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(Almost) Fifty Years of 007! Josh Reviews Goldfinger (1964)

I’m only three films into my year-long (if not longer) project to revisit all 22 James Bond films, and I’ve already arrived at my very favorite Bond movies, and one of my very favorite films of all-time: Goldfinger.

The film: The greatness of Goldfinger lies in how the film contains everything that is iconic and wonderful about the Bond series, side-by-side with moments that are outrageously jaw-droppingly dated and unintentionally hilarious.  The film features an incredible theme song; gorgeous, ridiculously-named women; a compelling villain; a menacing henchman; an Aston Martin, gadgets, deathtraps, and great action.  The film lives and breathes a tone of “cool” — that unique 1960′s vibe and the allure of a hero who is never without a quip, a fancy drink, and a three-piece suit.  The script is fast-paced and very witty, stuffed-full of very funny bon mot.  Then, of course, there are the moments that are astoundingly out of date and quite unintentionally laughable: Bond’s casual sexism (never more on display than in this film), weak special effects, and, of course, that terry-cloth robe.  But rather than hurting my enjoyment of the film, there’s something so innocent about those flaws that they actually enhance my enjoyment!  I can enjoy myself just as much laughing at something the filmmakers wanted the audience to laugh about (like Felix’s good-natured resignation at how his friend James can always be found preoccupied by “a drink or a dame”) as I can laughing at those moments that were definitely NOT intended to be funny (like the over-the-top miming done by the actors playing the hoods as they’re being gassed by Goldfinger).  There’s literally not a single moment in Goldfinger that I don’t love.

The opening/The music: This is the first time that a Bond film began with an opening sequence that had absolutely nothing to do with the main plot of the film.  It’s basically just a fun action set-piece designed to draw the audience into the film.  (This would become a common device used by a majority of the Bond films to follow.)  Even though I’ve seen Goldfinger countless times, I often still forget just how jam-packed the opening sequence is with iconic, often imitated moments.  There’s the scene in which Bond pulls off his wet-suit to reveal a perfectly pressed white tuxedo underneath (mimicked by Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies), or the moment when Bond sees an attacker reflected in the eyes of the woman he’s kissing (imitated in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery).  There’s a great fight scene (my wife felt sorry for the girl, when Bond uses her as a shield against the attacking thug, but I always thought the implication was that she’d set Bond up, so I guess she had it coming), a cute connection to From Russia With Love (guess Bond really does love those belly-dancers!), and a terrible pun at the end (“shocking”).  Just perfect!

That sequence brings us right into the opening theme.  If there’s a better Bond song than Goldfinger, I don’t know it.  Composed by John Barry and performed by Shirley Bassey, the song is fun, rocking, and very very memorable.

Bond, James Bond: In Goldfinger, Sean Connery is at the top of his game as the dashing secret agent.  Even with countless lives at stake, Bond is a man who somehow seems to be in control of the situation and always looking for an opportunity to indulge himself and enjoy life.  There’s a gleam of pleasure in Mr. Connery’s eyes throughout this film, whether Bond is trying to flirt with a beautiful woman (and he flirts with a lot of women in this film: the belly-dancer, the two Masterson sisters, the woman giving him a massage in Miami Beach, Mei Lei, and of course Pussy Galore) or looking for an opportunity to have a drink (“I believe that the bourbon and branch water is rather splendid here in Kentucky,” he remarks after stepping off of Goldfinger’s jet, still held captive by Ms. Galore).  It’s such a joy-filled performance that I find it impossible not to love this version of the character.

The good: Pretty much everything!  Goldfinger walks a very fine line: it’s a much funnier, more outlandish film than Dr. No and From Russia With Love (both of which, despite their colorful villains, were more grounded spy stories), and it’s a film that’s not afraid to be silly.  But it’s definitely not a farce, and the film somehow manages to keep the tension going and the threat-level up for Bond, who finds himself behind the eight ball from pretty much the moment Shirley Bassey finishes singing the theme song.  Director Guy Hamilton (taking over for Terrence Young, who directed the first two Bond films) does a fine job establishing the film’s tone and keeping the story moving along at an engaging clip.  (Mr. Hamilton would go on to direct three more Bond films, but Goldfinger is by far his finest achievement.  He also directed Diamonds Are Forever, which I consider one of the worst of the Bond films.  But we’ll get to that one in a few months…!)

The film rolls right along from start to finish, with one set-piece leading smoothly to the next.  Like many of the Bond films, the story changes half-way through (when the gold-smuggler Goldfinger is revealed to have much larger, more dastardly ambitions), but it’s a smooth transition.  (Far smoother than many of the future Bond films which would imitate this plot structure, in which the first half of the film would often feel like an entirely different movie than the second half.)  Also like many of the Bond films, there are plenty of digressions, but those digressions are rarely executed with as much grace and style as they are here.  Take, for example, the golf game between Bond and Goldfinger.  That really does nothing to move forward the plot, but it’s such a fun little sequence (with all of the machinations over the Slazinger-1′s and Slazinger-7′s) that I love every minute.  Who knew golf could be so exciting!  (I also love that Bond, despite being the hero, plays dirty.  Yes, Odd Job switches the balls, but that’s only after Bond himself prevents Goldfinger from finding his proper ball, because he’s standing on it!)

The silly: Oh, there’s so much, I hardly know where to begin!  But whereas for many other films silly equals bad, in Goldfinger I find that the silly moments are sometimes even better than the straight, dramatic moments!  I’ve already mentioned the funny scene in which Goldfinger gasses the mafia hoods he’s assembled in his compound.  To mime the effects of the gas, the actors engage in all sorts of hysterical hystrionics, sticking out their hands, grabbing their throats, etc.  It’s an unintentional riot.  But that’s not anywhere near close to the most absurd gas-inspired moment in the film.  No, that would be the lengthy sequence in which Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus (yes, Pussy Galore does train and run a squadron of female pilots; yes, they are all statuesque blondes wearing black jumpsuits and white booties; and, yes, their unit is indeed called Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus) flies over Fort Knox (good thing nobody notices) and gases all of the soldiers guarding the base, as well as many of the people in the surrounding neighborhoods.  What follows is a hysterical display of domino-like choreography, in which we see the planes fly overhead, and then row after row of soldiers and other people immediately collapse to the ground.  And I mean IMMEDIATELY.  The gas seems to effect every single person at exactly the same time, completely instantaneously.  The whole thing is so absurd that I find it to be relentlessly hilarious.

(And by the way — SPOILER ALERT — but the only thing more ridiculous than the notion that the gas knocks out every single person at exactly the same time, completely instantaneously, is the idea, revealed at the end, that the entire thing was a charade designed to trap Goldfinger.  So, OK, let me get this straight: every single one of the THOUSANDS of people we see affected by the gas were all in on the plan, and they’re all such good performers that they could all pretend to be affected by the gas with such perfectly precise coordination that they all fell to the ground together, at the same time, exactly on cue??  OK, sure.  In fact, the whole plot to trap Goldfinger at the end of the film is totally insane, but we’ll get to that later.)

(Never mind, let’s get to it right now.  So Felix finds out that Goldfinger has a nuclear device.  So instead of raiding Goldfinger’s compound to grab it, OR just stopping Goldfinger’s trucks as they drive down Bullion Blvd. on their way into Fort Knox, he decides to have everyone pretend to be knocked out and wait until Goldfinger and his crew have broken into Fort Knox and activated the nuclear device before he allows the soldiers to get up and try to stop them?  That’s a crazy plan!!  If Bond had been a little less skilled, or if Felix and his team had taken eight extra seconds to get to the Bond (the timer stops, of course, on 007 — love that!) then they would’ve all been killed in a nuclear explosion!!  Bad tactics, Felix!)

Speaking of the ending of the film, next time to watch it, I encourage you to count down the seconds with the timer on the Bond.  A four minute count-down takes about eight or nine minutes of screen-time and, in particular, those final 20-or-so seconds take about a minute.  It’s pretty funny!

“I told the stewardess liquor for three” (the supporting players): (The title for this section is, of course, taken from this very film.  More on Bond’s alcoholism in just a minute.)  When considering the film’s supporting characters, we must begin, of course, with one of (if not the very) best of all the Bond villains: Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe (and voiced by Michael Collins, apparently because Mr. Frobe’s English was weak).  I absolutely adore Goldfinger.  He’s quite nuts, with his obsession with gold, his fondness for lasers, and his outlandish plan to break into Fort Knox.  But he remains, throughout, a very human villain.  He’s merciless in the pursuit of his plan, but he’s not evil just for the sake of being evil.  He doesn’t want to rule the world, and he’s not obsessed with defeating Bond — he just wants more gold than anyone else on the planet.  I like that!  His simple retort to Bond, when asked “do you expect me to talk?” is, so famously: “No, Mr. Bond!  I expect you to die!”  That’s Goldfinger in a nutshell.  He doesn’t need to humiliate Bond, and he doesn’t need to play games.  He just needs this irritant out of the way.  (Of course, then he fails to dispose of said irritant, and in fact lets him fly to Kentucky in his private jet while being poured drinks by a beautiful woman, and then keeps him around for the rest of the film, giving Bond plenty of opportunities to foil his plans… but never mind that!)

Just as Auric Goldfinger has proven to be the iconic model for all Bond villains, so too has Odd Job proven to be the iconic model for all Bond villains’ henchmen.  The huge, mute Korean (whose only vocalizations are loud barked “yah!” whenever he wants Bond to, say, follow after him, or to put on a gas-mask) is fiercely loyal to his boss (to the ridiculous extreme of not seeming to mind being locked in the Fort Knox vault with an about-to-detonate nuclear bomb) and is one seriously tough cookie.  Forget his metal-rimmed hat, which can slice through a stone statue like butter (good thing Goldfinger owns the club) — Odd Job can take a gold brick to the chest without flinching, and he can even crush a golf ball with his bare hand!

Felix Leiter’s role is recast, In Goldfinger, for the first time but FAR from the last.  In Dr. No., Felix was young and studly — a contemporary of Bond’s — and played by Jack Lord.  Here he appears as an older, more grandfatherly character, played by Cec Linder.  All things being equal, I prefer a younger version of Felix, but Mr. Linder is pretty great and he gets some of the film’s best lines.

“Where’s Pussy?” (The women): Well, obviously the woman we have to discuss first is the woman after whom I have named this category: the beautiful Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore.  (“I must be dreaming,” replies James, after awakening to see her face and learn her name.)  I can’t possibly begin to imagine what was going through the filmmakers’ minds when they went with that name for the character.  (Of course the name was originated by Ian Fleming in the novel, Goldfinger — still, I must admit to being stunned that the blatantly sexual name actually survived in the story’s film adaptation.)  More than just a crazy name, Pussy Galore is so memorable because of Ms. Blackman’s great beauty and also the striking strength of the character.  She’s immediately presented as someone who could be a match for Bond.  Compare her to any of the other women seen in the Bond series to this point — even the supposedly tough Russian agent Tatiana in From Russia With Love turned weak in the knees immediately when she met Bond.  I love Ms. Blackman’s deadpan delivery.  She strikes just the right balance of being unimpressed with Bond, but still somehow amused by his flirtatious antics.  And that name.  Ho boy.

One can easily forget, but Pussy Galore is far from the only beautiful babe to appear in Goldfinger.  There’s the unfortunate gypsy in the opening sequence, of course; James’ Miami Beach masseuse Dink (that is indeed her name); the quiet, midriff-baring Mei Lei (who serves James his martini, “shaken, not stirred,” on Goldfinger’s jet); and, of course, the two doomed Masterson sisters.  The first one, Jill, makes far more of an impact: she’s the striking black-bikini-clad babe who helps Goldfinger win at cards.  She’s quickly seduced by Bond, but after sharing some good sex and some delicious Dom Perignon ’53, she suffers the most iconic death in the entire Bond series: skin-suffocation after having been painted gold by Oddjob.  (It’s best not to think too much about this death.  Did Odd Job just happen to be carrying a bucket of gold paint along with him?  Just how long would it have taken him to paint every inch of Jill’s body, not to mention the length of time it would then take for her to die of skin suffocation?!!  And doesn’t killing someone in such a flamboyant way risk drawing unwanted attention to Goldfinger, just a few weeks before pulling his ultimate scheme?)  Jill is played by Shirley Eaton, and she’s magnificent.  She’s only on-screen for a few minutes, but I don’t think it’s just her death that makes this Bond girl so well known.  In just a few scenes, she comes across as a woman who is clever and playful — and someone who looks great in Bond’s pajama-top.  Then, later, we meet her sister, Tilly (played by Tania Mallet).  I guess Bond has a type, as she’s a dead ringer for Tatiana in From Russia With Love.  (Actually, according to imdb, Ms. Mallet auditioned for the Tatiana role, originally!)  After a few hapless attempts to assassinate Goldfinger in order to avenge her sister’s death (only three Bond movies in, and we’ve already met two women who hate the villain because of a family member’s death!  This is going to be a trend…) she exits the picture (and this mortal coil).  I wish we’d gotten to know the character better.

Q Branch: Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is finally referred to as Q (in From Russia With Love, his first appearance, he’s just called “armorer”), and in Goldfinger we get an absolutely CLASSIC Q scene.  As Q explains all of Bond’s new gadgets, we’re taken on a walking tour through the Q Branch facility, which is filled with sight gags (like a guy testing a bullet-proof coat and then frantically checking his crotch area).  It all culminates in the introduction of Bond’s new car: an Aston Martin DB5.  The Aston Martin would also appear in Thunderball, but after that it was absent from the Bond films until Goldeneye in 1995.  Nevertheless, the Aston Martin is clearly the car best associated with James Bond, and an absolutely gorgeous vehicle.

Best line: Without question it’s James’ blissful “I must be dreaming” comment upon beholding Pussy Galore (and hearing her first name) for the first time.  But since I’ve mentioned that, how about the moment, when tailing Goldfinger, when Bond has to force himself to avoid being distracted by a beautiful female driver, reminding himself: “Discipline, 007, discipline.”

Continuity nods:  Bond ribs Felix about allowing the opposition to get close to him in Jamaica, a clear reference to Dr. No. There’s also a nice moment on Goldfinger’s plane in which Bond asks to see his attache case (established in From Russia With Love as standard issue for double-o agents), only to learn that it was damaged when Goldfinger’s people tried to open it.

Why not just shoot him? Bond is knocked out and captured several times in the film, but somehow always emerges unscathed.  Why doesn’t Odd Job kill him at the beginning of the film, when he discovers him with Jill Masterson?  He clearly has no problem offing Jill!  And if he was worried about who Bond was, why not capture him, rather than just leaving him unconscious on the floor of his room?  Then, later on, I can sort of understand why Goldfinger decides not to use his laser to slice Bond in half, after Bond reveals that he knows about Operation: Grand Slam.  (Yuuummmm…. pancakes….)  But why doesn’t he then torture Bond to find out what he knows??  Instead, he keeps Bond with him, captive, for the whole second half of the film, giving Bond countless opportunities to learn everything about his plans.  Pretty dumb!

Nobody’s perfect: Bond’s dismissal of the Beatles (“that’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!”) makes him look like quite an out-of-date square.

Womanizer alert: Probably the most stunningly sexist moment in the entire Bond oeuvre is found in this film.  When Felix arrives to discuss business with Bond, Bond hustles his masseuse away by telling her: “Run along, man talk.”  Man talk!!  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he slaps her on the behind as she walks away.  Yikes!

Rape alert: Even more alarming that that, though, is Bond’s roll-in-the-hay (get it?) barnyard seduction of Pussy Galore.  After claiming repeatedly that she’s not interested in Bond, and that she’s immune to his charms (I read on-line that in the novel, Pussy Galore was a lesbian), Bond decides that he’s tired of taking no from an answer.  So he wrestles Pussy to the ground and then forces himself upon her, even though she tries with all her strength to push him off of her.  One quick shot of her hands relaxing before the camera cuts away (I guess she liked it after all!) doesn’t change my opinion that this would be seen as rape by any court in the land.  Awkward!

Is he being honorable, or…? On the subject of his relations with the ladies, I always find myself amused by Bond’s concern, in this film, over whether any of the women he encounters have slept with the villain.  He gently presses both Jill Masterson and Pussy Galore to tell him if they were sleeping with Goldfinger.  Would he NOT have slept with them, if they had…?

Alcoholic alert: Bond’s rampant alcoholism was clearly a source of much amusement to the filmmakers.  It certainly is for me, every time I watch this film!  The best moment is an exchange between Bond and Felix, at the end of the film.  Felix tells Bond that he told the stewardess liquor for three.  ”Who are the other two?” asks James.  ”There are no other two,” replies Felix.  That’s one of my favorite moments in the entire series!

But there are far more.  I already referred to Bond’s most pressing concern, when getting off of Goldfinger‘s jet, being to sample the Kentucky bourbon.  How about on that jet, when he takes the time to order a martini, “shaken, not stirred”?  (For the very first time in the Bond film series!!)  Even better than that is the subtle edit that comes a few minutes later.  We see Bond drinking his martini (in an unusually shaped gold glass), then we cut away.  When the film cuts back to Bond, he’s still in his seat, but now is holding an entirely different glass (what looks like a large red wine glass), clearly having moved on to another drink!

Or how about the briefing scene at the start of the film?  I always laugh at the very-British manner in which the bank representative derides the “very disappointing Scotch” that they’ve been sharing.  But, of course, Bond has to top him by offering his opinions on the “indifferently blended” drink.  So funny!

But the best moment of all, and the one I’ll end on, is Bond’s insistence, to Jill Masterson, that they must open a new bottle of champagne because their current bottle had warmed slightly.  ”My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.”

James Bond will return in Thunderball (1965), and so soon will I!

Previous Bond reviews: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963).