Before sitting down to watch In Like Flint, my only prior knowledge was its reference in one of the Austin Powers movies. It’s an appropriate connection as it becomes easy to discover where the latter film liberally stole several of its gags. I didn’t see the 1965 original, Our Man Flint, and this sequel doesn’t seem to have too many connecting threads short of the same characters. It’s easy to get into for the uninitiated and it’s actually a pretty fun (albeit goofy) camp film. The good folks over at Twilight Time have just released this on Blu-Ray with a wealth of bonus content, so now might be a good time to get in bed with secret agent, Derek Flint.
Derek Flint (James Coburn) is an international super spy with a bevy of beauties at his beck and call. When the President is switched out with an impostor Flint is tasked with figuring out what the end-game is. In his travels, he discovers a top-secret location in the Virgin Islands that’s brainwashing the women of the world via hairdryers, along with a wealth of other wacky hijinks he must stop before it’s too late.
In Like Flint was the last of 20th Century Fox’s films to be filmed in Cinemascope, and on Blu-Ray that decision is brilliant. There are several beautiful aerial shots of locations that pop-out in the wide-angle format. Fox also put out the Batman television series at this time, and in watching In Like Flint you can tell both utilized the same sensibilities. The movie is an obvious spoof of the James Bond franchise that isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself while being totally serious. The characters employ various gadgets that wouldn’t be too out-of-place in an Ian Fleming creation, from golf balls filled with smoke that freezes people, to cloning a double of the President of the United States; and, of course, you have freezing tubes. Despite how zany the plot is, the characters treat it with all the reverence of a serious spy film. The way James Coburn speaks fluent dolphin, yet does so with that stone-walled face of his, shows that this is a silly movie, yes, but no one’s telling the cast.
Coburn and Lee J. Cobb are a superior force, and the humor flows consistently from them. Coburn plays Derek Flint as suave, tough, but not afraid to do something ridiculous in the name of democracy (the aforementioned dolphin talking). The movie’s claim to fame involves Flint as a member of the Bolshoi Ballet, and it’s a moment of sheer farce played to absurd heights. The scene works, not just because Flint is trying to create a rendezvous with a member of the ballet, but because he sticks out like a sore thumb on principle. His costume is bright red, and Coburn is a tall, lanky man. He wouldn’t fit in if he was the best dancer in the world. The thing is that you can easily believe Coburn is about as much of a ballet dancer as he looks like a Cuban dictator…which the film also has him do. You can tell this movie comes from an earlier era since Flint, dressed as Fidel Castro, is able to get into the cockpit of an airplane in order to give the pilots cigars. There’s so many levels of poor taste (for the post 9/11 era), but here it’s hilarious because Coburn doesn’t look Cuban by a long shot. Paired up with him is the aforementioned Cobb. Cobb could be equated to Robert Stack from Airplane. Cobb plays the man who’s supposed to be in charge, and yet is undercut at every turn. Cobb gets the required “man in drag” sequence and he jumps into it headfirst. He’s the ugliest woman in the world, but it works due to the evil plot revolving around women’s beauty. I assumed the plot would be ridiculous and would have to work itself around gags; instead, there’s a reversal and the gags dovetail with the plot.
That’s not to say the plot is perfect. It’s 1960s James Bond mixed in with a little peace and love, and a dash of misogyny. As I mentioned above, you don’t have to watch Our Man Flint in order to enjoy this. The script uses the first thirty minutes to set up the plot before introducing Flint himself. You meet the group of the evil Fabulous Face, as well as the Z.O.W.I.E. organization before Flint is mentioned. Once Flint and his gang of women arrive, I didn’t notice any jokes that were meant to be understood by fans of the first film. If they are there, they really slip under the radar. The plot and characters are as standalone as if this was their first outing. The gags are a mix of dialogue and sequences from other films that lend themselves to be spoofed. One of the femme fatales, Ms. Norton (Jean Hale) uses the old Superman disguise of glasses to be rendered unrecognizable; the President tells Cramden (Cobb) that “I’ll never turn my back on you,” only to precede to turn around and talk to someone else; and, my personal favorite, is when it’s believed Flint has died and Cramden (receiving a box with someone else’s remains) discovers he isn’t. One of his lackeys asks the obvious question, “If Flint’s alive, sir, then who’s this?” Cramden: “Oh, who cares!” I also believed the big boardroom sequence was a direct rip-off of Dr. Strangelove, but it’s been so long since I saw Kubrick’s film that I wasn’t sure.
Of course, the gags are all only chuckle worthy, so don’t expect a comedy classic. I did notice that the Austin Powers moment with the car in the tiny space was directly lifted from In Like Flint. The biggest hurdle is noticing the misogyny that is both condemned and condoned. The included essay, again written by Julie Kirgo, doesn’t seem to accurately convey whether she finds the plot of feminists bent on world domination and brainwashing other women via hairdryers to be funny or wrong. I couldn’t answer it either. At times, the plot is tongue in cheek; showing these women to be powerful and smart; finding that “childish masculine loyalty” hasn’t helped anyone. The problems lie in the fact that all the women are beautiful, spend the majority of the film scantily clad, and are easily seduced by Flint. Conversely, Flint finds that there’s no need to compete with women, and he avoids it altogether. The women of Fabulous Face dream of creating a matriarchy, but the plot doesn’t seem to do much outside of saying that’s wrong. I shouldn’t have expected much, considering the fear of women’s liberation, but for all it got right, it got as much wrong.
In terms of bonus content, there aforementioned essays continue to be my favorite. There’s also an isolated soundtrack, similar to what we saw in Pony Soldier. The soundtrack is funky, and very 1960s. Unlike Pony Soldier, that’s not the only thing here. There’s also commentary with film historians Lee Pfeffier and Eddy Friedfeld; Derek Flint: The Secret Files; a feature on Coburn himself, entitled James Coburn: The Man Behind the Spy; Designing Flint; Flint vs. Zanuck: The Missing 3 Minutes; Take It Off; footage from the Puerto Rico Premiere; features entitled Future Perfect, Feminine Wiles, Spy School, Musician’s Magician, and Spy Vogue; screen tests and trailers. With all of that you can spend a fair amount of time, after watching the feature, going through the bonus content.
I’d recommend picking this up if you want a light-hearted James Bond, or see where Austin Powers really got his mojo. The actors are splendid, despite how quickly they could have fallen into camp, and while the plot is questionable the gags are chuckle worthy. On top of that, the Blu-Ray transfer is beautiful (as to be expected) and there’s a slew of diverse bonus content. You can buy In Like Flint via Twilight Time here.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.