Monday, September 22, 2014

James Coburn is Our Man Flint

It's somewhat of a backhanded compliment to call Our Man Flint the "best James Bond spoof." It is that, but it's also a very clever secret agent film in its own right. Unlike the broadly comedic Austin Powers films or Get Smart, Our Man Flint replicates the elements of a 007 outing and exaggerates them ever so slightly. Let's be honest, the majority of the Bond movies are far from serious dramas. So, it's impressive that Flint can negotiate that tight gap between James Bond and Austin Powers.

The film opens with a series of natural disasters that aren't natural at all--they are being caused by a weather-control device. A peace-loving organization called GALAXY claims responsibility and threatens more disasters if its demands are not met. When world leaders converge, they universally agree that there is only one man for the job: Derek Flint (James Coburn). This comes as bad news to Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), the head of the Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage (Z.O.W.I.E.), who dislikes Flint for his refusal to follow orders.

Cramden on the Z.O.W.I.E. phone.
Thus, Cramden initially relieved when Flint refuses to help. However, when a curvaceous enemy operative tries to assassinate Flint, the super secret agent accepts the mission. He has one stipulation, though: He works alone.

Much of the film's humor derives from Flint's mastery of...well... everything. He can fence with two opponents simultaneously. He practices martial arts one on five. He dances with the Russian ballet. He can trace bouillabaisse on scent alone to the only restaurant in the world with that unique recipe. And he lives with four women that attend to his every need (e.g., shaving him, picking out his clothes, managing his business affairs, etc.). At one point, a frustrated Cramden explains: "Damn it, man, is there anything you don't know?"

Based on his earlier performances in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), and Charade (1963), I never would have cast James Coburn as a suave secret agent. That's one of the many reasons I'm not a casting agent. Although Coburn was fine in those aforementioned films, he didn't seem like star material. Yet, Our Man Flint capitalizes on the "Coburn cool" and the actor dominates the screen physically and with his laid-back personality. Coburn also looks impressive in the fight scenes and that's not surprising since he learned martial arts from Bruce Lee.

An impressive Coburn kick!
Gila Golan.
The only other actors with significant roles are Lee J. Cobb as Cramden and Gila Golan as a GALAXY agent. Cobb, a very fine actor, gives an exaggerated performance as Cramden and, for the most  part, it's an effective contrast to Coburn. Golan, an attractive actress with an inexplicably short resume, creates a worthy adversary for Flint. (Of course, it's inevitable that she will succumb to his charm.)

The homages to the James Bond films are both obvious and subtle. There's a quick reference to SPECTRE and the availability of 0008. In lieu of Bond's attache case or gimmicky Aston Martin, Flint only has a lighter--however, it has "82 different functions--83 if you wish to light a cigar." Composer Jerry Goldsmith contributes an excellent title theme which is cleverly employed throughout the film.

Flint with two of his ladies.
I suppose there are some viewers who may bristle at the film's sexist attitude. Yes, Flint essentially has a harem and refers its occupants as his "girls." Also, some of the women on Galaxy Island--especially the feisty ones--are reprogrammed as "pleasure units." However, these elements are exaggerated to the extent that Our Man Flint film becomes a satire of the more offending sexist films of the 1960s (to include the Bond pictures).

One can also gripe that Flint loses steam in the last half-hour after the hero reaches Galaxy Island and the villains are revealed as misguided peace lovers. It's interesting to note the similarities in the climaxes between Our Man Flint and the later 007 entry You Only Live Twice (1967).

Our Man Flint was a resounding success with moviegoers and critics. A sequel, In Like Flint, followed in 1967 with Coburn and Cobb reprising their roles. It's sillier, but still very entertaining with another memorable Goldsmith theme. According to some sources, there were discussions about a third film to be called F for Flint (which became an alternate title for In Like Flint). I suspect that Coburn had no interest in being typecast and that nixed future theatrical installments. In 1976, ABC tried to a launch a TV series with the telefilm Our Man Flint: Dead on Target. It transformed Derek Flint into a private eye and featured a miscast Ray Danton in the title role.

Lastly, here are two famous bits of Our Man Flint trivia--you know, in case these topics pop up during a trivia tournament. The names of Flint's female companions are: Sakito, Gina, Anna, and Leslie. Flint's personal code book is based on a mathematical progression of 40-26-36.

5 comments:

  1. In re Gila Golan:

    I understand that she left the active rolls when she married Matthew Rosenhaus; whom showbiz buffs would know in one of three ways:

    - He was the CEO of the J.B. Williams Company, which used to be Pharmaceuticals Inc., makers of Geritol, Sominex, Serutan, et al.
    In the movie QUIZ SHOW, Martin Scorsese's character is a composite of Matty Rosenhaus and another exec at Pharmaceuticals Inc.

    - In that last capacity, Rosenhaus was the principal underwriter of Lawrence Welk's post-ABC syndication run (Welk paid tribute to him in one of his books, which is where I learned of his marriage to Ms. Golan).

    - Perhaps most significantly, Rosenhaus, as a principal shareholder in what was then Columbia Pictures Industries, stopped the firing of David Begelman when that check-kiting business blew up.
    While the whole thing was being litigated, Matty Rosenhaus died suddenly, which led to the Welk eulogy cited above, as well as leaving Gila Golan a very wealthy widow.

    Anyway, that's probably why Gila Golan's career was as short as it was.
    Just thought you'd like to know ...

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  2. Coburn's starring career was probably shortened by too many toothy con men, overshadowing his work in Duck You Sucker, and Peckinpah's Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, and Cross of Iron.

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  3. I love the Flint movies! Particularly Our Man Flint. Grew up with Flint, and my family quotes it all the time. If my mom ever joins the 21st century and gets a cell phone, she's always said she wants the red presidential phone's ring as her ringtone. I listen to Goldsmith's music for these two movies regularly. Never gets old.

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    1. I think I'd like your Mom. And yes, the Flint scores are both excellent.

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  4. The Flint films are both a lot of fun and James Coburn is fantastic in them. What a fun post, Rick!

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