Posted November 23, 2010 by editor in Retrospectives
 
 

Goldfinger


If you explained the plot of Goldfinger to an alien (rotund super-villain plans to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold bullion stocks thereby rendering it worthless and allowing him to take control of the world’s gold reserves, with the help of a gang of girlie pilots and a small fat man with a killer bowler hat), they’d probably think it sounded like the worst film ever (assuming they know what a film is of course). Add to that the fact that it opens with Sean Connery in a shiny wetsuit with a stuffed seagull on his head and they’ll be off back to Mars before you can say “shocking”. But, much like Bond stripping off his seagull and wetsuit to reveal an immaculately pressed white tuxedo, Goldfinger is a treasure, albeit one wrapped in a vastly over the top plot. This is Bond at his best, as evidenced almost immediately (stuffed seagull aside) when 007 spots an assassin in the reflection of the eye of the girl he’s snogging, casually spinning her round to be smacked in the head with the blow meant for him.

 

The formula we now know and love – exotic locales, beautiful girls, elaborate murders, grumpy Q with his gadgets – wasn’t a formula before this but, after watching Goldfinger, you can see why they decided to run with it. Connery is at his best; in his third outing as the silver-tongued spy he fully inhabits the role and looks like he’s having a ball, delivering one liners with obvious glee whilst still maintaining James Bond’s steely edge. The budget for this film was equal to that of the preceding two films put together and it shows in Ken Adams’ lavish design featuring gold everywhere he can – on the girls, the cars, the clothes; it’s all over.

 

But Goldfinger isn’t really about the gold – what makes it so much more than just a film about a large-scale robbery is in no small part due to the chemistry between the hero and villain. Take the golfing scene for example; the tension is palpable as Bond and Goldfinger try to one up each other with polite cheating and veiled insults. Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger (named after an architect acquaintance of Ian Fleming – Fleming disliked his work and decided to name a villain after him), voiced by Michael Collins, is a perfect balance of cool intelligence and megalomaniac nutter; you can constantly see his temper simmering under the surface.

 

Operation Grand Slam may sound ludicrous on paper, but the film stays the right side of silliness, even when Goldfinger sends in the Flying Circus, an all female group of pilots (who have the pointiest boobs I’ve ever seen – who needs weapons?!) to spray Fort Knox with nerve gas. They are led, of course, by the ridiculously named Pussy Galore, which sounds all the more dirty coming as it does in Connery’s Scottish burr (“Poosay…”). In the book she’s the lesbian leader of an all-female crime group (of course), but in the film she’s been upgraded to Goldfinger’s chief pilot and proves more than a match for Bond, both verbally and physically. She’s the first in a line of strong female characters who provide welcome relief from the conveyor belt of identikit bimbos who occupy a lot of the series. Her sexuality is hinted at in the film, though not overtly, but despite her claims to be immune to Bond’s charms, it appears that not even ladies of the Sapphic persuasion can avoid succumbing to 007.

 

Oddjob, played by professional wrestler Harold Sakata, is a truly menacing henchman, physically superior to Bond demonstrated early on when he crushes a golf ball in one hand. Like Pussy, he is the first of his kind in the series – the villain’s almost superhuman right-hand man, paving the way for characters like Tee Hee, Stamper and Jaws. The final fist fight between him and Bond is lengthy and gruelling and it’s Bond’s cunning – rather than his strength or weapons – that wins the day, with Oddjob’s need to hang onto his hat proving to be his undoing.

 

It’s set-pieces like that golf game (how many action films nowadays could sustain a golfing scene for that long without someone pulling a gun or blowing something up?), the now iconic shot of Shirley Eaton covered in gold, and Bond tied to a table with a laser beam aimed at his nethers (my second favourite Bond quote ever – “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” – number one comes from Q at the end of Moonraker) that make this film something special. This is also the first time we get to see the Aston Martin DB5 (“revolving number plates, naturally”), complete with ejector seat and oil slick, and as fantastic as that car is (I don’t want to use the word iconic again, but it really is) this film isn’t over reliant on the gadgets, as later films have sometimes tended to be. Bond has to survive on his wits and intelligence, locating peepholes in private jets and buying his freedom from that laser beam with quick thinking, rather than a snazzy watch.

 

You can’t really talk about Goldfinger without mentioning the thumpingly good theme tune courtesy of Dame Shirley Bassey. This was the first film to use a pop star for the theme song, something which has continued ever since (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service being the only exception). In addition, John Barry’s exuberant score makes heavy use of brass, adding just the right atmosphere of restrained anarchy.

 

Goldfinger made its money back in record time and is rightly seen by many as the archetypal Bond film, firmly putting the franchise on the map. Rarely matched and hardly ever bettered.

Emma Wilkin


editor