Our Man Flint (1966)

*. I mentioned in my notes on The Ipcress File how there were two general responses to Bondmania: trying to do more realistic spy stories (less girls and gadgets), or upping the ante into parody (more girls and gadgets). These two tendencies would see Bond, in the first instance, replaced by George Smiley and Harry Palmer, and later Jason Bourne, as in parody he would be replaced by Derek Flint, Matt Helm, and later Austin Powers and Johnny English.
*. One way of distinguishing the two responses is by their reference to psychedelia. Bond, at least the movie Bond, was very much a creature of the ’60s and swinging London, but there’s little psychedelic imagery, fashion, or music in the movies. The same goes for the realistic spy flicks, where the Cold War landscape makes everywhere look like some place behind the Iron Curtain. Hell, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was even shot in black-and-white. It doesn’t get any colder or more depressing than that.
*. The Flint movies, however, are a day-glo-a-go-go. We get Flint’s jazzy lair with its decadent art and furnishings, a bevy of girls in crazy outfits, and an almost obligatory hypnosis scene presented as a kind of psychedelic trip. It’s groovy, man.
*. This is what, as much as anything else, tells you we’re in parody country. On the DVD commentary by film historians Eddie Friedfeld and Lee Pfeiffer they call Our Man Flint “less of a parody and more of an homage,” but this is hard to credit. I mean, the anti-spy organization is Z.O.W.I.E., which they could only get by cramming together, incoherently, Zone Organization World Intelligence Espionage.
*. There were a slew of Bond derivatives coming out during these years and I’d rank Our Man Flint as one of the better ones. Meaning there were many, many worse offerings. Even more than fifty years later it’s still perfectly watchable. But compared to the Bond films it is second-rate in every department. This despite the fact that its budget at $3.5 million was comparable to the budget for Goldfinger (1964). The early Bond films, it’s easy to forget, were done on the cheap. Only with Thunderball (1965) did their budgets start to take off. And by then Bond was the biggest show in moviedom.
*. When I say second-rate I mean that the set design is marvelous, but not quite what Ken Adam achieved. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is very good, but doesn’t hit any of John Barry’s iconic notes. There is no theme song or bravura title sequence to set the tone. The Flint Girl (Gila Golan) is very pretty, and looks great in a bikini, but Raquel Welch had been originally slated for the part and it’s hard not to feel that something was missed there. Coburn is distractingly svelte in the first role he would receive top billing for, but he’s no Sean Connery when it comes to charm or physical presence.
*. Was this the first villain’s lair to be located in a volcano? You Only Live Twice would be the next year. By the time The Simpsons got around to their Bond parody episode it could be taken as a cliché.
*. Though this is mainly an entertaining bit of period fluff there were a couple of points that I thought interesting enough to dilate on.
*. In the first place there are the villains. In this case plural, since it’s a triumvirate of scientists who are creating all sorts of climactic catastrophes by way of their never-even-partially-explained weather-control technology. It’s Geostorm long before the days of CGI. But what is it these nerds in lab coats want? Money? Power? Women? None of the above. No, they want to make a better world for everyone. They want to “organize the potential of all mankind” for good, putting an end to war, hunger, and poverty.
*. Our man Flint, however, is having none of it. The commentary has something I found very interesting to say about this, seeing how Flint’s rejection of this altruistic mission expresses: “the underlying theme of the movie . . . the rugged individualist versus the scientific collective . . . and that was what Coburn was most proud of . . . the idea that he could play, that he could represent the American spirit, the idea that you could constantly learn and strive and be your own person, and that’s how you kept progressing rather than a group of scientists who decided that this is what’s good for you.”
*. Well, I’m sure it would be wise not to trust this bunch of scientists. After all, those who won’t submit to their Utopian schemes are either sent off for reconditioning or, if unreclaimable, to the electrofragmentizer. But there’s also an air of the populist rejection of elites and anti-intellectualism embodied in Flint as well, for all his own ostentatious culture and learning.
*. The do-gooder villains are a twist to the usual Bond-style plot. The treatment of women is far more conventional, for the time, and is the other point I found interesting. What does it signify that the Bond villains, as here, collect so many beautiful women but seem to have no use for them? They are merely trophies, or perhaps baubles brainwashed, as here, into serving as pleasure units in a Westworld-style bordello that the conspiracy’s mooks have to take a kind of Viagra before they can enjoy. Meanwhile, our hero (Bond or Flint) is more than man enough to service an entire army of women, to the point where, as the Austin Powers movies recognized, his mojo becomes a kind of magic power.
*. I also wonder, building on this, where fembots — brainwashed or robotic perfect women — first came from. I’m sure someone has done a study of it. Ira Levin’s novel The Stepford Wives was published in 1972. The episode of Star Trek “Mudd’s Women,” which had the Lothario Mudd attended by a small army of sexy droids, aired in October 1966, making it nearly contemporary with this film. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine had come out just a year before. It’s obviously a male fantasy of long standing, but the use of hypnosis or robotics to program the perfect female had to wait for those technologies to fully enter the cultural mainstream before we could have stories like this. And was something else at work? Was it all a response to second-wave feminism? The timing can’t have been a coincidence.
*. It finally does seem to me to be a movie that, unlike Coburn’s impressive planking technique, falls between two stools. It’s not a thrilling action movie or a funny comedy. With regard to the latter I think it’s clear that director Daniel Mann had no sense of comic timing and probably wasn’t the right guy for the job. But the production is nicely turned out and if you’re interested in what was happening in the genre of spy pictures in the ’60s, which was their big decade, then it’s essential viewing.

11 thoughts on “Our Man Flint (1966)

    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, it’s nicely turned out but like a lot of Bondmania stuff it just never found the right balance between slapstick and adventure. Still better than most of its peers.

      Reply
  1. fragglerocking

    I saw this back in the day but was too young for critique, I just had a thing for James Coburn. Interesting thoughts on the fem-bots and their origins, but it’s still going strong if you consider Ex Machina for instance.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Imagining the creation of a perfect woman does seem to be an eternal male quest. I guess it goes back to the myth of Pygmalion. And sex dolls are apparently a big industry. Odd that this genre of film would be so obsessed with them though. Or if not odd then at least something I find interesting.

      Reply
  2. Tom Moody

    Dr. Wu, played by Peter Brocco, and Dr. Schneider, played by Benson Fong, was an amusing bit of post-racial absurdity.
    You make an interesting suggestion that they might be forerunners of Klaus Schwab, The World Economic Forum, and the transhumanist dream of a techno-mediated global society. Thus Flint is a forerunner of today’s libertarians and readers of the website Zero Hedge, who recognize the Davos scoundrels for what they are. One could take it a step further and note that climate (and biological) crises are the planned (or exploited) catalysts for world unification under enlightened scientific (or corporate) rule, making Our Man Flint quite prescient (or presciently crackpot, depending on what one thinks of Schwab’s plans).

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      I have to admit, libertarian politics confuses me most of the time. I always figure it has an agenda it’s not being honest about. Oddly enough, just this week I finished writing up notes on the Body Snatchers movies and they have something of the same muddled message about anxiety over a takeover by forces that can be identified in weirdly opposite ways.

      Reply
  3. Tom Moody

    Yes, you always have to ask whether there is a corporate libertarian lurking behind a populist libertarian. That said, Schwab and the WEF do remind me of the Galaxy propellerheads.

    Reply

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