Our Man Flint
By the time of the third James Bond film, 1964's Goldfinger, the spy craze had exploded across pop culture, spattering the walls with poison blow-dart ink pens and steely-eyed, ultra-virile heroes. Perhaps the Cold War fantasy adventures of "real men" ruggedly vanquishing godless Commies and other evil empires, all while bedding improbably beautiful women, were a meat-eating guy's antacid against the discomforting reflux from real global tensions not to mention home-grown indigestion embodied by the Beatles, antiwar protests, and the Women's Movement. Plus, utilizing the Cold War for entertainment sure simplified things for moviegoers and TV-watchers. Head-throbbingly complex geopolitical currents were reduced to sprightly three-act suspense dramas that could be wrapped up within two hours. Guns, gadgets, and girls were the primary colors of the comic-book spy universe. Certainly there were serious-minded Bond imitators, such as the Harry Palmer series starring Michael Caine. But someone was bound to play the genre for laughs, and in short order the Bond spoofs outnumbered the Bond movies themselves. In fact, the film version of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, hit the screen in '67 as a clowned-up comedy. Cocktail crooner Dean Martin starred in four mixed efforts featuring soused secret agent Matt Helm. Then as now, a Hollywood trend didn't end until it was well past tired, and titles such as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine and Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, both starring Vincent Price and his army of lethal fembots, made sure that we all tired quite thoroughly.
The best of the spy-spoof bunch was 1965's Our Man Flint, a hyper-kitschy and entertaining time capsule starring James Coburn as a Bond surrogate played so straight you could shave with him. This tongue-way-in-cheek action comedy garnered favorable reviews and became Fox's third highest grossing film of the year. Coburn terrific with this dry, crackling material is Derek Flint, ultra-secret agent aiding Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). Our Man Flint made a shrewd move by sticking to the Bond template. The brilliant and resourceful Flint works alone, follows each clue to the next level, employs superhuman physical and mental prowess, beds gorgeous gals, gets captured, and prevents World Domination in an orgy of destruction at the evildoers' secret volcano island. However, instead of being a bozo-nosed vaudeville like the Austin Powers movies, Our Man Flint out-Bonds the Bond films by respectfully retooling the familiar Bond elements and then turning the knob to 11.
Our hero, having just returned from teaching ballet at Moscow's Bolshoi, is called into service. Z.O.W.I.E. agents have been killed while seeking the mysterious masterminds behind G.A.L.A.X.Y, an organization controlling the world's weather and holding humanity hostage to a plan for a scientifically regimented (and otherwise wonderfully beneficial) new world order. While enforcing The American Way, Flint performs impromptu surgery, stops his heart for prolonged periods, repeatedly annoys his flustered boss (Lee J. Cobb) with his undisciplined ways, invents a Zippo lighter with 82 functions ("83 if you want to light a cigar"), traces a poison through a bouillabaisse recipe served in only one spot on Earth, jump-starts a man's heart via a light bulb socket, wisecracks with British Agent "Triple-O Eight," judo-chops gangs of bad guys, avoids disintegration in an electrofragmentizer, and finds his four live-in lovelies ensnared within G.A.L.A.X.Y's Dr. Evil-like H.Q. Supported by Jerry Goldmsith's way groovy musical score, Flint does it all while keeping his tux spotless, his demeanor cool, and his women satisfied.
Comparisons between Flint's pastiche heroics and the Austin Powers series are obvious. However, Our Man Flint and its sequel, In Like Flint, are exaggerated burlesques of their own time and the pop superspy tropes that flourished then. Therefore, we can more accurately compare the Flint flicks with Scream or Not Another Teen Movie, two sendups of contemporary conventions and clichés that had grown so familiar to audiences that laughter was the only response left.
And guys, you may want to think twice about watching Our Man Flint with a wife or girlfriend. As part of their broad comedic approach, both Flint films unashamedly parade coprolitic sexual attitudes that would make even Mr. Powers wince. By their nature, '60s spy movies bared a phallocentric revolt against the era's "sexual revolution." Our Man Flint is giddy and harmless while still being sexist in ways that no one could get away with today. Flint's sybaritic lifestyle includes a Manhattan penthouse staffed by a quartet of pliant babes who, it's clear, exist to provide him with anything he desires. The sexy villainess (Gila Golan, Miss Israel 1961) likewise falls into his arms and bedsheets within minutes. The film's final third is an adolescent male Disneyland of bikini-clad centerfold models brainwashed to be smiling, willing "pleasure units" who "offer their bodies for the good of G.A.L.A.X.Y." Although played for good clean "Yeah, baby!" fun, the scenes of Joe Blow henchmen queuing up to enjoy the "units" like Happy Meals might even leave a few Maxim readers squirming. (Another raise of an eyebrow is occasioned when, as the space age lair self-destructs, we watch Flint and company cheer while hundreds of uncondemned people, including a crowd-scene's worth of those "pleasure units" we just saw, are blown to smithereens.)
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Fox's DVD presents Our Man Flint in a terrific transfer (2.35:1 anamorphic) from a print that looks newly minted with vivid color. The DD 2.0 monaural audio is plenty clear and strong enough for the job.