A hale and hearty hello to you and yours from me and I! Thanks for tuning your station to this wonderful blogpostsite! If you’re just joining me, I have been exploring the wondrous cinematic world of James Bond 007. Oh, it has been hard to traverse such a trying trail and we’ve lost many along the way, but we shall go on and, paraphrasing the criminally underrated game show, press our luck. Perhaps Bond won’t encounter any of those pesky whammies along the way!
1964 was the turning point with the movies of James Bond. Sure, Dr. No and From Russia With Love were hits, but not on the scale of the third Bond movie. This one put it right over the top, giving moments that would become icons of the series still to this day. That’s right, true believer, I could only be talking about the one, the only: Goldfinger!
Much of Ian Fleming’s book was retained for the film version, which was typical of the early films in the franchise. Fortunately, Goldfinger was one the best books in the series and the story was rather cinematic already. There was a terrific villain, an intimidating henchman, a good story, an iconic Bond girl, and a great soundtrack with even better theme song. Oh, and there’s a naked girl who is nude and covered in gold paint. And she’s naked! Yowzah!
And yes, I know Quantum of Solace attempted to ruin this classic Bond image in a failed attempt at homage by having a female character, which we really don’t care about, killed and then covered in oil. Even this moment doesn’t ruin Goldfinger for me. Oh, Quantum was blatant in its attempted callback stupidity, but it still didn’t wreck the source material despite its best efforts.
Sean Connery is back for his third outing as James Bond and he has certainly grown into the role. He has confidence leaking out of every pore and there’s no doubting his charisma on the screen. There are more quips in this Bond film, but he plays them very naturally throughout. One could argue that Sean in this film was never better as Bond and I wouldn’t put up much of a fight in that. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, his hairpiece looks fine.
Gert Fröbe was cast in the role of a lifetime as Auric Goldfinger. The gold-mad baddie was amazingly rich, powerful, and rather cold-blooded. When the top Bond villains are named, Goldfinger usually comes out on top or is right behind Blofeld. And when you think about it, Blofeld had more opportunities in more movies to make an impression. Auric G just had the one, because that’s all he needed. Even though there was some desperate talk about bringing Fröbe back in a latter Bond to play Goldfinger’s twin brother. The less said about this nonsense, the better. But it does go to show exactly how deep of an impression the character made.
And Fröbe did all this without really being able to speak English, which is even more remarkable. His knowledge of English was about on par with my knowledge of German, meaning that I am rather fluent in German accents and could have been a convincing Guard #3 on an almost certainly beloved episode of Hogan’s Heroes. Fröbe’s voice was dubbed for the movie, but it really isn’t noticeable during the film. Goldfinger’s “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” line is still the legendary line from a Bond villain.
Coming up alongside Herr Fröbe is Harold Sakata as Oddjob, Goldfinger’s butler and henchman. Muscle mountain Oddjob is even more ruthless than his boss. He has no intelligible lines to speak of and his quiet demeanor makes him even more intimidating. Also his bowler hat has a ring of metal in it, which he uses to decapitate statues and bludgeon ladies. (But if you had a hat like that, I’m sure we’d all use it for the same reasons.) Not a nice customer and once again the bar was raised for Bond henchmen with Oddjob. He even crushed a golf ball and didn’t even pick up a club to do it. (Meanwhile, Sean picked up a golf club on this movie and never put it down.)
Then we come to yet another icon, the wondrous Honor Blackman, fresh off The Avengers TV show, in the role of the terrifically named Pussy Galore. Now I know what you’re thinking and no, her name thankfully has nothing to do with cats, so you can rest easy. In the book, Miss Galore was a bit more lesbianic in her lifestyle and Bond’s overwhelming sexual je ne sais quoi brought her over to the land of heterosexuality.
Hm. Yeah, I don’t think even Bond would be capable of this plot point. While I can believe that James Bond can ski off of a mountain with a fully folded parachute to glide away out of danger, my suspension of disbelief with the character only goes so far. Nevertheless, Honor Blackman portrays a very strong female role, one that can go toe to toe with Bond. As a matter of fact, if not for her helping Bond, Goldfinger would have succeeded in his plans. Take that, you Bond girls that are fake geologists and bogus nuclear physicists!
Playing the role of James Bond’s supercar from Q Branch is the Aston Martin DB5, naturally with modifications. Given the impact the DB5 had, this car became something of an emblem itself. Aston Martins from this point forward pop up in a number of Bond movies after Goldfinger. Of course, the DB5 is the one people remember what with its machine gun headlights, oil slick shooters, spinning hubcap claws, radar tracking screen, rear bulletproof shield, and ejector seat. The car became the bestselling toy of 1964 and beyond, ending up right on my current day shelf. It also became a perennial favorite on the auto show circuit. Bond has certainly driven other cars filled with even more antipersonnel devices, but none have come close in longevity and popularity as the DB5. So suck it, BMW!
Guy Hamilton was tapped to direct this film. Hamilton was a legendary assistant director, working on such movies like The Third Man and The African Queen. He had turned down the offer to direct Dr. No in 1962 but accepted the assignment to helm Goldfinger. Hamilton later directed Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun. However, I will not hold this against him. Hamilton brings a steady hand to the proceedings and the film looks quite good throughout.
John Barry outdoes himself with Goldfinger. Yes, his score for From Russia With Love is excellent, but with Goldfinger, he lets himself get as loud and as brassy as possible. His ability to interweave title track music in and around snippets of “The James Bond Theme” is unparalleled. Also the theme song is often remembered as being one of if not the best Bond title songs. Shirley Bassey landed a huge hit and one wishes, the late John Barry included, that Shirley had done all of the Bond themes.
The sets in Dr. No were impressive, and once again Ken Adam did incredible work for Goldfinger. His Fort Knox interiors as well as the rooms within Goldfinger’s compound are amazing. I’ve never been to Fort Knox, but I’ve always hoped that the government decided to make the fort’s actual interiors look like Adam’s production designs. I’m sure that once I’m awarded the opportunity to tour Fort Knox, due to the dazzling response to this award-seeking blog, I’ll have a chance to be disappointed the gold depository doesn’t look just like the one in Goldfinger.
The script took some liberties with the source novel, not many, but a few. For instance in the book, Goldfinger’s plot is to actually steal the gold from Fort Knox. In the movie, his plan is to set off a nuclear bomb in Fort Knox in order to render the gold of the United States worthless and increase the value of his personal gold stockpile many times over. Oddly enough, the movie’s plot is actually more plausible than the book’s scheme which is ludicrous.
Now I’ve spent plenty of time fawning over this film and with good reason, but there are some flaws that tend to bring it down a peg or two when I’ve forced you to think about it. At about 45 minutes in, Bond is captured by Goldfinger. Oh sure, he tries to escape, but 007 is basically a prisoner for the next hour of the film. Even at the end, when he thinks he’s going to have a victory luncheon at the White House, Goldfinger has captured him again! Bond gets out of it because the sudden decompression of an aircraft is a villain killing wonder of nature, but still he’s a prisoner doing more watching than doing for far too long in the runtime.
In the book, Bond is strapped to the same table he is in the movie only instead of a laser about to cut him in two, it is a huge sawblade. Bond gets out of this in the novel by agreeing to work for Goldfinger, which is something Goldfinger actually believes (!). So he’s an employed prisoner in the book, an unemployed prisoner in the movie. There’s a difference, I guess. But still it is probably the easiest work Sean ever had to do in a Bond movie. He just got to be carted around from place to place under guard and share banter with Honor Blackman before heading out for his tee time.
Cec Linder took over the role of Felix Leiter from Dr. No’s Jack Lord. Remember that Lord thought that he was the star of Dr. No and wanted costar billing together with a sizeable check to return. The producers snickered uncontrollably and instead seek out someone that was nondescript and fairly unmemorable in the role. They succeeded admirably! To be somewhat fair, the actors cast as Felix haven’t been standouts as a whole. Hey, you can’t get Jeffrey Wright or David Hedison every single time, although that would be nice.
Having Bond in America is also a giant indicator of problems. The United States just isn’t that an exotic of a place. Fortunately they made up a lot of the locations in England so every time you think you’re in Kentucky, you’re actually in England on a backlot. The fact that most of the actors have plenty of teeth is a good indicator that they didn’t film in Kentucky.
One confusing part of the plot happens when Goldfinger has assembled all of his mob suppliers and tells them the intricacies of his plan to supposedly rob Fort Knox. Goldfinger then sends a lethal gas into the room, killing all the mob goons. The one mob boss that isn’t killed in that room is fatally shot later by Oddjob. Ken Adam’s great set is eye-catching to be sure, but it cannot distract from the fact that aside from sharing false exposition with these gangsters, there is no relevant reason to not kill them right away. Why tell them what your plan even is otherwise?
Also Bond manages to overhear everything too, so I guess that makes it a little more plot related. But logically it still doesn’t make sense for Goldfinger to prattle on, just so he can kill them after he tells them everything. And this plan isn’t even the true plan. Did Goldfinger get off in telling these guys a blatant lie as to what he was doing, so they’d believe him for ten minutes until he sent them to their graves? I mean he must be crazy because no matter how you slice it, that’s an ornate way to kill a bunch of no-name gangsters. And why the hell is there a mechanical bull in that billiard room? Does Oddjob like to ride the fake horsey? Can I see that sometime because that sounds awesome?
Just because the novel had about a quarter of its length dedicated to a golf game between Bond and Goldfinger is no reason to adapt this scene to be this long in the movie. I’m sure golf fans get dizzy with excitement when Bond grabs a club, but I for one couldn’t care less. (No, really. I measured my care level and it is rock bottom.) Ever notice how most action movies don’t stop to have a leisurely game of golf for about 20 minutes, slowing everything down? Imagine Die Hard if John McClane decided to match Hans Gruber to a thrilling game of mahjong for about 40 minutes after he gets a ho-ho-ho machine gun. Yikes my friends, yikes indeed. (And yet here’s another film idea that I would have watched in a heartbeat!)
But hey, these are slight shortcomings that don’t take away from the whole ingot. Back in 1964, Goldfinger cost $3 million but it managed to get almost $125 million at the box office. It sent James Bond into the stratosphere of pop culture, cementing this film series as must-see events over 50 years later and counting.
And yes, I would be remiss if I didn’t naughtily type the words Pussy Galore one more time here at the end. You’re welcome!