Published on October 19th, 2015 | by Michael0
Goldfinger: Bond Finds His Groove
While relaxing by a pool in Miami Beach, James Bond is pointed in the direction of one Auric Goldfinger, a British (!) businessman who is probably up to no good. Bond sets about investigating Goldfinger and his nefarious plot, following him from an English golf course, to the Alps and Kentucky (the US commonwealth, not a chicken joint). The film’s structure contrasts strongly with the previous film I covered, Dr No, in that Goldfinger himself is introduced in the film’s first post title scene and he and Bond meet shortly afterwards, whereas Dr No remained a mystery until the film’s third act. This makes the film’s story difficult to go into in detail without laying out the villain’s plot, which I’ll cover later. There is a subplot though – Goldfinger is a card cheat and uses Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) to help him. Bond first crosses Goldfinger by seducing Jill and ruining Goldfinger’s scheme. In revenge, Goldfinger has her painted gold, killing her through ‘skin suffocation’ which is as made up as it sounds. Later in the film, Bond encounters Tilly Masterson, Jill’s vengeful sister. Alas, she too is killed by bowler hat wielding henchman Oddjob before she can complete her task.
Title Sequence & Bond Theme
Goldfinger’s pre title sequence is as thrilling as it is ridiculous. Bond infiltrates a base as a scuba diver and blows it up by detonating a load of nitro glycerine barrels which have been left lying around in an otherwise swanky lounge. He then exfiltrates dressed in a white dinner suit, which he was wearing beneath his scuba gear. Finally, after stopping off at a bar, he goes back to his bedroom. Alas, his latest paramour betrays him and Bond is forced to electrocute an assassin in the bath tub.
The theme tune is of course one of the most famous in the Bond canon, though Shirley Bassey’s powerful voice can’t quite hide the fact that she sounds a tad flat. The title sequence is also pretty attention grabbing – it features several ladies painted gold, foreshadowing Jill Masterson’s fate. Reflected in the gold paint are scenes both from the forthcoming film and previous Bond adventures.
The Villain & Their Plan
For the first time in the series, the film veered away from SPECTRE as the villains, although in one scene, Goldfinger is seen wearing a SPECTRE ring. Auric Goldfinger is instead a ruthless businessman played with relish by German actor Gert Frobe, although dubbed by Michael Collins. As is apparently tradition for a Bond villain, the producers had original wanted Orson Welles but he was deemed too expensive. Frobe was cast after his performance as a child killer in Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It Happened in Broad Daylight). However, mirroring his character’s desire for wealth, Frobe tried to demand 10% of the film’s profits, which probably made Welles the cheaper option.
Goldfinger’s masterplan is eccentric, though simple. He wants to break into Fort Knox and detonate a nuclear device, provided by the Chinese. This would irradiate the US government’s entire gold supply, plunging the West into economic chaos why substantially increasing the value of Goldfinger’s own vast gold supply. While the Bond series has always thrived in colonialism and the maintenance of the status quo, it is easy to see Auric Goldfinger as a critique on capitalism. His idea of free marketeering is to nuke the other guy’s supply. In addition, he frequently acts like a child, cheating at cards and golf, loathe to lose under any circumstances. He’s a petulant blowhard, the sort of character Orson Welles so excelled at, funnily enough.
Goldfinger has the first great Bond henchman (if we count Red Grant at the main villain of From Russia With Love), Oddjob, the mute Korean bodyguard played by Olympic weightlifter Harold Sakata. Oddjob’s weapon of choice is a bowler hat with a steel rim that he throws with neckbreaking precision – he is even able to decapitate a statue with it. Also on team Goldfinger is a platoon of all female fighter pilots led by the preposterously named Pussy Galore. Pussy is played by Honor Blackman, who left the brilliant Avengers to play the role. She is also one of only two ‘Bond girls’ to be older than the Bond she played opposite. The other was fellow Avengers graduate (and Best Bond Girl ever) Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Monica Bellucci will be the third.
Goldfinger also used American organised crime bosses to help put his scheme together, before murdering all of them. One of these bosses is named ‘Mr Solo’ who became subject to the legal wrangling that has become one of the series’ hallmarks. Ian Fleming had, recently, created the character ‘Napoleon Solo’ for an early treatment of the script that would eventually become The Man From U.N.C.L.E. After much legal toing and froing, it was agreed that both characters could keep the name Solo, but Fleming’s name must be taken off the TV series. Other than that, the characters are very obviously separate people.
Not one of the more spectacular Bonds, location-wise. The Miami Beach sequence, for instance, is very clearly a Pinewood studio set. Some shots were filmed in Miami, but Sean Connery was not on set as he was filming Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie elsewhere. Similarly, there were some scenes shot in Kentucky, but these were again spliced in with footage of Connery, Frobe and Blackman which were shot in England.
The production was allowed to film the exterior of Fort Knox, however. Lt Colonel Charles Russhon, of the US airforce, was a friend of Cubby Broccoli and had negotiated some of the Turkish location filming in From Russia With Love. He stepped in and smoothed things over to allow the base to be filmed, though the film makers broke their end of the agreement when the planes used to ‘gas’ the soldiers flew at only 500 feet, well below the 3000 feet that had been agreed. Of course, the inside of Fort Knox was a no go area, so instead sets were designed by Ken Adam. He and his team later received a letter from the comptroller of Fort Knox, praising the imaginative depiction of gold piled up behind iron bars.
The most famous is of course the Aston Martin DB5, covered extensively elsewhere on the site. The best gadget in the film though is the model seagull Bond wears on top of his scuba equipment to cover his approach in the pre title sequence. Loony Toon inspired brilliance!
Most Inappropriate/Politically Incorrect Moment
Where to begin? Goldfinger is a particularly rough ride for women. Bond’s first girl, in the pre title sequence, is bashed on the bonce by Bond’s would be assassin, but since she tried to set up Bond to be murdered, she can be considered fair game. Less forgivable is the fate of Dink (My Wife Next Door‘s Margaret Nolan), a woman in Miami Beach giving Bond a massage. When Felix Leiter approaches Bond, Dink is dismissed with a pat on the backside and told that this is ‘men’s talk’ and no place for her. Within a few minutes, Jill Masterson has been seduced and then immediately killed (the unconscious Bond is allowed to live). Her sister is also killed, admittedly by a man protecting his boss from a would-be murderer. Finally, there is Pussy Galore. In the novel, she is a lesbian and while this is hinted at in the film, it’s far from confirmed. Still, she and Bond have an encounter in a barn which, well let’s say charitably that’s it not obviously consensual. Still, the old Bond magic must have been at work because he’s able to get her and her team to turn on her employer. Rarely has the misogyny of the series and its main character been so apparent as in Goldfinger.
Other than Bond wearing a seagull? It must be the execution by gold paint of Jill Masterson. This is made even weirder by the fact that Bond had been knocked unconscious by Oddjob and was asleep during the whole ordeal. Why didn’t Goldfinger just get rid of him then? Shirley Eaton painted gold has become one of the defining images of the series and helped make her a very memorable bond girl, despite comparatively little screen time. She appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in the paint and decades later appeared on an episode of Mythbusters to dispel a long standing rumour that she had actually died filming the stunt. Even stranger, considering ‘skin suffocation’ is complete bunk, although admittedly I guess someone could over heat if painted from head to toe.
Best One Liner
‘No Mr Bond, I expect you to die’ is a strong contender, but the winner can be nothing else but Bond’s line in the prologue after electrocuting a thug;
‘Shocking. Positively shocking.’
How Good Is It Really?
Very good. Indeed, the first three Bond films are a run of excellence largely unparalleled down the years. The villain is menacing, while being believably human in his childish petulance. His plan, while odd and faintly ridiculous, seems less contrived than a lot of other villain masterplans. The film lacks the gorgeous scenery of a Dr No or You Only Live Twice but makes up for it with some superb sets. Highlights include the Fort Knox interior, of course, but also the scene in which Bond is nearly cut in two by a laser, another aspect of the film that has gone down in pop culture history (notably parodied in The Simpsons). Indeed, the scene was dreamt up when it was decided that a circular saw was old hat.
In also moves along at a fair click. Along with Dr No, it was the shortest Bond film made up until Quantum of Solace. It has the benefit of Bond at Goldfinger being in each other’s company frequently throughout the film, allowing for chemistry between the two, rather than the rather faceless Dr No appearing to Bond late on in the story.
The film does have some huge flaws though, most notably its treatment of female characters. Pussy Galore herself is actually a very capable woman, a fighter pilot who is also able to throw Bond over her shoulder (Blackman asked that they rewrite the character to include the actress’ judo skills). Her ‘seduction’ by Bond though is very poorly shown in the film – it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to suggest that she is actually raped. Few of the other female characters fare any better. Saying a work is a ‘product of its time’ seems redundant, doubly so when referring to Bond films. But there’s a great film in Goldfinger, compromised though it is by the prevalent attitudes of the day.