Many reviews for 2006's Casino Royale breathlessly proclaimed "this 007 BLEEDS! He gets hurt!" They conveniently forgot that Sean Connery took his share of punishment in his first two installments. But over the course of four decades James Bond became increasingly invincible, paving the way for the perception of 007 as an untouchable superman who barely breaks a sweat. But there were a few pretenders to the throne who latched onto the super-suave caricature early on, eager to pick up the larger-than-life slack. Dean Martin got into the game with four films for Columbia Pictures as "Matt Helm", a superspy photographer who added a singing voice to his secret agent bag of tricks. On TV, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry put Don Adams through the wringer as Agent 86 in Get Smart. And over at 20th Century Fox, James Coburn got to show off his karate skills and comic timing in a pair of films featuring Derek Flint, full-time playboy and part time secret agent.
Our Man Flint (1966) presents the fantasy world of Bond as seen through the willfully silly prism of the 60s pop movement. It absolutely wallows in its campy aesthetic, giving us 007 by way of Adam West's Batman. As the film begins, we learn via some grubby stock footage and model work that something is wreaking havoc with the weather. A group of mad scientists are holding the world hostage, threatening to melt the ice caps and destroy Life As We Know It. They also turn women into sex slaves. Why not. The Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage (Z.O.W.I.E., natch) fires up its UNIVAC supercomputer to find a solution, and the computer spits out the name of the one man who can stop the evil plot: Derek Flint. Flint's former boss, Lloyd C. Cramden (Lee J Cobb) is reluctant to bring him in; it seems Flint is an unconventional loose cannon who plays by his own rules!
Flint, a rich swinger with a private jet and four live-in girlfriends or sister wives or something, could give shit about the world being threatened, and turns down the job a number of times, plenty busy with his karate and fencing and screwing. But when someone tries to kill him with a poison dart while he's out dancing with his four ladies, it's on. Flint chases down leads around the globe with a preternatural intuition that would make Sherlock Holmes envious. Conferring with British agent 0008 (a ringer for Sean Connery), he learns the identity of the secret terrorist organization behind the plot and sets out to stop them from using their weather-controlling device against the governments of the world. Lives are saved, women are objectified, there's a weird stand-off between the scientists and Flint, where he rejects their idea of a scientifically-engineered Utopia because FREE WILL, and credits are rolled.
Our Man Flint is like Ground Zero of the swinging 60s, a total movie of the moment. As such, it's often about as culturally relatable as a film set in feudal Japan, dropping references and jokes that are sure to be lost on a modern audience. But it's also a lot of fun. Released during the heyday of Connery's Bond, it sometimes feels as if this film and the 007 series are crossing paths on the goofiness scale (this film's villainous volcano lair beats the one in You Only Live Twice to the screen by a year). The music is great, the women are beautiful, and the plot is fun in a way that makes you look for Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s name in the credits. (It's not.) James Coburn plays Flint as untouchably cool, never saying more than he needs to, never at a loss for a solution, never not grinning. Coburn's one of the great screen tough guys, but here he gives off the zen contentedness of a beach bum in a suit. Even when his cover's blown by an eagle that's been trained to spot and attack Americans ("An anti-American eagle. It's diabolical"), he's unflappable. Or maybe he's just exhausted from having to sexually satisfy four women at once.
The film was a hit - it spawned a sequel in theaters (In Like Flint in 1967) and a pilot on TV (Dead On Target in 1976) - but today its sexual politics (and old-school karate moves) might give a contemporary audience pause. And there's a fair bit of deja vu when viewing them today, due to Mike Myers strip-mining Flint (and Dean Martin's Matt Helm) for his Austin Powers films. But if your affection for the Bond franchise leans toward the colorful and goofy elements, Our Man Flint has what you're after in spades.