Now I’m onto the third film with most of the classic 007 tropes established, it was time to see if Goldfinger commences pummelling them into cliche. A classic Bond film, it is true, but that element of knowing camp starts here and gets awfully familiar deep into the Moore reign. Of course, I also dig the camp, but I’ll have my chance to enthuse about that as we get deep into the ’70s.
Spoilers, by the way.
Another case of skulking around, as James Bond blows up a drug lab somewhere in Latin America, his job made easier when he finds couple of barrels of NITRO stored conveniently in the reception area. Anyway, that goes down well, so he decides to blow off steam in the way that best suits him.
Also, the visuals stick to the idea of projection onto nubile ladies, although this time it’s action from the films rather than the words, which are rendered normally.
Aww yiss Shirley Bassey. Finally a bombastic opening theme – Bassey does it better in her other themes, but the title song is a memorable one, even if the words are pretty blunt: “he loves gold”. The motif rings out regularly in the movie proper, fully scored by John Barry who comes into his own bringing out the brass in a big way.
After Undisclosed Location, Latin American, we get a good look at Miami, the usual briefing in London. I guess the golf course is a location. Switzerland makes its debut as a backdrop, and finally Kentucky, because the US South has tended to crop up as a Bond venue more often than it should.
Q’s idea of Pimp My Ride is a hell of a lot more lethal than Xzibit’s, not least because the cars are driveable and the gadgets are usable. Of course the car in question is the iconic Aston Martin DB5; Q asks Bond to bring it back in one piece, Bond does not comply.
And just quietly the action in the background at Q Branch reminded me a bit of the SPECTRE Island training grounds from From Russia With Love.
Played by Gert Fröbe and voiced by Michael Collins, Auric Goldfinger is crazy-go-nuts about gold. He loves the shiny yellow metal. Just can’t get enough of it. He’s not even particularly coherent about it, though, since his main idea is to detonate a dirty bomb in Fort Knox, because he can’t bear anyone else to get his hands on gold.
Along the way after gathering a bunch of wiseguys to show off his furniture and reveal the details of his sekrit plan, he gasses them all for no apparent reason.
Goldfinger is a lone wolf with no apparent connections with Smersh or SPECTURE or S*M*A*S*H or whatever, but he gets some assistance from the Chinese in the form of the dirty bomb and dozens of disposible minions. He conforms to the “charming, intelligent, sociopathic and full of himself” template established as the norm.
He gets perhaps the best line in the whole series, “No, I expect you to die, Mr Bond” when he has a big ol’ laser headed straight for Bond’s family jewels. Ultimately he relents, I assume because so he could continue to show off what a supergenius he is.
Proper supergenii don’t bring armed guns into planes and get defenestrated as a consequence, though, do they?
Oddjob (Harold Sakata) is weird and grunty, tough as old boots and is immaculately dressed with a hat that can SLICE PEOPLE’S HEADS OFF. I’d be impressed if I hadn’t seen the Mythbusters episode debunking it. While not as outwardly menacing as Red Grant the last time, he’s definitely one of the better examples of muscle in the series. More than equally matched in unarmed combat, Bond has to get inventive to dispose of him.
Are all pretty useless. What fun’s a minion that can shoot straight and bump off the hero before the film takes off?
Honor Blackman plucked from The Avengers (the British TV show, not the other ludicrous action movie franchise) to play Pussy Galore. Actually, Miss Galore is a bit of a badass – she has skills, agency and a plan; although the idea of a female pilot may have meant to be an ironic novelty in 1964, nevertheless it’s a step up from just looking pretty and waiting to be seduced by Bond.
Of course she starts off as a co-conspirator with Goldfinger, with the idea that her squadron of fellow female pilots will spray deadly nerve gas over Fort Knox, but for some reason it takes a roll in the hay with Bond to convince her this is not a particularly nice thing to do. The poisoning thousands of people, not rooting 007, I mean.
In the opening sequence Bond very nearly gets his end in, but, alas, there’s a guy lurking behind the door. He also steals Goldfinger’s first accomplice Jill Masterson, who gets painted gold for her efforts. And he very nearly gets with her sister Tilly as well, but is thwarted there because of Oddjob’s lethal fedora.
Old mate Felix Leiter turns up again, although we have to be explicitly told it’s him because he’s played by a different actor this time. He’s dependable but ultimately seems to be mainly running interference with his fellow Americans while Bond goes mad with his Rule Britannia crud.
Why is a British secret service agent leading an espionage operation in the States? And does Bond mock the Beatles simply because they have a lot more hair than he does? Also the product placement, not commonly regarded as something that took off until the ’90s, is laid on pretty thick. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken gets a good plug. (When in Kentucky…)
Along with his usual martinis, Bond critically analyses some shit brandy, enjoys a mint julep, gets snooty about Dom Perignon again, and probably never gets to visit some of the local distilleries like he’d hoped.
A new director, Guy Hamilton, more money thanks to the success to date, mean more ambitious sets, props and effects could be put into play. The Fort Knox interior set, ludicrously cavernous compared with the real thing apparently, serves as a fitting backdrop for the final Bond-Oddjob fight.
Likewise, the fricken laser beam, it actually doesn’t look like a cheap effect, there was a fair bit of effort making the fantastic weapon look real – and deadly.
After finishing From Russia With Love I thought that it might be a hard act to follow; but I think Goldfinger matches it. One subtle change in tone is its move away from the prosaic spycraft of stealing code machines and more about thwarting supergeniuses with weird fetishes, accompanied by hi-tech nonsense, beautiful women, fast cars and bad quips.
While the spy plot is a little more simplistic than the previous film, culminating in the ticking time-bomb trope, which is resolved in a fairly amusing fashion. Of course, at times it feels like Bond is going along for the ride, or more interested in sating his thirst – discipline, Bond, discipline – but eventually he gets the job done.
I don’t think it’s a better film than From Russia With Love, but I do think it is its equal. 18 killer bowler hats out of 20.