Release Date(s)1966 (January 15, 2013)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
Once Ian Fleming’s James Bond established his screen supremacy, Hollywood was in a race against time to capitalize on the so-called spy craze. Suddenly, secret agents were everywhere, from television (Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) to the silver screen (The Ipcress File, Dean Martin’s Matt Helm series). One of the most memorable of the spies who followed in Bond’s rather large footsteps was one Derek Flint, portrayed by James Coburn in two films beginning with 1966’s Our Man Flint. Twilight Time has recently brought Our Man Flint to Blu-ray (along with its sequel In Like Flint), and the bonus-packed edition reveals Derek Flint to be as suave as ever.
Though Our Man Flint has been described by many as a Bond spoof (including in the Variety review excerpted on the disc’s back cover), it’s actually more of a tongue-in-cheek homage. Unlike, say, Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart, James Coburn’s Derek Flint plays it straight. Coburn doesn’t look the part of a smooth super-spy, but he sure acts as if he does, underplaying the character through one insane situation after another. The screenplay by Hal Fimberg and Ben Starr finds the happily-retired Derek Flint coaxed into action by Lloyd Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), head of Z.O.W.I.E., the Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage. It seems that a group of clandestine scientists (Rhys Williams, Benson Fong, and Peter Brocco) have devised a scheme to control the world’s weather, and only Flint can save the day. Though Flint is an expert in martial arts, speaks multiple languages and owns enough gadgets to make 007 envious, he’s also rather willful. His relationship with Cobb’s delightfully frazzled Cramden is akin to that of Inspector Clouseau and Chief Inspector Dreyfus: fraught, to say the least. Needless to say, Flint accepts the assignment, and soon we’re propelled into a world of girls, gadgets and gizmos with the globetrotting spy.
The film directed by Daniel Mann (BUtterfield 8, Come Back, Little Sheba) strikes an odd tone. Though it has many of the easily-satirized trappings of the genre – Flint has a groovy, tricked-out bachelor pad in which his every whim is attended to by women of various international origins, just to name one example – Our Man Flint is more amusing than funny. Much of it is absurd, but Mann’s film never condescends to the comedy. It’s just taken for granted that Flint can solve a mystery simply by tasting a bouillabaisse, or has a lighter with 83 functions, one of which is actually lighting a cigar. The 108-minute film unfolds at a deliberate pace, with a great deal of action violence. Sometimes it’s cartoonish, as in the martial arts sequences; at other moments, it’s surprisingly realistic. Coburn’s assertive Flint remains calm, cool and collected as he’s placed in perilous situations in locales from Rome to Marseilles, and finally in a climactic showdown on a far-away island. The concluding sequence, though, in which Flint must save the day in the island’s power plant-esque setting, simply isn’t all that thrilling. It’s more successful as Flint encounters the brainwashed female “Pleasure Units” (think: Austin Powers’ Fembots) doing the frug in a disco. Doesn’t every villain’s lair have its own dance palace? There are other dryly kooky touches, like an attack from the “anti-American eagle,” a bird trained to spot Americans.
The sly Coburn is joined by a cast including the alluring Gila Golan as his breathy nemesis Gila, who works for the diabolical scientists of Galaxy. Edward Mulhare (the ghost in television’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) deliciously chews the scenery as one of Galaxy’s most diabolical figures, Malcolm Rodney. Dick Wilson, frequently the drunk on Bewitched and better known as Mr. Whipple, can be briefly spotted, as can Sigrid Valdis (Hogan’s Heroes) and even James Brolin. And don’t miss the uncredited appearance by agent 0008 (Robert Gunner) who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain Mr. Connery. Flint, naturally, asks 0008 if S.P.E.C.T.R.E., first introduced onscreen in Dr. No, is involved in Galaxy’s nefarious plot.
Of course, Twilight Time’s raison d’etre is to present classic film scores in isolated presentations on Blu-ray, and Jerry Goldsmith’s swinging-sixties music for Our Man Flint is perhaps its strongest asset. This is Goldsmith doing John Barry, of course, but with the composer’s own typically clever stylistic flourishes. (One cue even recalls Henry Mancini’s Clouseau theme for A Shot in the Dark.) On the whole, Goldsmith’s infectious music doesn’t elevate Our Man Flint in the way Burt Bacharach’s does the outlandish 1967 Bond satire Casino Royale, and indeed, there’s not one sequence here as memorable as that film’s scene set to “The Look of Love” with Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress. Goldsmith’s music is used sparingly, and there are a number of sequences during which you might wish for more of his cool, spirited, then-contemporary music. The brassy seduction cues, hip dance music, and bold action themes are heard in the film in solid DTS-HD Master Audio mono, and sound even better in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo on the isolated score track. English SDH subtitles have been included.
Video quality on Our Man Flint – a CinemaScope picture in 2:35:1 - is strong if not superlative. The movie’s bold, bright colors are rendered well, but don’t always burst from the screen in this new 1080p transfer. In addition, Flint was notoriously made on the cheap, employing quite a bit of stock footage; this, of course, hasn’t aged well at all.
Twilight Time has been exceedingly generous in its special features this time around, offering not just the isolated score track and an excellent commentary by Eddie Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer, but over 90 minutes of additional bonus material. There are numerous featurettes, most taken from the excellent 2006 Ultimate Flint Collection DVD box set, and they don’t disappoint. One of the most entertaining is Flint vs. Kael, recounting influential film critic Pauline Kael’s attack on the film. Not only did Kael call it a “wheezing, appallingly ugly comic-strip imitation of Bond,” but she insinuated that the producers’ press junket in Jamaica actually bought off the critics to file positive notices. The featurette reveals that the Our Man Flint incident contributed to her dismissal from McCall’s magazine, a firing usually attributed to her pan of another 20th Century Fox picture, The Sound of Music. Twilight Time has also included the original theatrical trailer, storyboard sequences, a couple of screen tests (including one with Raquel Welch opposite Coburn) and more featurettes focusing on director Daniel Mann, star Coburn, and the Flint series from various perspectives. Spy Style explores the movie’s production design as well as its huge influence on the Austin Powers films of the 1990s. (Mike Myers’ comedies apparently weren’t the only films influenced by Flint; one character here is named none other than Hans Gruber!) Spy-er-ama details Flint’s relationship to the Bond series. More than a few of these bonuses are presented in 1080p definition. Informative liner notes from Julie Kirgo are contained in the BD’s booklet.
More of a gentle ribbing of James Bond than an outright parody, Our Man Flint will likely prove to be a diverting couple of hours for any fan well-versed in that franchise. This limited edition of 3,000 units is one of Twilight Time’s finest releases yet. You just might be ready to scream, “Yeah, baby, yeah!” in the style of another of Mr. Flint’s admirers.
- Joe Marchese