00 Saturdays Week #5 – Goldfinger Movie Review

“This is gold, Mr. Bond.  All my life I’ve been in love with its color… its brilliance, its divine heaviness.” – Auric Goldfinger

Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure.  This is our weekly walk through the Bond films.  We continue in this fifth week with 1964’s Goldfinger.

Goldfinger was the seventh novel from Ian Fleming.  It was not entirely clear that it would be the third film in the series.  In actuality, there was a consideration for Thunderball to be the third film, but we’ll talk more about that in a couple weeks.  With the incredible success of both Dr. No and From Russia with Love, Goldfinger would get a budget of $3 Million, which was more than the first two films combined.

It is widely deemed THE Bond movie of all the Bond movies.  In other words, it’s usually fingered as the best of the entire series.  I’d argue it’s less than an actual achievement in terms of quality as much as it is an achievement in setting the actual formula for every film in the series that would follow with few deviations.  You might also find something unexpected about how I feel about this widely loved entry.

The Story

Goldfinger opens with a bit of a jokey pre-title sequence where Bond sneaks into a drug lab by first swimming in with a fake seagull on his head.  Then, he squeezes out some plastique from what looks to be his oxygen tube.  Finally, he unzips his wetsuit to reveal a white tuxedo underneath.  This was all part of a plan by director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Richard Maibaum that if the audience can get behind the ridiculous opening moments of this little side adventure that has nothing to do with the main plot of the film, then they can settle in for a fun romp.

This leads to a common misconception of Bond films – the pre-title sequence is always disconnected to the primary plot.  This is simply not true.  While there are times in which the opening sequence seems unconnected, or is entirely disconnected to the larger plot as a whole, a vast majority of the films in the series keep these story elements related to each other.  Even Wikipedia is misquoted stating that is a trope of most Bond movies.  It is not.

Bond is next scene in Miami where his friend Felix Leiter, last seen in Dr. No, delivers a message from M.  He’s to observe a billionaire by the name of Goldfinger.  He learns that this Goldfinger character likes to cheat at cards for his personal gain.  After making him lose, Goldfinger sends his henchman, Oddjob, to dispatch his former partner in cheating, Jill Masterson, by painting her gold leading to skin suffocation.

Bond is recalled to London and learns how Goldfinger seems to be transporting gold from one country to another to trade it for better prices internationally.  The problem is that much of it is coming from England’s depository.  It’s up to Bond to suss out Goldfinger’s plan of how he smuggles his gold from one country to the next – basically by smelting it down and incorporating it into his Rolls Royce that goes with him wherever he travels.

Bond antagonizes Goldfinger, first by uncovering his cheating in cards, and then again on the golf course.  Bond eventually learns of something called “Operation Grand Slam” which is an over the top plan to rob the US gold depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  However, it’s more than simply rob it…  Goldfinger will set off a dirty bomb that will irradiate the gold and make it useless for nearly 60 years.  Thus, Goldfinger’s own gold will increase in value.

Bond is able to use his knowledge of the plan to stay alive.  He eventually meets Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore.  After appealing to her, um, “better angels”, she reveals the plan to Washington and they are able to assist Bond in stopping the irradiation of Fort Knox.  On his way to Washington to meet with the President, Goldfinger gets his chance to take his revenge on Bond, but is thwarted when he shoots a window out in the plane that causes him to be blown out and killed.

The Bond

This version of James Bond is rather cruel and it leads to a bit of a problem when viewing it in 2020 lens.  Let’s start by saying that there is a unique departure from the previous two films in how Bond treats women.  In Dr. No, he seemed almost boyishly attracted to Honey Ryder and was very concerned about her safety when the evil lair was exploding around him.  In From Russia with Love, he seemingly cared a great deal for Tatiana.  He even seemed to have concerns over whether or not he would meet her expectations upon first sight.  While he would get a little rough with her at one point, it was mostly due to believing she betrayed him and killed a friend and fellow brother in the espionage game.

Here, he uses a woman as a human shield when he is attacked from behind having her take a blackjack to the back of the head.  He then excuses a masseuse in Miami by telling her that he and Felix Leiter are engaged in “men talk.”  Of course, most would point out that Bond essentially forces himself onto Pussy Galore for a “last request” roll in the hay before he is to be killed by Goldfinger and company.

I’m not one to really get into this kind of talk.  I usually am a firm believer in the idea that things from a different time are unique to that time and shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of present day sensibilities, but I have to believe that, even back then, people saw this version of Bond as something of a Neanderthal in the way he treats others.  Not just women either, he upstages his own boss at a meeting with the head of the Bank of England that makes him kind of unlikable.

It’s a shame too.  Bond is metaphysically at the top of his game in this movie.  He’s got the coolest gadgets.  He’s successful in using his wits when facing down the business end of a laser that is about to cut into his crotch (by the way it was a REAL laser at play during filming that did come very close to Connery’s giblets).  Sean Connery is every bit in the throes of his international stardom and seemingly enjoying himself to no end in this film.  He also gets to drive my dream car – the Aston Martin DB5.  This should be at the very top of it all, but instead, he’s an unlikable jerk who thinks the Beatles should only be listened to with noise-canceling earphones, isn’t nice to anyone around him, and treats women as kind of dumb playthings.

Sadly, as I grow a little older every day, this Bond, and by extension Goldfinger as a whole, grows dimmer and dimmer in where it ranks among the best films of the series.

The Villains

While the Bond may not be so great in Goldfinger, the villains are quite fascinating.  First, you have Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger.  Fröbe was cast by Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman after seeing him play a child molester in a German film.  When they inquired, his agent promised he spoke English.  He did not.  So he did the best he could with his lines, often speaking in German and was later overdubbed.  Regardless, his presence is undeniable.

What makes Goldfinger a fascinating character is that he’s almost a prototypical look at what an incredibly rich and super narcissistic guy would be like.  He is consumed by his own obsession with gold – which also makes him powerful and wealthy.  Being powerful and wealthy, Goldfinger cannot stand the indignity of losing, so he cheats at gin and golf – for money.  His grand scheme to ruin the US Gold Reserve will only serve as a way for him to gain more wealth and bargaining power.  Even if it seems the whole world knows he’s dirty, he will basically get away with it.  Goldfinger is given one of the most repeated lines by any villain in the series – “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”  Pretty classic moment.

This is also an early example of how the henchman overshadows the main villain.  In this movie, ask anyone who has seen this movie, they will likely be less able to answer the question of what Goldfinger’s ACTUAL plan is (not rob Fort Knox but irradiate it) than they would be able to explain who his henchman, Oddjob, is.  Oddjob was played by Hawaiian weightlifter and pro wrestler Harold Sakata.  Sakata got the job after director Guy Hamilton saw him get booed in a wrestling match as the heel for the program.  Oddjob was super strong and could knock people out with a karate chop to the neck.  He could give deadly bear hugs.  But mostly, he’s known for the steel-rimmed derby hat that can decapitate a statue, kill a woman running away several yards away, and ultimately be his undoing as it gets stuck in the bars of the gold vaults where Bond sends an electrical current through it to electrocute the goon.

If Goldfinger’s line about expecting Bond to die is an oft-repeated moment of dialog, then Oddjob’s decapitation of the golf club’s statue is just as often shown in clips from the film.

The Girls

Holy cow…  There are two girls that stand out above all others in the series.  One because of her name, and we’ll be getting to that shortly, and the other for the way that she is dispatched.  We’ll start with Jill Masterson.  Jill is played by British sex symbol Shirley Eaton.  She is first seen early in the film in Miami assisting Goldfinger in his cheating plot in a game of gin rummy.  She spies on the opponent’s hand and radios Goldfinger what the play is.  She is also paid “to be seen with” Goldfinger.  You know, because Goldfinger is a fat gross-o, but very, very rich.  Because of her betrayal, she is painted gold and suffocated by the act.

Eaton is seen in practically no clothing in this entire film.  She is either wearing a tiny bikini (see above) or in Bond’s shirt after sex.  When we see her painted and dead on the bed, it is implied she is naked.  Her death is a scientific possibility, by the way.  Gold paint is gold because of flecks in it.  Those flecks get into your pores, and without a place free of the paint and flecks, you can suffocate.  Eaton was closely observed on set to make sure she was in no danger.  Though, I would say there are plenty of reasons to observe Shirley Eaton on any film set.  After Jill is killed, we do later meet her sister, Tilly, who tries to take revenge on Goldfinger for her sister’s death, but is killed by Oddjob when she tries to run for safety.  Despite some of the issues I have with Bond’s portrayal in this film, these deaths are taken very hard by Bond because he could technically be blamed for them directly.

Of course, the one Bond girl almost everyone knows even if they have never seen any film in the series is Pussy Galore.  Galore was played by Honor Blackman.  Blackman was hot off a stint on the popular British TV series The Avengers.    Interestingly, Blackman was nearly 40 when she played Pussy Galore – considerably older than her two Bond Girl predecessors.  Also, Blackman was, and still is, heavily involved in politics.  It was said that her character’s name was a major concern for sensors in America.  While some would say if you were kid and knew what the double entendre meant you probably weren’t really a kid anymore, it would really be more of a dinner with the sensors after posing as a supporter of the Republican Party (Blackman is a Liberal in the UK) that ultimately got the film a pass despite her risque character name.

Pussy Galore would not just be the start of obvious double entendres in the naming convention of Bond Girls, but she would also set a precedent often seen since – the bad girl gone good after her “involvement” with Bond.  Pussy was Goldfinger’s personal pilot.  She was the head of a flying circus that was an instrumental part in Operation Grand Slam.  They were meant to gas the people to sleep so Goldfinger could get the nuclear bomb into Fort Knox.  After Bond’s roll in the hay with her, she decides to flip sides and forsake the incredible amount of money she would make in the plan to help Bond.  It implies that his wiener is more powerful than her lack of morality in bankrupting the United States for her own personal gain.

I honestly don’t know what more needs to be said about the popularity of a character named Pussy Galore.  That’s the sort of thing that instantly becomes iconic even without Bond’s witty retort after being introduced.

The Summation

Several weeks back, I may have said that Dr. No was a product of its time, but I never said it felt outdated as much.  Sure, it was the first of the series and of its kind, but it was still somewhat important to understand the coolness of the new action and intrigue genre.  Goldfinger feels much more of its time.  I’m sure there was a sense of Bond being what a mid-20th century man should be in terms of well put together, sophisticated, and still macho, but, as I discussed earlier, it feels antiquated.  Generally, I will always agree that a movie set in 1964 needs to have ideals of 1964 and it won’t match ideals of 2020.  I’ll always agree that a male character should have some identity and it’s important for a male hero to be confident and possess a considerable amount of machismo, but man…  A jerk is a jerk no matter the decade or era.

Unfortunately, this is something that will follow Connery’s Bond for the rest of his tenure as the character.

All that said, Goldfinger is an important film for the franchise.  It made a ridiculous amount of money.  It set the stage of Bond using gadgetry as a heavy plot point in films.  While his attache case was certainly important in From Russia with Love, the DB5 loaded with an ejector seat, machine guns behind the headlights, the weapons tray under the seat, the bulletproof shield that rises from the boot, the tailpipe full of clusters of nails, and the extendable blades from the wheels that can shred a person’s tires.  That’s damn cool.  It has the megalomaniac villain and the memorable henchman, and the sexy bad girl turned good.  It’s got a lot of the things that will be staples for every film after.  Sadly, it’s our hero that makes this film feel so old and antiquated.

Join me next week for a look at the music of Goldfinger.  In two weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the fourth Bond film, Thunderball.

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