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!

Monday, October 30, 2017

The High Commissioner (1968)

Police Sergeant Scobie Malone (Rod Taylor) was summoned from his ranch for a government mission, one of importance but also shrouded in mystery. Australia's High Commissioner, Sir Quentin (Christopher Plummer) is wanted for the murder of his first wife. Malone heads to London to arrest Quentin but what seems like a straightforward job is not what it seems. Quentin is in the middle of a very serious negotiations with foreign nations to prevent a world crisis. He pleads with Malone to give him just enough time to finish his negotiations and he will willingly head back to Sydney with Malone to face the charges. However, assassins try to kill Quentin before he can go through with his plan. Malone goes from jailer to bodyguard as he tries to protect Quentin. He must also face the three women in Quentin's circle. First there is Lady Quentin (Lilli Palmer), Sir Quentin's wife and confidante. She will do anything and everything to protect her husband. Then there is Quentin's secretary Lisa Pretorious (Camilla Sparv) who is also fiercely protective of his boss. And then there's the exotic Maria Cholon (Dalilah Lavi) who charms the men at Quentin's parties, including Malone, while secretly running a counter spy ring.

Originally released as Nobody Runs Forever, The High Commissioner (1968) was directed by British filmmaker Ralph Thomas. The story was based on Australian author Jon Cleary's novel The High Commissioner which was originally published in 1966. Meant to be a stand-alone story about police inspector Scobie Malone, the first novel was so popular Cleary subsequently wrote 19 more detective novels featuring the same character. Cleary's Malone novels and other stories were adapted into movies and TV shows over 20 times. He also wrote The Sundowners. When Nobody Runs Forever was released in the US later in 1968 the title was changed to match Cleary's novel.

The High Commissioner was filmed on location in London and at Pinewood Studios. There is one aerial shot of Sydney Harbor and you can see the beginning construction of the Sydney Opera House in the background. There is also a scene at a Wimbledon game later on in the film. Produced by indie Katzka-Berne Productions, as well as other production companies including Rod Taylor's Rodlor, unfortunately the film did not perform well at the box office and proved to be a financial loss.

Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer

This is a shame because as a political espionage, this movie has a lot to offer. It's got world politics, action, sex, betrayal and clashing cultures. Rod Taylor is in his element as a rough-and-tough Australian police sergeant. This part is not stretch for him by any means. Christopher Plummer is incredibly charming as the heroic yet pained Sir Quentin. He smolders on screen. Lady Quentin, played by Lilli Palmer, is much older than her husband. In fact Palmer was 15 years older than Plummer. However the age difference is never brought up in the film, something I found surprising and rather refreshing. It's clear there is an age difference but Sir Quentin isn't with her for political gain or for money. They simply love each other and this is made very clear in the movie. I wonder if this was an element of the story that was kept from the original novel or added to the movie. Some notable performances include Clive Revill as Joseph, the Quentin's butler who butts heads with Malone and secretly works as an agent. The High Commissioner was the last film for Franchot Tone who makes a brief appearance as Ambassador Townsend who in the story is bedridden in the city hospital. It's also the final film for Trinidadian singer and actor Edric Connor who has a small role as a foreign diplomat. Connor passed away a few months after the film was released.

The High Commissioner (1968) is quite satisfying. It had a lot of what I love about films from that era without being campy. It's a serious thriller with some implausible scenarios that require the audience to suspend their disbelief. The movie is beautifully shot, has some fine performances and is overall very enjoyable.

The High Commissioner is being released later next month from Kino Lorber on DVD and Blu-Ray. I watched the Blu-Ray which was quite a treat. Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me this movie for review.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Warner Bros.: The Making of an American Movie Studio

Warner Bros.
The Making of an American Movie Studio
by David Thomson
Yale University Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780300197600
232 pages
August 2017

AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

When the film industry was in it's early years, Warner Bros. studio stood out as a leader and harbinger of change. They took a chance on adding sound to film with  when many other studios were still very comfortable churning out silents. They made socially aware films in a time when others focused solely on escapism. There were plenty of negatives too. Jack Warner was a tyrant who wanted full control, especially over his actors and actresses. In a roundabout way, Warner Bros. had a hand in the dismantling of the studio system especially when their own employees, notably Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and James Cagney, fought back. They survived many ups and downs and still continue to be an important force in the industry today. Among the classic film community, Warner Bros. is known as the keeper of the flame. They have done much to protect, restore and release many classics, their own and those of other studio libraries they acquired like MGM and RKO.

In Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio, author David Thomson explores the ins and outs of the studio's varied history and the four men, the actual Warner brothers, who started it all. This book is not a narrative, linear history of the studio, rather a collection of critical essays. Thomson provides the readers with many varied insights and observations about the complicated history of a film giant.

The book explores a range of topics and covers all sorts of films and careers. Figures featured include Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Busby Berkeley, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Doris Day, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Michael Curtiz, Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Kay Francis and more. Films are discussed at length exploring how they fit in the timeline of Warner Bros. history. These films include: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Gold Diggers of 1933, Jezebel, The Letter, Casablanca, The Big Sleep, Young Man With a Horn, The Jazz Singer, White Heat, A Stolen Life, Mrs. Skeffington and more.

Then there are the four brothers themselves: Harry, Sam, Albert and Jack. Readers learn about their early days in Poland, their migration to Hollywood, Sam's untimely death and Jack's eventual takeover and domination.

The four Warner brothers. Left to right: Sam, Harry, Jack and Albert

This book does not contain a traditional linear narrative about the history of the studio. If you go into it with that in mind, like I did, you'll be disappointed. Reviews on Goodreads for this book have been mixed. Some didn't care for the author's voice and some were drawn to it. I recommend reading a sample before diving in.

Many thanks to Yale University Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The Warner Archive Podcast recently featured an interview with author David Thomson. Give it a listen.

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