Serial, Super Serial: Goldfinger

Goldfinger

The 1964 Goldfinger takes a break from the continued storyline established in the first two James Bond films and delivers the single-mission dose that I have been expecting from the series. And boy did this one deliver! Although I’ve liked all the films I’ve seen thus far, Goldfinger just feels like a Bond film — we have everything here at top gear, from the gadgets, to the car, to the theme song. It’s the perfect blend of good filmmaking and camp entertainment.

Guy Hamilton takes over the reins to direct this film, and I think he explains a part of the improvement. I’m not specifically watching these films for the craft of the filmmaking, but this was the first of the films where I singled out certain shots and directorial choices. I think Terence Young did fine with his material, but I never felt any real sense of style. Hamilton also pushes some of the camp moments in a way that makes me think he tried to have a lot of fun with this film, and what more can we ask for than that? Although Hamilton doesn’t direct next week’s film (Young returns for one more crack at it), he does come back for a few of the early Roger Moore films.

It’s also quite noticeable that this was a much more expensive film than the first two, which probably adds a little to the flashiness of the filmmaking. For the first time in the series we feel like we’re at actual locations — we see Miami Beach in all its allure, and the shots around Fort Knox really add to the drama of Bond’s mission. I’m assuming with two hits already under their belts, the producers were able to guarantee another success and were able to raise a few more greenbacks.

Bond, James Bond

This is the first film where we don’t learn a lot extra about Bond. Pretty much from this point out, as long as Connery is Bond, I think we’ll know what to expect from him.

If there is one thing that we see more from Bond, it’s that he’s a smooth talker, and not only to the ladies. There are multiple times during the film that he talks his enemies out of killing him — the first of these instances oft-parodied scene involving a laser coming closer and closer to Bond’s manhood. We have moments where Bond is under serious pressure and still manages to keep his cool.

We also see him interact more one-on-one with the main villain, and his attitude there is interesting. While he’s on Goldfinger’s trail (albeit before he understands the total ramifications of his level of evildom) he’s surprisingly playful, actually teasing the man. During a scene where Bond and Goldfinger play a round of golf together, he counteracts the immoral play of his enemy by teaching him a lesson about the merits of fair sportsmanship.

The Mission

In terms of the mission, Goldfinger is by far the least complicated. In fact, until more than halfway through the film, there doesn’t seem to be much of a mission at all. Bond is contracted to simply keep an eye on Goldfinger, and it seems like it may be a pretty tame ride. It isn’t until we see the first death of the film, when Bond Girl Jill Masterson is iconically covered in gold paint and suffers “skin suffocation,” that we know the heights of his evildom.

The film actually opens with a mini-mission, as Bond blows up a drug lab somewhere in South America. It’s the first time we’ve seen Bond working outside of the main plot, and it gives us an interesting look at him perhaps at his most competent — he deftly breaks into the lab, plants a bomb and gets out just in time to visit a “friend” and stave off an assassin. Being totally disconnected from the rest of the film, it plays like a great cold open on a sitcom, while it gives us more context to Bond’s world, but it doesn’t necessarily exist for much more than to entertain.

The main mission of the film, however, is one of the most iconic of the series — Bond must stop Goldfinger from tainting the world’s largest gold supply at Fort Knox. The plot set-up is brilliant because it’s easy to understand (although there are twists along the way) and provides us with a concrete location and motivation, something that was lacking in the first two films. It also seems like a nonviolent or impossible heist at first, but the film does well to make the mission unique and raise the stakes to a level closer to the “world domination” plots we’ve seen before.

The Villains

Not only does Goldfinger showcase one of Bond’s most beloved villains, but maybe also the franchise’s best henchman in Oddjob, the Korean man-of-few-words-but-a-killer-hat-toss. His choice of weapon is so bizarre it’s appealing, even as it’s frightfully inconsistent — we first see it chop the head off a marble statue, but it does little visible damage to flesh. There’s certainly a lot of camp in the character, but I think he works so well because he’s legitimately pretty frightening. His serious tone and quick trigger make him perhaps Bond’s most dangerous adversary yet. Of any villain we’ve seen thus far, he’s the one I’d least like to meet in a dark alley. Unless there was a brisk wind that day.

Auric Goldfinger (I keep nearly typing ‘Goldmember’), on the other hand, is the already classic villain that doesn’t like to do his own dirty work and would rather duel over philosophy than fisticuffs. I think he may be a little overrated as a Bond villain overall, but he has a few things in his favor. Obviously, the fact that his name works on the basest level is appealing. How curious is it that a man named Auric Goldfinger is one of the world’s most successful gold dealers? It sort of seems like he is a WWE character who builds his backstory just based on the name. Do you think he just went into the family business?

As I mentioned earlier, Bond isn’t threatened at all by Goldfinger, and for pretty good reason. He really is only a villain for Bond because of circumstance — he’s not someone that would have been on Bond’s radar if they hadn’t have been vacationing together at the same Miami Beach resort. Because our introduction to him shows him cheating at a game of Gin Rummy, he really does seem harmless enough — Bond even says he sounds like “French nail polish”. And even though he comes the closest thus far to killing Bond (really the film strains pretty hard to keep him alive at one particular point), he feels like he has much more bark than bite. Given that he has some of the best lines in the series thus far, including the famous “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” the bark is quite enough to enjoy.

The Bond Girls

First thing’s first, I have to say it: how it the hell can they name a major character in a major motion picture Pussy Galore? Maybe it was just a sign of the times, but I feel this would be an automatic NC-17 with the wacky MPAA these days. It’s such a crazy name that I would expect it from a parody. There is absolutely no subtlety in Pussy Galore — even Bond asks “am I dreaming” when she introduces herself for the first time.

As for the character, she adds yet another dimension to the repertoire of Bond Girls. While she no doubt works for a megalomaniac evil-doer, she herself is not evil — maybe a sell-out, but her morals aren’t totally out-of-whack. A better example of this may be another girl from the film, Jill Masterson, who admits she hangs around Goldfinger because he pays her well. They maybe don’t condone all his actions, but hey, in this economy, they won’t let their consciences get in the way. Furthermore, Galore (played by Honor Blackman) is the most talented individual of all the girls. She isn’t just a pretty face; her success as a pilot makes her more valuable to her employers and perhaps more attractive to Bond.

The women of Goldfinger also have another distinction from their predecessors, as they aren’t quite as quick to fall for Bond. Two of the three women we see in the film (Galore and Jill’s sister, Tilly Masterson) really don’t want much to do with Bond for most of the film. Of course, we can’t have these beautiful women on screen without Bond putting a move on them, so the film has a little give-and-take and ultimately cops out a bit, but you don’t see Bond having any long-term prospects with Galore by the end of the film — unlike the strange disappearances of Honey Ryder and Tatiana Romanova.

The Gadgets

If you were asked to identify the four items most associated with James Bond I imagine you would list a suit, a gun, a martini and an Aston Martin. Bond is so tied to the Aston Martin that I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of an Aston Martin in any other context. But it’s more than just a car or a symbol for Bond, it is also one of his most important gadgets.

When a fast, sleek car just isn’t enough, why not equip it with machine gun turrets, oil slick dispensers, a smoke screen and a number of other defense mechanisms? Seeing cars in action and spy movies today we’re definitely used to side spikes that can slash the tires of other cars, but I wonder if a lot of what we see in the Aston Martin is fresh in its age. And then, of course, we have the RED BUTTON that is to be touched under absolutely no circumstances even though we know it will absolutely be used in obvious circumstances. Here, the red button triggers an ejector passenger seat. Bond certainly seems impressed, which makes me cringe to think that an ejector seat was so incredible for the time — let’s be honest, there are plenty of other, cooler things a special red button could trigger.

Much like all of Bond’s gadgets, Q has been particularly prophetic with his gadget choices — they certainly are very helpful in very specific situations for Bond. I mean, the only reason an ejector seat is necessary is the exact situation Bond gets himself into. And the insistence that he should never ever ever touch that button winks at the audience so much that it’s nearly vomit inducing. The Aston Martin works in the film, though, because it isn’t too “gadgety.” And who doesn’t want to drive one?

The Song

This might be a bit of a controversial statement, but I actually like the title song for Goldfinger. OK, I admit that it’s not a good song. It is beyond over-the-top silly, the lyrics are just plain bad and the singing isn’t world class by anyone’s standards. It is really catchy though, and it feels like a Bond song — in fact, it sounds like movements from the theme are included. Unlike the first two films, Shirley Bassey’s song penetrates the film completely — it’s used during the opening and closing credits, and an instrumental version is played during moments of action throughout the film. The song works much better in the instrumental segments.

“Goldfinger
He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch
A spider’s touch
Such a cold finger
Beckons you to enter his web of sin
But don’t go in

Golden words he will pour in your ear
But his lies can’t disguise what you fear
For a golden girl knows when he’s kissed her
It’s the kiss of death…”

Like Matt Monro’s theme for From Russia with Love, this song was written for the film but has absolutely no relevance to it. From the song you could gather that Goldfinger is a sexy, deadly sort of person, but he is as far removed from a sexual being as you could imagine. The film actually even distances the thought of him having sex with women when Jill Masterson flat out denies that their relationship is sexual in any way.

Random Thoughts

- If your name was Goldfinger, do you think you’d kill people by painting them gold? Especially if absolutely everything about you has something to do with gold? Seems like he’d be an easy suspect.

- Moneypenny’s advances toward Bond border on sexual harassment. I don’t think he minds, though.

- Sometimes I think Bond’s drinking is just irresponsible, you know, considering his job.

- We get to see into Q’s lab at gadgets he is developing. One is a parking meter that sprays gas. Yeah, that seems practical.

- During the riveting golf scene, there is a running gag that Oddjob is a really bad caddie, prompting Goldfinger to say “Golf is not the national game of Korea.” Seeing that four of the top ten ranked players on the LPGA tour are Korean, think the country take that as a challenge?

- Did Goldfinger find Oddjob on the floor of his smelting factory? Where did all these Koreans in England come from?

- Old woman with a machine gun = solid gold (pardon the pun…)

- Pussy Galore has a group of women called the “Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus.” Yes please.

- We know we are in Kentucky because there is a random KFC product placement. KFC: The official chicken of MI6.

- Some great quotes:
Random mobster: “What’s with that trick pool table?” My question exactly.
Another random mobster: “What are you trying to pull, Goldfinger?” [insert farting noise]

- The bomb Bond has to diffuse at the end of the movie looks like something you’d find at Chuck-E-Cheese.

- The best defense for Oddjob’s killer hat: DUCK!

Serial, Super Serial will return in Thunderball.


tags: goldfinger, guy hamilton, james bond, super serial

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Danielle-Rush/100002186800334 Danielle Rush

    I don’t agree with your assessment that “GOLDFINGER” was an improvement over “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”.  Granted, director Guy Hamilton, along with John Barry’s score, gave the movie a great deal of style.

    But for me, “GOLDFINGER” strikes me as an exercise of style of substance.  The story has too many plot holes for my liking.  I did not care for the barn scene between Bond and Pussy  Galore.  And as much as I admired Gert Frobe’s performance, the character of Goldfinger struck me as rather stupid.

  • Aaron Pinkston

    I think it’s probably just a matter of personal taste here — I found Goldfinger to be an incredibly enjoyable time, though From Russia with Love still ranks high for me.  Honor Blackman is a fine actress, but I agree with you that her chemistry with Bond was a little off, especially in the barn scene.  Goldfinger is a bit bumbly, but I found that charming — he had personality that we don’t see in villains like Largo or even Blofeld.

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