For many, Goldfinger is the “best Bond film”. For me, it has been one that I really liked but not better than my personal favourites. I am open to changing my mind as we go through the series, but I can’t make that call just yet.
James Bond (Sean Connery) begins his third adventure by destroying a drug lab in Latin America. He sneaks into the facility via an underwater route while wearing a wet suit with a fake bird on his head. He plants the bomb, then removes the wet suit to reveal perfect hair, a perfect white tux, and an perfect carnation to go with it. He walks out under the disguise of an invitee to a posh party before timing the lighting of a cigarette with the explosion he just set. Pessimists will see this as silly. Optimists will see it as fun.
Bond, now on vacation in Miami Beach, is directed by MI6 via CIA agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) to keep an eye on the gold bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). After messing up Goldfinger’s card game and stealing his girlfriend, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), Goldfinger sends his Korean henchmen Oddjob (Harold Sakata ) to warn Bond to back off. Oddjob knocks out Bond and covers Jill in gold paint, murdering her by “skin suffocation”. It is not very practical but makes for a great scene in a movie.
Bond continues to track Goldfinger to discover how he smuggles gold into other countries. His investigation finds Bond captured and under the watch of Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Here, Bond stumbles onto Goldfinger’s greater plot, to break into the American gold reserve at Fort Knox in Kentucky, USA.
The previous two Bond films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love was directed by Terrance Young who wanted a better salary and a cut of the profits to direct a third. MGM decided to go with Guy Hamilton instead, who turned down Dr. No just two years earlier. Hamilton not only brought a tighter paced style of action but a sense of humour that remained a staple for almost every Bond film that followed.
He cranked the one liners to 11 which lightened the tension after every kill, something everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dirty Harry owe him for, but also made small additions that would become big over time. The best example of this can be scene in Desmond Llewelyn’s returned to play “Q”, the head of the Q-Branch who supplies Bond with his gadgets. Llewelyn played the character straight before, but this time Hamilton insisted that he be irritated by Bond’s inability to pay attention and blatant disrespect for his gadgets. It would make for Hollywood chemistry that would last for the next 15 times Llewelyn would play the character.
Speaking of the gadgets, save for a tracking device Bond kept in his shoe and a few shown in the Q-Branch headquarters, they are mostly reserved for the series debut of the Aston Martin. In this one, Bond drives an Aston Martin DBZ equipped with smoke screens, a bulletproof shield, machine guns, and an ejector seat. The car chase in the film is rather impressive for a pre-Bullitt movie.
The only change I did not enjoy was how they ramped up Bond’s male chauvinism. The second girl we see Bond with is presented as his “masseuse”. She is told to leave when Felix shows up so “the men can talk”. Bond turns her around to slap her ass as a point of emphasis. OK, forgivable for the ’60s but it still got my eyes rolling.
The big one is how he turns Pussy Galore straight. Literally. In the book, her character is lesbian. The film only hints at it (because it is the ’60s) when she claims to be “immune” to his charm. Later in the film he forces himself on her (cringe) and gets her to help him by appealing to her “maternal instinct”. Pfft. Terrible.
Getting back to fun territory, Sarah and I continued our competition to guess how long it would take Bond to get laid. Sarah, again was almost dead on again with a guess of 15 minutes and I was way off with 20. It took him 14 m and 27 seconds. For those keeping score:
Sarah – 3
Mars – 0.0
One final piece of I need to mention is Shirley Bassey’s opening tune Goldfinger. The song mixes in originality with Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme which would set the tone for every Bond song that followed. And it was the first song to become identifiable outside of the series. Remember when the Crane gang on Fraiser ran into the piano player who could only play Goldfinger? Good times
On paper, Goldfinger had enormous potential to be a disaster. You may have noticed how there is no mention of Blofield or SPECTOR. At the time, the planned sequel, Thunderball was in litigation over who owned the rights, so Goldfinger was only meant to be placeholder to save the series from losing momentum. Instead, with the aid of a new director with new ideas, and the budget of the previous two Bond films combined, Goldfinger became the blueprint for most of the Bond films that followed it. The… gold standard, if you will.