This is one of those big iconic Bond films that always features heavily in montage trailers and promotional materials. It had a huge budget and made boatloads of money at the box office, turning Bond into a household name. Even non-Bond fans could recognize certain elements, like the shot of Jill Masterson’s gold-covered body on the bed, or Oddjob’s slicing and dicing hat. It’s certainly wormed its way past the boundaries of fandom and into the general public consciousness.
But, you know…it’s not that great….
I’ll probably be lambasted for saying this, but of the three films I’ve looked at so far, this is probably the weakest one. I’ll explain.
In this outing, James Bond (Sean Connery) is tasked by MI6 to investigate international jeweler and gold-dealer Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe, with lined dubbed by Michael Collins), who is suspected of smuggling. During his investigation, Bond stumbles onto a daring plot to raid Fort Knox and set off a nuclear device, rendering the gold unusable for quite some time (disrupting the world economy as a result). Along the way, he faces off against Goldfinger’s mute-but-deadly manservant Oddjob (Harold Sakata), and a bevy of Goldfinger’s sultry female associates, including the unflappable Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), the gold-dipped Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), and her revenge-seeking sister, Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet).
It’s a pretty straightforward plot, abandoning the mystery of the first half of Dr. No or the tense paranoia of From Russia with Love. Director Guy Hamilton’s decision to favor a less complicated story and ramp up the campy humor did pay off (the movie did out-earn both of the previous two Bond films combined, after all). Financially, the movie was a spectacular blockbuster.
Plot-wise, it hasn’t held up that well. But I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, so I will first talk about the stuff this movie does brilliantly.
First, Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) is lovely and witty as ever. Appearing in the two films prior, by this movie, she really nails the character, and her scene with Bond is adorable. In total, Maxwell would play Moneypenny 14 times throughout the series, being beaten out only by Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, who played the same character 17 times.
Also, of course, we’ve got another fantastic opening credits sequence. Like Russia‘s, this one was done by Robert Brownjohn and also features stuff projected onto a woman’s body (Margaret Nolan, who plays “Dink” for about ten seconds in the film). Though, instead of the credits, images from the first three Bond films are projected onto Nolan’s gold-painted body. It’s slick, stylish, tasteful, and, of course, made all the more better by Shirley Bassey’s bold, brassy opening theme (her first of three Bond themes). The sequence is deserving of its iconic status as “the” quintessential Bond opening.
Also, we get to see Q Branch for the first time. As per a suggestion by the director, Desmond Llewelyn embraced a more curmudgeonly version of the character, which leads to some delightful banter, including the dry, “I never joke about my work, 007…” Although Q appeared in the previous film, referred to only as Major Boothroyd, this is the first film where Q is actually the comedic, lovable character we know and love.
Talking of Q, this is also where Bond gets his first Aston Martin (the beautiful DB5) complete with ejector seat, oil slick, machine guns, bulletproof shield, and tracking device! I still cringe when the car gets smashed into a brick wall… (though it must not have been a total loss since it appears in the beginning of Thunderball.)
And lastly (but never least), we have Honor Blackman (also known as Hera, Queen of the Gods) as Pussy Galore, Goldfinger’s personal pilot. Though I’m not a fan of how the character is used in the film, the character herself is fantastic. She’s strong, smart, athletic, and can hold her own in any fight (verbal or physical). I don’t know if she can compete with Sylvia Trench’s position as My Favorite Bond Girl so far (I love you, Sylvia!), but she does a pretty good job.
Ok, and now for the less great. I’ll try to be gentle.
First off, Goldfinger’s just not a great villain. I’ve read that the director was trying to make Bond into less of a superman, and more someone who could be defeated (which explains a lot of Bond’s out-of-character bumbling in this movie, but I’ll get to that later), but I never would have picked Goldfinger as the villain to do that. I don’t know if its Frobe’s odd facial expressions or his lack of presence, but he seems more cartoonish and silly, as if he’s a villain-in-training. He does show his dastardly side when he has Jill Masterson killed (the famous death-by-gold-paint scene) and when he has Solo (Martin Benson) crushed inside his car into a cube of twisted metal (which he then sold to Jabba the Hutt. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!). But both of these assassinations are carried out by Oddjob, so I’m more inclined to think that it’s Oddjob who comes up with the creative deaths rather than Goldfinger. All in all, Goldfinger seems so petty and clueless, it’s hard to take him seriously. Feel free to disagree, but I think he’s just kind of a goofy villain.
Bond himself seems out of sorts as well. Sean Connery does an able job with what he’s given, but his character is written very unevenly. In the pre-credits sequence (which has nothing to do with the movie itself) he is at the top of his game, blowing up stuff, romancing girls (and then using them as human shields when attacked…) and dispatching several thugs easily. In the movie itself, he seems like he’s not quite sure what he’s doing at times. The cleverest thing he does is switch a golf ball in a high stakes game with Goldfinger, cheating him out of five thousand pounds. In the film’s climax, Bond is faced with a ludicrously constructed bomb (complete with spinning disks and blinking lights), and after fumbling with it for a bit, Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) leans over and turns it off for him, flicking what must have been a very obvious “off” switch. I get that the director wanted to humanize 007 more, but little is accomplished by making him seem inept.
Bond’s dealings with women are also a low point in this movie. Bond doesn’t treat women all that well normally, but in this movie, it’s like he’s never been around a woman before. He gets oddly emotional about Jill’s death, but then doesn’t react much when Tilly, her sister, is killed. And then, when dealing with Pussy, he forces himself on her in a way he’s never done before. It’s like he’s suddenly a hormonal animal who can’t comprehend that she’s not interested, leading to a very uncomfortable rape-y scene in a barn where, after being denied verbally and physically, he forces himself onto her, kissing her despite her protests. Eventually, she “gives in” and the scene fades to black, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks. I had never really noticed just how problematic that scene was in the past, but after seeing it again, it’s safe to say the scene hasn’t aged well.
And then, overall, the movie is languidly paced. There’s not much of a sense of danger. Most of the action scenes have Bond being chased by Goldfinger’s inexplicably Asian henchmen who all wear identical blue and yellow outfits. They might as well be Death Star Stormtroopers, because they have no aim whatsoever. It’s all kind of yawn-y and generic.
This movie had a larger budget than Russia, but it feels cheaper, somehow. Some special effects shots just look silly, and the location shots just aren’t as impressive as the beaches of Dr. No or the Turkish architecture of Russia (though there are a few shots of the Swiss Alps that are lovely). Goldfinger’s high tech facility features a slow-moving glowy laser that would make Captain Kirk and the First Doctor proud, and a fancy meeting room that is strangely single-purpose. After turning the pool table into a huge console, and flipping all the dials and buttons, Goldfinger shows his associates a wall-sized picture of Fort Knox…and then…a small scale model of Fort Knox. That’s it. I find myself wondering what he was planning on using that room for after the operation was carried out.
I’ve read a bunch of reviews that praise this movie for being so great and spectacular (and I remember how much I loved this one as a kid), and I find myself wondering if I’m missing something and this really is the first great Bond film (an honor that I feel should go to Russia). Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments.
-Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus pilots have bizarre hair. And it’s not even because it’s the 60’s. I love the 60’s. The hair looks like it came from the 80’s, tripped and fell into a time portal, and ended up on their heads.
-The machine gun grandma is amazing. I have no idea what her purpose in the grand scheme of things is, but I love her.
-Though the laser is silly, the laser scene with Bond on the table is actually pretty well directed and edited.
-The whole “everyone falling asleep” thing is silly. If it’s all staged, then how did they manage to wreck cars and topple trucks without Goldfinger’s invasion force noticing? For that matter, why didn’t they just not “fall asleep” and foil Goldfinger’s plans before he even entered the facility?
-“I must have appealed to her maternal instincts.” Ugh… *shakes head*
-James and Pussy don’t end the movie in a boat, so maybe he’s breaking that tradition.
If I haven’t offended all you Bond fans by ripping this particular one to shreds, I will be back next week with Thunderball!