Welcome, everyone, to the third installment of my Bond retrospective. I’ve previously covered James Bond Retrospective: Dr. No and James Bond Retrospective: From Russia With Love. This here is the big one: Goldfinger. Before we get into it, let’s go over some of my rules:
- Mainstream, EON films only.
- I’m doing these in release order. I’ll reference future films, but I won’t judge them by future film standards.
- There will be spoilers.
With that being said…
I made fun of this movie a lot in the previous two reviews, but it’s honestly a lot of fun. What Goldfinger lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in thrills. The villain is one of the best the series has ever seen, and the direction they went with this film walks that very fine, wacky line. That line is colored gold.
In Miami Beach we find 007 on a surveillance mission to watch one Auric Goldfinger, one of the world’s richest gold smugglers. He sneaks up to Goldfinger’s hotel room and finds a personal escort helping Goldfinger cheat at cards poolside. Bond seduces the escort and sabotages the card game. In vengeance, Bond is knocked out and the girl is asphyxiated by being painted entirely in gold.
Back in Britain, Bond is further briefed on Goldfinger. MI6 desperately wants proof he’s up to no good and wants to send Bond to meet him. Bond and Goldfinger both cheat at golf and Bond follows Goldfinger via tracker. He infiltrates Goldfinger’s compound and overhears someone saying the words “Operation Grand Slam.” He almost escapes but is caught by Goldfinger’s forces.
Bond is tied to a laser, briefly talked to, then left to die. Bond lies to Goldfinger, saying that he knows all about “Operation Grand Slam” and he’s already told MI6 all about it. If he dies, 008 will replace him and do a much better job with such knowledge. Goldfinger doesn’t want to risk Bond being right, so he frees him and takes Bond with him to the United States.
In the United States, Bond meets Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore. Galore is not attracted to Bond, so Bond can’t convince her to help him. Bond escapes his cell, however, and overhears Goldfinger describing more of his plan: he wants Galore’s forces to spray a toxin in the air that will leave the guards in Fort Knox unconscious. While the guards are out, Goldfinger plans to rob the nation’s entire gold supply.
Bond is caught again by Galore and taken to Goldfinger. Bond confronts him with the plan he’s heard, but Goldfinger lets him know that he doesn’t want to steal the gold. The real plan is done with the support of the Chinese. Goldfinger is going leave a dirty bomb in the Fort and when it explodes, the radiation is going to render all of the nation’s gold useless for around seventy years. This will create instability in the West and cause the value of the world’s remaining gold supply, including Goldfinger’s, to skyrocket.
Bond finally seduces Galore and convinces her to betray Goldfinger the day of the operation. American forces are informed and ambush Goldfinger, who escapes. Bond is meant to be attached to the bomb and die a painful death, but he escapes and defeats evil henchman Oddjob. Bond and American forces defuse the bomb. Bond is taken to meet the president by plane, but Galore and Goldfinger have jacked the plane. Goldfinger accidentally shoots a hole in the plane and is sucked out to his death. Bond and Galore escape the crashing plane, then make love under a parachute. End.
A Closer Look
“The traditional means for going beyond straight seriousness – irony, satire – seem feeble today, inadequate to the culturally oversaturated medium in which contemporary sensibility is schooled. Camp introduces a new standard: artifice as an ideal, theatricality.” -Susan Sontag, “Notes On Camp”
Is Goldfinger camp? No, not by traditional standards. That being said, this is the film where the Bond series intentionally incorporated elements of camp. What this ultimately means is that this film is wackier than the previous two. That’s not to say Dr. No didn’t have secret fortresses with a fiendish mastermind or From Russia With Love didn’t have a briefcase gadget that spewed gas everywhere, but Goldfinger commits to all of it. Goldfinger’s budget was that of the other two combined. This was a fearless victory strut. Extravagance was now appropriate and the unusual is the norm. Nothing is more clear in this than the villain himself: Auric Goldfinger. He likes gold a lot. Get it? Don’t worry, ten minutes into this movie and you will.
What prevents it from being camp? Take something like Flash Gordon or perhaps a Bond contemporary: the ’60s Batman television show. These plots and aesthetics are played completely straight. The fantastic is the aesthetic and the thematic fabric, not reality or humanity. Batman took everything he said deadpan seriously, anti-shark batspray and all. In contrast, when Bond is informed of the ridiculous elements of the movie, he acknowledges it for the audience. “Ejector seat? You’re joking.” When he meets Pussy Galore for the first time and learns he name, he says “I must be dreaming.” Unlike other forms of camp in film or television that will play into their camp and only wink once it’s devolved beyond its original intention, Bond starts swimming in winks and nods immediately. That’s what prevents it from being camp.
But what else does it borrow from camp? Camp loves strong characters but hates character development, which is perfect for Bond movies. Bond’s character has lost all humanity. From this movie onward, he is officially two-dimensional. That’s not a bad thing. Audiences and the culture at large enjoy this greatly. You hear people quote lines from Goldfinger, not Casino Royale. It makes the character pop in a landscape of weak characters, but at what cost? The plot.
But not this time. The Bond formula really works in this one. Another thing borrowed from camp solidifies this movie thematically: Bond and Goldfinger’s immaturity. Bond is introduced in the opening sequence before the theme song, but then his “arc” for the rest of the film is a test of his cliches. What happens when the perfect spy isn’t perfect? He messes up a lot in this film. Failure is around every turn. He recklessly endangers two women and both die; he routinely fails following orders; and for most of the movie he’s just living at the mercy of the bad guys. He tries to defuse the dirty bomb by ripping the wires out, a surefire way to blow the entire mission. The bomb disposal guy quickly stops him, flips a switch and pushes a button. That’s embarrassing.
And Goldfinger pairs wonderfully with Bond. He’s Bond’s evil equivalent. The same sort of shallowness that defines Bond as desirable defines Goldfinger as devious. Both him and Bond cheat at the games they play; they love hanging around beautiful women and drinking a little too much. Bond’s sophistication as a gentleman is matched by Goldfinger’s ruthlessness as a businessman. He’s distracted by what’s visceral: women, sport, and gold. Goldfinger also makes simple mistakes, such as letting Bond live and letting his emotions get the better of him. Goldfinger not thinking things through is his undoing, from manipulating women that could easily betray him to firing a gun inside a pressurized plane.
All of this is contrasted with the character of Pussy Galore, the best Bond woman by miles if you ask me. She’s the adult in this children’s game. She cares only for her job, her pilots, and herself. She is shown as the most competent character in the film and her sexuality (it’s strongly hinted that she’s a lesbian) is resistant to Bond’s irresistible charm. By the end of it, Bond is at her mercy, as both Bond and Goldfinger severely underestimate her and view her as disposable as any other girl.
“You know he kills little girls like you,” Bond says to Pussy.
“He kills little boys too,” Pussy says, putting Bond in his place.
Bond finally realizes she’s the only person that can stop the plan and makes a last, desperate attempt to seduce her. She gives in. At the end, Felix asks Bond what made her decide to help? “I guess I appealed to her maternal instincts.” That’s not the kind of one-liner he’s used at every other point in the film. The line is used to frame the scenario and what happened: Bond played on Galore’s sympathies.
Oh, heavens me. I forgot to talk about the theme song. Shirley Bassey makes her first of three vocal appearances and she sings an absolute banger. She’s my favorite Bond singer, and Bond themes are special because when they’re at their best they’re a good song that can market the movie and enhance the film’s themes. The song is entirely dedicated to the film’s villain. These first few Bond themes have a heavy brass feeling to them as Barry is still conducting the music here, and you’ll actually hear Goldfinger’s theme play multiple times as a brilliant and ominous motif rather than just the Bond theme all the time. It definitely helps strengthen Goldfinger’s presence.
The action is great. It’s so much fun. The pacing is perfect. The plot, though dumb, is fun to get your head to wrap around. Though there is more use of green screen, visually the film is way more scenic than From Russia With Love. Bond is at his best in the film when driving the Aston Martin. There is some fantastic editing that keeps up with the speed of the car.
I’ve already talked about the main characters, but even Oddjob and the henchmen have personality. Felix has a more distinct personality than he did in Dr. No, where he was sort of just a generic CIA guy. This Felix trusts Bond to get the job done and has a good time helping him out.
Gert Frobe was a Nazi. Don’t support Nazis, kids.
Also with the wackiness comes more suspension of disbelief. We haven’t been to the moon yet, but further analysis of character motivation and goals crumbles with a critical eye. Basically, Bond is the luckiest man in the world and Goldfinger is really, really dumb for thinking his plan was going to work. James survives everything without a scratch, and I seriously want someone to explain to me why we have an extended sequence of Goldfinger explaining his plan to mafioso in a room just to kill them with nerve gas afterwards. He has to kill the guy that left the room separately! Why not just kill all the guys before the meeting? Why even talk about it?
I saved this one for this section: Pussy Galore’s seduction. I tried to internalize it and understand it through an analytical lens, but there’s really no getting around it: Bond forces himself on her, she clearly fights back and then surrenders when she can’t get up. Then – like the male fantasy this is – she seems to totally be into Bond. I’m just glad that there wasn’t a lot of time dedicated to what happens after he seduces her. There’s really not even dialogue after the scene; it goes right to the day of the crime. Galore doesn’t interact with Bond again until they escape from a plane and screw once more because she loved it so much the first time, and that last frame is probably the most sour note I get from the film.
So, now we are entering a phase where Bond is one of the hottest film franchises everywhere. Everybody’s saying “shaken not stirred” before they cross the street. We are going to see the budgets inflate, we are going to finally start to see the commitment wear on Connery’s performance, and we are going to get a sexy Tom Jones song. Next up: Thunderball.
What I Drank
A Mint Julep. To your specifications, combine bourbon with crushed ice and simple syrup. If you don’t have simple syrup, just heat up some sugar water and stir it really well. Once that is done, take some mint and crush it on the edge of the glass and then drop it in the drink. Drink it whenever Bond is in America.