Sunday, January 4, 2015

Goldfinger - 1964

I'll state it now just to get it out of the way and maybe explain some of the things I say here. Goldfinger is one of my favourite Bond movies (my other 3 are The Spy Who Loved Me, Goldeneye and Casino Royale) and for my money far and away the best of the Connery Bonds.

Background: Initially Broccoli and Saltzman wanted to make Thunderball their 3rd Bond film, but the case between Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory over the ownership of the intellectual property was still ongoing in the courts, so they decided on Goldfinger. They had a budget of $3,000,000, which was the budgets of Dr. No and From Russia With Love combined and this could be used to make Goldfinger into an action extravaganza.

Due to a pay dispute over a percentage of profits and a desire to direct The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, Terence Young was unavailable to direct, as a consequence the Bond films would be taken in a whole other direction and this was for me the making of the franchise.

There are a lot of firsts in Goldfinger: First 'proper' pre credit sequence, first use of the Aston Martin as Bond's car make of choice, first look at Q's laboratory, first genuine hit song using the name of the film, first time Shirley Bassey would sing the theme, first time the villain wasn't connected to SPECTRE. It's quite a list. Another rather sad first for fans, is that it is the first film to be screened after creator Ian Fleming's death.

Story: I'll discuss the pre credit sequence later, but Bond winds up meeting Felix in Miami as a consequence of it and is pointed towards a large German man by the name of Auric Goldfinger, who regularly fleeces someone at gin rummy by the pool of the hotel he's staying in. Right from the start Bond knows something is up and sure enough Goldfinger is cheating. He has a girl with high powered binoculars stationed on a balcony and he uses her to tell him what cards his opponent is holding. Bond finds her, tells Goldfinger that he's going to lose heavily and seduces the girl.

The poolside sequence and the seduction contain two examples of the sexism that had become inherent in the films. Bond's 'pool girl' Dink is casually dismissed by Bond when he wants to talk about Goldfinger with Felix by condescendingly telling her that they are discussing 'men's business' and she's sent on her way with a smack on the behind (Bond seemed to like doing that, he popped Tatiana's rear as well). Then later in bed with Jill Masterson (Goldfinger's spotter) when he's on the phone with Felix and she gets playful he puts his hand over her face and quite rudely and forcefully shoves her away before continuing their bedroom gymnastics.

Jill meets a rather sticky end. She was the iconic gold girl. Goldfinger had Bond knocked out and then covered Jill in gold paint, which caused death by skin suffocation. Apparently you can't actually die this way, but Bond films have never been too careful about whether or not they're scientifically accurate. It made a stunning effect. TV sitcom Get Smart also used this as a method of death in one episode, I think their villain was called Bronzefinger.

Bond gets back to England and is informed that Auric Goldfinger is his next mission, but warned by M that if he can't treat this as a mission and not a revenge issue then he'll be replaced by 008. I always thought it was 006, as that tends to be the default agent number for some reason.

Goldfinger's ire is further provoked by Bond when his attempts to cheat at golf are thwarted and he loses 5,000 pounds to the spy. He has his large, mute Korean manservant Oddjob give Bond a demonstration of what his razor edged top hat can do and Oddjob also demonstrates his physical strength by crushing a golf ball in one powerful hand.

Despite the implied threat Bond collects his gadgets from Q (mostly an altered Aston Martin DB5, discussed more in Gadgets) and follows Goldfinger to Switzerland to find out how he is smuggling significant amounts of gold out of the country and why.

He's not the only one shadowing the arrogant gold obsessed businessman. A pretty young blonde girl in a sportscar with a rifle is doing the same thing. Bond waylays her and discovers that while he may not be pursuing a vendetta against Goldfinger, she certainly is. Her name is Tilly Masterson and she's the sister of Jill. She wants Goldfinger dead and Bond needs him alive. They get thrown together and need to work with each other if either of them are going to get out of it alive.

Goldfinger operates from a base in the woods somewhere in Switzerland. Bond hears about something called Operation Grandslam before he and Tilly are chased in the Aston Martin. The nasty little surprises Q has hidden in the car help them hold off pursuit for a while, but they are eventually captured.

Hamilton threw in all sorts of cute ideas. The gatehouse at Goldfinger's compound is manned by this sweet old lady, that is until Bond tries to escape and she pulls out a machine gun, had the DB5 not been fitted with a bullet proof windshield he would have been killed too. The sweet little old lady being more than anyone thinks gag is still being used. I last saw it in Captain America: The First Avenger.

Tilly is killed by Oddjob's hat. I have to confess that was badly handled. I can accept that they can't show the hat actually decapitating her, but at the very least it should have cut her throat, yet when they find the body there's no blood, it kind of looks like it broke her neck, and it was rather hard to tell whether or not she was really dead. A comment from Bond to Oddjob about always tipping his hat to a lady indicates that she definitely was killed by the hat.

Bond finds himself strapped to a table while a laser beam steadily inches itself towards his privates. in a desperate attempt to save his life he asks Goldfinger: 'Do you expect me to talk?'
Goldfinger's response: 'No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die!' is possibly my most favourite line ever in cinema. However mention of Operation Grandslam does get Goldfinger's attention and while he thinks Bond is bluffing he can't take the risk of another agent knowing about it and keeps Bond alive.

When Bond comes to again (he got knocked out a lot in this one) he's on a plane and a beautiful blonde woman is leaning over him and telling him her name is Pussy Galore (while it's one of the most memorable and controversial names in Bond history, it's also one of the silliest. Mary Goodnight, Holly Goodhead and Christmas Jones do give it competition, though). Pussy makes it very clear that she is immune to Bond's charms. Like with Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love, it is not outright stated that she is a lesbian, but that's inferred.

By means of a gadget of Q's Bond is being tracked in the US by Felix and a CIA colleague. They know he's at Goldfinger's stud farm in Kentucky, but can't just storm into the place. Felix does know that his friend can take care of himself, though and is secure in that knowledge.

Bond escapes his prison at the farm and finds out what Operation Grandslam is. Goldfinger has allied himself with a group of American 'goodfellas' and is planning to rob Fort Knox by using Pussy's Flying Circus of all female pilots to spray the Fort itself and the surrounds with a knockout gas. One gangster wants out and Goldfinger lets him go, but then has Oddjob knock him out and crush his car while the mobster is still in it. In a final act of callousness he has the bodyguard transport the cube back to the farm so that he can extract the gold he gave the gangster as payment for his assistance.

Bond puts it to Goldfinger that the 'knockout' gas he's using is actually fatal and will kill 60,000 people. Goldfinger casually replies that more people than that die every 2 years on America's roads. Bond also works out that he can't actually take all the gold out of Fort Knox (he's already gassed the mobsters to death), so he's not planning to rob it. The real plan and Goldfinger agrees that Bond has the right out of it, is to detonate a nuclear device provided by the Chinese, who Goldfinger is working with, that will make the gold worthless due to radiation. This will benefit the Chinese by sending the western financial markets into free fall and make Goldfinger the wealthiest man in the world because he will hold the largest repository of gold.

Everything looks to be going like clockwork. The girls fly over the area and locals and troops all fall down in unison, including Felix who was stationed outside the fort. What neither Bond or Goldfinger know is that Pussy had a change of heart (after Bond unbelievably turned her) and let Felix know what was happening and he mobilised everything.

Bond is handcuffed to the nuclear device and left in the vault with Oddjob, while Goldfinger and his forces secure the fort. Before anything can be done, though, all the troops 'wake up' and counter attack. In a panic Goldfinger seals the vault with Bond and Oddjob locked inside.

Bond frees himself from the bomb, but then he has to contend with Oddjob. The bodyguard is the classic immovable object. Throwing gold bricks at him has no effect, neither does punching him and even Bond's judo skills can't move him. He does use the hat against Bond, only it misses and shears an electrical cable in half, leaving it sparking on the floor. A second throw of the hat embeds it in an iron bar and when Oddjob retrieves it Bond presses the cut cable to the bars and electrocutes the bodyguard. That's the second person Bond electrocutes to death in this film and it recalls the pre credit sequence. The fight again reminded me of Get Smart, it was common practice for Max to come up against large powerful opponents, call them a gorilla and then see his punches and other moves have no effect. He would then put an arm around their shoulders, smile, chuckle and say something like: 'I hope I wasn't out of line with that crack about the gorilla.' Get Smart started in 1965 and was clearly influenced by all the Bond films, especially Goldfinger.

The bomb is shut down by an American expert with Felix and the clock fittingly reads 007.

Bond is being ferried to meet the President on a plane piloted by Pussy when Goldfinger, who escaped the fiasco at Fort Knox, appears on the plane and tries to shoot Bond. The gun goes off in the struggle, it breaks a window and Goldfinger is sucked out into space. It depressurises the plane and Bond and Pussy are forced to jump for it. They cover themselves with a parachute in an idyllic forest setting and enjoy their narrow escape while Felix searches for them.

It has flaws, plenty of them, but Goldfinger not only set the template for future Bond films, but action films in general and many years later certain things from it were still being copied. Despite the ridiculousness of the plot and some very dodgy effects, things just seemed to work. The biggest weakness was Bond's unbelievable seduction of Pussy.


Director: for a couple of reasons Terence Young made himself unavailable for Goldfinger (if they'd been able to film Thunderball he may have become available I feel) and that meant a new director was needed. That man was Guy Hamilton.

Hamilton had initially turned down Dr. No, but by the time Goldfinger was offered to him, he was far from alone in wanting to be involved in a Bond film. While Young had shied away from the over the top opportunities Bond offered (gadgets, larger than life villains, unbelievable henchmen, an incredibly resilient hero), Hamilton embraced them.

He refined the idea of the pre credit sequence and directed a cracking action film. I felt he was ahead of his time and occasionally over reached himself and the film making technology at the time, but it made for a fantastic film. Hamilton later become very strongly identified with the brand, going on to direct 3 more Bond's in the future.

James Bond: Connery had no issues in returning for a 3rd go round as James Bond, and I felt that he had really grown into the role by this stage. He was confident and knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to. He's more believable in this one that at any time before. He has the chemistry with his regular acting partners down and even nails things like the facial expressions. He's still not totally comfortable with the one liners and probably never would be. For all his other failings, that was one of Roger Moore's strengths, he was blessed with impeccable comic timing.

Auric Goldfinger: Broccoli, Saltzman and Hamilton had seen Gert Frobe in German films and liked what they saw, he was physically perfect for Goldfinger. The only stumbling block was that they didn't know if he could speak English. His agent assured him that he could. Gert Frobe did speak English, but it was so heavily accented that he was very hard to understand. The voice was dubbed by Michael Collins, so that wonderful line isn't actually uttered by Frobe. Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) said that when filming she occasionally missed cues and wasn't sure if her nodding or acting was right because as Gert spoke to her she couldn't understand anything he was saying. Broccoli quite liked him and even cast him as Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He was one of Bond's most memorable villains and I really couldn't think of more perfect casting.

Oddjob: Harold Sakata was an American weightlifter (won a silver medal in the 1948 Olympics) and professional wrestler. British actor Milton Reid also coveted the role of Oddjob and actually challenged Sakata to a wrestling match for it. Eon didn't want to cast him as they had already used him in Dr. No, so Sakata got the role. He's physically perfect and although he only grunts occasionally, he does a wonderful job. He was possessed of one of the most chilling smiles in film. He became one of the most well known and distinctive hench people in the franchise's history. He mostly did small film and TV roles and the occasional advertisement after Goldfinger, generally trading on the Oddjob persona. I also felt it was very fitting in the film that what kills him is over confidence and not wanting to part with his beloved hat.

Peripheral roles: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell returned as M and Moneypenny. M's role was beefed up a little and we saw him out of the office, he really does come across like Bond's father at times. Once again the flirting was interrupted by M as something was about to happen (it never would) which indicated that he's all too aware of what goes on between his secretary and his agent and that it's just part of the game.

Q: Desmond Llewellyn came back as Q, and he is actually called Q in this one. The role was significantly increased. Bond met him in his laboratory, where he was shown the DB5. Initially Desmond Llewellyn played the role as if he were slightly in awe of Bond, but then Guy Hamilton advised him to play it differently. He's not in awe of Bond, he doesn't even really like him. Q puts all his time and energy into creating these incredible machines that save Bond's life, in return Bond insults him and if he returns the things he's given, they come back worse than when they went out. Llewellyn took the advice to heart and from that stage on Q was part mad inventor, part cranky old man, and audiences loved him for it. He was in every film from From Russia With Love to The World Is Not Enough (except for Live and Let Die) and saw 4 actors in the role.

Felix Leiter: now this was fun. The original idea for the sake of continuity was to cast Jack Lord. Lord made a few demands; one was to have equal or better billing than Connery. Broccoli and Saltzman couldn't buy that. so instead they cast Canadian actor Cec Linder. I never felt Linder was right. He was actually a year younger than Jack Lord, but looked older. He also participated in a few nudge nudge wink wink moments with Bond that never sat right. There was an idea to turn him into a kind of American version of M in this film, but it really didn't work. It also started the in joke that went on for years that Felix was nearly always played by a different actor.

Jill Masterson: although it's only a small role, Shirley Eaton will be forever remembered by audiences as the girl who was painted gold and she graced the cover of Life magazine.

Tilly Masterson: Jill's vengeful sister was played by Tania Mallett who had actually also been under consideration for the role of Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love. I thought she did a pretty good job and may have worked better if she were cast as Pussy.

Pussy Galore: Honor Blackman was already known to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for her work as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and as that was also an action role it made her a natural choice for the part of Pussy Galore. To this day at the age of 38 when she played Pussy, Honor Blackman remains one of the oldest actresses to play a Bond girl. Like with Honey Rider I felt she was kind of superfluous to the story and really didn't act a whole lot. She was very flat for a lot of it and relatively unbelievable, which given her previous experience is surprising. I also have trouble buying that she turned because she slept with Bond, despite being a confirmed lesbian. I like to think that she contacted Felix because she found out about Goldfinger's true plan and while she was a criminal, she wasn't a killer and he probably would have killed her and her girls after the job in any case.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: I think people expected Blackman's career to take off and it didn't. This may have been because she was nearly 40 when she was cast as Pussy Galore. It may have also had to do with the fact that her performance as Pussy wasn't all that good. She never achieved the anticipated success on screen, although she had a solid career behind her already. She did have a fairly solid career in theatre, though.

Gadgets: oh they abounded in Goldfinger. Chief amongst them is the car. It was Goldfinger that confirmed Bond's car of choice as the Aston Martin, before this he'd driven a Bentley. Even now he is most strongly associated with the DB5. Now the DB5 was extensively altered to suit Bond. It had extensions coming out from the wheels that would shred the tires of a car alongside him, as he did with Tilly's car. It had a smoke screen, an oil slick, a radar tracking screen, a bullet shield at the back, the windows were reinforced and bullet proof and most astonishing of all: an ejector seat. We get to see them all in operation. There were also two remote tracking devices, a big one and a little one. On the other side of things Goldfinger had Oddjob's hat. This perfectly balanced top hat had a razor sharp brim and the big man was an expert at using it. Get Smart also stole the idea in an episode. Max's car was also tricked out in the same way the DB5 was, it also had an ejector seat.

Pre credit sequence: while they had done one in From Russia With Love, it really came into it's own in Goldfinger. Hamilton took the idea to new heights. It was like a little mini movie before the credits. Bond infiltrates some banana republic, blows up something, has a liaison with a women, escapes an attempt on his life by tossing an electric fan in a bathtub into which the assassin has fallen, this electrocuting him and allowing Bond to dryly comment: 'Shocking', and all before the credits. Every Bond film since has had one of these, some more elaborate, some less. In some cases they have something to do with the plot of the film, other times like this they don't. Hamilton wanted to use it to show that Bond went on other missions that weren't always the film we saw.

Music: the music came into its own this time. The film opens with the song Goldfinger belted out by Shirley Bassey. The song was a huge hit and while Bassey had already been popular this made her more so. She would provide the voice for two more Bond films and also have a monster hit with a cover version of another Bond song.

To me, Bond really begins in many ways with Goldfinger.

James Bond will return in Thunderball.

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