After the success of Dr No, a slew of Bond spoofs were released worldwide, including the Matt Helm series starring Dean Martin and the Flint films with James Coburn. As one of the first films out of the gate, The Liquidator comes with a strong pedigree. It’s based on a novel by John Gardner, who went on to become the foremost (and most popular) writer of James Bond books after the death of Fleming. It has a cracking theme tune by the First Lady of Bond, Miss Shirley Bassey. It’s directed by multi-award-winning cinematographer and director, Jack Cardiff.
And, most importantly, it stars Rod Taylor, who’s not only a much better actor than he’s usually given credit for, but, physically, is perfect for the role of a debonair action man. In fact, he’d have made a pretty good Bond himself after Connery retired.
Towards the end of WW2, a young Brian “Boysie” Oakes (Taylor) inadvertently saves the life of Major Mostyn (Howard). Several years later, Mostyn, now a senior officer within MI6, approaches Boysie to become an agent of Her Majesty’s Government. Boysie reluctantly agrees and begins his training. He initially shows a remarkable aptitude for all the key skills required, including correctly guessing the vintage of selected wines, not to mention the poison with which the bottle’s been laced.
But the problems begin when Boysie completes his training, only to find that he’s code-named L, short for the Liquidator, and that he’s been hired as a government assassin. There’s only one problem with this: Boysie’s actually a bit squeamish and loathes violence. As a ladies’ man, he is particularly concerned about the idea of bumping off women. So, he chooses to hire a professional, the shady Griffin (Sykes), to do the actual killing, while he continues to live the high life. But when he takes Mostyn’s secretary, Iris Macintosh (St John), off for a weekend to Nice, he gets embroiled in a situation which forces him to take matters into his own hands.
As spoofs go, it’s slightly easier to swallow than US efforts Helm and Flint. There’s good support from well-known British comedy faces (Sykes, Tomlinson and a particularly malevolent LeMesurier) who are, for once, all playing the straight men. The comedy rests firmly on the situation and Taylor has an enjoyable knack for sending himself up while still somehow seeming heroic.
If it falls apart a little towards the end, at least it’s been a fun ride getting there.