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The Liquidator 1965 ***

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.

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  1. Oh my! Adding this to my account as soon as I can! Thank you!
    The stoned soldiers trope, I always think of Apocalypse Now! “Son, who’s your commanding officer?”, “Ain’t You?” Good stuff! And very precise writing!

    • I kind of felt that Donald Sutherland’s character in Kelly’s Heroes was an anachronism, but the opening sequence here made me think it’s just something about tanks that attracts insubordinate anarchists!

  2. I’m not a huge fan of action/adventure movies being funny. That is why I don’t enjoy most Jackie Chan movies. Now, give me something like Johnny English and I’m laughing my head off…

    • It’s very rare to find that comedy/thriller balance; North by Northwest made it look easy, but few followed down the same path with any success…as you suggest, easier to spoof the genre outright!

  3. It’s interesting how the Bond clones all tended to go for parody, and so quickly. Dr. No was just 1962. Sure the Bond movies had a sense of humour, but there was always a bit more to them. I don’t think any of these comic spin-offs had much of a shelf-life. Flint? Then Austin Powers I guess.

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