Blog 004: Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) remains the Platonic ideal of the original James Bond films (from Dr. No [Terence Young, 1962) through Die Another Day [Lee Tamahori, 2002] before the series rebooted with Casino Royale [Martin Campbell, 2006]). It might not be my favorite installment, but it refines the elements from the first two films to such an extent that it presented a template that many of its successors would follow.

Compared to that of From Russia with Love (Terence Young, 1963), Goldfinger’s plot is quite simple and was one that I understood easily as a kid. Bond (Sean Connery) must stop Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), whose ties to SPECTRE are suggested through his ring that bears the organization’s octopus logo, from radiating the gold supply at Fort Knox.

Combined with this relatively easier-to-follow plot, the larger-than-life characters (particularly the hat-throwing Oddjob [Harold Sakata]), the gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5, and campier tone (Goldfinger’s death scene is pretty spectacular) all appealed to me as a kid. When I was twelve, I even received a scale-model DB5 that had a working ejector seat! I loved this movie, and I continue to do so.

Of course, Goldfinger isn’t without its issues. First, Pussy Galore’s (Honor Blackman) characterization sets up the problematic recurrence of female characters that start off as strong and independent but change dramatically in response to Bond’s persistent advances. Second, maybe it’s just because I’m an American, but I never found the Kentucky locations in this film to be all that interesting. I much prefer the scenes set in Switzerland, a country whose locations would be put to even better use in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969). Third, I don’t think Goldfinger is that threatening of a villain, and his introduction in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts doesn’t exactly establish him as a menacing character.

Still, Goldfinger is so iconic that it’s one I’d recommend showing as someone’s first Bond film. In fact, my girlfriend recalled while watching it that she thinks she may have seen it years ago with her grandfather. Watching it this time, she thought it was a much more fun viewing experience than From Russia with Love. In particular, she liked the title sequence (designed by Robert Brownjohn rather than longtime series title designer Maurice Binder) and the comparatively brisk pace. Even better, she stayed wide awake throughout the film.

I think Goldfinger stands not only as a highly watchable film in its own right but as an important film in the Bond canon. It built upon the previous two films and added several components that would become trademarks of the series. It contains the first pre-title sequence that opens in media res into the third act of an otherwise unseen Bond movie. While this particular pre-title sequence isn’t terribly exciting, it does contain a funny moment in which Bond removes a scuba wetsuit to reveal a pristine white tuxedo underneath. Also, with the Aston Martin DB5, this is the first installment to feature a “Bondmobile,” even if the chase’s main highlight is an elderly toll booth operator firing a machine gun. Finally, Goldfinger establishes the formula of a main Bond girl and a secondary Bond girl, with the latter meeting an unfortunate (and usually gruesome) demise (in fact, this film features two such characters).

Although Goldfinger isn’t my favorite Sean Connery Bond film (that would be You Only Live Twice [Lewis Gilbert, 1967]), I can understand why it might be for many people, and it’s certainly essential viewing for even a casual Bond fan.

This blog will return with… Thunderball (1965).

 

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