Goldfinger (1964)

Posted: April 5, 2019 in James Bond
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And so we’re onto the third Bond film. Worth noting that back then they made three of them in less time than there’s currently been between Spectre and Bond #25…

But I digress. Time for 007 to take on a simple smuggling case that turns out to involve plans for the worlds greatest bank robbery, well, maybe not a robbery…

Ask a cross section of Bond fans, be they rabid or occasional, to name their top three Bond films and chances are Goldfinger will probably feature in a large number of rankings. To this day it’s an iconic film, the epitome of the franchise, but is it actually any good?

To be honest it’d been a few years since I’d seen it in its entirety, and I’d got it into my head that it was a film that wasn’t nearly as good as its reputation suggested.

How wrong can a guy be?

Sure it has a few creaky moments, and one altogether distasteful element, but I’ll get onto that. For now let’s just say that it is iconic, a film that laid the groundwork of much that was to follow, and however good Dr No and From Russia With Love were, this is the film that cemented Bond as a powerhouse, and it introduced elements that resonate to this day.

In many ways it’s the very antithesis of FRWL, sure we’re not in the realms of hollowed out volcanos just yet, but Goldfinger isn’t remotely the gritty spy thriller FRWL was, it’s more fantastical then what came before, but a tad more grounded than what might follow.

Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is a doozy, and it set the bar really high in terms of a miniature movie in its own right. Bond infiltrates a secret base, blows it up, gets the girl, gets betrayed by the girl, kills an assassin and even has time for a pithy one liner, all in less time that it took Daniel Craig to walk to a hotel in the pre title sequence of Spectre. That Connery plays it with effortless cool is the icing on the cake. Frankly there are possibly whole Bond films less exciting than Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is.

Not that what follows is dull, although you might be forgiven for remembering the film being more action packed than it is, and pacing wise there’s nothing formulaic about this Bond film, for starters 007 spends pretty much half the film as Goldfinger’s prisoner, which I’m pretty sure isn’t something we’ve seen since (though rumours suggest Bond #25 may try and emulate this.)

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“Make Gold Great Again!”

Ah, Auric Goldfinger, the titular villain is larger than life in every sense of the word. In many ways  something of a buffoon, a cheating blowhard in love with the sound of his own voice, and once you throw the love of gold and golf into the equation it’s disturbing how reminiscent he is of a certain American President. And yet, despite this, he’s also quite clearly very dangerous, and not a fool either, and whilst you can credit Michael Collin’s dubbing for part of the appeal, it’s  Gert Fröbe’s physicality and mannerisms that really sell the character. He also has a natty line in bestowing imaginative ends on his enemies. See poor Mr Solo (nice little Bond-Fleming-Man from U.N.C.L.E in-joke there) crushed in the scrapyard, or one of the most iconic deaths meted out in the entire franchise, when Shirley Eaton’s poor Jill Masterson pays the price for betraying Goldfinger by winding up suffocated under a coat of gold paint. Whether that would actually kill you hardly matters, the image was seared into history, to such an extend that the producers tried, with far less success, to emulate it in 2008 by covering Gemma Arterton in oil. And of course, Jill’s sister, Tilly meets a grisly end courtesy of Odd Job’s steel rimmed hat (sad that Tania Mallet died just a few days ago).

And whilst Goldfinger doesn’t actually kill James, he comes pretty close, and his method has a delicious irony to it. Let’s be honest, Connery strapped to a metal bed as a laser beam creeps ever closer to his family jewels is almost as memorable as poor Jill’s golden death. Much like when he was facing certain death in FRWL Connery sweats fear, again he’s desperate, trying anything he can to escape. Goldfinger isn’t interested, and as exchanges go there’s few better in the franchise than “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”

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But then Bond wriggles his way out of ending up a Damien Hirst sculpture by mentioning Operation Grand Slam. Goldfinger, correctly, intuits that Bond merely overheard the phrase and has no idea what it means, but can he afford to take the chance? The Chinese agent working with Goldfinger (and yes that is Burt Kwouk) clearly feels they need to keep him alive. Yes, it might seem ridiculous that Goldfinger chooses not to kill Bond, but watching the film again it’s clearly a shrewd move. With Bond still very much alive, 008 won’t be despatched to investigate, especially with Felix Leiter (three films in and onto our second Felix) foolishly believing Bond has everything under control, in reality it’s Goldfinger who has the situation firmly under control, or at least he thinks he does.

He hasn’t counted on 007’s sheer animal magnetism however…oh dear.

Let’s talk about Pussy.

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In so many ways Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is the best Bond girl to date, and unless memory really doesn’t serve me well, will remain so until another star of the Avengers arrives on the scene in 1969 (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

You could argue she isn’t as drop dead beautiful as Andress or Bianchi, but she’s still gorgeous and, more importantly, she has presence, she can act, and the character has agency, well, up to a point. Pussy is Goldfinger’s trusted ally, a woman who’s formed her own flying circus composed entirely of sexy women pilots (you don’t think she might prefer women to blokes do you?) she’s also got no time for 007’s bullshit.

Until she does.

Whilst it isn’t as explicit as it may be in the book that Pussy is a lesbian, it’s clearly inferred. Even if she isn’t gay, Bond effectively forcing himself on her is distasteful enough, that his seduction “straightens” her out just makes things so much worse, and it’s a shame that this has to serve as the reason she betrays Goldfinger, rather than Bond appealing to her better nature. There’s a certain amount of misogyny I can tolerate in the franchise, this moment crosses the line.

For whatever reason, Pussy betrays Goldfinger (cats are notoriously fickle) and his plan to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox comes unglued.

It’s interesting to note how uninvolved Bond is in all of this, he isn’t even able to defuse the atomic bomb in the end, he has to rely on one of Felix’s men. He does get revenge for both Jill and Tilly however, by killing Oddjob.

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I take my hat off you you, sir

Ah, Oddjob, another high flyer in the pantheon of henchmen. Weightlifter come wrestler Harold Sakata might be near mute, but he’s a powerful presence, with an unmistakable silhouette—in fact the first time we see him it’s only his shadow—and whether he’s throwing his deadly hat, or crushing golf balls with his bare hands, he’s a dangerous foe, at least until 007 electrocutes him; not so fun fact, Sakata burned his hand during that scene, yet refused to let go, what a pro.

We’re in less exotic climes this time, with much of the film taking place in England and Kentucky, with a stop off in scenic Switzerland, and at times there’s a leisurely pace to the film, and not in a bad way. Can you imagine a modern Bond film spending so long on a game of golf? Can you imagine a modern Bond even playing golf?

Ken Adams outdoes himself yet again with the set design, be it Goldfinger’s Kentuckian lair, or Fort Knox itself, and whilst the franchise dallied with gadgets in the last film, here we get a clear sign of what’s to come with the tricked out Aston Martin DB5; machine guns, oil slicks, scythes, rotating number plates, oh and it also comes with an ejector seat. “You must be joking,” says Bond in Q’s lab.

Hah this is nothing, wait till we give you an invisible car…

One final fun fact before I hit my conclusion, the devious dancer in the pre-title sequence was also Kerim Bey’s mistress!

Goldfinger isn’t perfect, Bond is a little inert at times, and a few things don’t quite hang together (why would Goldfinger explain his plan to rob Fort Knox in so much detail to the Mafia guys when he’s about to murder them?) And of course, there’s the scene in the barn.

But despite its flaws it’s a rightfully iconic film that embodies pretty much everything about the franchise. A great pre-title sequence, a wonderful villain with an equally memorable henchman, a diabolical, and slightly left field, plot, the first Bond girl who’s more than two dimensional, a gadget laden Aston Martin, Sean Connery at the top of his game ( and he really is great in this) and I nearly forgot, one of the best damn title songs of them all sung by my dad’s favourite singer, Miss Shirley Bassey!

I know I’ve thrown the ‘I’ word around a lot, but damn it’s well earned here. A top-notch Bond film.

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