Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Man Who Makes No Mistakes!

This week, I received a wonderful surprise in the mail.  My mom, while exploring an estate sale, found me a copy of the Pocket Paperback of Our Man Flint, one of my favorite of the 1960's James Bond knock-offs.  Ultimately it was a bit of a letdown, as I was at first excited thinking the movie had been based on a book I'd not heard of, only to find out that it was a novelization of the screenplay.

Mine, unfortunately, doesn't look quite this nice.
Well, let's just say that Jack Pearl isn't Ian Fleming...and, well, it's not as though Fleming was the best novelist in the world.  I still find it one of the great ironies that one of the greatest Bond films, Goldfinger (1964), was one of the dullest books I've ever read.  Now, in many ways, the movie is very faithful to the events of the book, but the movie doesn't waste nearly the same amount of time on a golf game between protagonist and antagonist.  I'm happy to report, however, that while I almost gave up reading another Fleming afterward, I have sense consumed and enjoyed several of the other Bond adventures and short stories.

Back to the matter at hand: The fun thing about novelizations is that they frequently give glimpses of material in the screenplay that didn't make it to the screen.  And in many cases, this alternate material is far wilder than what was eventually filmed. Pearl's book had a few of these but the writing was fairly pedestrian and by the numbers.  The most hilarious part was the frequent mention of female bosoms and buttocks heaving and flexing under whatever "thin" fabric they happened to be wearing.

The fantastic poster by Bob Peak
Reading the book spurred me to revisit the film, which I hadn't watched in some time.  In an article, I wrote many moons ago I discussed the slew of Bond knock-offs that populated the 60's, and the fact that there's a reason why James Bond is still the best known and only survivor of the jetset spy genre.  Now with the Cold War behind us and tough times still ahead, Intelligence has never been more important, but we've all seen that it's definitely not the glamourous affair of strong-arming an informant at a state dinner to find out who put the hit out on the Duke of Wherever.

The Superspy owes a debt to the Surrealists.
Derek Flint was to be the American answer to Bond: hence the explanatory "Our Man" in the title.  An early scene has Flint eschewing the Walther PPK and the myriad of other weapons associated with the movie spygame as barbaric.  Flint is every bit as sophisticated and intelligent as Bond if not more so, and the publicity for the film shows him tackling armies of girls at a time.  The plot concerns a cabal of scientists who are controlling the weather to bring about unilateral disarmament of the world powers.  Flint chases them through exotic locations to their underground paradise of drugged guards and pleasure units (read: hot chicks).

James Coburn is at his charming best as the world class worldly superspy, and he uses his toothy rogueish grin to get him in and out of hot water.  In fact, it's largely Coburn's charisma that helps us overlook Flint's biggest flaw as a protagonist: he's flawless. It's never compelling storytelling when a hero comes off invulnerable, but Coburn keeps Flint completely watchable.  Lee J. Cobb is also enjoyable as Flint's supervisor Cramden, though he and Coburn would have far more fun in their respective roles in the sequel, In Like Flint (1967).  Flint's beauties are a bit on the stiff side, but Gila Golan is both alluring and fun as the turncoat beauty, who lures Flint in only to succumb to his charm.

The only thing preferable to Miller Time.
The sets are big, flashy and ridiculous. The action features a lot of gymnastics and fisticuffs (Coburn was one of Bruce Lee's famous students).  The stock footage and model shots are typically shoddy, but fun.  The pace lags a bit in place, since, like I said, Flint rarely seems to be in any kind of eminent danger.  On the flip side, there's a good dosage of humor...and an eagle that only attacks Americans!  In all, it's a colorful and enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours in the Movie World of superspy-dom.