Wednesday, 6 January 2016

An ode to Derek Flint

You can have your Austin Powerses, your Agent OSS117s and your Johnny Englishes (okay, no one wants that). Derek Flint is still the grooviest secret agent of them all. I only came upon them this past year when I was researching another piece, but from the first strains of Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful score, I was in.

I love these movies.

Our Man Flint (Daniel Mann, 1966)

The plot is simple. A mysterious organisation called Galaxy has developed a secret weapon which gives them the ability to unleash natural disasters on any place in the world. Led by a group of scientists who want to save the world from itself, their members include a sultry femme fatale (Gila Golan), a psychopathic assassin (Edward Mulhare) and, best of all, an anti-American American eagle. With the world's intelligence agencies powerless to stop them, it is up to one man to halt their mad scheme: super spy Derek Flint. 

James Coburn is perfection as Flint -- convincing as an action hero, a ladies man or a scientific genius. His deadpan approach to the madness around him is a delight (especially his shocked reaction to that traitorous eagle).

Lee J. Cobb as his long-suffering chief is also great -- forever two steps behind his employee, he is basically the audience surrogate. He is also a great example of what makes the Flint pictures so enjoyable -- while they are clearly styled after James Bond, there is no attempt at any point to adhere to that formula. Cobb's embattled chief bears about as much resemblance to M as a Lamborghini to a rock.

The script is fast and funny, the photography by Daniel L. Fapp has that great mid-60s sheen, and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is terrific (it sounds like a vacation for your ears). 

All in all, Our Man Flint is well worth a look.

In Like Flint (Gordon Douglas, 1967)

Of the two films, Our Man Flint is definitely the strongest, but In Like Flint is a solid sequel that does not lose too much of the magic that made the first Flint such a joy. The plot involves fake presidents, space craft and another secret base on a tropical island, this time filled with beautiful women.

The photography is even more vibrant this time out, especially in an extended sequence in which we find Flint working undercover as a ballet dancer in Soviet Russia.

One area where this movie is a step up from its prequel is action. While Our Man Flint does not have many major action sequences (the only one that stands out is Flint's showdown with that damn eagle, and even that does not really count), by contrast there are some really great action scenes in its sequel.

This new emphasis on action as well as laughs allows Coburn to really show off his chops (he trained with Bruce Lee). Coburn's proficiency with kicking ass is especially obvious during his acrobatic punch up with a squad of soldiers in a health clinic gym. The jokes may not hit as often, but Flint's punches and flying kicks are a great substitute.

Once again Jerry Goldsmith's score is a winner, and on par with the one he provided for its predecessor.

It's too bad there were not more movies to chronicle Derek Flint's adventures -- this character and his world are so well done, it would have been a real treat to get a few more adventures out of him (and a re-match with that goddamn eagle).

For my last piece on the Matt Helm series, click here.

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