Consider this a counterpoint to DVD Savant's rave review. The first of two Derek Flint spy pictures starring James Coburn, Our Man Flint is a James Bond imitator that I liked a lot as a child but as an adult I invariably find disappointing. Every time it and its sequel, In Like Flint (1967) are released to a new home video format - VHS, laser disc, DVD, Blu-ray - I watch them again hoping against hope I'll change my mind. And yet while then as now I quite enjoy Coburn's fully committed, confident performance, the movies themselves seem worse with every viewing. This time, watching as Flint finally infiltrates the villains' secret island lair, I was relieved that after being bored silly the movie finally was nearly over, only to realize it still had nearly 45 minutes yet to go.
The Bond series spurred probably close to a hundred imitators worldwide between 1965-69, almost all of which were quite terrible, though a handful are fun for other reasons. Only the Michael Caine-Harry Palmer films (The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain) are genuinely good (well, at least the first two are, and the third is amusing). Columbia's Dean Martin-Matt Helm are significantly worse overall than the Flints but somehow less disappointing, as one walked into a Matt Helm with low expectations while for the Flint films the bar was much higher. Yet save for Coburn's performance and Jerry Goldsmith's score, Our Man Flint is pretty bad, too, one of those movies a lot of people seem to like but when pressed can't quite explain why.
A Twilight Time release licensed from 20th Century-Fox, the Blu-ray of Our Man Flint improves upon the earlier DVD but it doesn't "pop" like other Fox-CinemaScope titles of that same era. (A few days earlier I looked at a terrific German Blu-ray release of 1964's Move Over, Darling, also from Fox. Our Man Flint pales by comparison.) The Blu-ray is packed with lots of extra features, however, including an isolated track of Goldsmith's score.
When a mysterious organization called Galaxy unleashes global man-made climate change threatening the world's coastal cities, at Z.O.W.I.E. (the Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage), the computer-driven consensus is there is but one man who can stop them: Derek Flint (James Coburn), a dashing, athletic genius who lives like Hugh Hefner with four luscious beauties (Shelby Grant, Sigrid Valdis, Gianna Serra, and Helen Funai) at his beck and call. The head of Z.O.W.I.E., Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), opposes pressing the irresponsible Flint into service, but defers to the wishes of (an unseen) President Lyndon Johnson (voiced by Van Williams). Clues lead him to Marseilles (played, like the rest of the film, by stock footage and the Fox backlot) where he becomes involved with the mysterious Gila (Gila Golan) and eventually locates the volcanic island where three scientists (Benson Fong, Rhys Williams, and Peter Brocco) plot to destroy the world in order to save it.
One thing I always found perplexing about the spy movies made in the wake of 007's gargantuan success is that practically no one seems to have actually studied those films - Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964) and, a bit later, Thunderball (1965) - to see what makes them tick. For instance, a major reason for their success is editor (and later director) Peter Hunt's brassy, revolutionary cutting of action sequences. Movies had never been edited that way before, and Hunt brought to them a visceral, immediate, and starkly and stylized violent excitement still felt in action movies today. But Our Man Flint is shot and cut together in the most tedious way imaginable. Ninety-percent of the film is consists of longish takes of static medium-wide shots, almost always from the same bland, table-high angles. There's a half-hearted attempt to make a couple of the one-on-one flights resemble the Bond films, but these are feeble attempts more on the level of Get Smart!, not Goldfinger.
Where the Bond films were made by success-hungry American producers working out of Britain, far from Hollywood, Our Man Flint plays very much the tired Big Studio System factory production, specifically a big Hollywood studio in dire shape, as 20th Century-Fox indeed was in 1965, the company all but bankrupted by cost overruns on Cleopatra (1963). Where the early Bond films are innovative in just about every way, Our Man Flint is a jumble of obvious stock footage and second-hand sets and props in desperate search of a hit. It's easy to see how audiences at the time might have embraced its would-be subversive hipness, its gadgets and garish set design, the beautiful women if not their cardboard characterizations, but today it all plays painfully dated, a lot closer to the car wreck that was Casino Royale (1967) than any of the Connery Bonds.
Its defenders will argue Our Man Flint is a spoof, that its excesses and absurdities are meant to be funny, but I don't think that's quite what its filmmakers had in mind. Like virtually all the Bond imitators, Our Man Flint's attitude, which its screenwriter pretty much admits to in one of the featurettes, is an unimaginative strategy of one-upmanship. If Bond bed three beauties in his last picture then, by golly, it's a baker's dozen for Flint. Where in Goldfinger Bond drove an Aston Martin decked out with machine guns and an ejector seat, Flint sports a lighter with 82 separate functions, "83, if you want to light a cigar." Where Bond is a connoisseur of fine wine, Flint seems to be an expert about absolutely everything: "You travelled all the way to Moscow to watch a ballet?!" "No," Flint flatly replies, "to teach."
The film does audaciously and directly poke fun at 007, with Flint encountering an agent 0008 (Robert Gunner, later Landon in Planet of the Apes) who bears an uncanny and very clearly specific resemblance to Sean Connery. Flint asks him if SPECTRE is involved but 0008 replies that this is "too big even for them." Later a "0008" novel is glimpsed, its cover strongly resembling contemporaneous paperback editions of Fleming's novels.
Another featurette quotes Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum who contends, "You can't spoof something that's already a spoof." However, James Bond hadn't yet sunk to the depths of self-parody (Roger Moore came later). Rather, the films were still relatively faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming's novels with the significant addition of much sardonic humor largely absent from the books. The Bond movies, especially Goldfinger, were frequently drolly amusing, but Our Man Flint has all the subtlety and wit of Irwin Allen.
Adding to that is the film's great reliance of pre-existing sets components, props, and stock footage, the result of which is like a college campus apartment decorated with discarded furniture and other knickknacks picked off the curb. A lot of it seems culled from the movie and TV version of Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and possibly Lost in Space (conversely, a number of props and set pieces would turn up later on that show, such as the big speckled Plexiglas discs visible in one scene), while some props and sets also turn up in the concurrently-in-production Fantastic Voyage and Batman TV series. Stock footage, most identifiably from The Rains of Ranchipur (1955) is everywhere.
Our Man Flint is so utterly overcooked any suspension of disbelief is impossible, leaving the viewer to admire the sets, special effects, and Coburn's hard-to-dislike performance, full of cocky attitude. Elsewhere, Lee J. Cobb seems to be enjoying his atypically lightweight role, but Gila Golan is like a hole in the screen. Her career in films didn't last long.
DVD Savant, I feel, gives the movie a lot more credit than it deserves, labeling it a cartoonish parody of the American hero, where "with the smug arrogance of a Yankee tourist," Flint gleefully pummels the villains' not-so-crazy scheme to create a technological utopia through global disarmament. I wish it were that clever. Onscreen On Man Flint strikes me as merely ham-fisted and tacky.
One of the featurettes discusses Pauline Kael's scathing review of Our Man Flint, which Fox so took issue with she ended up getting fired from McCall's magazine, only to resurface later with more influential film criticism for The New Yorker. I've always intensely disliked Kael for reasons other than her writing ability, but I found myself siding with her completely. Curiously, the featurette's producers dismiss her charges that Fox was trying to buy good notices for In Like Flint by flying reviewers to the Virgin Islands. How quickly they forget Doctor Dolittle's Best Picture Oscar nomination.
Video & Audio
DVD Savant also marvels at the high-def transfer of Our Man Flint but I found it just okay, a visible improvement over the DVD, but hardly by leaps and bounds. Among the last credited CinemaScope releases, some of it may have to do with the lenses involved, or maybe like some other Fox titles, it was a victim of its own success and over-printed. The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio okay, and optional English SDH are available.
Nearly all the supplements are ported over from two different DVD releases. There's an audio commentary with film historians Lee Pfeiffer and Eddy Friedfeld; numerous if mostly lightweight featurettes putting the film into context (and endlessly comparing it to Austin Powers, presumably a tie-in to this once upon a time); storyboard sequences and a trailer (which I suspect is actually some kind of exhibitor's reel not shown to the general public). The most interesting extra is a screen test with Coburn and Raquel Welch. The studio ultimately thought Fantastic Voyage a better showcase for the young actress, but her performance is better than Gila Golan and so is her chemistry with Coburn (with whom she later did The Last of Sheila) one wonders how she might have affected the film's overall quality.
New to Blu-ray are an isolated score track and the usual well-researched Twilight Time booklet essay by Julie Kirgo.
Negative marks aside, on this one I say "You be the judge" and defer to majority opinion while standing by my own complaints. I've always wanted to like Our Man Flint through the years; maybe I just never caught it in the right frame of mind. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.