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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1964)

3. Goldfinger

“Goldfinger” was the film that turned James Bond into a pop culture phenomena. The previous films were successful, big hits even. Yet “Goldfinger” is the one that continues to define what a James Bond movie is. The pop hit theme song, the stylish opening credits, the exotic villains, the famous henchmen, the far out villainous schemes, the beautiful women, and the cool car: This movie didn’t do it first but it’s the one that codified these elements as essential to the Bond veneer of cool. It was also bigger, sexier, and more action packed then any of the previous films. The film is frequently listed among the best in the series for all these reasons and more. For many, “Goldfinger” is the ultimate James Bond movie.

After successfully blowing up a drug lab in Central America, Bond is relaxing when Felix Leiter points his attention towards Auric Goldfinger, a gold dealer suspected of smuggling. Bond investigates Goldfinger, mostly infuriating the man and eventually blowing his cover. A prisoner of the villain, but always working to undermine his scheme, Bond discovers Goldfinger’s fiendish plot. A ploy to steal gold from Fort Knox is eventually revealed as a plan to irradiate the gold in Fort Knox, depleting its value, and causing Goldfinger’s own reserves to skyrocket in value.

“Goldfinger” established many of the things audiences have come to associate with the Bond series. The most obvious addition appears right at the beginning. The previous two films featured stylish, memorable opening credits sequences, coupled with catchy music. Both pale in comparison to the one presented here. The credits, along with images from this film, are projected onto a scantily clad girl, her skin painted gold. Playing over the credits is Shirley Bassey’s bombastic title song. Bassey’s operatic vocals soar to the heavens as she infuses every lyric with intense emotion. The song, a warning about the villain’s evil intentions, brushes up against camp. However, Bassey’s delivery is so perfectly timed and toned. The film’s opening minutes is pop culture magic happening before our eyes. The credits, illustrated with sexualized images of women, would become standard from now on, as would the accompanying song, usually sharing a name with the film.

Bond is given plenty to do in “Goldfinger.” The pre-credits action sequence, which quickly become an essential element of the films itself, features Bond sneaking around, beating up a bad guy, blowing up a building, and macking on a naked girl. Instead of receiving the usual mission briefing from M, he joins him at a fancy dinner. “Goldfinger” sees the spy in a number of glamorous locations, such as Miami Beach, a fancy golf course, and the villain’s stud farm. He still has plenty of spying left to do though. Bond sneaks around Goldfinger’s mansion, observing his plan. He plays mental games with the bad guy, trying to parse out his personality. He is a man of mystery, intrigue, opulent taste, and the envy of most anyone.

By now, Sean Connery has grown completely into the role. Connery’s way with the one-liner is impressive, powering cheesy puns about blowing fuses or playing golden harps with pure Bondian panache. Interestingly, it’s not impossible for Bond to be caught off-guard here. He gets his ass kicked several times. He’s out-numbered, out-matched, captured, and taken advantage of throughout the film. For all his suaveness, Bond is still human. “Goldfinger” is where the meme of Connery being especially rough with women was totally established. He tossed a naked women against a wall, dismisses one of his girlfriends by telling her the men are talking, and basically rapes Pussy Galore over to the side of good. Is it politically correct? Of course not. Bond is a rough son-of-a-bitch, a product of his era, and has no time for real romance. Bond kills the bad guy and gets the girl. But he’s not particularly invested in the latter point.

Though Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No was the first Bond villain to get a movie named after him, Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger codified much of what we associate with a Bond villain. Goldfinger’s gimmick is right there in his name. He has a fetish for gold, covering his pool table, cars, and guns with the substance. He is foreign, sporting a non-specific Eastern European accent. He allies himself with the Red Chinese and staffs his henchmen with Asians, furthering the film’s unavoidable xenophobic subtext. Goldfinger is a man of fine taste, demanding the best things in life, enjoying golf, horses, cards, and fine food. (Though he is seemingly asexual, surrounding himself with beautiful women he appears to have no attachment to. As the theme song notes, he loves only gold.) He’s also petty, taking every minor lose and back-biting comment as a personal insult. This is one of the reasons why Bond pisses him off so much. Lastly, the villain is wily and wicked. He disguises himself as an American general, shooting soldiers in the back. He sneaks onto a plane and hogties the real pilots. He gases an entire room of potential allies. This mixture of refinement, eccentric obsessions, and rat-bastard villainy makes Goldfinger equally sinister and nasty.

Far more iconic then its titular bad guy is his main henchmen. “Goldfinger" is mostly an intellectual adversary. His primary enforcer, Oddjob, provides a physical threat. Harold Sakata is built like a brick wall, a barrel-chested man that towers over Sean Connery. The final fight between Bond and the henchmen has our hero utterly outmatched. He takes a brutal beating, tossed into walls and punched repeatedly. Oddjob, meanwhile, takes gold bars to the chest and judo chops to the head without even flinching. Sakata never speaks but says plenty with a wry smile. He’s a sadistic tough guy who enjoys his work. This is most evident when he executes a man in the back of a car and then coolly, smoothly disposes of the vehicle at a junk yard. Oddjob gets an unforgettable gimmick too, one that looms large in pop culture. His razor-lined hat, tossed through the air like a boomerang, is one of the most parodied and referenced aspects of any Bond movie. It’s a cool weapon too, decapitating statues and cracking necks. In a nice touch, the hat also proves to be the villain’s undoing.

Something else “Goldfinger” gave the world was the Bond girl with the obvious double entendre name. Yeah, Honey Ryder did it first. But Pussy Galore, for pure explicit, snickering naughtiness, wins hands down. So many women fall at Bond’s feet but Galore is not so easily swayed. She introduces herself to Bond by pointing a gun at his face. She tosses him around a barn. Honor Blackman is a formidable opponent for Connery. She’s undeniably gorgeous too. Blackman wears a form-fitting pair of pants and shows just the right amount of cleavage. Of course, if you know your Bond lore, you know why Pussy is unaffected by James’ charms. She’s a lesbian. Which makes the two’s eventual love scene and her defection to the side of good rather squirmy. It is but Blackman’s charm and the film’s fun tone makes it easy to overlook.

Bond is not a one woman man. Pussy doesn’t even appear until the movie is halfway over. Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson famously gets smothered in melted gold. Before that, she’s one of the sexiest women to be featured in a Bond film up to this point. Her appearance into the movie, lounging in black lingerie, probably ushered more then one boy into manhood. Her frolicking in bed with the secret agent is one of the film’s most charming sequences and one of the rare times in the movie Bond acts romantically. Jill’s sister Tilly doesn’t contribute much to the plot. She’s mostly there to mess Bond up and get him captured, which does nothing to quell the movie’s troubling gender politics. The two at least get one decent scene together, where James and Tilly talk on the side of the road. Tania Mallet is fine in the part.

“From Russia with Love” gave Q branch its first real appearance. “Goldfinger” builds on that. It introduces the first of many sequences where Bond is given instructions for his ridiculous gadget, while other handy tools are tested in the background. Aside from a simple tracking device, Bond has only one main gadget in the movie. It’s the coolest fucking car in the world. The Aston Martin DB5 didn’t need much modification to become amazing. It’s already an incredibly handsome car. On top of that, it’s gifted with immediately iconic gimmicks. There’s the oil slick, the smoke screen, the rotating license plate, the machine guns behind the headlights, and the ejector seat. Most are utilized and it’s glorious.

The second entry in the series didn’t give the villain a bitching secret lair. “Goldfinger” more then makes up for it. The film is packed with fantastic production design. Goldfinger’s pent house has a huge model of Fort Knox hidden under a pool table. It rotates around the room. The floor slides open to reveal the model. Another great set is Fort Knox. The cold steel, ribbed walls, and metallic railings completely defined in the public’s eye what the actual place looks like.

As far as action goes, “Goldfinger” is the biggest Bond movie yet. The Aston Martin gets shown off during an awesome car chase. The camera careens around the tight corners with the car, creating a real sense of motion, speed, and danger. The climatic shoot-out at Fort Knox is huge. Action scenes of that scale are common place now but back in 1964, this was an unseen sight. Lots of dudes with machine guns are gunned down by other dudes with machine guns. Guys are shot before tumbling over railings. One unlucky flunky gets crushed by a huge vault door. The tension of the scene is ratcheted up by a nuclear bomb about to go off. For all its fantastic action, the most famous scene in the movie features one character tied to the table. Yes, I’m talking about the “No, I expect you to die” scene. What I like most about that scene is Bond bullshitting his way out of being castrated with a laser. As you do.

“Goldfinger” has just the right balance of ridiculousness. The villain employs a fleet of beautiful women fighter pilots in tight suits, decorated with stars. They spray a gas over the town that immediately takes effect, causing men to fall to the ground instantly. The bad guy rolls out a giant laser to cut through the steel door of Fort Knox. A mid-air struggle for a gun ends with a window being shot open and the villain being sucked out to his doom. It’s all very silly, yes, but also effortlessly, totally amusing.

I like “Dr. No” and “From Russia with Love” a lot but, for pure entertainment value, “Goldfinger” blows them both away. The villains, love interests, theme song, and content are all rightfully famous. The movie is a pure popcorn masterpiece from beginning to end. When people think of a James Bond movie, this is the one they think of. [Grade: A]


[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[X] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

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