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By 1966, the James Bond formula was well known: A suave, intelligent, educated, sexy agent conducts the business of spying while being effortlessly violent with the bad guys and intimate with the ladies. The Bond series, starring Sean Connery, had become so popular that parodies became more prevalent than the real thing. In 1966 and 1967, no less than three big budget Bond parodies hit the screen but only one of them had James Coburn as Derek Flint as well as acceptance from the critics and the public: Our Man Flint (1966).
James Coburn had become a mildly successful tough guy actor in movies like Charade (1963), The Great Escape (1963) and The Magnificent Seven (1960) by 1966 but hadn't achieved super stardom yet. He had a lanky frame, a rugged face and a suggestion behind his eyes that he knew something the other guys didn't. He was the perfect choice to play Flint, a super spy with as many talents and skills as all of the agents in the CIA combined. The curious thing about Our Man Flint is that on the way to parodying the James Bond movies, it became a successful stand alone spy movie of its own.
The movie opens with scenes of weather and geological disasters befalling locations across the globe: Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions plague the planet and are clearly being controlled by someone, but who? At the United Nations, the leaders of the world gather to find the right man to figure it out and stop it and their computers all give them the same name: Derek Flint. The only problem is, Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), the man who told them all that the computers would pick the best man, worked with Flint before and can't stand him. Despite his protests, Flint is the man they want and Cramden has to convince him it's an important job to take. Not an easy task given Flint lives a life of luxury. Living with four beautiful women (even Bond never went that far) he turns down the job and heads out for dinner and dancing. Only then, when a poisonous dart meant for him hits Cramden, does he take the job and begin the task of finding out who is controlling the weather and why.
The way Flint goes about finding the answers often owes more to Sherlock Holmes than James Bond. Tiny clues, undetected by anyone else, are picked up by Flint and used to trace the whereabouts of assassins, from the ingredients in bouillabaisse to a specific brand of cold cream. He uses an arcane code devised by himself and knows the medical details of how long poison takes to travel from your arm to your heart. Sure, Bond had traces of Holmes too but Flint wears the Holmes side better and James Coburn plays him as more of a curious enthusiast than a brutal but suave agent.
Our Man Flint even takes a few terms directly from the Bond franchise. In Marseilles, Flint encounters 008, an obvious nod but then, when questioning him on the organization behind the weather, asks if it's SPECTRE. It's not (turns out to be an organization named GALAXY) but the very mention of SPECTRE and a "00" agent puts Our Man Flint in the same universe as Bond. Kind of makes one wonder what Flint's been up to all this time.
Directed by Daniel Mann, Our Man Flint keeps the jokiness contained to the first few minutes and then quickly settles into a spy thriller that doesn't need to be parodying anything to hold up on its own. James Coburn is, of course, excellent and Lee J. Cobb shows once again that he was an extraordinary actor, able to take an essentially throwaway role like Cramden, a character that acts as nothing more than a foil to Flint, and make him interesting.
Playing the lead assassin, Gila Golan does a fine job as the beautiful but not-so-deadly (and identically named) Gila. Golan, adopted as a toddler when found wandering aimlessly in war torn Poland in 1940, became a top Israeli model before making her film debut in Ship of Fools (1965). She only made a handful of movies before leaving the business after the sixties.
The other women in the movie present a strange departure from the Bond movies. While Bond always had his "Bond Girl," and that would ostensibly be Gila in this movie, he never moved in with anyone, not even getting the chance to set up house with his wife before she gets killed in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Yet Derek Flint lives with four women, all at once, and even more curiously, seems to have little to no passion for them. Instead, they seem like employees, there to take care of all his needs while he saves the world. In fact, one of the oddities of the movie, a parody of James Bond after all, is that it is generally sexless when it comes to Flint. He's too interested in his job, it would seem, to spend time on his libido.
Our Man Flint proved successful enough to warrant its own sequel which came less than a year later. Mann didn't stick around to direct this time and Gordon Douglas took over but James Coburn and Lee J. Cobb both reprised their roles one more time. The sequel didn't do as well and a third film was never made. But in a turn of events that can only happen in the movies, the parody had a parody of itself. Less than a year after its release, Italy gave the world Il vostro super agente Flit, a direct remake and parody of Our Man Flint. It didn't warrant a sequel but its subject will always be around and in a career of memorable characters, James Coburn's Flint stands out as one of his best.
Producer: Saul David
Director: Daniel Mann
Screenplay: Hal Fimberg, Ben Starr
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Film Editor: William Reynolds
Art Direction: Ed Graves, Jack Martin Smith
Set Decoration: Raphael Bretton, Walter M. Scott
Cast: James Coburn (Derek Flint), Lee J. Cobb (Cramden), Gila Golan (Gila), Edward Mulhare (Malcolm Rodney), Benson Fong (Dr. Schneider), Shelby Grant (Leslie), Sigrid Valdis (Anna), Gianna Serra (Gina), Helen Funai (Sakito), Michael St. Clair (Hans Gruber), Rhys Williams (Dr. Krupov).
By Greg Ferrara