THE LIQUIDATOR (1966).
MGM leapt onto the lucrative James Bond bandwagon with this super-spy spoof starring Australian-born Rod Taylor -- a childhood fave of mine, due to his roles in THE BIRDS and THE TIME MACHINE -- as a reluctant government hitman. Hell, they even hired GOLDFINGER-singer Shirley Bassey for their laughably clunky title song, with lyrics by Peter Callander (future co-writer of such mid-'70s AM-radio hits as "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" and "The Night Chicago Died"). The first (and last) in a proposed series adapted from John Gardner's lighthearted "Boysie Oakes" novels (oddly enough, while The Liquidator was published in 1964 as a 007 parody, Gardner ended up writing 14 official James Bond novels throughout the 1980s and '90s), it was unluckily beaten to theatres by 20th Century-Fox's OUR MAN FLINT and Columbia's first Matt Helm entry, THE SILENCERS, and lacked their abundance of kitschy gadgets, double-entendres and scantily-clad babes... When British Intelligence officer Mostyn (Trevor Howard) is tasked with eliminating any double agents lurking within their ranks by hiring an off-the-books "private executioner" to plug up any leaks, his pick is Brian "Boysie" Oakes, an American who saved Mostyn's life during the black-and-white World War II prologue. Little does he realize, Oakes is far from a devious assassin. Instead, he's actually a clumsy womanizer who simply lucked into inadvertently rescuing Mostyn twenty years earlier. Set up with a swanky high-rise pad, put through intensive spy training and code-named "L", there's only one teeny problem -- clueless Oakes is none too keen on killing other people! His solution? Secretly hire a local assassin (Eric Sykes) to fulfill his assignments, including a cocktail party poisoning, a defenestration and even pushing a woman in front of a speeding Tube car. Meanwhile, Boysie continually proves that he isn't the swiftest individual, as he disregards the rule about not dating fellow employees and sneaks off to the French Riviera with Mostyn's secretary Iris (Jill St. John, who'd become a Bond Girl five years later in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER); is easily taken hostage (leading to appearances by Akim Tamiroff, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN's Daniel Emilfork and UNEARTHLY STRANGER's lovely Gabriella Licudi); and is ultimately tricked into almost assassinating the Duke of Edinburgh... Taylor seems to have a lot of fun sending up his rugged image as this generally inept coward, but while cinematographer-turned-director Jack Cardiff (who shot films such as THE RED SHOES and THE AFRICAN QUEEN, and also directed Rod Taylor in DARK OF THE SUN and YOUNG CASSIDY) keeps the production slick and assembles an exceptional cast (including Wilfrid Hyde-White as the Chief of British Intelligence, John Le Mesurier as a foreign agent, MARY POPPINS patriarch David Tomlinson as an amusingly ruthless operative, plus sultry Suzy Kendall popping up at the very end to flirt with Oakes), the screenplay by Peter Yeldham (BANG! BANG! YOU'RE DEAD!) lacks many clever surprises and its action sequences are surprisingly pedestrian (e.g., the most exciting set-piece is a single-car race along a winding French road, with a thug hanging from its boot). Too restrained for moviegoers searching for outlandish, over-sized spy-antics, yet too routine for those interested in genuine espionage thrills, THE LIQUIDATOR has plenty of goofy charm but never manages to stand out amongst its spy-genre counterparts.
© 2017 by Steven Puchalski.