And so we come to it. The film that launched Bond as we know it and turned the series into a phenomenon. Goldfinger is a movie almost everyone of a certain generation has seen, and those not of that generation should have seen. Telling me you haven’t seen it will instantly raise questions in my mind about whether or not you’re actually a human being and if you have a soul.
But what made Goldfinger just so damn incredible and why does it still work to this day. Xander and I dive into one of the biggest films of all time for this edition of Across the Bond.
Goldfinger is where Bond became Bond, not just because it was the most insanely popular film ever at the time, but because it’s almost a completely different movie from the previous two films, especially its direct predecessor. Previously Bond was a suave spy, with Goldfinger a super spy is born. I may sound like I’m down on this transition for Bond, but quite the opposite. The new focus on girls, gadgets and action makes for a different Bond it’s not a worse Bond, especially in Goldfinger. In fact if Goldfinger hadn’t been the film it was we most likely wouldn’t have Bond around anymore. The Aston Martin-driving super spy became a legend, and without the legend we probably wouldn’t even be discussing Dr. No or From Russia with Love today.
My favorite thing about Goldfinger is that Connery, despite being in a film that is ridiculous in story, still plays Bond with a dark edge. This is one of the rare films where Bond is basically on his heels the entire movie. Goldfinger is one step ahead of him in almost every way and by the end of the movie Bond has gotten two women killed, basically raped Pussy Galore out of being a lesbian (the book is even less PC) and doled out some pretty gruesome death to a plethora of people. In most other Bonds most of these things wouldn’t happen, but Connery has this edge to him that keeps him dangerous even when he’s using an ejector seat. It’s especially obvious in his one-liners, which Connery delivers more as cover up to Bond’s true emotions than as quips. It’s a humanity to the character that is rarely hinted at until Brosnan took over the role, and Connery does it without even trying.
Goldfinger wasn’t just a success because of Connery though,; he’d been there before. No, like all great Bond films what makes them truly great is their villains. Aurich Goldfinger was the first truly great Bond villain. While Dr. No was well done he barely has screen time compared to other villains and Rosa Kleb is classic, but not nearly threatening enough. Goldfinger on the other hand is larger than life and with a henchman like Oddjob his grandeur only grows. It’s too bad Gert Fröbe had his voice dubbed over, but the vocal performance is so iconic now that it’s really hard to imagine it any other way. “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die,” said any other way would be pretty much unacceptable now. If you didn’t know that Fröbe had been dubbed over I’m sorry to tell you that, because now whenever you watch it you won’t be able to stop noticing when the dubbing isn’t that great.
The first article I ever wrote for Flixist was about Goldfinger‘s impact on a six year old boy unprepared for deadly hats, golden girls and circumcision by laser. Objectively, From Russia With Love is the most artistically accomplished entry in the Bond canon, but Goldfinger is my favourite, not to mention the Bondiest Bond of all. As Matt points out, it’s lighter and broader than its predecessors, but takes the threat against its hero just seriously enough to be a credible thriller as well as groundbreaking piece of entertainment. The aforementioned laser scene balances silliness with agonising suspense, hitting the sweet spot between the two where the Bond formula is at its most shamelessly pleasurable.
Despite being among the series’ most beloved movies, the novel is not one of Fleming’s best. There’s a glaring plot hole which the movie writers resolve brilliantly – the book’s plot has Goldfinger planning to rob Fort Knox, ignoring the logistic impossibility of moving so much gold in a short space of time; the movie has him attempting to irradiate it with an ‘atomic device’, vastly increasingly the value of his own stock – while Bond’s success relies entirely on a turn of blind chance. More fun is the novel’s hilariously antiquated perspective on lesbianism: Pussy Galore, whose sexuality is only vaguely hinted at in the movie (‘You can turn off the charm, I’m immune’), is given history as the former leader of acrobat troupe doubling up as cat burgulars, groaningly called ‘Pussy Galore And Her Abro-cats’, before becoming head of a Harlem lesbian gang called – get this – the Cement Mixers. It may not be very progressive, but that name gets a laugh out of me every time. Better yet, Galore spends half the book putting the moves on Bond’s female companion, annoying him no end before his manliness wins out and he ‘turns’ her in that way only ’50s men could.
The movie doesn’t make things much better in that regard, just less funny – as Matt notes, Bond could be accused of getting a teensy bit rapey in that barn – but everywhere else is one of the most visually and verbally quotable movies ever made. From the moment Bond strips out of his wetsuit to reveal a crisp white dinner jacket, the movie becomes a non-stop procession of moments not only emblematic of the Bond series, but engrained in cinematic history. There’s the golden girl, the golf game at Stoke Poges (where Goldfinger does the worst putt I’ve ever seen), Oddjob (the Korean manservant whom my wonderful black labrador is named after), all those snappy one-liners, the assault on Fort Knox, Goldfinger getting sucked out of a plane (Oddjob’s fate in the novel) to play his golden harp… it never ceases to amaze quite how much a single movie has contributed to modern pop culture.
As much as I love From Russia, Bond wouldn’t have survived fifty years without Goldfinger bringing pizazz and levity to a series then consisting of two superlative but straightforward genre thrillers. All modern blockbusters owe the movie a debt, whether in visual style, tone or structure. Plus, Connery gets to utter the immortal line ‘You’re a woman of many parts, Pussy’, and that in itself is a total win on anyone’s terms.