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Our Man Flint (Blu-ray Review)

31 Jan, 2013 By: John Latchem

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
$29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Gila Golan, Edward Mulhare.

When the James Bond films first hit screens 50 years ago, few would have predicted their monumental success, let alone the glut of spy-related films and TV shows they would inspire. And one of the better ones was Our Man Flint.

Its hero, Derek Flint, was America’s answer to Bond — a rugged individualist and playboy who answered to no agency and was an expert in everything imaginable. The most apt description from the bonus material is that he’s a cross between Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Hugh Hefner. I’d say comparisons to the 1960s “Batman” TV show are appropriate as well.

The great James Coburn stars as Flint, who is recruited by the Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage (ZOWIE) to investigate a series of weather anomalies after several government agents are killed.

If Flint seems like a poster child for Libertarians, it was intentional. According to one of the new extras on this exceptional Blu-ray, the film’s producer, Saul David, was a proponent of Ayn Rand’s philosophies, and played up those traits that appealed to him. Thus, Flint becomes something of a symbol of private initiative coming to the rescue of incompetent government bureaucrats. And the bad guys? Three scientific elites striving to remake the world into a utopia through extortion and brainwashing. If these seem like contemporary themes, remember that all this took place in 1966.

One of the keys to the film’s success, it seems, is the way director Daniel Mann doesn’t spotlight the comedy, but presents the situation as absurd and lets the audience figure it out. A prime example occurs when the ZOWIE spymaster played by Lee J. Cobb tries to give Flint a modified briefcase (a la From Russia With Love) that contains 65 hidden weapons, which Flint refuses, since his tricked out cigarette lighter has 82 functions (83 if you count lighting a cigar). And then there’s Agent 0008, who bears a striking resemblance to Sean Connery and is so famous he is the main character of a series of outrageous spy novels.

Meanwhile, Our Man Flint’s over-the-top sets simultaneously give the film scope while calling attention to the outrageous action of the Bond series.

Our Man Flint was followed a year later by a sequel, In Like Flint (referenced by Austin Powers as his favorite movie), and the pair went on to exert some influence on the genre in their own right. One of the henchman is named Hans Gruber, a name reused for Alan Rickman’s baddie in the first Die Hard. And the distinctive ringtone of the ZOWIE hotline was famously reused by the Austin Powers films. But the biggest influence of the “Flint” films may have been the way they presaged casual absurdity of the Bond films of the 1970s and early 1980s.

And, as far as the casting goes, younger fans will probably recognize Edward Mulhare, who plays one of the main villains here, from his role as the boss on “Knight Rider.”

Twilight Time has outdone itself with the bonus material, combining some extras from Fox’s 2006 two-film “Flint” DVD set with three new featurettes, including the aforementioned making-of retrospective and another that profiles director Mann.

One of the more amusing ones is “Flint vs. Kael,” which recounts the time famed critic Pauline Kael not only panned Our Man Flint, but suggested that any critic who gave a positive review did so because they were bribed with a press junket held in Jamaica, where the sequel was being shot. Producer David used her accusation to stir up animosity among the critical masses, and the backlash eventually helped get Kael fired by McCall’s.

There’s also an isolated track of Jerry Goldsmith’s spry and memorable musical score. The main theme was still rattling around in my head days after I screened the movie.

The best of the holdovers is a thoroughly entertaining commentary with spy-movie experts Lee Pfeiffer and Eddy Friedfeld, who do a great job putting the production of Our Man Flint in its historical context. Also included are a few behind-the-scenes featurettes, screen tests and a bouillabaisse recipe (which relates to the plot).

Some of the remaining leftover extras, and a few new ones, will be highlights of Twilight Time’s In Like Flint Blu-ray that debuts Feb. 12.

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