The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – Goldfinger

FROM Russia with Love cemented Bond’s appeal in the eyes of the public, but the next entry in SCM’s re-evaluation of the Bond canon helped define our common perception of the superspy: 1964’s Goldfinger.

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Andrew Monk: Continuing the success of From Russia with Love comes Goldfinger, and with it, the beginning of Bond becoming a mainstream and iconic action character. With Guy Hamilton at the helm, (notably the second person ever to direct an Eon bond film, thus new to the property entirely) and a budget worth the combined funds available to Dr. No and From Russia with Love, it’s unsurprising that Bond’s third instalment was far more elaborate and grander in scope than its predecessors.

What helps make Goldfinger iconic are the many firsts that occur in it, introducing traits that are expanded upon or repeated in later iterations of the character. For instance, Goldfinger is the first time on screen that Bond utters his request for his preferred drink. The film is also the first appearance of the Aston Martin as the Bond car, along with being his first vehicle armed with gadgets, such as the ejector seat, machine guns and smoke.

Goldfinger was also the first of Shirley Bassey’s three sung Bond themes, a haunting and chilling performance composed by the genius of John Barry.  This is sung over the golden painted model, on whom parts of the film are projected over, a truly unique decision, acting as an almost-preview of the film during the credits. This method has become something far more prevalent in recent years, utilized in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Battlestar Galactica.

Further to these firsts, the performances of Harold Sakata as Oddjob, Gert Fröbe playing the titular villain, Auric Goldfinger, and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore help make Goldfinger stand out as a memorable and fun Bond adventure. Another reason why I appreciate it so much is that the secondary character of CIA agent Felix Lighter (Cec Linder) actually serves a function in the plot, compared to many other incarnations where he is merely there to supply exposition. It’s nice to see the character have something to do.

Bond is pitted against Goldfinger to prevent him from carrying out ‘Operation Grand Slam’, a plot to detonate a dirty nuclear bomb on the US gold reserve at Fort Knox. While the setting of an economy on the Gold standard is extremely outdated, it nonetheless provides compelling stakes and a welcome break from the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. storyline that occupies much of Connery’s time as Bond.

In fact, the plot is almost a complete contrast of the pervasive attitudes of heist-mania today. The modern zeitgeist is occupied with anti-heroes such as those portrayed in Grand Theft Auto, Firefly, and Ocean’s Eleven, while Goldfinger is the exact opposite, with Bond trying to prevent the destructive heist from ever happening. It’s a refreshingly different side of a concept that is quickly becoming stale.

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Truan Evans: How does one go about devising a critique for what is not only the best loved, most fondly remembered, most oft-quoted and cited Bond film, but also one of the most highly praised pieces of twentieth century cinema in general?

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not much of a Bond connoisseur – or bond vivant, if you will. I’ve watched a fair few of the films, some more than once, and even read a couple of the books. But I’ve always felt the franchise had a sarky, over-produced, unfeeling and sometimes, unpleasant attitude, best crystallised in the uber-smug, laughably overbearing Pierce Brosnan era (1994-2005).

There’s always been something about Bond – until the last incarnation, actually – that I just didn’t get, along with many other things which I did get, but didn’t overly like: the chauvinism, the ostentation, the incessant and whole-hearted worship of consumerism and, of course, the pervasive under-currents of misogyny to name but a few recurring quibbles.

Now, all that being said, when the films do work for me, as Goldfinger definitely does, these rather unpleasant touchstones of the series pale into insignificance in the wake of a celebration of canny wit over might and megalomania, suave masculinity and, let’s face it, pretty much the only things that really continue to be respected about Britishness internationally.

Sean Connery, at what many consider to be the height of his early career (if not his career in general), lends the role a restrained, charming but deadly air. If he comes across as conceited, it’s at least accompanied by a far more believable world-weariness than a sap like Brosnan could hope to exude.

Goldfinger, even moreso than its two prequels, established and enshrined so many of the tropes that have continued to define the spy genre in film ever since. Unlike a great many of the sequels and one of the prequels (no points for guessing which), however, these tropes are not yet stale and are seldom clunky in their execution.

If From Russia with Love, for all its merits, suffers from a few meandering inter-acts, it’s a far harder task finding fault with the ebb and flow of Goldfinger. From the opening (completely unexplained) explosive escapade, to the final raid on Fort Knox, Goldfinger is rarely less than gripping, although lengthy golf scenes aren’t for everybody. The film is, of course, plagued by the terrible one-liners inherent in the franchise, but the worst excesses of the other films are largely restrained. For every terrible double entendre, there’s pearls like: “Noooo, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

Ultimately, if there are many flaws to be found in Goldfinger, they are essentially the flaws endemic in the franchise as a whole. There is a good deal of chauvinism and that good ol’ 60’s misogyny; just one early instance: the hapless Dink (Margaret Nolan) is dismissed from the scene by Bond for “man talk” with an accompanying rap on the rump.

In this, it’s no worse than the source material. The novel’s Bond is not shy in sharing some pretty deplorable opinions and dialogue, but it still comes across as needlessly seedy and dated at times; there’s the immediately effected romance with Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) and, who could forget, (sigh) Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Also, as eerily gorgeous a film frame as it might make, there’s no denying that death by “skin suffocation” is pretty silly when you think about it.

While Goldfinger fully indulges the Bond standard of glorified opulence, this is one film where this very facet is central to the overriding motif, since the film itself is a heavily referenced Midas parable on unquenchable and bottomless greed. Gert Fröbe, dubbed by Michael Collins, gives an excellent turn as one of the series’ very best villains, although the dubbing is painfully obvious at times.

For its flaws, what there are of them, Goldfinger’s actually an unsurprisingly pretty gosh, darn great film classic… so, apologies. I’m sure I’ll find far more fetid and fleshier pickings in Thunderball.

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