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DVD SAVANT

Our Man Flint


Our Man Flint
Fox Home Entertainment
1965 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 108 min. / Street Date July 16, 2002 / $14.98
Starring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Gila Golan, Edward Mulhare, Benson Fong, Shelby Grant, Sigrid Valdis, Gianna Serra, Helen Funai, Michael St. Clair, Rhys Williams, Peter Brocco
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp
Second unit Director, and special action sequences 'Buzz' Henry
Art Direction Ed Graves, Jack Martin Smith
Film Editor William Reynolds
Original Music Jerry Goldsmith
Written by Hal Fimberg and Ben Starr from Hal Fimberg's story
Produced by Saul David
Directed by Daniel Mann

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.

Synopsis:

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 duplicitous 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 in control.

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 stills were 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:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Gaudy red-orange keep case
Reviewed: July 1, 2002


Footnotes:

1. This analogy provided by Pauline Kael in her 1967 review of In Like Flint.
Return

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."
Return




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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