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Posts Tagged ‘Goldfinger’

Crikey, here we are at the end of May – only five months to go until the release of Skyfall, by which point I hope to have finished looking at all the other Bond movies (well, apart from the original version of Casino Royale, and as for Never Say Never Again… mm-mm, we’ll see). Better get on with it then. Let us proceed with one of the (surely) indisputable masterpieces of the form, Guy Hamilton’s 1964 adaptation of Goldfinger.

Preening Scots-Swiss poseur and sex maniac James Bond (Connery, natch), who in his scarce free time does a little light duty as a civil servant, is put on the trail of Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), an industrial magnate suspected of being a major-league gold smuggler. (There’s nominative determinism in action for you and no mistake.) Bond is quite pleased about this as a previous encounter resulted in Bond getting bopped on the head and his then-girlfriend being painted to death (inventive stuff, this). Following one of the very few exciting games of golf in the history of the world, Bond ends up trailing Goldfinger to Switzerland, where the villain straps him to a table, points a laser gun up his trouser leg and threatens to cut off his benefits. Quick thinking on Bond’s part saves both his life and his social life, and finds himself whisked off to the States where Finger has bigger goldfish to fry. Oh, hang on a minute…

I’m being more than usually facetious about the plot of Goldfinger, but if any film can take it it’s this one – if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, this is surely the most sincerely flattered film in history: of the twenty Bond movies to date which have followed it, all of them owe it a huge stylistic debt, and most of them cheerfully reinterpret key sequences. (To say nothing of the legion of Bond knock-offs down the decades.) Obviously this is not the first Bond film, nor perhaps the best (I think From Russia With Love still pips it, but only just), but it marks the point at which the Bond movies went from being a well-received and lucrative series of films to the iconic, world-conquering phenomenon they have remained for most of the intervening time.

So what’s different about Goldfinger, what made this the tipping point – or, if you prefer, the critical mass – for Bond? I think all the answers you need are in the first five minutes or so of the film. After the white circle/gun barrel routine, we see Bond emerge from the briny deep with a stuffed duck upon his head, sneak into the base of some politically-motivated heroin smugglers, blow lots of stuff up, remove his wetsuit to reveal an impeccable tuxedo, and attempt to kill some time by getting down to it with a nightclub dancer (but end up having to kill an assassin instead). At which point the greatest Bond title sequence of the lot slams in and Dame Shirley starts belting out the theme tune. In other words, we get daft sight gags, silly gadgets, carnage, a little bit of sex, an implausible violent death, a bad pun and just enough plot to keep everything else coherent: if that isn’t the classic Bond formula boiled down to its essentials I don’t know what is.

It is, of course, utterly ridiculous as the stuff of a serious thriller – although apparently the tuxedo-under-the-wetsuit gag was inspired by a real mission during the Second World War – but, crucially, the film is entirely aware of this and lets you know it, mostly through Connery’s very tongue-in-cheek performance. The whole of the film operates on this level – silly, but knowingly and fashionably silly, and the results are winning.

One of the interesting things about this film, watching it today, is how difficult it is at times to actually engage with Bond as the central character. My father, when watching this film, is wont to exclaim ‘How smug!’ at the end of many of Goldfinger’s big scenes – but he’s no more smug than Bond, most of the time. Bond himself is not just smug but a terrible snob – he declares the Beatles are unlistenable (I wonder if anyone told Paul McCartney that when he was working on Live and Let Die?) – and relentlessly patronising towards all the female characters. The most striking difference between Bond and Goldfinger, who are both bon viveurs of the highest order, is that the hero is young, saturnine and athletic, while the villain is middle-aged, pale and fat: we are perhaps getting uncomfortably close to the underlying politics of the Bond series here.

This is a James Bond film, of course, so James Bond is obviously going to be the hero. But even so… A friend of mine has been watching a Bond film most Sundays of late, and sharing his reactions with the world, and his response to Goldfinger was that it has very dodgy sexual politics, most obviously in the scene in which Bond forces his attentions on Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) – she initially resists, but her struggling rapidly changes to passionate enthusiasm.

One could automatically respond that this is a Bond movie, and so of course the sexual politics are going to be very dodgy – but even so, this is still a slightly troubling moment, made worse by the fact that it’s crucial to the plot – there’s no other reason given for Pussy’s change of allegiance, which is the sole reason Goldfinger’s schemes fail, but Bond’s magic shagging powers. It would have been easy to enough to make her oblivious of the lethal element of Goldfinger’s plan until informed of this by Bond, at which point her better nature would lead her to renege – but I suppose the magic shagging was easier to script.

I can’t find it in my heart to be too hard on a script as tight and well-thought-through as this, which in a couple of places indeed improves on the novel. There’s still the awkward requirement for a sequence in which Goldfinger explains his plan at great length to a group of people who he’s planning to kill minutes later, which is not the most elegant plotting, but the rest of it is fairly exemplary.

So exemplary, in fact, that Eon have spent some of the time since Goldfinger was made trying to figure out a different and better way of telling the story of a Bond movie. They have met with only limited success, which means that the rest of the time – the majority of the time – they have essentially been remaking Goldfinger over and over again with superficially different characters, settings and plot vouchers. Possibly not the best of the series, but very, very near the top of the pile, and arguably one of the essential movies of all time.

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