The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Our Man Flint

By 1966, the James Bond series was up and running, international hit one after another with Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball already hits with audiences. Where there's success, comes knockoffs though, and the spoofs weren't far behind. One of the first to follow in Bond's footsteps was 1966's Our Man Flint.

All around the world, horrific weather catastrophes are wreaking havoc. What's the cause? Three scientists working for international criminal organization Galaxy have created a weather machine that can cause thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions. Galaxy demands that all the world's nations capitulate to them, but a N.A.T.O.-like organization, Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage) has one last solution; get super-spy Derek Flint (James Coburn) out of retirement and let him try to take out Galaxy and its weather weapon. Flint is a hard sell, but he takes the job eventually. There is little in the way of clues and no idea where Galaxy's base is. Flint pursues the one piece of evidence he does have, but Galaxy and its henchmen are waiting for him.

As a huge fan of the 007 series, I'll give any spoof a shot. I'd seen In Like Flint (the sequel to this 1966 original) and liked it if I didn't love it, the same for Dean Martin in the Matt Helm series. From director Daniel Mann, 'Our' is a solid if unspectacular entry into the spy spoof genre. It pokes fun at James Bond, even mentioning a rival and fellow agent of 007, his code name Triple-O 8. At one point, Flint even brings up Spectre, Bond's main rival, and calls 007's Walther PPK, booby-trapped briefcase 'crude.' It knows where it's coming from and has some fun with it while still paying tribute, not like the goofier but still funny Austin Powers series.

The biggest thing going for both movies is the casting of James Coburn as Flint. Already a star thanks to his parts in The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Charade (among others), Coburn wouldn't seem like an obvious choice to play Flint, but he makes it is own. Up until this point, he was more of a stoic anti-hero and man of few words. It's a showier part here but never an obvious one. Coburn's Flint is an epically successful ladies man, knowledgeable about anything and everything, and a specialist in karate and hand-to-hand combat, disliking the brutality of guns. His lankiness, that charming smile, that ever-calm demeanor, it all adds up to make a great character. At one point, he pursues a lead because he knows the ingredients to bouillabaisse, visiting every restaurant in Paris until he can find it, just knowing how it would taste. There's some pressure playing the American James Bond, but Coburn kills the part.

What's lacking though beyond Coburn is any more memorable characters behind him. Lee J. Cobb is a scene-stealer as Cramden, the Z.O.W.I.E. commander and Flint's former commanding officer, always trying to keep tabs on his agent but usually just going along for the ride. Gila Golan is the gorgeous Flint girl, playing Gila (original name, huh?), a Galaxy member tasked with bringing in Flint, preferably alive and before he can complete his mission. The main villain is Malcolm Rodney, played by Edward Mulhare, but he lacks any real charisma, any punch in terms of an intimidating Bond villain. He never really poses a threat to Flint, too bad because his henchman, Gruber (Michael St. Clair) is dispatched far too quickly. The three quasi-evil doctors are played by Benson Fong, Rhys Williams and Peter Brocco. As for Flint's harem of beautiful, scantily clad women, look for Shelby Grant, Sigrid Valdis, Gianna Serra and Helen Funai, around as eye candy without more than 10 words said among the four.

The rebellious, roguish super spy, the sexy women around every corner, the impregnable island fortress, the power-hungry villain, the impossible situation that screams suicide. This spoof has all the touches of a good Bond film, but just in the laugh department it is missing that special something that could bring it up a notch or two. It only runs 107 minutes, but it drags, especially in the second half. One episodic set piece to another, they don't always add up to a really good final product. Through it all, Coburn's laconic, smart-assed Flint makes it worthwhile, but it's not a classic. Just an enjoyable movie that's good for a couple laughs.

Our Man Flint (1966): ** 1/2 /****

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