BOND RETROSPECTIVE 03: GOLDFINGER

Continuing an epic retrospective of all Bond films to date – until Bond 25 arrives in September 2021.

Shocking

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 electic 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 FRWL). Interestingly, the projections include clips from Dr No and FRWL).

Welcome to Miami beach

The opening helicopter shot of the hotel, swooping towards the high diving board as a swimmer dives/cut to the observation window under the pool is excellent.  More great location work in Bond is teased at this hotel – shame it is edited into footage filmed on set in England (Connery didn’t set foot in America for this film).

We have a new Felix (Jack Lord didn’t want to return, so we have a new Felix.  Get used to that, it will happen a lot until Licence to Kill and then Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace).

Bond, on holiday, receives a mission to watch out for Goldfinger: “Sounds like a French nail polish”.  Spotting Goldfinger playing, and cheating at gin rummy, he heads to the hotel where he finds Goldfinger’s accomplice spying on his buddy’s cards through binoculars and giving instructions through a radio. Bond then speaks to Goldfinger through the radio to force him to lose. A device that would be referenced in Quantum of Solace.

Shiny, unhappy person

Bond then seduces and beds the accomplice, the remarkably unremarkably named Jill Masterson.  Later, in the bedroom, we the first innuendo smacks us on the head when Felix calls Bond to ask him for a meeting, but 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 some paint sheets to protect the bed and carpet?)

Back in England

Back in London there is a great tense scene between Bond and M. M is fuming, Bond utterly respects M’s authority but is aching for revenge.  Let’s face it, Bond’s behaviour led to another innocent female’s death.  Bond mentions that Jill was killed by skin suffocation, as she didn’t have small bare patch at the base of her spine.  This is, of course, absolute nonsense, but a great Bond moment.  The little interchange between Bond and Moneypenny is great, and she even shows that Bond’s not the only one that can chuck his hat onto the hat stand at the first throw.

We have our first visit to Q Branch, and the return of Desmond Llewelyn as Q.  We see various gadgets being tested before Bond is shown is Aston Martin DB5 and the crazy number of gadgets it contains – bulletproof shield, oil slick, guns and of course, the ejector seat.  As Bond says, “You’re joking?” This moment itself is revisited in Die Another Day.  I won’t mention Die Another Day a lot in these reviews until I really must.

The first face to face meeting with Goldfinger is at the golf course, in an extended scene where they both literally play the game, baiting each other.  Odd Job 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.

Geneva

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 Tilly Masterson shooting down at them.

Later, while creeping around Goldfinger’s factory in the dark he overhears the phrase “Operation Grand Slam”, which is useful later.  Bond 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. 

Bond uses the ejector seat to get rid of one of his pursuers but ends up crashing the car.  When he wakes up, he is handcuffed to a metal table, with a laser cutting the table and gradually moving towards his groin.  This scene has gone down in history – and quite right.

Goldfinger arrives “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 may make jokes about how Bond villains simply can’t kill Bond quickly, and indulge in monologuing (see The Incredibles), yet in this early Bond we have the villain do the opposite.  He is utterly ruthless, such a cold finger.

Flying Circus

Bond convinces Goldfinger that he knows about Operation Grand Slam, so is given reprieve, before being tranquilised.

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, made worse by a letter written by Ian Fleming that was up for auction a few years ago.  More of that later.

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

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. 

The US sequence in the film is quite extensive, so in short, Goldfinger reveals his plan to attack Fort Knox for the gold supplies, one gangster wants out, and is allowed to leave as he has a “pressing engagement”, Bond overhears this and sneaks a note explaining Goldfinger’s plot and his tracker into Solo’s pocket to try and get Felix to trace him. We also learn Felix likes Kentucky Fried Chicken. Product placement needs to be added to the Bond Bingo card.

When Bond and Goldfinger talk over their mint juleps at the ranch, and Bond explains that stealing the gold from Fort Knox would take a huge team with many vehicles, the real plan is revealed – and it’s great.  Goldfinger doesn’t want to steal, the gold, he wants it to become radioactive, meaning that his own gold reserves will increase in value.

Goldfinger has already proved that he will happily arrange for rivals to be killed, and his plan involves Pussy Galore’s team deploying gas around Fort Knox – allegedly stun gas, but Bond knows it is lethal.

Weird, and unsettling

Goldfinger still has Bond around, weird.

Bond’s escape from the cell, weird.

Bond under the model of Fort Knox, writing a note, later planting it in Solo’s pocket with a tracker, only for Solo to be shot by Odd Job, then 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.  The music is playful too, and it is a typical Bond and the girl scene.  But wait, did they not just hint she was gay?  Before you know it, Bond is pushing down on her, she pushes back, he kisses her, she struggles, she acquiesces.

Now 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.  At the start of the film, he slaps his masseuse on the buttocks as he dismisses her. 

Some say that the character of Bond is supposed to be this rough, rule breaking, chauvinistic brute, so this would be in keeping with that idea.  It may be why the filmmakers spent a lot of time making him charming when he needs to be, or adding the quips or sly innuendo, to take the edge off his behaviour.

But was Pussy gay?  Not explicitly in the film, although she is in the book.  As it is never explicit in the film, how the Bond/Galore story plays out isn’t too troublesome, but in the book it was different. In 2015, a letter from Fleming was up for auction, where he wrote in response to a criticism that Pussy in the book was a lesbian who by the end was a clinging honeybun, Galore “only needed the right man to come along and perform the laying on of hands in order to cure her psycho-pathological malady”.  I’ll just leave that there.

It’s a shame, for if Galore had truly resisted Bond it would have made her stronger and given Bond a challenge a couldn’t overcome.  A product of its time perhaps.

Fleming never saw the film, as he fell ill and passed away in 1964 before the film was finished.

Fort Knox

The final large set piece is the attack on Fort Knox, and it 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 baddies pull the bomb into the vault and the ticking clock countdown starts.  And it works brilliantly.

The sudden twist reveal 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).

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, some great suspense.

A great fight ensues between Bond and Odd Job – we have already seen how Odd Job’s hat is lethal, and how he can crush a golf ball in his fist.  Now he can withstand Bond chucking gold bars at his chest!

Bond throws the hat at Odd Job missing him by miles, and the hat embeds itself in the metal cage that secures the gold. As Odd Job grabs the hat, Bond pushes a severed power cable into the cage, electrocuting Odd Job in a visually impressive explosion of smoke and cinders.  (Harold Sakata burned his hands on the bars during the take but didn’t let go as director Guy Hamilton hadn’t yelled cut!). Shocking.

The clock continues to countdown as Bond stands uselessly trying to figure out how to disarm it.  And the beauty is – he doesn’t.  At the last moment (well, with 007 seconds left on the clock – nice) Felix and a bomb expert arrives, and the expert clicks the bomb off easily.  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 spy time in this film at all.

Yet.  This film is a glorious ride, for all its minor grumbles. 

Kiss of Death

At the end Felix leads Bond to a jet to take him to see the President.  Bond says he needs a drink:

Leiter: “I told the stewardess liquor for three.”
Bond: “Who are the other two?”
Leiter: “Oh, there are no other two.”

A great line, before Bond is on the plane as it ascends.  Then Goldfinger reappears in the cabin, waving his golden handgun.  Bond warns him about shooting a gun in a pressurized container like a plane (this was established earlier when Pussy had a gun on Bond in Goldfinger’s plane earlier).  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 offscreen shenanigans as the film ends. (Goldeneye referenced this idea).

Goldfinger was a huge smash success across the world.  The premiere in London was crazy, with uncontrollable crowds desperate for the film to arrive.

So here we are – the franchise is secure, the international audiences are baying for more Bond, the gadgets are present, Ken Adam’s sets, John Barry’s music, Q branch, the quips, the girls, the silly names – everything is lined up.  Give us more Bond, the world probably yelled.

Sure, said Eon Productions, announcing 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.

Production Cast
EON productions.
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
Sean Connery
Gert Fröbe
Honor Blackman
Shirley Eaton
Tania Mallet
Harold Sakata
Bernard Lee
Lois Maxwell
Desmond Llewelyn

Article first published on Reel Anarchy.

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