Goldfinger (1964)

At this point, Bond has won over a lot of people on his charm, but I’m still not convinced. His adventures are fun, but I’m still not sure if I like James Bond (Sean Connery) himself. Therefore, watching Goldfinger was a strange experience, as if someone in 1964 broke the space-time continuum and was reading my thoughts. While it’s certainly not my idea of a perfect Bond film, it seems to recognize a lot of my problems with the series and finds interesting ways to rework them.

Take, for instance, Bond’s first lady of the night. As he’s making time, some guy sneaks up on him. Being Bond, he makes short work of the guy, but it shows that finally someone has figured out Bond’s weakness: girls. He gets in more lady trouble soon afterwards when he woos Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), the girl of Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), an infamous gold smuggler. Goldfinger decides to send Bond a warning, offing Jill with the now iconic gold bodypaint death.

All this leaves Bond looking like an ass. He’s tipped off Goldfinger, got an innocent girl killed and thrown the wrench in what was supposed to be a covert mission. He gets a good verbal thrashing, which amused me greatly. Bond needs to be taken down a peg or two and the film does a good job at doing of bruising his ego a bit. Throughout the film, the once great Bond charm fails time and time again. Not every lady will just pounce on Bond at any given moment

The opening song of the film talks about “the kiss of death” from Mr. Bond introducing the idea of Bond needlessly putting people at risk due to his romances. I like the idea because, so far, the romance have seemed flippant. Now the romance has some dramatic weight to it. However it doesn’t have the emotional effect I was hoping for, but they do bruise Bond’s ego quite a bit and also provide for a great comedic gold farm.

Which brings us to the Bond girl of 1964: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Hahahahaha, hohohohoho, hehehehehe. And I thought my jokes were bad. I’m not sure there’s any context under which Pussy Galore is not one of the most hilariously bad names ever. However, it works in the film because Bond becomes the brunt of it. Pussy has no interest in James Bond even when he puts on hyper-suave mode, making a lot of the scenes between them a play on the romantic relationships he’s had in the past.

Instead, Pussy, despite having a horribly sexist name, is the strongest defined Bond girl up to this point. She’s a pilot who doesn’t take crap from men and is far more interested in her own individualism than defining herself by the man in her arms. She may be looker, but the reason she is sexy is not her body type but the confidence she exudes and her free spirit.

Playing against Pussy is Goldfinger. He’s her antithesis in many ways. Where she is smart and professional, he is childish and stupid. Bond villains’ greatest flaw is often the way they spill out and explain every inch of their plan. With Goldfinger it makes sense because we see that childish desire to gloat and humiliate his enemy early on over something as trivial as a game of gin. He’s like one of those rich spoiled brats you meet as a kid who must have everything they desire and will cheat to get it.

The establishment of the Goldfinger character makes what could be a lot of dumb plotting work. His gloating and childishness sells a lot of the exposition that would seem dumb if delivered from a more serious and sinister villain. Instead, there’s a goofiness to Goldfinger that makes these moments work perfectly. It also fits into the more comedic tone of the film, once again undercutting a lot of what was established in the first two films.

And Goldfinger also finds a way to synthesis the best of Dr. No and From Russia with LoveGoldfinger returns to those great, corny one liners that pepped Dr. No with plenty of great zingers to be found. Likewise, the film takes the strong visual storytelling out of From Russia with Love and integrates it perfectly. By finding a balance between the two, Goldfinger strikes that delicate balance between action and dialogue, delivering the best of both worlds.

What Goldfinger adds to the series is Q (Desmond Llewelyn), the technical wiz that crafts up all kinds of cool gadgets for 007. While From Russia with Love has a cool briefcase, this time Bond gets an awesome car. These gadgets add a lot of fun moments in the film and make you anticipate the action, knowing there are moments when these devices will be used. It’s clear this setup had a huge influence on many action films, especially the more recent superhero films like Kick-Ass and Batman Begins.

It’s undeniable that this film had a big impact on films. Watching it now, I saw the influence on so many action movies. The opening sequence is clearly mimicked in the opening moments of True Lies. Likewise, the character of Oddjob (Harold Sakata) seems to have spawned its own stereotype of silent, tough villain sidekicks (and I’m sure I saw a film that referenced his deadly hat trick recently).

For me, Goldfinger is a first in this marathon. It’s the first film where everything has come together, synthesizing all the potential of the series and delivering on it. It’s the first time I’ve found the characters compelling, well developed and engaging. It’s the first time I’ve come to understand the impact of the series and how much it’s influenced the action genre. And, most importantly, it’s the first time I’ve loved a Bond film. Yep, like those well-endowed Bond girls, I’ve finally fallen for it. While I’ve tried to remain coolly distant like James Bond himself, it just didn’t work. Honey, we’ve got ourselves a keeper.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing

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3 Responses to Goldfinger (1964)

  1. edgarchaput says:

    Very intelligently written review. I loved how you examined Bond’s relation to women in this film and in particular the dramatic consequences of his flippant relationships with the. Very well said.

    I think the character of Goldfinger is fascinating when juxtaposed with 007. He’s ugly, he cheats, he is a villain, he has to pay to get the girl, when he tries to go for some gloating Bond is always there with a zinger to put him down, etc. I think there is a great thematic dynamism between the two.

  2. Rosie says:

    I understand that “GOLDFINGER” served as a template for future Bond films and action films. Unfortunately, it still remains as one of my least favorite Bond movies of all times. I simply was not that impressed by the writing and some of the characterizations.

  3. drush76 says:

    “Instead, Pussy, despite having a horribly sexist name, is the strongest defined Bond girl up to this point. She’s a pilot who doesn’t take crap from men and is far more interested in her own individualism than defining herself by the man in her arms. She may be looker, but the reason she is sexy is not her body type but the confidence she exudes and her free spirit.”

    Until Bond “convinces” her to join his side with his too aggressive sexual horseplay that bordered on attempted rape.

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