Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Liquidator: "Life is not all sex and sun lamps"

One of the first spy spoofs in the wake of Goldfinger (1964), The Liquidator stars Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes, a reluctant secret agent--or assassin, to be more precise. Boysie enjoys the swinging bachelor pad, the expensive sports car, and the ladies that come with the job. He just doesn't like the killing. So, he sub-contracts out his targets to Mr. Griffen, an efficient blue-collar contract killer. This arrangement works out well until a weekend vacation in Monte Carlo reveals that someone is using Boysie as a pawn in an espionage plot to steal an experimental aircraft.

The Liquidator is an amusing film that borders on satire, a contrast to later (and more financially successful) spoofs like Our Man Flint (1966) and the Matt Helm movies. British intelligence head Wilfrid Hyde-White creates Boysie's job because red tape is preventing his department from catching enemy spies legally. Wouldn't it just be easier to have them killed? His second-in-charge, Mostyn (Trevor Howard), has understandable reservations:

Mostyn:  Chief, this is tantamount to murder.

Chief: Then go find a murderer.

Trevor Howard as Mostyn.
Mostyn remembers Boysie from a World War II incident in which the latter saved the former's life by shooting two spies. What Mostyn doesn't know is that Boysie's gun fired when he tripped on some rubble. He finds Boysie in a rural cafe called the Bird Cage (a probable pun since Taylor had appeared in Hitchcock's The Birds two years earlier). The diner actually features colorful birds in a cage, setting up the film's best double entendre involving a buxom young woman and another word for "bird." Boysie is reluctant to leave his current situation, but once he sees his pad--and the pretty interior decorators--he signs all the government documents without reading them.

Rod Taylor and Jill St. John.
Rod Taylor is the perfect choice for the capable, but not always intelligent, Boysie. Indeed, one of my few qualms with The Liquidator is that I wish the hero had been given a few more heroic things to do. I was surprised to learn that MGM considered making a series of Liquidator films. Unless Boysie evolved into a more realistic spy, I couldn't imagine his character sustaining additional installments.

Of course, there were eight Boysie Oakes novels written by John Gardner between 1964 and 1975. Gardner portrayed Oakes as a cowardly anti-Bond who succeeded as a spy in spite of himself. That may have worked on the printed page (and Gardner is a good writer), but I doubt if movie audiences of the 1960s would have embraced the literary Boysie in a film series.

Jill St. John as Iris.
Speaking of 007, The Liquidator shares some interesting connections with the Bond films. Rod Taylor's co-star Jill St. John would portray Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. Lalo Schifrin's theme song to The Liquidator is sung by Shirley Bassey, who recorded the Bond title tunes for Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. Finally, Ian Fleming's publisher selected author John Gardner to write new 007 novels, starting with 1981's Licence Renewed. Gardner went on to write 13 additional Bond books.

The Liquidator lacks the style and wit of my favorite spy spoof--Our Man Flint--but it's a colorful diversion with a good cast and a decidedly different hero. If you're a fan of 1960s cinema (as I am), then you will likely enjoy it. Plus, you can't dislike a movie in which Trevor Howard wisely notes: "Life is not all sex and sun lamps."


  1. And Taylor turned down Bond...Hard to chart just when he dropped off the "A list".Maybe after his tv show Bearcats.

  2. I have heard of the film, but never watched it, and didn't know it was a satire. Always liked Jill St.John, for obvious reasons. Is it available on DVD?

    1. It wasn't available for many years, but is on DVD now from Warner Archives.

  3. Ha! When a spoof goes all the way to the theme song I think they have something.

  4. I love this movie, used to watch it when it came around on tv back in 80's, and I bought it on DVD when it was released a few years back (if I recall). I love Rod Taylor, and he's quite amusing in this role. I always loved the real assassin he hires to do his work. Great premise.

    1. I had seen it on TV back in the 1970s, but apparently forgot it was satire. So it surprised me when I watched it recently. Subcontracting out the assassinations was the best part of the premise.

  5. @John/24Frames.....I went searching after reading Ricks review and was delighted to find a copy on youtube , it had French subtitles but oddly this actually added to the fun.