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Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Destructors

Harold Goldman produced a string of low-budget B sci-fi in the mid 60s. The Destructors (TD) has only a very weak connection to sci-fi, in that In essence, TD is spy/crime story with something sci-fi-ish is the MacGuffin. In this case, a super laser which could be "the ultimate weapon." Such a plot structure had been common in B sci-fi for decades. From the two-color posters, it would seem that TD was given a modest theatrical release -- perhaps as drive-in fodder. The television market seems the more likely target.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Three saboteurs cut power to an optical plant, then pose as power company repair men to gain entry. Inside, they steal a tray of special "laser rubies". One of them, Hans, is shot during their escape. The National Intelligence Agency is called in. Looks like a routine crime, but agent Dan Street (Richard Egan) has a hunch it was more. Hans used to work for Electrosphere Ccrp., who happen to be working on a super laser that uses those rubies. The director, Dr. Frazer is full of hubris about how securely his plant is guarded. (Flash to the dark side) Count Romano (Michael Aransa) is the leader of the thieves. He was to sell the rubies to an asian double agent, but ups his price. He has more in mind. Meanwhile, Street finds the wife of dead Hans. Stassa is a go go dancer, but her back story is that she was a child prostitute to feed her dead beat parents, then became the "kept woman" of Hans, and now is the kept woman of Romano. She's on thin ice for having a relationship with Dutch, one of Romano's henchmen. Dutch is a Korean war hero, disgraced by accusations of revealing secrets under torture. Street figures out that they plan to use garbage trucks to get into Electrosphere's plant. Dutch eventually tells Street this after a couple fist fights. Security is tightened, but Romano has a different plan. He and his men scuba dive through a cooling water intake, right into the boiler room. From there, they gas guards, get their keys and enter the laser lab. Once inside, they photograph the laser assembly. Street thinks something is up, so he and agent Wayne swim in too. They intercept the crooks. Gunfire and fist fights erupt. Dutch saves Street from being shot by Romano by taking the bullet. Before he dies, he gasps about not being a traitor. Romano, Stassa and others are rounded up by the police. Street goes home to his ex-wife. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Seeing the essence of James Bond rendered in such a low-budget way, has its amusements. It wasn't supposed to be amusing, but it was.

Cold War Angle
There is a rather direct analogy in the super laser being "the ultimate weapon" -- much as nukes were regarded. And, in the Cold War ethos, the bad guys want to have one too. Spies and intrigue and sabotage for all!

Sci-fi Family -- The team of Goldman as producer and Arthur C. Pierce, as writer, brought us a string of not-too-bad B sci-fi during mid 60s. The team created: The Human Duplicators ('65), Mutiny in Outer Space ('65), Cyborg 2087 ('66), Dimension 5 ('66) and Women of the Prehistoric Planet ('66). All of the above, with the exception of Dim5, were more typical sci-fi fare. Dim5 was more like TD in being essentially a crime and secret agent story that just happened to have a bit of something usually found in sci-fi movies.

Budget Bond -- The character of Dan Street is written as if he were a suave swinging single like James Bond. He talks of womanizing exploits and all the pretty young secretaries in headquarters greet him eagerly. But, Richard Egan just looks old, tired and dumpy. The Bond formula was popular, but not attempts at it succeeded. There are several similarities between TD and The Ambushers ('67). Pseudo-suave secret agent, semi-wife, vile villain who plots to steal some sci-fi MacGuffin to sell to shadowy buyers, etc. etc. Except that Ambushers knew it was parody.

2D People, Except 1 -- All of the characters in Pierce's script are essentially two-dimensional stereotypes from dozens of similar movies. The "suave" womanizer secret agent. The cruel evil villain. The evil henchmen. The "good" woman representing civilized virtue. The fallen hero who atones for his crime by sacrificing himself in the end, etc. etc. The only character who had any depth was Stassa. She came from a rough and abusive childhood. She survived on her own by working her way up the sugar-daddy ladder until she got to Count Romano. Yet, she wasn't so jaded as to not still desire a real relationship based on love, not money. She saw this in Dutch (the fallen hero). But when it came down to brass tacks, she chose being Romano's babe over Dutch's poor girlfriend. Yet, even in the end (arrested), she lamented her choice.

Bottom line? TD is a low-budget poor paraphrase of the James Bond formula. Other than a super laser (which does nothing beyond vaporize a target truck), there is no sci-fi to the movie. The acting is adequate most of the time. Stiff at others. The story would be the same if the crooks were trying to steal a secret formula or secret code machine. Fans of shallow spy thrillers may find enough to like. Fans of sci-fi, with saucers and aliens, or monsters, will likely by bored or angry.

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