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The Liquidator (1965)

Rod Taylor in The Liquidator
“The name's Oakes. Boysie Oakes.”

It doesn't really work, does it? But in the mid 1960s everyone was trying to cash in on the James Bond craze. Rival spy series included Matt Helm, Harry Palmer, Bulldog Drummond and Derek Flint. MGM's hopes for a Bond rival were pinned on Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator.

Taylor's character is an ex-army sergeant who is inducted into the British secret service by spy master Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard). Mostyn has been tasked by his boss (Wilfrid Hyde-White) to recruit an agent to carry out unofficial assassinations off the books. Mostyn recalls an incident in wartime Paris, shown in a black and white flashback sequence, when he was rescued by Oakes from two would-be assassins. Unbeknown to him, Oakes's heroics were mostly accidental. Oakes goes along with the plan, smitten as he is with the money he's paid, the E-Type Jaguar he's given, the swanky '60s bachelor pad apartment and the endless parade of beautiful women that come with it.

Original film poster
The problems begin when they actually start asking him to kill people. He tries to extricate himself from the job, but is unable to give up the enviable lifestyle, not to mention the chance to romance Mostyn's secretary (Jill St. John). So instead he sub-contracts his killings to a philosophical hit man, Mr Griffen (Eric Sykes). Things get complicated when enemy agents first try to kill Boysie on a trip to the Riviera, and then try and recruit him using a false flag operation to carry out an assassination of their own.

The Liquidator is a pretty mild spoof, with some unexpectedly dark elements, including the various assassinations and surprise character deaths, and it doesn't always blend the comedy and the action as well as it could. It's main innovation is that Taylor's character is only semi-competent at best, and enjoys the secret agent lifestyle but not the actual spying bit. Other than that, it often covers similar territory to other spy films and TV series of the time. There's plenty of 1960s lifestyle porn, trips to the French Riviera, stolen jet planes and beautiful women who can't be trusted.
Eric Sykes as Mr Griffen

But there's quite a bit to enjoy for fans of sixties British cinema and spy films in particular, starting with a bold title sequence by Richard Williams and a pseudo-Bond title song (by Lalo Schifrin) belted out by none other than Bond regular Shirley Bassey. Trevor Howard is on good form as Boysie's no-nonsense boss, who convinces himself that Boysie is a cold-blooded killer and takes every denial as further confirmation of his ruthlessness. As Howard's secretary and Taylor's love interest, future Bond girl Jill St. John gets a little more to do than in Diamonds are Forever, including attempting a remarkably plummy on-again off-again English accent. There's also a strong cadre of British comic character actors in the supporting ranks, including Sykes, Wilfrid Hyde-White, David Tomlinson, John Le Mesurier, Derek Nimmo, Colin Gordon and Richard Wattis.

The finale involves Taylor, Tomlinson and Jill St. John going undercover on an RAF airbase, supposedly as part of a training exercise, and an attempt to steal the latest hi-tech jet aircraft. Like the hijacked plane in Thunderball, this is played by one of Britain’s V bomber force of the 1960s, although this time it's the Vickers Valiant in a rare film appearance. Ironically, although it plays the “plane of the future”, by 1965 the Valiant was already obsolete.

David Tomlinson, Jill St. John and Rod Taylor in RAF uniforms
The film is based on a novel by John Gardner, and it was the first of eight books he wrote featuring Boysie Oakes. In another of the film's Bond connections, Gardner would take over writing the James Bond novels in the 1980s and 1990s. Rod Taylor could have made a creditable James Bond himself and was approached for the part by Eon Productions before Sean Connery took the role. Taylor turned the part down and came to bitterly regret it, as each subsequent Bond film became more phenomenally successful than the last. Like many actors who regret passing on a role, Taylor's response was to take the next one that looked vaguely like it.

The film was directed by Jack Cardiff, one of the world's great cinematographers, and is one of around a dozen features he directed. Cardiff keeps things moving and acquits himself well and, while The Liquidator didn't lead to a hoped-for series, it's a decently budgeted and generally well paced sixties time capsule that's still worth a look.

The Liquidator

Year: 1965
Genre: Comedy, Thriller, Spy film
Country: UK
Director: Jack Cardiff

Cast Rod Taylor (Boysie Oakes), Trevor Howard (Colonel Mostyn), Jill St. John (Iris), Wilfrid Hyde White (Chief), David Tomlinson (Quadrant), Akim Tamiroff (Sheriek), Eric Sykes (Griffen), Gabriella Licudi (Corale), John Le Mesurier (Chekhov), Derek Nimmo (Fly), Jeremy Lloyd (young man), Jennifer Jayne (Janice Benedict), Heller Toren (assistant), Betty McDowall (Frances Anne), Jo Rowbottom (Betty), Colin Gordon (vicar), Louise Dunn (Jessie), Henri Cogan (Yakov), Daniel Emilfork (Gregory), Scot Finch (operations officer), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Mac), Richard Wattis (flying instructor), David Langton (station commander), Tony Wright (flying control), Suzy Kendall (Judith)

Screenplay Peter Yeldham based on the novel by John Gardner  Producer Jon Penington  Cinematography Ted Scaife  Art director John Blezard  Editor Ernest Walter  Music Lalo Schifrin  Costumes Elizabeth Haffenden, Joan Bridge

Running time 105 mins  Colour Metrocolor  Widescreen  Panavision
Production company MGM British Studios  Distributor MGM

 British Invaders Blogathon
This review was for the British Invaders blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts


  1. This sounds interesting - especially because I enjoy seeing Trevor Howard and Jill St. John in anything! I think Taylor would have made a very cool Bond - better than an Oakes, right?
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

    1. Trevor Howard is indeed great in everything, and I find Jill St. John strangely appealing in her air force uniform! I can definitely see Rod Taylor as Bond. I'm working my way through the blogathon posts now, there are lots of really good ones.


  2. The Liquidator certainly is a fun movie for me. It's not necessarily in the top rank of Sixties spy movies, but it is enjoyable in its own way. I like the fact that unlike Bond, Palmer, Flint, and Helm, Oakes isn't exactly competent! Anyway, thanks for taking part in the blogathon!

    1. No, it's not in the top rank, but it is fun and the cast is strong.

      Thanks for running the blogathon, I think it was a great one. Hopefully there'll be another one next year!



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