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Reviews > From A to Bond: Goldfinger
tederick | 19 Oct 2012 | 676 Views | 1 Likes | 0 Dislikes
From A to Bond: Goldfinger
Which one is this? The classic.
Who’s who in this one? Connery (Bond); Lee (M); Llewelyn (Q); Maxwell (Moneypenny); Linder (Leiter).
Where did you first encounter this one? On TV when I was ten or twelve.
Who’s the bad guy, and what does he want? Gert Frobe as Auric Goldfinger, who wants to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox, thus driving up the value of his own gold elsewhere.
Who are the Bond girls? The most famous Bond girl in history, for nomenclature anyway: Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman. Also the second most famous Bond girl in history, though no one remembers her name: Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, the girl who turns up dead in Bond’s bed, covered in gold paint.
Opening number? The real deal at last: “Gollllldfingaaaahhhhhrrr!” Shirley Bassey belting out big, brassy cue against a Maurice Binder title sequence of scenes from the series being projected onto the bodies of gold-painted girls.
What’s memorable about this one? All of the above, plus: Odd Job, the crazy Asian fella with the razor-sharp bowler. The Aston Martin. The groin-laser. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
What did you rate it out of ten, from memory? 8. A genteel thriller of manners that hits all the Bond notes.
What do you rate it now, having seen it again? More like a 7.
If there is one movie that franchise-rebooting Goldeneye wanted to recall in our minds’ eyes with its entire brand identity, it was the franchise’s “gold standard”: 1964’s Goldfinger. I’ve landed there next in my trek through the Bond alphabet, and found the classic entirely intact, though – like most classics – actually less interesting overall, for all its popularity, than some of the less popular entries. This isn’t a slight against Goldfinger – it’s a decent, capable centerpiece for the franchise. But it’s not as good as its two predecessors for sheer charismatic crackle, nor several of its successors for invention and risk.
Goldfinger arguably represents everyone operating at the top of their game – Ken Adam on production design, John Barry on score, newcomer director Guy Hamilton, and of course Connery as Bond – with light, effervescent work across the board that effectively communicates the James Bondishness of it all. Goldfinger is also, however, where the series’ tongue becomes firmly planted in its cheek, leading to gags that exist for their own sake rather than anything resembling a story point. (Why does Bond need a scuba suit with a fake bird attached to the head? How does the bird add camouflage to an outfit that is submerged completely underwater?) This is a dangerous position for any film series to find itself in – self-parody – and it’s one that, of course, the James Bond movies will never entirely escape from this point forward. In most cases, this base-tapping reflexivity is part of the fun, but there’s a natural risk of deflating the whole enterprise so much that it actually becomes unsustainable… which, within a decade or so of Goldfinger, would become a serious threat.
Something has altered in the chemical mixture that makes up James Bond, too. If Bond must, at his best, seem dangerous and at least marginally unpleasant, Connery moves the needle a few basis points past “marginally” in Goldfinger. The relative grit we found in the secret agent in Dr. No and From Russia With Love is gone, replaced by the breezy superspy who would come to define the series. But more significantly, Bond’s relationship to women has altered. He seems to be teetering on the edge of genuinely disliking them, a manner which is only partially hidden behind the more self-evident degree to which he currently considers them silly. Dink, the girl giving him a massage at the start of the picture, gets dismissed with an order, a condescension, and a slap on the ass all at once; for any of his rough trade with the Bond girls in movies 1 and 2, he was never any more than circumstantially mean to any of them. He seduces Goldfinger’s girlfriend at the beginning of the first act with a casual dispassion towards her status as anything other than a pretty thing he can steal. When she turns up dead, covered in gold paint (the notion of “skin suffocation” remains ludicrous, all the more so for the urban myth that has sprung up around it), the tone struck by Goldfinger is momentarily at its most fascinating. There’s a sense from Bond that he’s taken it all too far, and a gravity that seems to nag at him… though not, significantly, for long.
And then there’s Pussy Galore, who is strongly hinted to be a lesbian (she is explicitly portrayed as such in the novel, though her sexuality is left subtextual in the film). She swims into Bond’s focus like Grace Kelly, and then addresses him in a terse, unfeminine tone. She claims immunity from his sexual charms; Pussy presides over a harem of spandex-suited female pilots, Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, who will use their planes to gas the population of Fort Knox, under Goldfinger’s “Operation Grand Slam” heist scheme. Pussy is amusingly uninterested in the entire rubric of the James Bond landscape throughout the film, assuring Goldfinger that she only wants to participate in the crime so that she can gather enough money to retire to the Bahamas and “go back to nature.” So what, then, are we to make of the fact that when Bond finally seduces Pussy – roughly, in a hayloft, and with more than a little implicit suggestion of sexual assault – she goes on to switch teams, both literally and metaphorically, turning against Goldfinger while simultaneously developing a dutiful heterosexual relationship with 007?
Fully-loaded Aston Martin notwithstanding, what I’ve always enjoyed most about Goldfinger is the degree to which it is categorically not an action movie. There are a couple of significant car chases and one big fistfight with Odd Job in Ken Adam’s extraordinary Fort Knox set, but the film is more properly a gentleman’s game between Bond and Goldfinger. (“Auric Goldfinger,” Bond quips before meeting him; “Sounds like a French nail varnish.”) I love the way Bond and Goldfinger size one another up at their first official meeting, and immediately start talking about games. Earlier we’ve learned that Goldfinger plays marked games of gin for no reason other than his onanistic love of winning, and the entire movie will be a game of wits between the two men – and, importantly, one where both participants readily prove that they are willing to cheat relentlessly at whatever game they’re playing. The movie’s best sequence, for my money, is the golf game between Bond and Goldfinger in Kent, at the end of the first act. Each player tries to punk the other, with any sense of sportsmanship or fair play obviously quite laughable to both.
From A to Bond counts down the Bond movies, in alphabetical order, every day of the week leading up to the release of Skyfall. If you live in Toronto, Goldfinger is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 27, December 9 and 25, and January 19. If not, the entire series is available on blu-ray.