It may be that Fox had wanted to follow up their popular Flint film series - Our Man Flint [M] (1966) and In Like Flint [M] (1967) - with a scaled down, less costly TV series, but this Vancouver-made pilot ranks as one of the worst CanCon productions around. It’s no surprise any hope of a series were thwarted by this stillborn concoction which showed little imagination or directorial skill.
The basic plot concerns a rebellious Arab faction who kidnap an oil executive (character actor Lawrence Dane), and use Derek Flint (a very wooden Ray Danton) to help negotiate both a ransom and the freedom of their incarcerated leader. Once the cash and power shift have occurred in their homeland Besla / B.E.S.L.A., the executive will be freed and a small country can begin a new political future no longer tied to imperial urges.
Flint is neither spy nor agent but some guy living in a swanky architectural shell outfitted with some of the ugliest furniture and rampant purple shag carpet in the former Dominion of Canada. Almost as an afterthought, the writers toss in a pretty masseuse (in the film series, Flint had at least three live-in female aides), and a spunky wannabe assistant named Bonita (Gay Rowan, fresh off The Starlost [M], Canada’s worst sci-fi show ever), who soon becomes a pawn for the rebels when she too is snatched and held for ransom.
The protracted negotiations involve an archery tournament that’s so poorly stagnated it makes any archery sequences in Rocket Robin Hood (the classic el cheapo CanCon children series) look professional. Director Joseph Scanlan (also a Starlost alumnus) must have been learning the basic ropes of action & suspense direction, because many sequences are so poorly coordinated: we follow Flint as he moves from the trees to an open field, walking past the archery target boards, and yet he’s oblivious to the kidnappers who stand meters to his left; when Flint and Bonita enter the kidnapper’s first lair, they close the barn door behind them, essentially blocking off an essential exit if suddenly confronted by their nemeses; and on two occasions when Flint is ‘surprised’ to find a woman on his property – Bonita by his stairs, and the kidnapped exec’s wife (Linda Sorensen) in the hedge bushes – he’s unable to see what we, the viewers see – their cars parked in his driveway.
Other sloppily blocked scenes include the ransom payment, which in the end scene is shown at such a bad angle we, the viewers, can see it’s neither Canadian nor American money but cartoon play money with printed matter not relevant to any legal currency; blatant shots that make it clear Vancouver is the substitute for (presumably) San Francisco – the oil company is headquartered in a Royal Bank tower, and the Canadian flag is billowing quite blatantly in one shot; and Flint pretending to be an electrician to fool the kidnappers, yet exiting from his nice & shiny blue Mercedes, which he parks in front of the kidnapper’s lair.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the script – adapted by Starlost scribe Norman Klenman from a story by occasional screenwriter Jim McGinn – is the lack of any story from which the cast have things to do, and Scanlan can direct some intriguing sequence. By and large most of the film consists of badly shot helicopter footage which follows Flint’s Mercedes in and around Vancouver, into which Scanlan periodically intercuts poor man’s process shots of Flint ‘driving’ the car that bears a front license plate stamped with neither a state nor province but the word’s “Drive Safely.” When Flint and Bonita are in the car, it’s obvious it’s two other actors that bear little resemblance to the stars.
There’s in fact so much driving footage (much of it repeated) and establishing building footage (most of it chopped from the same film roll) Dead on Target could easily have been an hour episode. The big bonus is perhaps a rare catalogue of Vancouver’s once smallish downtown core and port lands which have since been upgraded with a multitude of condos.
Scanlan was also stuck with a mediocre cinematographer (in one shot the entire camera crew is visible in a closing car door shot) and weird jazz underscore from a stock music library, but his cast is an odd mix of talent that like himself, did go on to bigger and better things. Sole American component Danton soon abandoned acting and produced & directed episodes of the much-loved Mickey Spillane series with Stacey Keach, and Canadian thesps Sorensen and Dane appeared in several TV and feature productions. Kidnappers Sharon Acker (the moll in John Boorman’s Point Blank) and Donnelly Rhodes (who plays an Arab!) also went on to further adventures in TV, with Rhodes best-known as the dad in Danger Bay. Also in the cast is Franz Russell supporting thespian in the worst comedy series ever, The Trouble with Tracy), and Kim Cattrall in a three-second shot as an office extra.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of Dead on Target is the contingent of ex-Starlost personnel, which besides writer Klenman, director Scanlan, and actress Rowan also includes co-stars Rhodes and Sorensen, both of whom had roles in signular Starlost episodes.
Executive producer Stanley Colbert’s final credit is the CanCon tax shelter classic Murder by Phone (1982) where a phone call yields combustible death, and fellow executive producer Wendy Ritchie remade a pair of classic films for TV in the eighties – the melodrama Madam X (1981), and the William Castle teen shocker I Saw What You Did (1988) – before switching gears to ABC’s Port Charles daytime soap.
Our Man Flint: Dead on Target is only available as part of the bonus material in Fox’ 2006 Ultimate Flint Collection which contains the same feature films and numerous featurettes later released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time in 2013. Dead on Target may well have been shot on 16mm; the source print has weak colours and details typical of a used print, although the sound mix is an adequate blend of obvious location and redubbed dialogue when not carpet-bombed with stock music.
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan