James Bond Declassified: File #3 - 'Goldfinger' takes the series into the realm of pop cartoon
One of the most popular films in the series deserves its reputation
- Critic's Rating A
- Readers' Rating A+
JAMES BOND 007 DECLASSIFIED
File #3: "Goldfinger"
This series will trace the cinema history of James Bond, while also examining Ian Fleming's original novels as source material and examining how faithful (or not) the films have been to his work.
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum & Paul Dehn
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
CHARACTERS / CAST
James Bond / Sean Connery
Pussy Galore / Honor Blackman
Auric Goldfinger / Gert Frobe
Jill Masterson / Shirley Eaton
Tilly Masterson / Tania Mallet
Oddjob / Harold Sakata
M / Bernard Lee
Solo / Martin Benson
Felix Leiter / Cec Linder
Simmons / Austin Willis
Miss Moneypenny / Lois Maxwell
Dink / Margaret Nolan
After the gun-barrel image of Bond firing at the audience, we see Bond emerging from the water somewhere, a fake seagull on his head, and he immediately starts working to infiltrate wherever he is. This involves knocking out guards, firing grappling hooks, and planting plastic explosives all over a bunch of nitroglycerin tanks.
Then he strips off his wetsuit, revealing a tux underneath, and heads into a nearby bar, just as the explosion goes off, giving himself a lovely alibi. He talks to his contact about how the guy whose operation he just hit won't be using "heroin-flavored bananas" to fund his operations anymore. Before he leaves, he stops by a hotel room to see the dancer from the bar, who he finds in the bathtub. It's a trap, of course, and Bond sees the guy who is about to kill him reflected in the girl's eye. There's a struggle, and the guy ends up in the bathtub. Bond throws in a fan, electrocuting him, and as he reclaims his gun and leaves, he utters one of the most definitive Bond one-liners ever, echoed through decades of crappy action movies since then: "Shocking. Simply shocking."
And then the song. Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" is the first truly great Bond song, and she belts it here like her life depends on it. Big and brassy and packed with attitude, the song is matched by a credit sequence that further refines the formula that played out over the course of the series. Robert Brownjohn's hallucinatory mini-movie consists of film clips played over the gold-painted skin of women, and there are few things stranger than seeing Odd Job superimposed over a hot woman. Title sequences were so short at this point, though, that I wish this one was longer. It's really confident and cool and sets the tone with a few smart thematic touches, ending with fire playing out over the gold-burnished skin of the last girl.
It's an interesting creative team on this one. Guy Hamilton stepped into the series as the first new director, after Terence Young worked to help set the tone for the films in "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love." Hamilton was a guy who had a few hits under his belt, and movies like "Man In The Middle" and "An Inspector Calls" indicated that he was able to create light mainstream entertainments that played with some heavy ideas without ever sacrificing the Hollywood mainstream veneer. By this point, the main creative team defining the look and mood of the James Bond movies was cinematographer Ted Moore, editor Peter Hunt, and production designer Ken Adam. Adam didn't work on "From Russia With Love" because he was busy with Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove," but he returned for "Goldfinger," and it's a good thing. I think his influence here is one of the things that helped the series make the jump from fun spy movies to pop sensation. Adam's work has a real sense of play, and along with what Moore and Hunt were doing, the Bond films felt fairly cutting edge at the time. They had this bright palette, and they had a swagger, and they just felt like there was a whole world of sophistication they could serve as a window into, contemporary and alive.
So what better place to start than 1963 Miami?
A plane flies by with a "Welcome To Miami Beach" banner, and looking at the establishing shots of the '60s version of Miami, it's sort of small-scale and charming compared to the city it is today. And right away, I love the score for "Goldfinger." Like the theme song, it comes out swinging, big and bold. And I love the way the film goes from that opening helicopter shot to a close-up of someone diving into a pool, and Felix Leiter standing on the other side of glass watching the dive. What's funny about the blend of these shots is that the helicopter shot is obviously really in Florida, as is the shot of Felix Leiter watching the girls swimming on the other side of the glass, then turning and walking out into the hotel. But when he actually reaches Bond, that's England. Connery never came to the US once during the production of the film. So Leiter is the thing that carries us from the real to the fake, and it's a clever bit of business by director Guy Hamilton.
This is our second Felix Leiter in three films, and I'll say this: Cec Linder is no Jack Lord. This guy probably looks more like a real spy would look, but it's a pretty jarring bit of recasting. Connery's such a great big glorious sexist ape in this film. I love how he tells Dink (the very '60s and very cute Margaret Nolan) to run along because it's time for "man talk," complete with a slap on the ass. I'm not sure why my wife dislikes it when I quote him in my daily life. Hmmmmm.
The film wastes no time at all setting things in motion. Leiter tells him right away that Goldfinger is his new assignment, and within a few minutes, he's figured out how Goldfinger is cheating at cards, and he's also managed to win over JIll Masterson, the girl who was helping him cheat. I like how sweaty and unimpressive Goldfinger is as a physical specimen. He's not exactly the template you picture when you hear that someone's a super-villain.
One of the reasons the Bond films are culturally significant is because of the way they capture the shifting nature of what is acceptable from our screen heroes. Watch Bond deal with women here. When Jill's flirting with him while he's on the phone, he grabs her by the face and shoves her onto the bed. Her reaction? A smile and a purr. Try that today and see what happens.
Important detail: James Bond hates the Beatles. "There are some things, dear girl, that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above the temperature of 38-degrees Fahrenheit. That's as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs." What's funny is that I mentioned his slam on Twitter, and someone immediately fired back that Bond obviously loves them because of what he said. I think that person was confused about the difference between earmuffs and headphones, though, because it's very clear… Bond is not a fan. That makes perfect sense based on how old he is and how generational the Beatles were. And it also makes the theme song for "Live and Let Die" about 50 times more hilarious.
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17 minutes in, and we're already back in London. Right away, M lays the law down and tells Bond that he screwed up and made it personal. He wasn't supposed to humiliate Goldfinger, but it was obvious from the scene that Bond was just offended by seeing Goldfinger cheat so blatantly. He had no idea it would lead to a murder, and that escalation is what draws Bond in. Bond's furious about what happened, but he also knows that it was his fault. People don't really give Connery credit for his acting in these films, like he's just cruising through them looking cool, but there's a reason he is still the favorite of many fans. There is a wellspring of rage in Connery's Bond that he allows out when it suits him, and the rest of the time, he plays this alpha male who feels that the world will simply do whatever he wills it to do. His flirting, his one-liners, his attitude… it's all a distraction from the moments when he has to get his hands dirty. That's why I wish we'd seen his "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." Watching him finally open up to someone only to lose her… man, that would have been something.
I like the way the Moneypenny relationship has already become familiar by this point in the series. She is one of the few people he allows himself to simply like without reserve, and it's nice to see the interplay. There's a great dinner meeting where Bond is given a crash course education in gold to prepare him for his further pursuit of Goldfinger, complete with a £5000 gold bar. The next morning, he reports to Q branch for his briefing, and this is the first time we've really seen the sequence that became such a staple of the series. There's a less-fully-realized version in "From Russia With Love," but here, we've got Desmond Llewelyn as Q, complete with his undisguised contempt for Bond and the way he treats his equipment in the field. These scenes are basically a road map for what we can expect to see later in the film, and I always loved that as a kid. If they tell you there's an ejector seat in the Aston Martin, you can be damn sure they're going to use the ejector seat.
This is one of those films where I'm confused by the designation of Bond as a "spy," since he introduces himself to Goldfinger in Miami Beach, and then as soon as he's back on his trail, makes sure to introduce himself again, leading to the tensest golf game ever played by anyone besides Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. Bond just charges in and goes toe to toe with Goldfinger, giving him a heads-up that he's on his trail. Only Sean Connery can make golfing look badass. And the way he and his caddy twist Goldfinger during the game once they catch him cheating is great and subtle fun. Still, it only makes Goldfinger angrier, and at this point, he's already killed someone. It's a dangerous game Bond plays in this film, and when Goldfinger has Oddjob demonstrate the bowler hat, I think that's the second moment the film makes the jump to pop cartoon, and the series made the jump to all-time status. It elevates things further than either of the first two films did, and it gives the series permission to start playing bigger like that. He's a henchman who can crush a golf ball to dust with his bare hands. This is not reality.
John Barry's orchestral treatment of the "Goldfinger" theme throughout the film is pretty great, and I love the melancholy version during the long sequence where Bond is tailing Goldfinger through Switzerland in his car. This whole middle section of the film is one of my favorites in any Bond film. I just like the narrative flow of it. First, Bond spots Tilly Masterson on Goldfinger's trail and he stops her, making sure he gets a chance to meet her. Then he sneaks into Goldfinger's factory, which looks an awful lot like he's just creeping around the alleys of Pinewood Studios, and he learns about Goldfinger's smuggling plan, a fairly clever conceit that is paid off well here. It makes sense of all the emphasis that Hamilton places on Goldfinger's car before this. This is the first mention we hear of "Operation Grand Slam," and we see that the Chinese are involved. It's funny how this feels like it could be the plot of a movie right now, with a little shift making it so the Koreans are behind a nuclear plot against the United States, even though it's been almost 50 years since this came out.
I've always liked the character of Tilly Masterson, but I think Tania Mallet is sort of a dud onscreen. The moment before the big chase, when Bond figures out who she is, should be an emotional moment between the two of them, but Mallet just doesn't sell it. It's a shame. I think she keeps that part of the story from working as well as it should. The script gets it right, but without the emotional connection, it just doesn't land right. The end of their chase, with Oddjob taking Tilly down, is effectively handled by Hamilton, who sells the idea that Bond would let himself get caught because of the sense of responsibility he feels to this girl.
The ejector seat gag is interesting because of how thrown away it is. Yep. He uses it. But a modern Bond film would turn it into this elaborate effect or stunt set-up. Here, it's a long-shot, and it's pretty much just a dude getting thrown out of the car a few feet in the air. The entire chase is frustrating for Bond, like a bull that's slowly being hedged in before it gets brought down, and so is his escape attempt. He's just plain cornered.
The third, and maybe most iconic moment that helped push this one over the top is the next sequence, justifiably one of the most famous in film history. Bond strapped to a table. Goldfinger gloating. The laser beam making a slow climb towards his crotch. "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" When someone sees this for the first time now, who knows how many of this film's imitators are going to be bouncing around in their head already? When audiences saw this scene in the '60s, it was a very clever new riff on an old idea. We're used to bad guys who like to monologue a bit, but Bond was part of making that into a convention of the genre. I like that we see Bond struggling to catch up to the bad guys for most of this film. He's good, but he's also got to use the fine art of bullshit at times. And there's something very primal about a character who has been established as a nonstop f**k-machine having his privates threatened with bisection. There's nothing more damaging that Goldfinger could do to him. And going from a direct threat on his crotch to the introduction of Pussy Galore within a few shots is one of the reasons this one punched through on a nearly chemical level for audiences. Using Fleming's work, the filmmakers took great pleasure in playing with archetypes and iconography and innuendo in a fairly heady blend, and "Goldfinger" is one of the moments where they got the balance just right. It may only be a matter of degrees between a character named Pussy Galore and a character named Holly Goodhead, but those degrees matter. "Goldfinger" benefits from the casting of Honor Blackman, whose name makes her sound like she's a Bond-character-within-a-Bond-movie. She makes Pussy Galore into such a potent figure of power with the quiet strength she brings to the role that she's never allowed to be a joke.
Oh… by the way… I love that Burt Kwouk, best known to film audiences as Kato in the "Pink Panther" films, appears here as Mr. Ling, the Red Chinese representative for Operation Grand Slam. It just entertains me mightily that the two franchises overlap in any way.
By this point in the film, when Bond arrives in Kentucky in the care of Pussy Galore, Oddjob just smiles every time he sees Bond, like he's just waiting for the moment where he's finally taken off the leash. It's creepy, and it's one of the great bad guy performances in the series, with the extra bonus of being entirely non-verbal. It's all attitude. Felix Leiter has a real presence in the film, showing up again as part of the team that is following Bond's tracking device.
The scene with Goldfinger and the various mob bosses from around America is very funny, and it's a snapshot of how the Mafia was portrayed in movies at the time. This is still the pre-"Godfather" world of the mob on film, and they're like Damon Runyon stereotypes cranked up to 11. They're played mainly for laughs, not for menace, and you get the sense that Goldfinger loves showing off his spiffy automated hideout to them, scaring them like gorillas seeing a Zippo lighter for the first time.
I think it's pretty lovely the way Goldfinger finally reveals his plot to Bond and takes such visible pleasure in watching him add it all up. It blows my mind that Frobe's entire performance was dubbed by another actor. He looks so natural delivering his lines. I like his casual assessment of Goldfinger, telling Galore, "He's quite mad, you know." The scene between Galore and Bond in the barn is a bit of fisticuffs as foreplay, something that's become familiar in the years since, but it's done well here. I'm fairly sure I'd call the seduction date rape as depicted, but then again, this is James Bond and the '60s. They hadn't even invented the term yet.
The films were getting more expensive from film to film, but looking at them now, there's not a lot of what we would consider the earmarks of an expensive movies. The effects like the rear projection stuff are passable, about as good as could be expected at the time, but not terribly convincing. For the most part, if they needed to do something in the movie, they just staged it for real. It's the scale that seemed to get a little bigger from film to film. There's more of a sense of globetrotting in this one than in the first two, and the scenes of everyone at Fort Knox being knocked out are pretty expansive, with tons of extras.
I'd argue that the wrap-up for the film is maybe the least fun stuff in the movie, but that's just because after a certain point, there's an air of inevitability to it. Even so, they try to keep it exciting right up to that final fight onboard the airplane, including a fake-out that makes it look like Bond and Galore die, and Hamilton's great sense of composition and character really does make this one of the most overtly entertaining entries in the entire franchise.
Right at the start of the closing credits, as Shirley Bassey's vocal kicks back in:
WILL BE BACK
This was the seventh book in Fleming's series, and it's interesting that this is the moment where the books started to evolve into something darker and richer than originally conceived, while it's the moment where the movies made the push into a heightened reality.
The book and the film's stories are roughly the same, with a major change being that in the book, Operation Grand Slam really is just a heist at Fort Knox. One of the things I love about the choice to have Goldfinger's scheme be something else in the movie is that it must have pulled the rug out from under the people who had already read the books. It's a nice surprise, and a good example of the adaptations working to really engage the fans of Fleming's novels.
I like the way the book is structured, and while the film follows the same rough shape, in Fleming's book, it's more pronounced. It's divided into three sections: "Happenstance," "Coincidence," and "Enemy Action." That's explained by a quote from Goldfinger in the book: "Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago. 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time, it's enemy action.' Miami, Sandwich, and now Genea. I propose to wring the truth out of you."
There are things that Fleming was able to be clear about that the film only hints it. Both Tilly Masterson and Pussy Galore are lesbians in Fleming's book. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. And Pussy Galore's team of burglars are also all lesbians. While you can certainly read the film that way, they never say it, and I get the feeling they couldn't. They also wanted to make sure that Bond booked a little sack time with her in the movie, even if he did have to get rough to make it happen.
The way Oddjob dies in the book is the way Goldfinger dies in the movie. They gave Oddjob a more elaborate death, and it's fitting. I like seeing how they took an idea from the book and twisted or turned it, though. The adaptation by Maibaum and Dehn is a smart one, and it both honors Fleming's book and also folds it into this particular spot in the film franchise, using it as a springboard for things that would become standard over the course of the film series. The smartest thing they did was turn it all up to a just-shy-of-camp level, because that's the tone that made the films a phenomenon. While I personally think I would prefer that all the Bond films be more like the books, rougher, leaner, and more grounded, I acknowledge that the reason they are still making the movies 50 years later is because they've explored all these different ways of approaching the material, and they've gambled on the zeitgeist several times, and they've mostly been right.
When I want to turn someone on to the books over the films, I introduce them to this book first, because I think most Bond fans know "Goldfinger" pretty well, and so when they read the book, they can see what's different and they can immediately get a sense of how Fleming approached the character over the way the films did it.
James Bond will return...
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