Our Man Flint

Though it turned out well, the original Austin Powers film hardly seemed necessary. Why make a new parody of '60s spy films, when the '60s already had plenty of them? From Dean Martin's Matt Helm series through The Man From O.R.G.Y., the genre's conventions and excesses had already been well sent-up back when Mike Myers was wandering Ontario in short pants. Why so many spy satires? Possibly out of laziness: The average James Bond film needs only a tiny bit of inflating to become a parody of itself. A better answer might be that the Man Of Intrigue fantasy—in which sex, danger, or both await the sophisticated hero around every corner—can only be delivered with a straight face a limited number of times. Two of the more successful and endearing spy spoofs, the new-to-DVD Flint films star James Coburn as a jocular Renaissance man called into action to save the world from destruction by evil madmen. An art collector, gourmand, and expert in karate, ballet, and marine biology, Coburn shares a luxury apartment with several unattached women who are deeply concerned about his personal comfort. But when duty calls in the form of former boss Lee J. Cobb, head of the intelligence agency Z.O.W.I.E., Coburn swings into action. In 1965's Our Man Flint, this involves taking on a cabal of powerful scientists who plan to create a global utopia via a device that controls the weather. At first a bit too set-bound and sluggishly directed, Our Man still gets by on its flamboyant production design, Coburn's high-spirited performance, and items like a tiny lighter with 82 different functions. ("Eighty-three, if you wish to light a cigar.") Once Coburn reaches his nemeses' hideout, however, the film switches into turbo-mode, running its hero through an underground lair/mating chamber that could easily function as a concrete id for '60s libidos: a go-go club in one room, a simulated drive-in theater in another. Spy films are often at least partially about male fantasies of controlling women, but they're also about the anxiety of losing that control, a notion played with in Our Man's 1967 sequel, In Like Flint. Benefiting from crisper direction and suffering from a weak finale and bloated running time, In Like Flint returns Coburn to the spy game, this time to battle a conspiracy of professional women out to turn the world into a matriarchy. Leaving behind a harem now reduced to three women ("I'm trying to cut down," he tells Cobb), Coburn fights his way into the group's (wink, wink) Virgin Islands hideout, eventually bringing the power-hungry feminists around to his way of thinking so they can all fight a common enemy who has replaced the president with an impostor. The Flint films' pleasures may come almost entirely from their time-capsule qualities, but they shouldn't be underestimated. Speaking with an attitude that ossifies almost as the words leave his mouth, Coburn seems to recognize not only his character's ridiculousness, but also his place as the evolutionary endpoint of Hugh Hefner's Playboy philosophy. Ultimately, the Flint movies became a kind of endpoint for the secret-agent genre, too, as the series that inspired them found less and less to say.

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