Action/Adventure / Bond / Films

James Bond Retrospective: Goldfinger

Whilst Dr No and From Russia with Love were excellent spy movies, they only served to foreshadow elements of the Bond template – it was the third movie, 1964′s Goldfinger, which really cemented the character and series as cinematic icons. Goldfinger is where Bond began. It’s where the formula first came into play, where the rules were set, and where the franchise was born. Goldfinger is the highlight of the series – as good as From Russia with Love, yet very different – Goldfinger is more light-hearted, more camp – but primarily, more fun. This is the Bond movie most of future Bond movies will aspire to be. gold2The plot begins with Bond (Connery) running into billionaire gold trader Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) in Miami. Noticing Goldfinger cheating at a card game, Bond literally infiltrates Goldfinger’s personal assistant (Shirley Eaton) to put a stop to it. Goldfinger responds by putting a stop to his assistant, via iconic gold paint. Soon after, MI6 themselves are drawn to Goldfinger, suspecting him of smuggling, and send Bond in to investigate. Bond in turn uncovers a much larger scheme than smuggling; the deadly and somewhat nuclear Operation Grand Slam.gold4What’s first noticeable about Goldfinger is that it finally nails down the typical Bond structure – whilst previous movies had toyed with the idea of pre-credits and title sequences, it’s Goldfinger which solidifies things and makes them spark. Here, we’re presented with a slick, funny and exciting pre-credits sequence, which works as a movie within a movie, an idea which would become standard in future Bonds. There’s a lot of great moments here – Bond’s iconic lighting of a cigarette, the reveal of a dry white tux beneath a wetsuit, and an electrifying pun – to this day, it’s one of the best opening sections in the series, and nicely sets the tone for things to come; ridiculous, but a lot of fun to watch. Then of course we have Shirley Bassey’s infamous, powerhouse of a theme song. It’s an incredibly impressive number, fitting perfectly with Maurice Binder’s gold visuals, and one which set the standard for all future Bond songs; it’s hard to think of a style which screams ’007′ more than Bassey’s big, brassy vocals and the song perfectly captures the confidence and boldness of Goldfinger.gold5And that confidence carries over into the rest of the movie – Guy Hamilton, taking over from Terrence Young, brings a cocky, sexy suaveness to the picture. This is a bright, colourful movie, with sumptuous cinematography and a tremendous amount of energy. It’s the first Bond to nail the sense of style the series would become known for. Everything of course is helped by John Barry’s score, which is perhaps at its strongest here – mixing with Bassey’s theme to become big, bold and boisterous; it feels sexy and lively. It says a lot about the movie’s confidence too that the first Bond to feature a self-financed villain – SPECTRE doesn’t get a mention here as Goldfinger is able to stand on its own as a self-contained story. And the story is great too – it’s the first in the series to do the ‘big bomb’ threat but does it very well; Goldfinger‘s plot is ludicrous but so energetic and fun it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. Hamilton seems to be aware that the material he’s working with is silly and encourages the audience to enjoy themselves; this is the first Bond to bring the fun in.gold3Hamilton is great with action scenes too and puts together some incredible ones – noticeably the climax, which is big, fun and crucially, extremely tense. It’s probably the best Bond ending and few others come close. But Hamilton is able to pull back too and focus on smaller, tighter moments – the iconic golf game is tense and a lot is said with little dialogue, and the golden girl scene has an eerie, mysterious quality to it. The laser sequence – the most infamous in the series – also stands out as a suspenseful highlight. The blueprint for all future Bond movies is set in Goldfinger – we get the first real use of Q, the first car chase, the first gadgets – all the elements which typically go into these kind of films begin here.gold9 Essentially, Goldfinger changed the path of the series – by highlighting the campier, sillier elements, the Bond franchise veers from Cold War spy thriller to pulpy action adventure; this turns out to be both a blessing and a curse for the series. Without Goldfinger, it’s unlikely that the Bond franchise would have endured for as long as it has. Yet you get the sense with future reboots (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Living Daylights, Casino Royale) that the producers are desperate to return to the From Russia with Love days. All of the elements that people criticise in Bond – the silliness, the gadgets, the stupid plots – are born in Goldfinger. This is not to criticise the movie, as it’s so confidently put together and such huge fun, but it suggests an idea of Bond which would plague the franchise for years to come. Arguably, the real problems come with Thunderball, but they have their roots here. gold6As Goldfinger sets the elements in place, it’s fitting that it contains some of the best villains of the series. The main, smart villain and strong, strange henchman dynamic begins here, with Goldfinger and Oddjob. Goldfinger, who featured on the Top 10 Movie Villains, is possibly the best badguy in the series – genius, but completely insane, with a barely contained sense of menace and megalomania. He gets the best line in the entire series – ‘No Mr Bond, I expect you to die’ – and Fröbe is excellent in the role; something like a used car salesman mixed with a mob boss. Oddjob is stern, silent and very threatening – his method of murder, via bowler hat, is extremely memorable and he’s one of the better Bond henchmen. The girls are great too – there are more of them here, but it’s Honor Blackman’s tough, independent Pussy Galore who stands out. She begins the trend of Bond girls having silly, double entendre names, and though not quite the sexiest of Bond woman, Blackman brings her streetwise Avengers charm and sass to the role and is very likeable and memorable. Blackman and Connery have great chemistry and of all the Connery Bond woman, she’s the only one who can hold her own against him. Together, they make for one of the strongest pairings in the series. gold7Goldfinger brings in the fun and sets the tone and style for the rest of the series. It’s the best out-an-out Bond movie in the franchise, the one which inspired all the rest, and the one which all the rest aspire to be. It changed the series, made it last, though the franchise would rapidly hit hurdles with the fourth film, Thunderball.


James Bond will return in Thunderball.

7 thoughts on “James Bond Retrospective: Goldfinger

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