Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Man Called Flint

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the two Derek Flint movies starring James Coburn. These 1960s spy spoofs are great fun to watch, with gadgets, fights, beautiful women and the incomparable Mr. Flint saving the world without batting an eye or ever losing his cool.

While I enjoyed both movies, I have to give the edge to the first one, “Our Man Flint” (1966). In this one, we are introduced to agent Derek Flint of the Z.O.W.I.E. organization, who works alone, disdains authority and doesn’t follow orders. But Flint is the one man who can destroy the Galaxy organization (bigger than SPECTRE), which is bent on conquering the world by controlling the weather.

Flint is a lighthearted rebuke to James Bond. After all, we see Flint easily best Agent 0008 in a bar fight. And when boss Lee J. Cobb tries to arm Flint with special equipment, like a trick briefcase, he dismisses them, saying they are toys and he doesn’t need them.

He lives in a posh loft apartment with four women who cater to his every need. Are they mistresses? Girlfriends? Servants? We’re not sure, but there’s apparently no jealousy among them and when he takes them all out to dinner, he makes sure he dances with each one. This is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, because Jerry Goldsmith’s infectious Flint theme gets treated to variety of styles (depending on what dance Flint and his ladies are dancing to at that time).

Flint’s ladies are kidnapped by Galaxy and bought to an island for re-programming into pleasure units. Flint infiltrates the island to stop Galaxy and rescue his ladies. Another new woman, an agent for Galaxy, Gila (Gila Golan) seduces Flint but soon switches to his side.

It’s all hugely enjoyable and not meant to be taken seriously. The sets and costumes are 1960s garish (in the best sense) and you can see how the Flint movies were huge inspirations for the Austin Powers movies.

The film was successful enough to warrant a sequel, “In Like Flint” (1967). In this one, a group of women attempt to rule the world by kidnapping the president and replacing him with an imposter. They have the help of some army officers, but the male villains have their own agenda…

The four ladies from the first one are gone (Flint says they all married, and I bet he was invited to all the weddings) and are replaced by three new women. (Flint tells his boss he is trying to cut back). Flint has learned new tricks, including learning to communicate with dolphins. And you can bet that is going to come in handy in the course of the movie.

The pacing in the second one is more slack, and the climax is a ridiculous one, with Flint blasting off into outer space to foil the plot. Secret agents and space do not mix. Never have and never will It’s too bad the Bond producers didn’t remember this when they made “Moonraker” (1979), arguably the nadir of the series.

Fox recently issued the two Flint films in a deluxe set, with about nine featurettes, examining different aspects of the series, from Coburn to 1960s spy movies, set design and musical scores (the two Goldsmith scores are great, by the way).

One of the featurettes does a nice job of explaining Coburn’s appeal and how there is no one like him today. How true. One of the experts says if James Coburn, Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson turned up in Hollywood today they would not be let through the front gates. Yet they were among the biggest stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Individuality is what makes great stars, not cookie cutter looks and mannerisms.

The Flint films are great fun, and remain supremely enjoyable time capsules of 1960s entertainment.

Rating for “Our Man Flint”: Three and a half stars.

Rating for “In Like Flint”: Two and a half stars.

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