’t the problem, because the same narrative material treated with more passion could have rendered livelier results. Steve Ventura (Quinn), an American drug-enforcement agent stationed in Europe, decides to seek revenge for the murders of several colleagues by operatives of an aristocratic French drug kingpin, Jacques Brizzard (Mason). Acting on a sly tip from a French cop, Ventura hires jet-setting hit man John Deray (Caine)—who turns out to be an old friend of Ventura’s—to kill Brizzard. Deray then seduces Brizzard’s sexy daughter, Lucienne (Maureen Kerwin), as a way of gaining access to the highly protected criminal. Meanwhile, Ventura figures out a way to snare Brizzard legally, so he tries to call off the hit. Double-crosses and other twists ensue.
Caine is great fun as Deray, all smiles during off-hours and all business when taking out victims—his handling of a rooftop hit is pricelessly nonchalant—and Mason is appropriately oily in his small part. However, Quinn is just awful, mugging and quipping his way through an amateurish performance. He’s not quite enough to sink the movie, though it sure seems as if that’s his goal. FYI, watch for former JFK speechwriter Pierre Salinger, in one of his only acting roles, playing an extended cameo as Ventura’s boss. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)
The Destructors: FUNKY