Continuing our epic retrospective of all Bond films to date – until Bond 25 arrives in April 2020.
Bond arrives at a South American town by emerging from a lake wearing a cheap-looking wetsuit on his back and a duck on his head. He destroys some factory then goes to have a wild old time with a dancer in her room. I’m not even going to dwell on the silliness of him pulling his wet suit off to reveal his pristine white tuxedo. A goon attacks him in her room in a short noisy fight which ends with the goon falling into the bath and Bond knocking an electric heater into it. Bond leaves with the classic quip “Shocking, positively shocking”.
BAM BAM! (bam baaaam bam)
Arguably the best Bond song ever. Even if you don’t know the words, you can hum the opening bars. The titles include the brilliant use of projections on the human body again, (interestingly the projections include clips from Dr No and From Russia With Love).
WELCOMES YOU… TO MIAMI BEACH
The opening helicopter shot is excellent – swooping around the Miami hotel towards the high diving board as a swimmer dives, with a sharp cut to the observation window under the pool as the diver hits the water. Bond’s trend of filming in the exotic locales continues with some great location work. Sadly Connery didn’t travel to America for this film so a lot of this opening is in the studio.
We have a new Felix (Jack Lord didn’t want to return) who passes on Bond’s next mission – to watch Auric Goldfinger:
“Sounds like a French nail polish”.
Spotting Goldfinger cheating at gin rummy, Bond heads to the hotel where he finds the villain’s accomplice spying on his opponent’s cards through binoculars and giving instructions through a radio. Bond then speaks to Goldfinger through the radio to force him to lose.
Bond seduces the accomplice Jill Masterson and it’s not long before the first innuendo smacks us on the head. When Felix calls Bond to ask him for a meeting, Bond refuses, saying “Something big’s come up”.
Before long, Bond is knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant (apart from a shadow showing a figure wearing a top hat) and Jill is discovered dead on her bed, totally coated in gold paint. A true iconic Bond moment, accompanied by a fantastic musical sting. (We’re going to gloss over the practicality of this method of killing – did the killer bring the paint and paint sheets to protect the furniture?)
BACK IN ENGLAND
There is a great tense scene back at Universal Exports – M is fuming, and Bond is utterly respectful of M’s authority but aching for revenge. Bond mentions that Jill was killed by skin suffocation, as she didn’t have a small bare patch at the base of her spine. This is, of course, absolute nonsense, but a great Bond moment.
We have a nice scene with Moneypenny before our first visit to Q Branch, and the return of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Bond is shown his Aston Martin DB5 and the crazy number of gadgets it contains – bulletproof shield, oil slick, guns and of course, the ejector seat. Bond is incredulous: “You’re joking?” Q never jokes, James.
The first face-to-face meeting with Goldfinger is at the golf course, in an extended scene where they both play the “game”, baiting each other. Goldfinger’s henchman “Odd Job” (Harald Sakata) is there too with his top hat, so there’s no mistaking that they know who Bond is. Goldfinger tries to cheat again and fails and Bond plants a tracker on Goldfinger’s car. A final demonstration of Odd Job’s skills is when he throws his metal lined top hat at an ornamental statue next to the clubhouse, neatly severing the head.
CAR OF GOLD
In a hilltop road in Geneva, Goldfinger stops for a snack. The shot pulls back to reveal Bond at a higher bend watching him. Then another great shot pulls back again, showing a female we later learn is Tilly Masterson shooting down at them.
Later, while creeping around Goldfinger’s factory in the dark Bond learns Goldfinger’s car is made of gold and that’s how he smuggles his bullion across borders. Bond overhears the phrase “Operation Grand Slam”, which is useful later.
He then bumps into Tilly who is also creeping about and they are discovered and pursued, allowing Bond to use the Aston Martin’s gadgets, but they are still trapped. Bond tells Tilly to run, but Odd Job kills her with his metal hat. Gone. Poor Tilly. Stupid Bond.
Next scene sees Bond handcuffed to a metal table, with a laser cutting the metal and gradually moving towards his groin. This scene has gone down in history – and rightly so. Goldfinger arrives with “Good evening 007” – he knows who Bond is! Bond tries to tough it out but Goldfinger hits back:
Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger: “No Mister Bond, I expect you to die!”
Brilliant. We make jokes about how Bond villains simply can’t kill Bond quickly, instead indulging in monologuing and overly complicated traps, yet in this early Bond we have the villain do the opposite. He is utterly ruthless, such a cold finger. Bond convinces Auric that he knows about Operation Grand Slam, which saves him from the burn.
Bond wakes on a plane as Honor Blackman looks down at him.
“My name is Pussy Galore.”
“I must be dreaming.”
Pussy is one cool customer – she even says,
“You can turn off the charm, I’m immune.”
Is Pussy gay!? What a great twist. No, wait. It doesn’t last long. In fact, what happens later is more than a little problematic.
We see that Pussy Galore has a Flying Circus, a formation flying team of female pilots. Seems odd, but their role will be crucial.
Goldfinger’s boardroom in Kentucky is a huge, amazingly stylish set with pool table, vast open space, large windows with shutters, large central island fireplace, a vast projection screen and a floor that opens revealing an expansive model of the area around Fort Knox. A group of various gangsters are waiting in this room to hear what their investment in Goldfinger’s plan will give them.
Goldfinger reveals his plan to attack Fort Knox for the gold supplies – and Bond overhears this and sneaks a note and a tracker into the pocket of a departing gangster, hoping Felix will track it. Goldfinger then gasses the gangsters and has Odd Job kill the one who wanted to leave.
Then the clever reveal – Goldfinger doesn’t want to steal the gold, he wants it to become radioactive, meaning that his own gold reserves will increase in value. Pussy Galore’s team will gas the soldiers around Fort Knox, while he smuggles in the atomic bomb.
THE WEIRD, AND THE UNSETTLING
- Goldfinger still has Bond around, weird.
- Bond’s escape from the cell under Goldfinger’s estate, weird.
- The fella carrying the note and the tracker is shot, his corpse crushed in the car, which is then returned to Goldfinger’s estate. Weird.
- Weirder is the playful scene between Bond and Pussy in a barn, where they indulge in some judo moves, Pussy giving as good as she gets. Before you know it, Bond is pushing down on her, she pushes back, he kisses her, she struggles, she acquiesces.
This moment is crucial for what happens next in the plot – and maybe watching it today is different than the pre-women’s movement, pre-gay rights era the film debuted in, but it feels uncomfortable. Indeed, any time Bond pushes himself onto a female seems uncomfortable.
Bond is supposed to be this rough, rule-breaking, chauvinistic brute, so perhaps the reason why the filmmakers spend a lot of time making him charming or adding the quips or sly innuendo is to take the edge off his behaviour.
But was Pussy gay? Not explicitly in the film, although she is in the book, and for the era the hint alone in the film might have been bold. It’s a shame Galore gives into Bond, for if she had truly resisted him it would have made her stronger and given Bond a challenge he couldn’t overcome.
The final large set piece is the attack on Fort Knox is excellently staged. The shots of the hundreds of troops being gassed are effective, and truly establishes the scale of Goldfinger’s crazy plan. The vast set of the gold reserves in Fort Knox is a joy to behold, with an elevator leading down into the wide vaults, containing the glimmering gold.
The villains pull the bomb into the vault and the ticking clock countdown starts. And it works brilliantly.
The sudden twist reveals that the troops are faking their deaths is great – for they all get up and advance on the complex, leading to a messy gunfight at the entrance of Fort Knox. Meanwhile, Goldfinger has locked Bond, Odd Job and others in the vault (he really wants that bomb to go off).
There is some terrific suspense as Bond struggles to free himself from the handcuffs attaching him to the trolley the bomb sits in as Odd Job descends the stairs towards him.
A great fight ensues between Bond and Odd Job – Bond throws the hat at Odd Job missing him by miles, and the hat embeds itself in a metal cage. As Odd Job grabs the hat, Bond pushes a severed power cable into the cage, electrocuting the henchman in a visually impressive explosion of smoke and cinders. Shocking.
Bond stands uselessly trying to figure out how to disarm the bomb, and the beauty is – he doesn’t. At the last moment (well, with 007 seconds left on the clock) a bomb expert arrives to simply switch the bomb off. It’s great that Bond doesn’t save the day!
But on the other hand, Bond doesn’t save the day!. Bond got both Jill and Tilly killed. Bond’s tracking device was useless. Bond doesn’t do any decent spy time in this film at all.
Yet. This film is a glorious ride, for all its minor grumbles.
KISS OF DEATH
In the epilogue Bond is on a jet heading to Washington when Goldfinger appears in the cabin, waving a golden handgun. A brief struggle, the gun goes off, and Goldfinger is (rather amusingly, sadly) sucked out of the plane.
The plane can’t be controlled and Bond and Pussy (yes, she was piloting) end up hiding under a parachute for some shenanigans as the film ends.
Goldfinger was a huge success across the world. The premiere in London was crazy, with uncontrollable crowds desperate for the film to arrive. Eon Productions teased Thunderball in the end credits.
And the next film would up the stakes, the locations and the budget, with the return of SPECTRE, extensive underwater sequences, one of the loudest theme songs and, significantly, the use of widescreen.
Bond was about to be bigger than ever.
Producers: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli.
Director: Guy Hamilton.
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum & Paul Dehn.
London Premiere September 1964.
Music composed, arranged and conducted by John Barry.
“Goldfinger” written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
Performed by Shirley Bassey.
Production Design by Ken Adam.