Satire has always been a healthy creative reaction by filmmakers against a genre that’s become voguish, if one that’s devolved into an unintentional parody of itself, and the spy genre during the sixties remains perhaps the most globally imitated, in terms of variants, knock-offs, rip-offs, and comedies.
Refined and transformed into a global hit, the character of James Bond went from a known government hitman in Dr. No (1962) to an action figure in Thunderball (1965) before quite bizarrely, he was directly spoofed in the bloated (yet guilty pleasure) mess that was Casino Royale (1967) – a parody of Bond based on the first Bond novel by creator Ian Fleming.
The French started their own variant under the OSS 117 series (recently revived with actor Jean Dujardin), whereas the Italians not only spoofed Bond in their Secret Agent 077 series, but cast former Bond thespians in a few of the films. TV distilled the spy into singular and team protectors of global peace and harmony, and the genre eventually withered into the only area not tackled by neither Bond nor its imitators and competitors: grim, nihilistic dramas where the world is governed by selfish shits and we all die ignominiously (as in John Huston’s beautifully depressing The Kremlin Letter [M] and The MacKintosh Man [M])..
It’s an unusually long arc for the super-spy since Dr. No, but rather healthy, since the variety of spy dramas made for the small and big screen is sufficiently wide to accommodate any palette, and within the spoofs, satires, and parodies of the sixties is Fox’ Derek Flint series, created by Hal Fimberg, a longtime veteran of radio and TV whose own comedic timing was perfect for a genre in need of a campy send-ups. The script by Fimberg and re-writer Ben Starr also re-rendered some of Bond’s most beloved elements – the babes, the gadgets, the bald villains, Bond’s brilliant skill set and his occasional impertinence towards his superiors – into richer and more ridiculous levels.
The basic plot of three eggheads using a climate controlling gizmo on a volcanic island (where else?) to force world powers into a permanent state of disarmament is irrelevant; the real joy is the intro scenes of Derek Flint (toothy, lithe, and ever-confident James Coburn), hired by his reluctant and almost adversarial ex-box to essentially save the world. Flint accomplishes the task using a crazy quilt of his own gizmos – they’re actually better than the government’s standard issue trick briefcase, guns, etc. – and a quartet of hot babes who function as personal attendants rather than skilled, mentally agile aides.
He globe-trots from the U.S. to Italy (the Fox backlot) to find the link between the climate control freaks and cold cream, and pretty much allows himself to become kidnapped by their chief henchman + woman – a wealthy snot named Malcolm Rodney (ever reliable Edward Mulhare), and the babe-heavy Gila (pretty but limited Gila Golan). Once on the volcanic home base, he avoids termination, rescues the babe, and flees just as the evil isle goes kablooey in a finale borrowed from Dr. No.
There’s little doubt Mike Myers’ Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) was a direct upgrade of the Flint films with Bondian homages, but Fox’ production still holds up very well largely because the Bond films have stayed with the same formulaic configurations: a villain capable of impacting a greater swathe of innocents must be stopped by a rebellious yet highly skilled spy whose loyalty to country and a black & white morality are almost genetically implanted.
No matter how cartoonish the Bond films devolved in the seventies, the hero / nemesis / babes / global danger were ever-present because it’s what audiences expected, and the retention of these elemental conflicts ensures pretty much all spy spoofs should retain strong continuity with any generation exposed to any group of Bond films. That may ensure the ongoing relevance of the spoofs, but Flint is able to hover close to the top because the films remain immensely fun, and their quality wasn’t able to diminish as fast as the Matt Helm series because Derek Flint only had two cinematic adventures; Fox apparently had little interest in a third entry, perhaps because the studio sensed the genre’s popularity was stabilizing, and there were a finite amount of conventions, and the success of any jokes relied on their freshness.
When originally released on DVD in 2002, Fox released Our Man Flint and its sequel, In Like Flint [M] (1967) as part of a four-film spy wave (which included 1966’s Modesty Blase and 1967’s Fathom), but the Flint films were reissued in 2006 a 3-disc Ultimate Flint special edition box with audio commentaries for each film, plus a third DVD with assorted featurettes and ephemera, and the long-unavailable TV movie Our Man Flint: Dead on Target [M] (1976).
Twilight Time’s essentially taken a gorgeous HD transfer and reorganized the extras (some of which seem to be HD versions with 2009 copyrights) between their two Flint Blu-rays. (Note: the teleplay remains exclusive to the Fox boxed set, so fans of Cancon will be a little disappointed this poorly conceived effort to re-launch the franchise isn’t on BR. Among the Vancouver talent are Ritual’s Lawrence Dane, Da Vinci’s Inquest’s Donnelly Rhodes, The Stalost’s Gay Rowan, The Trouble with Tracy’s Franz Russell, and a bit part featuring Kim Catrall.)
The first batch of featurettes are fairly fluffy sound-bites blended with clips from both films, whereas near the end we get some meatier material, especially in “Directing Derek Flint: Daniel Mann,” a really well-made portrait of an underrated and arguably forgotten director, given similar namesakes Delbert Mann (Marty) and especially Anthony Mann (El Cid [M]) were involved in more iconic productions. Other featurettes address spy gear, the creation of the character (with specific requests from James Coburn), and the amusing tiff between critic Pauline Kael and producer Saul David.
There’s also a recipe for ‘perfect bouillabaisse,’ comparative storyboard montages, and separate screen tests featuring Coburn and Gila Golan, and Coburn and Raquel Welsh (who was re-directed as the female hottie in Fantastic Voyage by Fox). The new bonus is a stereo isolated score track of Jerry Goldsmith’s score (which is in mono in the final film mix), and booklet liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
The commentary featuring Lee Pfeiffer and Eddy Friedfeld is a straightford geekfest, with the team armed with facts and comparative details between the final film and the shooting script. There’s also a short bit on the equally tongue-in-cheek novelization of the longer script, and plenty of production and cast details.
Like Kirgo, the pair also address the film’s highly un-P.C. attitude towards women (Flint requires three babes – including luscious Helen Funai and Shelby Grant - to help shave every morning), where even assertive Gila, after falling out of favour with the ruling eggheads, chooses to become a bikini-clad “pleasure unit” for the male members on the isle – a process that mandates a trippy inculcation session, and branding. There’s also the main titles which may spoof Maurice Binder’s shadowy naked women Bond titles: a well-endowed silhouette in pasties jiggles when standing, or in one outrageous sequence, licks an ice cream at a fellatative angle before the cone dissolves to a spinning watery mass.
The only area within the commentary that’s sure to irk some listeners is the frankly ludicrous viewpoint by Cinema Retro’s Lee Pfeiffer that there’s little or no good film music nor scoring talent around nowadays. It’s a narrow-minded stance that’s falls plainly into cranky old fart terrain, and ignores the inherent flaws in Goldsmith’s score: while lush, it’s an old-fashioned construct that repeats the same theme ad nauseam in straight renditions, up-tempo, slow, romantic, and cha-cha arrangements. The chase music in the end is a little more diverse because of the instrumentation, but Goldsmith – presumably due to producers wanting a hit single – never strays far from his original theme arrangement.
Former Miss Israel (1961) Gila Golan appeared in a few TV series and feature films – Ship of Fools (1965), Three on a Couch (1966), Catch as Catch Can / Lo scatenato (1968), and The Valley of Gwangi (1969) – before retiring from acting.
Director Daniel Mann bounced between various genres, including the classic killer rat film Willard (1971) and the 1975 remake of Journey Into Fear, whereas screenwriter Hal Filmberg retired while co-writer Be Starr became a prolific writer for TV (All in the Family, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, and The Facts of Life).
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan