Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Liquidator

A couple of weeks ago when I was mentioning TCM's tribute to Jack Cardiff, I said that there was going to be a night of movies directed by Cardiff. These include The Liquidator, which is coming on overnight at 1:30 AM.

Rod Taylor stars as "Boysie" Oakes, who at the start of the film is a British tank commander in World War II, leading his tank into the Paris which is just being liberated from the Nazis. While trying to get his bearings, Boysie sees a man getting chased by Nazis, who are trying to kill the man for presumably being a spy. Boysie kills the two assailants, and earns the enduring gratitude of this man (Trevor Howard).

Fast forward many years, and Howard's character, Mostyn, is now in charge of British intelligence. They've got a problem of various British citizens being traitors and selling secrets to foreigners. They could put these double agents on trial, but the problem with that is that it would be a public relations disaster and would also reveal state secrets. So British intelligence gets the brilliant idea of starting a dirty ops campaign of bumping off these agents. And Mostyn knows just the man to recruit to do the killings: Boysie.

It turns out that Boysie is running a pub in the English countryside, and keeping up relations with quite a few women to boot. Mostyn woos Boysie with the promise of high pay and a wonderful flat in London in exchange for becoming a secret agent, although he doesn't first tell Boysie that his work is going to involve killing people. Boysie goes to London with Mostyn, only to find out too late that the job involves murder, which Boysie really doesn't like.

At this point, The Liquidator starts to take a more darkly comic turn. Boysie, not wanting to kill anybody but being duty bound to do so, hires a contract killer to do all the killings for him. Meanwhile, Boysie still continues his womanizing ways, trying to bed Mostyn's secretary Iris (Jill St. John) despite the fact that this is highly illegal. To get around being spotted having a relationship with Iris, Boysie arranges for the two to meet in the south of France and have a weekend fling there. Unfortunately, Mostyn finds out. And then to make matters worse, Boysie gets captured as part of a real spy drama.

The Liquidator is a movie that has in interesting premise, but ultimately falls flat. Rather like The Big Street, it's a movie that tries to straddle two genres -- in this case comedy and a spy thriller -- and never really knows which side it wants to plant both feet in. The thriller parts aren't thrilling enough, and the comic parts aren't comic enough. The casting is quite right, I think: Rod Taylor is just the right person to cast as a dashing ladies' man who can also do masculine spy work. Trevor Howard seems to be reprising his role in Faher Goose, but doing a good job of it. And Jill St. John is easy on the eyes in a role that's really not very demanding. The spy scenes in France have quite a few character actors who are entertaining enough. But in the end, I think they're all let down by a flawed script.

The Liquidator doesn't seem to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

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