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1966's hit superspy movie Our Man Flint was a hard act to follow, as producer Saul David discovered with his quickie sequel In Like Flint. The original film is an overachieving James Bond spoof that creates its own cartoonish-mythical world in which America's 'perfect' male hero overcomes a science-fiction conspiracy to take over the world. In We kids rushed back to the theater for the follow-up, only to discover that In Like Flint hasn't got much going for it beyond its snickering title and a terrific Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack. If the first picture was a happy accident where a lot of random ideas happened to coalesce, this follow-up looks like too many gagmen with way too many stale joke ideas got into the act. James Coburn enlivens the damp proceedings, but even when new, audiences realized that something essential was missing.
The story diminishes Flint's exaggerated world to the level of a TV sitcom. A trio of fashionable feminists is helping a group of Army conspirators to overthrow the government, not realizing that their male comrades will betray them at the first opportunity. From a Virgin Island spa called Fabulous Face, they dispatch a lookalike to impersonate the President (Andrew Duggan) and discredit Z.O.W.I.E. security chief Lloyd Cramden (Lee J. Cobb) with compromising photographs. Derek Flint (James Coburn) is busy talking to dolphins and performing ballet in Russia with duplicitous ballerina Natasha (Yvonne Craig), but he eventually detours to Fabulous Face to straighten things out. Cramden's already a prisoner there, having foolishly tried to crash the place while disguised as a woman.
If this is Austin Powers' favorite movie, it must be because of the old dirty joke in the title. 1 The jokes date back to the 40s, the decade when In Like Flint's writer Hal Fimberg wrote scripts like The Boogie Man will Get You and Abbott and Costello In Society. The first Flint film made its hero an outrageous fantasy SuperSpy that out-Bonded James Bond. The derivative Flint really doesn't have much going for him as a character in his own right, so continuing his adventures would have required a stroke of conceptual genius. Instead, Flint is dulled down to a rather generic spy hero and comedy foil. He's now much more friendly with his 'old pal' Cramden, and he lowers himself to the level of ordinary discussions with ordinary humans ... in other words, he's pretty dull. James Coburn had a great time faking his way through the first movie, somehow coming through as 1965-66's coolest cat in Hollywood. The sequel's Flint might as well be played by Dick Van Dyke.
Fox doesn't seem to have understood the idea of a recurring franchise until their next year's Planet of the Apes. Although In Like Flint is more expensive, with more special effects and some attractive location work, the movie is shortchanged for action and thrills. Flint is barely around for the first half, ceding center stage to the clowning of actor Lee J. Cobb. Worse, the action scenes don't have much pep or point, and are instead played for silly laughs. Despite his graceful movements, Coburn wasn't exactly coordinated or athletic; the first film was a triumph of second-unit action direction. For this show a not-very-good double doubles him in the fancy stuff.
Our Man had direction, pace, and a sense of grandeur. In Like's story meanders about, spending lots of time away from Flint. Perhaps giving Lee J. Cobb more to do was a condition for his return? When Cramden goes in drag as a disguise, the show stoops to the Jerry Lewis level without getting any laughs. The Russian episode with Coburn prancing about in a ballet costume, and his Fidel impersonation in an airliner full of chickens, are more pointless tangents. In contrast to the first film's dynamic opening, the sequel begins with a gauzy pre-title montage of nudes in a spa, and a tour of the Virgin Island resort. Pretty, but not exactly a SuperSpy opening. The presence of actress Yvonne Craig reminds us that in 1967, Fox was riding high on Batman mania, and had decided that low camp was the order of the day for everything spoofy.
The story pitch about a trio of ladies with teapots as nefarious villains might have been a laugh riot in the producer's office, but the jokes are so thin and the satire so non-existent, that it just turns into more wasted time. The great actress Anna Lee is as dependable as always, but the writing gives her nothing to work with. These supposed female rulers of the world are subverting civilization by brainwashing housewives with hair dryers -- they'll no longer be content to stay home and work in the kitchen. It's perhaps the most wrong-headed and clumsiest "satirical" film message of the 1960s. In her review, Pauline Kael mentioned seeing two versions of the film. In the second she reported that a few lines of dialogue had been dropped, in which Flint gently castigated the ladies for their misbegotten scheme. Instead, his first word - "Ladies..." was cut directly to his last two words: " ... Forget it!" The movie is a pretty painful example of feminism (or pre-feminism?) being subjected to ridicule. This time around Flint has only three live-in love slaves, down from four... he says he's cutting down.
Derek Flint was fun in the first movie because he was so consistently perfect. Nobody ever touched him; he was made of Teflon, like Tony Curtis' The Great Leslie. He was ahead of everyone else in the plot and everything he did was ultra-stylish. Merely escaping from Galaxy Island wouldn't do - Flint made a grand showoff dive from the summit of a volcano. In In Like Flint Derek is just an ordinary guy. He's barely a match for the guards in the industrial room with the conveyor belt. He's locked up, swatted on the head, and made to take an ordinary airliner with ordinary slob passengers. He does very little in the film's seemingly endless final act, leading a convoy of rubber boats full of bikini-clad starlets on a foolish burlesque invasion called Operation Smooch. The babes overcome the male soldiers with embarrassing ooh-la-la embraces, in a scene that would defeat the best efforts of any director. Accomplished actor Steve Ihnat looks very uncomfortable indeed. Flint then dons a space suit and attempts to hijack a space rocket, a feat that James Bond would try on for size a few months later in You Only Live Twice.
The bouncy, catchy Jerry Goldsmith music score is easily the best thing in the picture. Goldsmith does a great job gluing the lumpy parts of this show together, and in this context even a song with a title like Your ZOWIE Face seems entirely appropriate. In Like Flint may be grotesque, but it is an undeniable part of the 1960s. It hovers at about the same level of nostalgic discomfort as American-International's Beach Party movies: they're no good, but they're also too easy a target to get all huffy about. If Coburn's mugging brings back the same Frankie & Annette feelings for you, the quality of the film will be secondary. In the final analysis, Derek Flint has to be recorded as a one-shot Spy whose second outing didn't make the grade.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of In Like Flint is a beautiful widescreen rendition of Derek Flint's first filmic sequel... don't even ask about a botched TV incarnation from the 1970s. Colors are excellent, and only a few opticals and the title sequence betray a bit more granularity.
The extras are all repeats from a 2008 special edition supervised by Lee Pfeiffer. He and Eddy Friedfeld contribute a chatty commentary. Fox was into multiple featurettes at this time, which gives us pieces on Coburn, the film's designs, etc. The most interesting extra examines the fights between producer Saul David and Fox's Darryl Zanuck, which led to the dialogue cuts mentioned above. Considering the overall track record of Saul David (Logan's Run) and the utter vapidity of In Like's anti-feminist theme, Pfeiffer's defense of the producer's vision is laughable. The studio thought that the "important" speech cut before release was incoherent. I'm grateful to be able to read the actual text, but must agree that the deleted lines make little sense to me, either.
Twilight Time's Isolated Music Score extra is a big plus here ... it's fascinating to see and hear how deftly Jerry Goldsmith lightens the spirit of this basically witless spy picture. TT's liner note essay by Julie Kirgo has no choice but to nail the retrograde sexist attitudes, yet she points out the show's appealing aspects as well. In Like Flint is the absolute antithesis of James Coburn's The President's Analyst, released the same year. With Coburn playing more or less in the same spoofy key, Theodore J. Flicker's scattershot satire of the spy-crazy & politically fragmented '60s is still breathtakingly intelligent and prophetic.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
In Like Flint Blu-ray rates:
1. For those not familiar with 1940s sex innuendo, the saying, "In Like Flynn" means you're doing just fine with the opposite sex, as would Errol Flynn, eminent ladykiller.
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T'was Ever Thus.