Our Man Flint, James Coburn's Bond Spoof: Facts And Trivia
Poster art for the sequel 'In Like Flint' by Bob Peak. Source: IMPawards
When James Coburn (flanked by groovy beauties) as agent Derek Flint hit screens in Our Man Flint and In Like Flint, he was riding one of the biggest entertainment fads of the '60s. Movies and TV were gripped by a kind of spy and secret agent mania. Thanks to the Cold War and changing sexual norms -- and two decades removed from the blood and guts of WWII -- people flocked to a different kind of action film. War wasn't the answer -- no, it was espionage.
The success of James Bond franchise, beginning with 1962's Dr. No, spawned films and shows that copied the formula or riffed on it: The Silencers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Jonny Quest, and even the Thunderbirds marionettes. Our Man Flint follows the genre tropes of the Bond series to a T while cranking everything up to 11. The action, comedy, and sexuality are all heightened, making Our Man Flint and its follow up In Like Flint more than just parodies of the Bond series, they provide a kind of meta take on the series that exposes all of its ridiculous machinations while celebrating them, essentially doing what Austin Powers did decades before it was released.
As Derek Flint, James Coburn is cool and collected, but he's also incredibly American. The sly bashful nature of Bond is gone, and in its place is the prowess of someone who knows that they've already won. Our Man Flint may be a product of its time, but it's a spectacular look at the spy craze of the 1960s.
The 1960s were the prime time for super spies
As tensions between the east and west grew more strained in the 1960s, moviegoers expected to see their doomsday fears on the big screen. The threat of annihilation made for uncomfortable viewing -- Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove managed to pull it off as a black comedy, but nobody wanted to make or see a lot of movies that end with mushroom clouds. For crowd-pleasing entertainment, better to have the doomsday scenario always averted by someone much more capable than any baddie with the means to buy a death ray (or giant drill, or volcano based lair, or satellite with destructive capabilities).
It wasn't just the fear of widespread nuclear death that spurred on the success of the spy genre in the 1960s. The sudden ease with which westerners were able to travel internationally also played a major part in the success of the spy genre. After the economic boom that followed World War II in America people had the means to travel, and films following in the footsteps of Dr. No took audiences to exotic locations, many of which became tourist hot spots.
By the time Our Man Flint was released in 1966, the Bond franchise four films deep, Get Smart was on the air, and The Avengers and The Saint had been taking the spy or secret agent genre to dark new places for years. With such a glut of spy content, Our Man Flint had to be both over the top enough to play as parody while leaning into the tropes in order give spy fans what they were looking for.
Karate, sexy ladies, and a giant drill
Our Man Flint and its follow up In Like Flint don't shy away from wearing its Bond influences on its sleeve, nor did it stop itself from showing just how ridiculous the tropes of the genre were, all the while playing into them. Our Man Flint has everything you want from a spy movie: a deadly mission, foreign locals, outlandish technology, an over the top villain, and a beautiful female love interest.
The film follows super spy Derek Flint, a former agent of Z.O.W.I.E. as he's brought back into the organization to help them defeat Galaxy, an evil group headed by three scientists with designs on controlling the global weather systems through classic Bond villain means. Flint is brought in to make sure Galaxy doesn't get their way.
Flint proves himself to be an excellent marital artist who's more than just a ladies' man, he's a force of nature that women can't deny. He lives in a penthouse with four sexy women who dote on him while he practices his ability to slow his heart down -- you know, spy stuff. The film has no problem aping James Bond in both funny moments and with its over the top style while specifically nodding towards 007. Flint literally fights a British spy named Agent 0008 and even learns that Galaxy is bigger than SPECTRE. Essentially, Our Man Flint is James Bond on steroids while still being deferential to 007.
James Coburn is a great super spy
Audiences were familiar with James Coburn by the time Our Man Flint was released in 1966, just not as a spy. While he'd done some film, most of his work was in television where he often played cowboys, sometimes villainous sometimes not, but never a suave hero with a comic sensibility as dry as crisp white wine.
Coburn uses his abilities refined during his time filming westerns, somber looks and no nonsense facial expressions to sell the over-the-top comedy of Our Man Flint. He has an edge to him that makes the audience believe that he has no problem getting into a fist fight in the middle of a club or the volcano lair of a bunch of science-mad hippies. Crediting producer Saul David for the success of the Flint films, Coburn explained:
I credit the producer, Saul David, for the Flint films. He was responsible for the whole thing. He also cast me in the role. Of course, it was a spoof of the Bond and all the other spy films in released at the time. What I liked about Flint was that he was his own man. He trained himself. We tried to work from that theme. It must have worked... after all the film was a very big hit.
The Flint series continues to reverberate through pop culture
Our Man Flint wasn't just successful in parodying the spy genre, specifically the Bond films, but it also created its own specific aesthetic, one that continues to appear in the modern era of spy films. Most specifically, the ringtone used by the Z.O.W.I.E. organization is the same one used by Austin Powers in his trilogy. It can also be heard in Hudson Hawk and a few other deferential films.
Hans Gruber, the main villain from Die Hard, received his name from one of the villains in Flint, likely as just a tip of the hat from one twist on a spy film to another. In just two movies, Derek Flint and co. showed audiences that there was more to the spy genre than just debonair guys saving the world, Flint proved that you could save the world and have fun doing it.
Our Man Flint is a microcosm of the 1960s
There's an ironic detachment that runs through the Flint films that you'll also find in Doctor Strangelove, The Producers, and even The Graduate. By the mid '60s, filmmakers were taking the institutions of the previous generation and tweaking them, parodying them, satirizing them, and turning them on their heads to show audiences just how silly it is to be a super spy or go to war or get married. This trend continued into the '70s before turning into full on nihilism in films like Network and Apocalypse Now.
Our Man Flint isn't the only Bond parody out there, but it's one of the best. Not only does the story and the production hold up, but thanks to its influence in modern pop culture it doesn't feel dated. As long as the Bond series continues to pump out straight forward genre pieces, Our Man Flint will be there to show audiences just how ridiculous it is to be a super spy.
Tags: In Like Flint | James Coburn | Our Man Flint
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