UK / USA, 1964
Review by Rich Watts
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM DVD (R2)
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
The name Goldfinger arose as a caricature of the combative, self-assured, domineering Hungarian Ernö Goldfinger, a renowned architect who came to be demonised for his part in the high-rise architectural attack on London. No sooner had this opposable man achieved some architectural fame in the 1950s had he been caricatured, at least in name, as Ian Fleming’s villain for his seventh James Bond book. Sensing anti-Semitism, Goldfinger sued and was placated out of court with his costs, an agreement that ‘Auric’ always be used in front of the villain’s name and half a dozen copies of the offending novel—measures which didn’t stop a stream of pranksters telephoning him in silly voices when the film was released.
Although of no direct relevance to the film, the profession of Ernö Goldfinger—the architect—is a useful symbol of the impact Goldfinger—the film—was to have on the rest of the Bond franchise, for the third film feature laid the foundations on which the resulting 007 franchise was to be so surely and successfully built over the next thirty years. Ultimately, it was with Goldfinger that Bond secured his reputation and paved the way for his subsequent world-saving escapades.
Following the necessarily glamourous title sequence (with the richly sexual iconography serenaded by Shirley Bassey’s famous title song), the movie proper opens with a magnificently simple sequence, in which an aerial camera moves beyond a beach-front hotel in Miami to reveal a swimming-pool, into which the camera follows a man diving from the top board to his underwater entrance. It is a smooth and elegant opening that leads us pool-side to our hero, played for the third time by Sean Connery, in a familiar position: receiving the attention of a beautiful, buxom female associate.
Requested to keep an eye on the bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger, Bond’s mission becomes more urgent when a woman under his patronage is murdered and covered from head to toe in gold paint. Tracking Goldfinger as the obvious suspect, Bond soon discovers the villain’s plan to raid Fort Knox—only to find himself held hostage by Goldfinger at his southern ranch with little chance of escape. Working with limited resources, Bond is left to figure out how to stop the villain’s dastardly plan using only his ingenuity and charm, culminating in an explosive conclusion at the famous gold reserve in Kentucky.
Goldfinger is an economical affair, including as it does plenty of action sequences, more than Bond’s fair-share of girls and room for many different glamorous locations—all within two short hours. Following two previous outings, the makers of the third film were clearly in a position to know which elements of Bond were most attractive to an audience and which could be safely removed. As such, Goldfinger follows a set pattern retained by the majority of the films to follow: the introduction of a girl, an action sequence utilising some gadgetry, a nice quip from the hardly-ruffled spy, a plot development to justify the next girl, etc. It is formulaic and could well become monotonous were it not for the one fundamental handle that remains consistent in most every film: James Bond himself.
Connery is the exemplary Bond, the actor to which every subsequent Bond is compared. It would be easy to dismiss Connery’s possession of the role as a result only of his being the first man to take the mantel of 007, but that would be unfair. Connery’s sly restraint, notable smirk and elegant manner were as much responsible for establishing Bond as Bond was responsible for establishing Connery. How much of Bond’s characteristics were therefore Connery’s is a question whose answer suggests a reason for the common choice of Connery as the best Bond. And those characteristics were absolutely fundamental: if the series were to succeed as a long-term project, James Bond had to be a character firmly established in the audience’s mind—a playboy spy as comfortable at seducing women as he is disposing of an inconvenient opponent. Connery was responsible for making sure Bond’s innuendo and occasionally dyspeptic humour were the aural equivalents of a man climbing out of frog-suit to reveal an immaculate, white tuxedo or of a man that has time to seduce a woman whilst in the process of saving the world.
As crucial as the hero is the villain, and in Goldfinger we have the “typical” Bond adversary: witty, ingenious, greedy, and with a large dollop of world-domineering madness to boot. Here is a man so depraved that he happily knocks off a few organised crime bosses once they have funded his project—that is some measure of an adversary. Memorably, Goldfinger is also responsible for one of the most famous lines of the Bond franchise: in response do Bond’s “Do you expect me to talk?” he replies: “No, Mr Bond: I expect you to die!” Evidently, a quotable Bad Guy makes for an enduring Bad Guy.
What is more, Goldfinger has—in Oddjob—the second most memorable henchman of the Bond series (second to Jaws, of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), who silently aids his wicked boss by the use of his seemingly indestructible strength and infamous bowler hat. The crushing of a car in the scrap yard while a hapless person remains inside is a human-less process designed to show just how unemotionally Oddjob goes about his tasks: seemingly, crushing a golf ball in his hand is not so dissimilar to crushing a man. Half the film, therefore, is spent wondering just how Bond will dispose of this apparently indestructible killing machine; the answer being the same as the one provided during the golf match: don’t play fair.
For all the dodgy technical achievements of Goldfinger that have subsequently aged the film—including the use of an increased frame-rate for the car chase, some notably shaky back projection, cheap shots of planes flying through the air and a ridiculously phallic laser—its content remains fresh and enjoyable. Most importantly, the film remains prominent in the annals of film: remember, the final installment of the Austin Powers franchise basically took every element of Goldfinger, satirised it and claimed it as its own. If brilliance borrows whilst genius steals, the success of Austin Powers and his creator Mike Myers is a direct comment on Goldfinger itself and James Bond as a whole, being a measure of the brilliance of Goldfinger as source material for a film lauded in its own right.
Goldfinger was the third film in the James Bond franchise (following Dr No and From Russia With Love), based on the seventh book written by Ian Fleming in 1959. Arguably, it is the film that brought together the various elements of Bond and turned them into the template responsible for the success of Bond that remains today. Goldfinger had action, lust, greed, and an exceptional villain, creating its own style and elegance, while retaining and building upon its original charm and popularity. It is fitting, therefore, that the man from whom the villain took his name was an individual whose career created spaces on which others could build: Goldfinger is a foundation in more ways than one.