Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Liquidator (1965)

Rod Taylor could have played James Bond. In the documentary Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches, Taylor recalled meeting with Bond series producer Albert "Cubby Broccoli. When the part was offered to Taylor he responded saying, "Cubby it'll never work. That's TV. It'll never work on the big screen." Boy was Taylor wrong. In fact, he called it "the most stupidest remark I've ever made." However, Taylor got to play a James Bond-like character with Boysie Oakes/Agent L. in  The Liquidator. Taylor recalled the experience saying, "I had a ball. I played everything James Bond did tongue-in-cheek."

Trevor Howard in The Liquidator (1965)
Trevor Howard as Colonel Mostyn

Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Rod Taylor as Agent L/Boysie Oakes

Trevor Howard and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)

"He's a killer. He conceals it beautifully." - Colonel Mostyn

And The Liquidator (1965) was just that; a spy movie that didn't take itself too seriously. Rod Taylor stars as Boysie Oakes. During WWII, he saved Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard) completely by accident. Mostyn interprets the event very differently. Years later when the Colonel needs a trained assassin to eliminate enemies of the state, he knows just the man. Problem is Oakes isn't a killer, he's just really lucky. Oakes becomes Agent L (L for Liquidator) and is trained by Mostyn and his crew to take on the part. When Oakes fails his first task he quietly hires professional assassin Griffen (Eric Sykes) to do the dirty work while Oakes does what he does best, seduce beautiful women. Things are going well for Oakes. He's living the good life and secretly romancing Mostyn's secretary Iris Macintosh (Jill St. John), something that's strictly against Mostyn's rules. When the couple elopes to Monte Carlo, Oakes is captured by Russian operatives, including bumbling mastermind Sheriek (Akim Tamiroff), Oakes must escape and carry on Mostyn's new mission. But everything is not as it seems and Agent L's reality is about to do a complete 180 degree turn.

Eric Sykes and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Eric Sykes and Rod Taylor

Jill St. John in The Liquidator (1965)
Jill St. John as Iris Macintosh

Jill St. John and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Jill St. John and Rod Taylor

Akim Tamiroff and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Akim Tamiroff and Rod Taylor

The movie is based on the novel The Liquidator by John Gardner (not to be confused with the other John Gardner, author of Grendel). The book was released in 1964. MGM producer Jon Penington read the book on a plane and immediately sought to buy the film rights as soon as he landed in Los Angeles. He beat out a rival producer by just a few minutes. Penington hired writer Peter Yeldham to adapt Gardner's novel for the screen. MGM intended this to be a series and optioned two more films. However, MGM had just missed the spy movie fury. The release was delayed due to a rights issue which contributed to the eventual poor box office performance. The series was never meant to be.  Author John Gardner went on to write seven more novels in the Boysie Oakes series but none of them were ever adapted for the screen. Spy stories were Gardner's specialty and he even wrote some James Bond stories after Ian Fleming passed away.

Directed by cinematographer turned director Jack Cardiff, The Liquidator was filmed at MGM's British studios and on location in Monte Carlo, Nice and the Antibes. Trevor Howard and Rod Taylor were well suited to their roles and this is evident in their performances. Screenwriter Yeldham recalled that the two didn't get along well with each other on set because they had very different sensibilities.

Rod Taylor did all his own stunts for the film. Prior to filming the scene where Taylor fights another character as his car dangles on the edge of a cliff, it had rained. The crew dried off the car but the hood was still slick. In one shot you see Taylor almost slip off the hood. But luckily he grabbed on tightly and avoided falling 300+ feet to the rocky terrain below.

I don't care what anyone says, The Liquidator is a flat-out entertaining movie. It part comedy and part political thriller. These two conflicting elements makes the experience all that more enjoyable. While watching this, I couldn't help of the two Kingsman movies, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I wonder if The Liquidator at all influenced those stories. At one point Trevor Howard's Mostyn yells out "Remember your training!" to Rod Taylor's Oakes. That exact quote spoken in a similar situation is in The Golden Circle and delivered by Mark Strong's Merlin to Taron Egerton's Eggsy. Like The Liquidator, Kingsman has conflicting elements. On one level it's a serious action thriller with a lot of class and some excellent suits. On another level it can be quite ridiculous, in a fun way, and the class is toned down with a good dose of raunchiness.

Betty McDowall and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Betty McDowall plays Rod Taylor's first target.

Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Rod Taylor checks out the bar in his swanky new pad.

Let's be honest I watched this movie for three reasons: Rod Taylor, Jill St. John, and Akim Tamiroff. And they did not disappoint. Taylor's character fit him like a glove. St. John is always a pleasure on screen and her story line allows her to give two very different performances. The female roles are seriously lacking in this film and St. John's had more potential than was achieved. I adore character actor Akim Tamiroff. He proves to be utterly enjoyable as the bumbling villain. I have a new found appreciation for Trevor Howard after watching his performance as Mostyn. Also notable is actor David Tomlinson who plays the conniving Quadrant who tricks Oakes into a mission. His life story proved to be rather interesting and I'd love to see more of his work. The film boasts some beautiful cinematography, no doubt thanks to Jack Cardiff's notable talent. There is also a lot to enjoy if you're like me and gravitate towards eye grabbing clothing and set design. Tying it more to the James Bond movies, singer Shirley Bassey sings the title song "My Liquidator" written by Lalo Schifrin and Peter Callender for the film.

The Liquidator is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, even if you sometimes want it too.

The Liquidator is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of The Liquidator (1965) to review!

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