MGM Limited Edition Collection’s The Gun Runners, The Happy Thieves, and The Destructors review

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Michael Caine, James Mason and Michael Caine in The Destructors
Michael Caine, James Mason and Michael Caine in The Destructors
The Destructors DVD packaging
The Destructors DVD packaging

The Destructors (1974)

The Destructors – originally titled The Marseille Contract – stars Anthony Quinn as a tough U.S. intelligence agent in Paris who’s assigned to break a narcotics ring, but after several of his agents are killed during an operation, he hires a contract killer played by Michael Caine, for help in bringing down the criminal’s organization.

Robert Parrish directed The Destructors, an example of gritty 1970’s action era filmmaking, highlighted by tough-as-nails performances by legendary actors Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason. Parrish delivers a surprisingly good Euro-thriller that benefits from a charismatic leads and the on-location shooting in Paris, Marseille, Nice and Cannes.

Quinn plays American agent Steve Ventura, who’s stuck behind a desk at a Paris embassy, passing time by carrying on a pseudo-affair with a colleague’s wife, who does’t return his pitiful affections. When her husband is murdered, Ventura can do nothing to pursue the man he believes is responsible, Frenchman Jacques Brizard (James Mason), because of diplomatic laws.

Tipped off by a French detective, Ventura decides to work outside the law, hiring an assassin to get to Brizard. He is surprised when the killer turns out to be an old friend, John Deray (Michael Caine). After quizzing Deray on what events lead into a living as a hitman, Ventura pays the fee and Deray is set into action, moving in quickly to get closer to Brizard by expertly charming his daughter Lucienne (Maureen Kerwin). As the film moves into its final stretch, several events threaten both Ventura and Deray and stakes are raised.

The Destructors turns out to be a solid genre flick with strong components, namely Quinn and Caine.

Cast: Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Maurice Ronet, Alexandra Stewart, Maureen Kerwin, Catherine Rouvel, Marcel Bozzuffi, Patrick Floersheim, André Oumansky, Georges Beller, Jean-Louis Fortuit, Jerry Brouer, Georges Lycan, Pierre Koulak, Pierre Salinger
Director: Robert Parrish

Original Theatrical Release Date: September 1974
On-Demand DVD Release Date: April 18, 2011

The Gun Runner DVD packaging
The Gun Runner DVD packaging

The Gun Runners (1958)

Audie Murphy plays the owner of a rental cabin cruiser in Florida who naively offers up its services to an arms dealer selling guns to Cuba during that country’s Revolution. The Gun Runners was a low budget remake of the film To Have and Have Not, written by Daniel Mainwaring and Paul Monash, and directed by the legendary action director Don Siegel, who had already helmed Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and would go on to steer such cult classics such as Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick, The Shootist, Telefon and Escape from Alcatraz. Murphy and Siegel’s involvement ups the ante of the film, with strong support also from Eddie Albert and Everett Sloane.

Cast: Audie Murphy, Eddie Albert, Patricia Owens, Everett Sloane, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Birch, Jack Elam, John Qualen, Stephen Peck, Gita Hall
Director: Don Siegel

Original Theatrical Release Date: September 1958
On-Demand DVD Release Date: April 18, 2011

The Happy Thieves DVD packaging
The Happy Thieves DVD packaging

The Happy Thieves (1961)

The Happy Thieves is one of those films where it’s ok to cheer for the criminals. In this case, those bad guys are happen to be educated, sophisticated, and full of class. The three “happy” thieves include Jim Bourne (Rex Harrison), Eve Lewis (Rita Hayworth), and Jean Marie Calbert (Joseph Wiseman), all with special parts to play in the heists they pull.

Their current bit of thievery involves the heist of a painting from a wealthy man’s mansion. Everything goes to plan until Eve realizes she’s misplaced the painting they’ve stolen. The three thieves start retracing steps and eventually find out that the man from whom they stole the painting had got the best of them, with the intention of blackmailing the three thieves into stealing another priceless painting from a highly guarded museum in Spain. Stealing that particular painting is an impossible task by Jim’s measure, but with the leverage the wealthy man has on them, they have no choice but orchestrate a highly complex theft.

The situation, not exactly original by today’s standards, doesn’t allow us to get to know the characters enough to care about them. On a technical level, the master plan for stealing the expensive painting isn’t well thought out, as any good heist film would be. The most unbelievable part of the plan is that Jean is required to replicate a painting three times. That means he has to hand paint 8 foot tall priceless works of art to a degree of perfection three times in a matter of only a few days.

Don’t watch The Happy Thieves seeking a strong caper film or exciting thrills. But it is entertaining to watch the funny exchanges between the actors. Both Harrison and Hayworth are legends, and it’s fun to watch them together on screen.

Cast: Rita Hayworth, Rex Harrison, Joseph Wiseman, Alida Valli, Grégoire Aslan, Virgilio Teixeira, Peter Illing, Britt Ekland, George Rigaud, Gérard Tichy
Director: George Marshall

Original Theatrical Release Date: January 1962
On-Demand DVD Release Date: April 18, 2011

Here is the entire list of films released from MGM’s On-Demand Library of titles for the month of April:

1950’s

DAVEY CROCKETT, SCOUT (1950): A U.S. military scout is assigned to stop Indian attacks on a defenseless group of wagon trains making their way West.
Stars George Montgomery, Ellen Drew, Noah Beery Jr.
Directed by Lew Landers.
CLOUDBURST (1951): A World War II veteran, working in the British Foreign Office, avenges his wife’s murder. Stars Robert Preston, Elizabeth Sellars, Noel Howlett, Harold Lang. Directed by Francis Searle.
FORT DEFIANCE (1951): The story of a young blind man, the brother he worships and a Civil War veteran who intends to kill the latter.
Stars Dane Clark, Peter Graves.
Directed by John Rawlins.
CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (1957): Brian Keith stars as Jim Fremont, an Illinois States Attorney fighting corrupt unions in Chicago. The union crooks in collaboration with a gambling syndicate try to pin a murder rap on an uncooperative union leader Blane (Dick Foran). Fremont and his co-worker fiancee Laura (Beverly Garland), work to prove Blane’s innocence and to punish the true villains.
Also stars Brian Keith.
Directed by Sidney Salkow.
FOUR BOYS AND A GUN (1957): The moving story of four young men struggling against overwhelming odds to remain honest. When a crooked employer shorts their earnings they turn to crime, with their first theft ending in tragedy.
Stars Frank Sutton, Tarry Green, James Franciscus, William Hinant.
Directed by William Berke.
FORT BOWIE (1958): Attempting to affect peace between his men and the Apaches, the commander of a fort unwittingly inspires an Indian massacre.
Stars Ben Johnson, Kent Taylor, Jan Harrison, Jana Davi.
Directed by Howard W. Koch.
THE GUN RUNNERS (1958): The owner of a cabin cruiser in Florida innocently rents it to a ruthless gun merchant who sells arms to a revolutionary group in Cuba.
Stars Audie Murphy, Eddie Albert.
Directed by Don Siegel.

1960’s

THE HAPPY THIEVES (1961): A dapper art thief enraptures a wealthy duchess, then steals a priceless painting from her estate.
Stars Rita Hayworth, Rex Harrison, Joseph Wiseman.
Directed by George Marshall.
GERONIMO (1962): Chuck Connors stars as the legendary Apache leader in this sweeping 1883 story that has the brave Geronimo steadfastly holding his ground against both U.S. and Mexican military forces.
Stars Chuck Connors, Kamala Devi.
Directed by Arnold Laven.
STOLEN HOURS (1963): Susan Hayward stars as a rich Texas playgirl with no real ambition who meets a young Welsh doctor who sees the despair beneath her indifference — and the illness she’s trying to hide.
Also stars Michael Craig, Diane Baker.
Directed by Daniel Petri.
THE CEREMONY (1963): The brother of a man sentenced for committing murder during a bank robbery plans his brother’s escape on the condition his brother’s girl dates him instead.
Stars Laurence Harvey, Sarah Miles, Robert Walker Jr., John Ireland, Ross Martin, Lee Patterson.
Directed by Laurence Harvey.
A THOUSAND CLOWNS (1965): In this four-time Oscar nominated film (including Best Picture), Jason Robards stars as a nonconformist who is forced to find a conventional job.
Barbara Harris and Martin Balsam co-star.
Directed by Fred Coe.

1970’s

CALL OF THE WILD (1972): Based on the 1903 Jack London (WHITE FANG) adventure classic, CALL OF THE WILD is an exciting tale of gold fever and adventure in the Yukon.
Also Stars Charlton Heston.
Directed by Ken Annakin.
THE DESTRUCTORS (1974): A tough U.S. Embassy official in Paris is assigned to break a narcotics ring, but after several of his agents are killed he hires a professional killer.
Stars Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, James Mason.
Directed by Robert Parrish.
OLD DRACULA (1975): In this spoof of the Transylvanian legend, David Niven stars as Count Dracula, who sinks his fangs into a bevy of Playboy Bunnies in order to find the right blood type to resurrect his dear-departed wife.
Also stars Teresa Graves, Peter Bayliss, Jennie Linden, Nicky Henson.
Directed by Clive Donner.
BOBBIE JO & OUTLAW (1976): A stunning carhop who wants to be a country singer and her sweetheart who dreams he’s Billy the Kid become involved in robbery and murder.
Stars Marjoe Gortner, Lynda Carter.
Directed by Mark Lester.

1980’s

DEFIANCE (1980): An out-of work merchant seaman single-handedly tames a powerful street gang (“The Souls”) that has been terrorizing his neighborhood on New York City’s Lower East Side.
Stars Jan Michael Vincent, Theresa Saldana, Art Carney.
Directed by John Flynn.
THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES (1980): Stagestruck adolescent learns about love the hard way while interning in Cleveland summer stock during the early ’50’s.
Stars Frank Langella, Jerry Stiller.
Directed by Michael Pressman.
PATTY HEARST (1988): A dramatization of the newspaper heiress’ abduction and subsequent brainwashing by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Stars Natasha Richardson, William Forsythe, Ving Rhames, Dana Delany, Frances Fisher, Jodi Long.
Directed by Paul Schrader.