Director: Jack Cardiff
Starring: Rod Taylor, Trevor Howard, Jill St John, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Akim Tamiroff, Gabriella Licudi, Eric Sykes, John Le Mesurier, Derek Nimmo, David Tomlinson
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Title song performed by Shirley Bassey
Based on the novel by John Gardner
Brian ‘Boysie’ Oakes was a character created by John Gardner as a sort of antithesis of James Bond. Sure he is a secret agent, well more of an assassin really, and he is surrounded by gorgeous girls. But underneath it all, he is a coward with no stomach for killing, and an intense fear of flying. Strangely enough, nearly all Oakes adventures feature flying, after all, a globe trotting agent isn’t much good if he can’t trot. And adding insult to injury, in Gardner’s final Oakes novel, The Airline Pirates, Boysie is forced to set up his own airline called Air Apparent. But here’s a quote from Madrigal (Corgi 1968), the fourth book in the series:
‘Fly?’ The words came out in a strangle of panic. Boysie had a natural aversion to taking airplane rides. It was a state bordering on the pathological. He was sick in aircraft and usually in a state of shock from takeoff to touch down.’
Not very suave and sophisticated is it? That’s enough background on Boysie. Let’s look at the film. It opens in black and white. The end of the Second World War is near, and Boysie Oakes (Rod Taylor) is commanding a tank. But he is lost. As he stumbles around the streets of Paris in search of directions, he comes across a British Intelligence Officer, Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard), being accosted by two assassins. Oakes is no hero, but wades in to help anyway. As he does so, he trips over and Oakes accidentally fires his pistol. The shot kills one of the assailants. Then the kick from the first shot, sends Oakes over onto his backside. He accidentally fires again. The second bullet finds it’s target and the other assailant falls to the ground dead. As Mostyn struggled for his life, he wasn’t watching Oakes. All Mostyn can see is the aftermath. Oakes has cleanly killed two men, with two shots. Mostyn is impressed and locks away in his mind Oakes’ details. Intelligence may have use for a man such as this.
Then screen then explodes into colour and a loud brash animated title sequence, by Richard Williams takes over. The title song, naturally enough, The Liquidator is hammered out with great gusto by Shirley Bassey. It’s no Goldfinger, but the song is big, bold and brassy and at this stage, it seems if the viewer is in for one great ride. Is this one of the great lost spy gems from the sixties?
The war is long over. It is now the swinging sixties. Mostyn is now second in charge of British Intelligence. But unfortunately, of late, there have been a few scandals, and Mostyn’s chief (Wilfred Hyde White) is not happy about it. In fact, he suggests that they hire a man to ‘remove’ the troublemakers and the undesirables. All of this is unofficial, of course. As he says, ‘Rather than scandals, we’ll have accidents!’
Mostyn remembers Oakes from the war and pays him a visit. Boysie is now running a café, that is, when he is not cutting a sexual swathe through all the ‘dolly birds’ in the vicinity. It’s this womanizing that get’s Boysie into trouble, and gives Mostyn the leverage to blackmail Boysie into working for him.
At first, it doesn’t seem too bad. Boysie is relocated to a swinging pad in London, and soon has a new coterie of girls to seduce. Even the military training that he is put through, doesn’t seem too difficult. It’s only when Boysie is sent out into the real world, and actually has to kill someone, that things get difficult. So difficult in fact, he chooses not to do it. Instead, he hires a hitman, Griffen (Eric Sykes) to do his dirty work for him.
The score to The Liquidator is good. It is by Lalo Schifrin who I consider to be one of the truly great screen composers. This is one of his earlier scores, but that doesn’t make it any the less enjoyable. As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack includes Shirley Bassey’s brassy title theme, and an assortment of bossa novas, conga beats, and lounge grooves. It a great slice of sixties spy music in all it’s diversity. For those interested in tracking down the soundtrack album, there are two versions available: The first is the original issue, which has musical highlights from the film (it makes a great lounge album – but is quite short – around 30 minutes). The second is a recent release from Film Score Monthly and has the bulk of the music from the film in chronological order (around 63 minutes). Your choice?
It’s such a shame, that a film that had offered so much in it’s opening minutes should collapse half way through and never truly recover. Earlier, I asked the question: Is this one of the great lost spy gems from the sixties? The answer is sadly no. The Liquidator is an interesting diversion but not much more than that. The failure of this film resulted in no further Boysie Oakes adventures making it to the silver screen. Starting a franchise was obviously the intention. If you look at the corgi paperback of Madrigal, the animated assassin from Williams title sequence can be seen on a playing card, clearly tying it in with the film series. So The Liquidator joins Where The Spies Are, Modesty Blaise and Hammerhead as a film adaptation from a popular book series that didn’t take off.
This review is based on a Turner Classic Movies television broadcast. Currently, The Liquidator is unavailable on DVD.
The Boysie Oakes novels by John Gardner are:
• The Liquidator 1964
• Understrike 1965
• Amber Nine 1966
• Madrigal 1967
• Founder Member 1969
• A Killer For A Song
• Traitors Exit 1970
• The Airline Pirates (Air Apparent) 1970