Goldfinger (1964)

When it’s on: Saturday, 26 May (3.30 pm)
Channel: ITV1
IMDb Link

In the 1996 Simpsons episode You Only Move Twice, Homer foils the efforts of James Bont, arch-enemy of his apparently benevolent new employer who turns out to be a super-villain. Bont is a thinly veiled James Bond, but more than that he’s the  Bond from Goldfinger. After that, it becomes apparent that so many 007 parodies in fact spoof Bond circa 1964, the year of Goldfinger, the year when the franchise exploded into a global phenomenon.

It’s not hard to see why. Goldfinger’s Bond sets the template for all the films that follow – you either get Goldfinger copies (the rest of Connery’s work on the series; all the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan entries) or anti-Goldfingers, when they tried something different, often with commercially negative results. The film is nothing more or less than a financial juggernaut roaring into life. Despite costing more than the previous two episodes combined, Goldfinger made back its investment within two weeks of its release. It would become the first Bond to take over $100 million at the box office. It ensured future shoots became the stuff of global attention whilst its star, an increasingly irritated Sean Connery, was unable to go out in public without being hounded.

So what’s the secret? Why did it all click into place here rather than in Dr No or From Russia with Love? The two earlier films were big hits in their own rights, but it’s here that a conscious effort was made to dial down the serious spycraft elements of the story in favour of fun and thrills. Bond drives a cool Aston Martin in Goldfinger. Not only did it prove to be almost the perfect combination of man and machine, ensuring the tourer gained iconic status that it’s never since lost, it was also a car laden with gadgets and weaponry. The infiltration of ‘Q Branch’ into 007’s professional life had already started with the low-key briefcase he carried in From Russia with Love, yet it’s in Goldfinger the staple Bond scene of the spy visiting Desmond Llewelyn’s exasperated weapons inspector (‘Put that down Bond – that’s my lunch!’) ahead of every mission first took place.

Joseph Wiseman as Dr Julius No gave us a glimpse of the ‘super villain’ Bond would come to face on a regular basis, but Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) comes to define the megalomaniac, larger than life nastiness that would shape the series’ baddies. The laser scene in which Goldfinger expects Mr Bond to die might be the best remembered moment of the villain’s short-lived career, but there’s plenty to enjoy in this borderline psychopath, not least the flamboyant conversion of his recreation room into a scale model demonstration of his plan to raid Fort Knox. There’s also the fact he keeps Bond alive, long after he knows exactly who he is and has had numerous opportunities to get rid of him. Why he does this is never made entirely clear beyond the simple potential for gloating, yet it’s a much parodied idiosyncrasy because obviously he gives 007 the chance to escape and foil his plans and that’s exactly what happens. Goldfinger’s biggest mistake is to put Bond in the care of Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), who makes it clear she’s quite immune to his charms i.e. gay. In one of those scurrilous, ‘so quaint it’s beyond condescension’ signs of the times, this is of course just a challenge to our hero, who has naturally seduced Pussy and got her onto his side before the climactic scene. Only in the sixties…

At least Pussy – Blackman had the rare distinction of being older than her Bond, within an age differential that became almost embarrassingly wide at times – escapes the kind of fate that dooms the spy’s first squeeze, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), who’s killed by being suffocated in an all-body covering of gold paint. Bond misses the moment; he’s been knocked unconscious by Oddjob (Harold Sakata), Goldfinger’s henchman who, as the first in a string of luridly gifted villains, can decapitate a fellow with his bowler hat.

Terence Young directed the first two films, but he was removed from the Goldfinger crew after a pay dispute, so Broccoli and Saltzman turned to Guy Hamilton,who’d been approached initially when the producers sought a director for Dr No. A British film maker who had worked with Ian Fleming in intelligence during World War II (having been involved with the French Resistance) and who learned his trade through being Carol Reed’s Assistant Director, Hamilton was a fine choice. In the first of his four Bonds, Hamilton knew enough to let the action and pace take over, events and twists unfolding at such a rate that viewers were breathlessly sucked in, leaving only the most ardent hater to realise it was hogwash. Above all, Goldfinger was slick and tremendously packaged. Future directors needed to ensure they learned from Hamilton and maintained his sense of timing; otherwise audiences would quickly catch on that there was very little at the film’s core. All style – and what style! – but no substance.

Goldfinger: ****

8 Replies to “Goldfinger (1964)”

  1. Definitely the most iconic Bond movie, as you say, putting all the elements in place. The style is everything; music, structure, car, gadgetry, clothes, the villain. Everything seems to blend perfectly to create the ultimate secret agent movie, and it doesn’t matter a damn if the least analysis reaveals it all to be utter nonsense.
    I remember reading the book, after I’d seen the film, and thought it was ok, but not a patch on the screen version.

    1. Thanks Colin. The elements you mention are both Goldfinger’s strength, and a weakness in later films, don’t you think? Next week it’s Thunderball, for instance, into which they plunged millions on stately underwater photography. Looks lovely, but there just isn’t enough going on.Diamonds are Forever is completely forgettable, and some of the Roger Moore entries are just awful, all surface and too often it doesn’t hold up. But this one does get it right and that Aston Martin is amazing.

      Some day, I’ll really have to start getting into the Fleming novels. I understand that in certain films they adapt little more than the book’s title!


  2. Compard with the novel, as with FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the film adds a further layer of complexity to the villain’s plot – there it was making SPECTRE be the real villain rather than the KGB; here Goldfinger doesn’t really plan to steal the gold, just irradiate it so as to make his own more valuable (granted, this is pretty silly and on the meretricious side, but its going to the trouble of adding an extra layer of complication that we admire making the villain more villainous and hero cleverer for working it out). I’m not sure I agree with you that GOLDFINGER

    1. Part 2 – sorry, don’t know what happened there .. before being so rudely interrupted, what I meant to say was that I always felt that FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, in terms of plotting, was copied at least as often as GOLDFINGER (which was remade as VIEW TO A KILL in the same way that THUNDERBALL was remade as MOONRAKER and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was remade as THE SPY WHO LOVED ME). THUNDERBALL certainly feels like a comedown after GOLDFINGER, with its less sophisticated plot and characters and often rather crude and pedestrian dialogue (hell, Connery doesn’t even get to say “Bond, James Bond” in it!).

      1. Thanks Sergio – bloody WordPress, huh? Rather than saying something was flat out being copied, I think what I meant was the elements that made up Goldfinger were recycled endlessly – Bond gets a cool car and other trinkets that will come in useful later… follows villain around… gets captured yet kept alive… beds girl who has some connection to said villain… deals with henchman who has some unusual prop/body part that makes him more deadly… etc. Mostly, it’s the change in Bond himself. He’s completely human in the first two films and has moments where he senses real danger, yet by Goldfinger he’s turned into superman and, even when in Auric’s clutches, never feels as though he’s in any true peril.

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