The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Liquidator

The 1960s was a decade overwhelmed in movie theaters with spy and espionage movies. Everything from the James Bond series to spoofs like the Derek Flint and Matt Helm movies to those in between like the Harry Palmer flicks gave audiences their fair share of spy thrills. But defying being bunched in with any of those above listed is 1965's The Liquidator.

In the closing days of WWII in Paris, American(?) tanker Boysie Oaks (Rod Taylor) stumbles into a possible murder, saving a man (Trevor Howard) from his two would-be murderers. Years pass, and the man, Mostyn, is a higher-up in British intelligence given an unenviable mission. He needs to find an agent who can do one thing and one thing only; kill and kill effectively and discreetly. He tracks down Oaks and offers him the position...with some training. Oaks jumps at the chance to step into a "glamorous" lifestyle only to make a surprising discovery when finally tasked with a mission. He can't do it, just can't kill a man. It might be too late though because enemy agents are very aware of who he is.

This spy flick from director Jack Cardiff is an oddity among the genre that was so popular in the 1960s. It isn't as over the top as the Bond movies. The villains are just enemy agents, not masterminds bent on taking over the world. It isn't a spoof either, even though it does provide some laughs. It's funny, but it isn't trying too hard to be funny. Now there are some odd moments. Shirley Bassey sings the theme song -- The Liquidator <---listen there -- and it does seem like an easy knock-off of her Goldfinger theme, the credits even looking like a quasi-bond movie. Lalo Schifrin's score is appropriately jazzy and 60s. In the blind leap department looking to make a connection, Taylor's co-star Jill St. John would later star in Diamonds Are Forever too. Now whether the comparisons are fair or not is up to you, but however you feel about it, the movie is entertaining, providing a good mix of serious spy drama with just enough dark humor.

Many reviews have pointed to Rod Taylor being miscast in the role of Boysie Oaks. First, I'm a big Taylor fan, and I thought he did a good job with the character. Oaks is based off a character created by author John Gardner, one a whole series would develop around. I will say that Taylor is a different choice, but he makes it work. Regardless the movie, Taylor could manage brawling tough guy and smooth ladies man depending on the scene. He does that pretty effortlessly here, bouncing back and forth. As his stiff upper lip superior, Howard is a scene-stealer as Mostyn (think Bond's M), the veteran spy/agent who's seen and done it all. Their scenes together are highlights, two actors clearly having fun with their characters and the at-times off the wall story.

There are the typical spy features here most fans have come to expect. We get a scenic trip to beautiful Nice in France along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea thrown in with all sorts of hijinks and what not. It's different though. When Oaks realizes he can't kill, he hires an actual killer, Griffen (Eric Sykes), to do his dirty work for him, all expertly handled in a very dark, very funny montage. What kind of super-spy can't kill? Well, Oaks likes the lifestyle he's been introduced to, the cars, the clothes, the women. He definitely hits it off with St. John's Iris, Mostyn's secretary, which of course is frowned upon by company policy. The last hour is the more familiar territory as an enemy plan unfolds, Taylor's Oaks becomes the unknowing dupe to a conspiracy involving an assassination and theft of a new model aircraft. The surprising thing? It's funnier than you'd think.

Along with Taylor, Howard and St. John, the cast isn't full of huge stars, but you will see some recognizable faces. Wilfrid Hyde-White is Chief, the MI6 head who knows what's going on but typically turns a blind eye to his agents. Regular baddie Akim Tamiroff is hilarious as Shereik, the leader of a team of enemy agents who accidentally pick Oaks up. Beautiful Gabriella Licudi plays Corale, the bait in Shereik's plan who plans on seducing Taylor. Also look for David Tomlinson in a great little part as Quadrant, a fellow agent who is only telling Oaks part of what he needs to know. Several great supporting parts to round out the cast behind the bigger names.

A generally forgotten spy thriller with that rare right mix of action and humor. Well worth seeking this one out.

The Liquidator <---TCM trailer/clips (1965): ***/****

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