Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The most successful Bond imitator by far was Derek Flint, a lanky, toothy cool cat written specifically
to outdo 007. Bond is a connoisseur of wine, but Derek Flint is a master at 101 professions, including
biochemistry, surgery, and ballet. He works alone, and relies on only one gadget, but it's a lulu - a
gold cigarette lighter with 87 extra functions, including a hi-powered transmitter and a blowtorch.
Our Man Flint made a big splash in 1965 because he represented
a fantasy of the USA at its most potent, and he was funny - believe it or not, audiences loved every
corny joke, sexist reference, and sadistic gag. SuperSpies were hip and everybody (especially young
boys) wanted in on the coolness. The words 'spy spoof' entered the lexicon, and comedy espionage movies
started coming out of the woodwork, while more realistic spy fantasies (the excellent The Kremlin
Letter, for one) were ignored. Within a few years, 007 would become a comedy parody of himself,
where he's remained for 30 of his 40 years on the screen.
The world is threatened by a techno-futurist conspiracy called Galaxy, run by three
benevolent scientists, Dr. Krupov (Rhys Williams), Dr. Schneider (Benson Fong) and Dr. Wu (Peter
Brocco). They're controlling the weather, causing disasters by remote control, and nobody knows
why. Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage, or Z.O.W.I.E., opposes the secret weathermen
but needs new recruits because their entire roster of spies has been liquidated; against the wishes
of ZOWIE head Lloyd C. Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), the computers choose freelance agent Derek Flint (James
Coburn), an individualistic hedonist who lives in a Manhattan penthouse with four amorous girlfriends.
Flint initially refuses, but joins ZOWIE after an attempt is made on his life. Travelling
first to Marseilles and then to Rome in his private lear jet, he gets to the center of the action by
purposefully falling into a trap set by seductive Galaxy spymaster Gila (Gila Golan) and her
treacherous second, Malcolm Rodney (Edward Mulhare). But every attempt to eliminate the resourceful
Flint, only takes him closer to his goal.
As a production, Our Man Flint is actually kind of cheap. Outside of the action sequences,
Daniel Mann's direction is rather flat, and the cinematography of big time talent Daniel Fapp (West
Side Story) is even flatter, using a generic 60's high key lighting that looks chosen for speed. The
studio production values are fairly high, and the art direction strives for a futuristic comic-book
look that occasionally works, as in the Galaxy Great Hall, a paper-mache tribute to bad taste
that somehow seems appropriate. Elsewhere, stock shots proliferate.
But Our Man Flint succeeds for several important reasons. First, James Coburn is magnetic as
Flint. He's got the kind of superficial hip self-assurance that oozes vibes of "I'm cool and you're
not", and a ragged smile that would be ugly if he weren't so arrogantly self-confident. He's a take-charge
guy with a commanding voice (that's launched a thousand car commercials) and a stealthy way of
walking that's half commando, half Bobby Darin hipster.
Second, the action is breathtaking. Assistant director and stunt arranger Robert 'Buzz' Henry makes
the screen come alive every time a fight breaks out, with dynamic angles and percussive action.
There's an apocryphal story that Coburn was a student of either Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee, depending
on who you talk to, but onscreen, his fighting has nothing to do with martial arts. Coburn just knows that
flinging his arms and legs in wild kicks and extreme motions, while making faces and howling, looks
incredibly cool. Or, at least it did until we saw real kung fu on the screen. Coburn is
acting the part of a fantastic fighting machine, and given the cartoonish level of realism here, does
a sensational job. The confrontation in the ZOWIE hallway is a perfectly-directed collection of
kicks, chops, knife throws and gun blasts. Whereas Sean Connery is a big-shouldered, bruising thug,
Flint is more the kind of Playboy who doesn't want to muss his suit or raise a sweat, and Buzz Henry
makes sure the action is tailored to his character.
Third, and most enjoyable, is Jerry Goldsmith's incredibly cool, influential soundtrack. On the original
lp record album, Saul David admits that he worried that the whole film played like an unfunny mess
until Goldsmith's music went up against it. Combining Latin rhythms, the crisp guitar work of Bob
Bain and Al Hendrickson, and embellishments from Shelley Manne on drums and Ronnie Lang on alto sax,
the music provides the oomph and power the pictures don't always have, bolstering the action
and making the wanna-be-impressive sets, impressive again. The music and the action complement each
other - in the above-described hallway fight, there's a boffo setup sting that launches the action,
and then wisely stays out of the way. A dizzying crane shot of Flint climbing at least 30 or 40 feet up
the access ladder of an industrial dock crane grinds with a guitar riff that keeps perfect time with the
spy's machine-like progress. The music just had to be planned before that was filmed.
Finally, the script is perfectly structured, starting always from the axiom that Bond must be out-done,
everything must be beyond cool, and the action cannot be allowed to slow for a moment. Flint is given
a big introduction as a master of martial arts, chosen by computer, a guy you have to beg if you want
to hire him. Further spoofiness is disposed of by references to and a brief scene with .0008
(Triple-O-Eight), a James Bond clone with his own pocketbook adventures, who tips off our
hero to the name Galaxy before being given the bum's rush. So much for the prissy competition. The
scale of the action builds with comic-book precision. Like
Danger: Diabolik (and scores of other fantasy
heroes), Flint undergoes the rite of apparent death and resurrection. Heroes who survive that are by
definition unbeatable ... like Hercules, they've already gone to the Underworld and returned. The fantasy
stakes jump to the level of Flash Gordon when Flint arrives at
Galaxy Island, a science fiction Utopia that we all know Flint will blow to bits.
Our Man Flint is no classic to be compared with
The Mark of Zorro or Goldfinger, but
it has a purity of pulp expression that says more about America in 1965 than any other fantasy of the
year. James Bond is already a given item, a cultural force who represents a British fantasy of power and
Empire to compensate for their loss of both after WW2. But the only American presence in the Bond films is
the emasculated Felix Leiter, a cog in the works of the C.I.A who worships Bond and waits patiently for
his inspired leadership. We of course loved James Bond but rankled at the 'spear-carrier' billing
America received in his fantasies, especially when the big commercial market for 007 was clearly the rich
U.S. of A. Our country, not Britain, was at the center of world power; we'd stalemated the Russians in
the cold war and in 1965, were about to show those Asian Reds what-was-what way down yonder in Vee Et Nam.
Flint may be a spoof, but he's also a perfect representation, conscious or unconscious, of American
values at that specific moment, before our self-image of unity and omnipotence popped like a balloon.
Derek Flint is the ultimate Yank hero of the day, a self-made wonder. He subscribes to the Playboy
Philosophy as if he ghost-wrote it for Hugh Hefner, he embodies all the technological, medical, and
(pseudo) intellectual achievements of his country. He even looks like Uncle Sam as a young man. 1
But he's far too egotistic to salute a flag. Slow to arouse when threatened, he has no interest in politics
or the outside world, being less an isolationist than a guy who figures the world has always gotten
through its problems without his help. When he fights, he's uncontrollable, independent, in the best
American spirit - a true anarchist who acknowledges nothing beyond his personal will. He won't follow
orders, but he earns the medals and assures victory by the virtue of some higher power. He's American:
invulnerable, bowing to nobody, not even his own governmental officials. They're a pack of well-meaning,
ineffectual clowns. It may be totally unconscious, but there's something more accurate about this
parody of the American Hero, than anything else I've seen.
ZOWIE is a secret espionage wing of the United Nations. It's a spy organization dedicated to
fighting renegade crime and terror, where a select group of international representatives put through
their votes. Yet the whole shebang appears to exist at the pleasure of the President of the United States.
Like the paranoid Howard Hughes, this LBJ sound-alike can interrupt at any time to reveal he's been
listening in, and veto or redirect decisions. This United Nations is the kind of rubberstamp
organization that America wanted from the start.
But the Galaxy threat is real, so Flint goes into battle. Naturally, his only espionage foes are a
female, who he screws into submission (pardon), and an effite snob with delusions of grandeur, who he
knees in the groin to prove who's got the bigger ... billing. With the official opposition brushed aside
(these cornballs defeated team after team of agents?), Flint faces his real foes, a triumvirate
of mad scientists. Usually spies go up against Russians (old hat), criminals (been done) and renegade
maniacs (ho-hum). After taking their abuse for 50 minutes, Flint is about to
ring down the curtain on Galaxy Island with a Captain Willard-style airstrike, when he finds out his
four babes have been kidnapped. As Popeye would say, that's all Flint can stand and he cants stand
no more. He personally penetrates the villains' lair and takes it apart like a cheap watch.
Like Teddy with his big stick, once America starts fighting, look out. Flint decides to do the job of the
Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps on his own, and shows no mercy. He's a dirty fighter, snapping
necks left and right, and kicking two kung fu opponents off the high crane instead of letting them
withdraw. The hissably venal Malcom Rodney (who conveniently represents the class snobbery we Yanks
rejected at Concord and Lexington) puts up a good fight, and indeed strikes the blow that causes Galaxy Island to ignite. But while Rodney plays dictator from a self-destructing control room, it's Flint who remains the man
Our Man Flint creates an entire alternate future for Flint to defeat, a utopian technological
dictatorship. He walks through the 'pleasure valley', with its dozens of bikini'd bimboes and
pleasure-faire performers, with the smug arrogance of a Yankee tourist trying to decide whether to
buy it - or bomb it. Then, chimes ring, and the sex-worshipping pagans
march like sedated robots back to their jobs, echoing images burned into the collective subconscious from
Metropolis (back to work, proles) and
The Time Machine (suppertime, Eloi). Culled from the herd by the sharp eye of an Anti-American Eagle - the one foe, pointedly, who gives Flint pause - Derek
Flint is given the hard sell by the three scientist-dictators, who see themselves as benefactors forced
to use harsh methods to impose their philosophy on a 'decadent, uncomprehending world'. They're eggheads
and foreigners, even though the Nazi and the Chinese have their name cards confused. They've found a
way to turn the world into a peaceful utopia by means of a drill to the center of the Earth that can
control the weather, and thereby end strife by making the planet 'a Garden of Eden' where agriculture
will feed the masses and make aggression obsolete. (Getting all this down?) They claim to seek no Master
Race, but wish to turn their marvels over to the world as soon as all those intolerably warlike nations
have been disarmed, most notably, of course, the United States.
So what's Galaxy's downside, beyond the totalitarian dictatorship business that will feed, clothe and
medicate everyone, eliminate petty nations, and dedicate the world to scientific progress and harmony?
It's also a Hugh Hefner wet dream, the culmination of the infantile sex fantasies that Playboy
and SuperSpy movies exploited. Woody Allen knew this was at the heart of the craze, when his diminutive
Little Jimmy Bond dedicated his conspiracy in
Casino Royale to 'a better world where every guy
has a chance to score with a top broad'. Our Man Flint is able to have its sexism and shun it too,
by showing that Galaxy considers women to be just 'pleasure units' with zaftig figures and sexual
appetites apparently enhanced through drugs, perhaps the femme equivalent of the little red pre-viagra
pills that come in the Exotica cold cream jars. Here's the ultimate nerd fantasy. All of the Galaxy
'citizens' look like working-class stiffs, with pot bellies and balding hair. Insteading of doping them
with religion, Galaxy gives them sex. Who needs Playboy when you have starlet #645 or whatever
awaiting you at the end of the shift? That guy on the torture clock in Metropolis would have some
real motivation to keep working, if Rotwang had worked for Galaxy.
But Galaxy dares to oppose the U.S., so it has to go. No arrests, no trials, we're talking
expunged. Showing the proper fate of any enemy of America, Galaxy Island is literally emulsified when
the big drill is toppled. Although he hypocritically loves the delights of the after-workshift 'reward
room', and like any good American, stashes that new sex pill away for later use, Flint rejects the
scientists' pleas for understanding - with the simple arrogant statement that it's their idea of
perfection, and not his. 2 The scientists actually surrender, but you can't deal with these kinds of people - Malcom Rodney actually starts the island blowing up, a gift to Flint, should he ever go under a lie detector to answer to why he destroyed technology that could revolutionize the world.
In the brutally casual ending, Cramden, the
Navy, Flint and his rescued harem laugh like children and party-on as Galaxy island and its hundreds or
thousands of citizens are blown sky high. Galaxy Island sinks like Atlantis into the North Atlantic, or
Mediterranean, or wherever. We're reminded of the pitiless, 'Let this be a lesson to all those who oppose
us' mantra of the righteous, as coined in Godard's
Alphaville, another 1965 dictatorship
defeated by a Secret Agent. I can't help thinking that that's the image of America, a military bridge with
booze and broads, cheering as the 'others', whoever they may be, go down in flames.
The very last image in the film shows the escape of the Anti-American Eagle. It rises from the flames
like a Phoenix. Originally, we all took him as a simple joke. Now the Eagle plays like an omen, a
spirit that's never going to be defeated by brute force. Derek Flint has single-handedy restored
the status quo, but there'll be another day.
Various and sundry asides and observations about
Our Man Flint:
Saul David produced seven pictures, five of which were big hits. I first saw Flint on a double bil with his
Von Ryan's Express, a superior thriller. The utopia of David's later Logan's Run has a
lot in common with Flint, as if this is what might have been had Galaxy not been expunged. The
Sandman costumes look a lot like recyled Galaxy jumpsuits. Mr. David appears to have been a big Jazz fan.
Writer Hal Fimberg was a joke man who started with lowercase comedies in the forties. I was once told by
Greg Jein that Flint was adapted from a script lying around Fox about the adventures of a Peter
Gunn -style private eye, that was expanded into this spy spoof. He was possibly pulling my leg.
The back cover of the pocketbook novelization showed a still of Gila Golan in bed with Derek Flint,
that conjured up exciting ideas of a sexier 'continental' version of the film. As covered in an article
on cuts made to
What's New Pussycat?, many of these
promo fakes to hype the movie in venues like Playboy. Yet, there is one suspicious cut in the
film, just when Flint and three of his girls enter the 'drive-in movie' sex fantasy room. The score
changes abruptly, and Flint is suddenly alone when he frees his last playmate from a necking session in
a late-model Triumph roadster. It was probably some dialogue deemed unnecessary, or maybe a pan across
a bunch of necking couples in the autos was jettisoned, but whatever the deletion, it happened after
the film was mixed and the negative cut.
Roy Jenson plays Cramden's murdered guard Gridley, and his Galaxy double who Flint guns down with his own
M-16. Jenson became ubiquitous later on, showing up as an admiral in Milius
The Wind and the Lion and
as John Huston's henchman in Chinatown. His brother, George Jenson, is a talented art director
who Savant worked with on
1941. Never met Roy, though.
In bits elsewhere in the film are supposed to be James Brolin, who I think I've spotted as a Galaxy
worker, and Tura Satana, who, if someone can point her out, I haven't found yet. Maybe she's in
the opening titles?
Speaking of those titles, I think I knew I was heterosexual at age 13 when watching the naked dancing go-go
girls in the solarized main titles. I already talked about the censor-proof effects of stylization that
titles like this exploited - the ones in Flint are pretty explicit. The new disc makes them sparkle.
Our Man Flint is a comedy spoof that seems to have benefitted from the freedom of the haste with
which it was made. Some designer, while 'typing' Flint's four girlfriends, made one of them into
a parody of Doris Day, complete with stiff blonde wig and an everpresent ("Please don't eat the")
Daisy in her hair.
The destruction scenes are fairly spectacular, even for a James Bond movie, and the oft-seen El Segundo
Sewage Treatment Plant, then brand-new, was probably the site for much of the 'industrial' interior of
Galaxy Island. One fun flub can be seen when the stuntmen and women and the principles jam into elevators
(identically to Metropolis) to flee the explosions. On an escalator, a huge fake rock falls from
above and bounces harmlessly off Gila Golan's head. This perhaps explains her later decision to take a
role in The Valley of Gwangi.
The actual go-go dancing music heard in the Reward Room isn't available on any soundtrack but the original vinyl
lp. This is probably because Goldsmith shares a composer credit on it with Randy Newman.
Flint is attacked by 'Hans Gruber, Hitler Youth Movement, escaped during the Nuremburg Trials', in
a Marseilles lavatory. The name Hans Gruber was used again in Die Hard, for the terrorist
kingpin who isn't a terrorist. This leads me to believe that the name was cleared through legal
against any possible lawsuits, and then used again in the same studio's McTiernan thriller, for the same
reason. In 1978, Columbia legal issued a pre-shooting change to 1941, saying that the name
Wild Bill Kelso had been traced to a WW2 flier who might be offended. The edict was ignored.
Howard Lydecker of Republic serial fame was in charge of miniatures, especially the generic volcanic island
set that looks so wonderfully fake (out-doing Mothra) while being cool at the same time. The
variety of explosions that blow it up (including some nice double exposures from L.B. Abbott) are
sensational, considering how cheap the film probably was.
Savant thinks that the things he likes about Our Man Flint are probably happy accidents, especially
considering its dismal sequel
In Like Flint.
Raymond Durgnat's chapter The Wedding of Poetry and Pulp, in his book Films and Feelings, is
almost the only serious criticism I've read on Our Man Flint, and it's only a reference. He
equates it with a frequent theme in fantasies, where 'higher' civilizations are also barbaric
and savage. It seemed like a mistake then, but rings like a bell now. Robert Aldrich and A.I. Bezzerides
linked the concepts beautifully in
Kiss Me Deadly, hinting through classical
illusions that atomic power had returned civilization to a primitive battleground for elemental forces.
The main feature in a Fox DVD package of SuperSpy flicks timed and promoted to coincide with the new
Austin Powers movie, Our Man Flint is an excellent 16:9 transfer that restores the picture to
its new, color-by-DeLuxe lustre. Compared to the old, pricey laserdisc ($60, folks), this looks
fantastic. The very healthy audio track is mono, which is a disappointment but seems to prove that
stereo tracks don't exist for the film.
There are trailers for the other three attractions in Fox's spy promotion, but no other extras that
might let anybody know they're watching something more signifcant than a 'silly spy film.' The big
nod to Austin Powers results in the movie's very cool original art being replaced by silly
flower-power visuals more suitable for Laugh-In. Our Man Flint had a title logo as
distinctive as 007's gun graphics, but it's gone now. The Fox marketers managed to be fairly
reverential to their Fly movies and even Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but Flint
has fallen casualty to revisionism. Frankly, Mike Myers fans will more likely than not think these
pictures are a big bore - the hyped, mod-rocker Carnaby Street gaudiness of Austin Powers
doesn't quite have a specific source movie, and certainly not the Flint films.
There's no complaint in regard to the low, low, purchase price, though. Our Man Flint is
a key Savant guilty pleasure.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Our Man Flint rates:
Packaging: Gaudy red-orange keep case
Reviewed: July 1, 2002
1. This analogy provided by Pauline Kael in her 1967 review of In
2. That non-sequitir is the equal of Rex Reason's zinger in This Island
Earth, when he stands up for puny Earthlings by gallantly burping out the "huh?" statement, "Our size is
only limited by the size of our God."
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson