James Bond: “Choose your next witticism carefully…” Goldfinger turns 50

Sean Connery Goldfinger

50 years since the Goldfinger was released… More than just another excuse to watch not only the most iconic Bond film, but also his most irresistible. This si surely the major golden anniversary for James Bond…

WHEN GOLDFINGER WENT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN THE UK, 50 YEAR’S AGO THIS WEEK, WHAT WERE AUDIENCES EXPECTING? Following the colonial titling and crime procedural of Dr No and the cold war intrigue of From Russia with Love, which direction would the superspy’s third outing in three years take?

Goldfinger’s film adaptation retains many plot points from Ian Fleming’s original novel of course, despite twisting the ending to a far more ingenious scheme.  But the film’s classic status has far less to do with the well documented changes made to its source and far more to do with the elements it introduced to the Bond cinematic film universe; elements that not only entertained those cinema-goers, but came to define the series.

Gold Standard

Parts that could never be melted down again…

A quick summery of the parts of cinematic Bond that Goldfinger ensured could never be melted down again:

  • Dr No had plenty of car action, albeit with Bond endlessly chauffeured around, but Goldfinger brought the iconic Aston Martin DB5 and that ejector seat.
  • From Russia with Love had an iconic theme tune effortlessly performed by Matt Munro, but Goldfinger brought not only Shirley Bassey but that brass line…
  • Dr No had a villain with a trademark twist, his almost cybernetic hands, and From Russia with Love had a highly tuned henchman in the cool and impassive form of Red Grant… But Goldfinger brought Oddjob, the silent assassin with a trademark twist in his steel-rimmed hat.
  • From Russia with Love had a creepily effective pre-title sequence… But Goldfinger brought us the infamous bird-man disguise and perfectly preserved white tuxedo…
  • Quartermaster Major Boothroyd had appeared in both Dr No and From Russia with Love, mainly to chastise Bond for his firearm… But in Goldfinger Q arrived fully formed in the iconic form of the legendary Desmond Llewelyn – “I never joke about my work 007”
  • Dr No’s villain had a suave demeanour if slightly impolite table manners, but Goldfinger brought us the iconically dubbed Gert Fröbe as the titular villain and some of the most quotable lines in cinema.
  • Dr No had Honey Rider, From Russia with Love had Tatiana Romanova, but in Goldfinger Honor Blackman set a new benchmark for Bond girls – Pussy Galore.
  • Both Dr No and From Russia with Love had master plans with SPECTRE-led impact on the world but in this stand-alone tale of the Connery era Goldfinger brought the iconic simple plot with a twist: target Fort Knox, but not to destroy or steal the gold, to irradiate it for years to come…
  • The list is huge, almost to the point of impossible.  How can a film, a second sequel, pack all that in?  The answer is the key to its success.  It zips along with the kind of watchable star-alignment that’s rare and irresistible.

Even now, though films may reboot various parts (particularly in the Craig era) the audience sits in anticipation of their inevitable return.  Goldfinger kicks of iconically, exactly how it means to go on.  The titles, powered by John Barry’s extraordinary theme, contain and a few flashbacks to previous entries amid Mission Impossible-style glimpses of the film ahead.  That says it all. It’s a forward looking movie, all about momentum. In his first Bond film, director Guy Hamilton fades the titles, started and finished by Goldfinger’s face, to a hanging shot of Miami, zooming in on the “best hotel” where the serially recast Felix Leiter introduces Bond to Auric Goldfinger himself. It’s certainly doesn’t hang around when getting Bond and villain in the same proximity, nor show the main virtues of both: hedonistic superman versus vengeful (and hiding) strategist.

But what’s most surprising is that this momentum is carried on a highly sexualised confidence.  Connery’s Bond accelerated to unstoppable superman in record time. By 1965’s Thunderball there is no need for the spy to hide himself at all, seeds very much laid in Goldfinger. But at least in this film, there is a perfect balance in the necessary simultaneous equation of Bond, hero and villain.

Golden Scales

The most effective villains in Bondom

While much of Goldfinger’s success comes from the confident bombast it kicks off with, when it narratively hinges on his ability to seduce Pussy Galore to his side, perhaps its sexism and gratuitousness are easier to understand.  Even if they are unconscionably dated by today’s standards.  From the casual disposal of the girl who betrays him in the pre-title to his patronising of Dink to his use and mastery over every woman he encounters. It is the other golden girl (Dink having taken the golden title duties) who steals the icon status however. Effortlessly falling under the spell of the arrogant secret agent, Jill Masterson became the iconic emblem for a film where women are highly manipulated properties.

This renders M’s harsh words to Bond after Jill’s death a little more explicable; a precursor to his incredible lack of empathy in Diamonds are Forever (depending on where you rank On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). M also mentions what would become a key motif throughout Bond for the next 50 years, and clearly is high up on Bond’s psychological assessments at that time: Personal vendetta.  That could only be limited in this film, but Bond is clearly affected by the result of his actions and the resolution, especially the means of it, have heavy redemptive properties.

But on the flip side of Bond’s bombastic flaws are the perfectly pitched villains.  Tilly and Jill Masterson are quickly dispatched here; each time Bond has culpability, but each time Oddjob displays his efficiency.  He doesn’t need to speak, Bond loses more times in this film than many others and most of the time Oddjob is there to impassively and elegantly mop things up.  See the gunfight peak of the DB5 at Goldfinger’s  factory. Once again Bond send a Masterson off to her death, but it is Oddjob who realises that he need simply take down the girl, which he does with fatal accuracy. Fight over, Bond captured and even more scarred.

While Goldfinger himself is allowed to waver a little more, he’s not often out of control and is a,most defined by having multiple back-up plans.  That’s hardly surprising considering Oddjob’s there to back him up.  The pair, master and henchman, make the most effective villains in Bondom despite the later unravelling of their plans. Even when he’s sealed in the Fort Knox vaults, Oddjob carries out his master’s plan while other previously loyal members of Goldfinger’s staff lose their heads.

From fine-tuned villainy to lashings of sex, it’s no wonder that the one Bond film where Britain’s most famous spy does nothing is the most iconic of the series. Bond tried many times and while it over excelled in some areas and lapsed in others, no film has ever quite touched the brilliant momentum of Goldfinger. A historical piece that can never quite be recaptured, it’s more relevant to the franchise than ever.  Skyfall provided the most delicate homage with the DB5, Quantum of Solace played it badly. There’s plenty unsavoury and unnecessary in Goldfinger but the style and fast plotting, in what is one of the shorter Bond films, is where the true gold is.

“…But don’t go in?” – No, quite the opposite.

In 2012 Jokerside took on the anniversary Bondathon starting with the reign of Connery.

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