The Liquidator is the theme music to which Chelsea’s football team take the field, but also the super-jazzy theme music performed by Shirley Bassey at the start of Jack Cardiff’s neglected film; I’d be keen to support any team which use the latter as their signature theme-song. The credits of The Liquidator are excellent, animated by industry maverick and utter legend Richard Williams, and fusing Bond with Pink Panther in a mash-up of voguish 1960’s glitz.
The obvious influence is Bond, and the plan was a rival series of films featuring Boysie Oakes (Rod Taylor). The source was a series of books by John Gardner, who went on to write James Bond continuation books after Ian Fleming passed away, but there’s a twist. Oakes is handsome, debonair, a lady-killer, but pretty rubbish at actually liquidating people. Major Mostyn (Trevor Howard) wrongly understands Oakes to have nerves of steel and recruits him as an assassin, but Oakes instead hires a hit-man (Eric Sykes, somehow) to do his dirty work.
The opening black-and-white sequence, set during WWII, is striking, with Oakes vaguely in charge of a tank of zonked-out soldiers; there seems to be a trope in stoner movies (Kelly’s Heroes, Stripes, Buffalo Soldiers) for military tanks to crash through walls, and that cliché starts here. The Bond-influenced sequences are very proficient, including a car-on-a-cliff scene that’s as good as most Connery-era stunt-work, yet the narrative is swamped with arch comic business; Derek Nimmo, John le Mesurier, Jeremy Lloyd and Richard Wattis all keep the British end up, while Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte is like a (very aged) boss and Mary Poppins’ star Mr Banks David Tomlinson has a substantial cameo. Much of their interruptions are quite silly, and don’t quite match the espionage details, which are solid; a detail about ‘interchangeable tails’ when following cars seems authentic. And Taylor, a solid, dependable leading man, seems to have been encouraged to unleash his inner Cary Grant, playing for laughs in some hideous dressing-gowns in an untypical turn.
The Liquidator doesn’t quite work, and the airborne finale is underwhelming, but aficionados of the Bond genre may well appreciate the size and tone of the production; it feels like a misguided cousin of the Eon franchise. Rarely seen, outside of a Warners archive re-issue, it’s worth catching while you can in a smart print posted here on YouTube.