Directed by Guy Hamilton
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn
Original Release Date: 18th September 1964 (U.K)
So much about Goldfinger is synonymous with what we think of in the James Bond franchise. An incredibly important film within that early cycle of films, while Dr. No and From Russia with Love were hugely successful and showed an upward trajectory in box office, it was nothing compared to the blockbuster success that greeted Bond’s third outing.
Spymania and Bondmania were effectively launched off the back of Guy Hamilton’s film. The first director to come into the series that wasn’t Terence Young, while the latter brought a lovely sense of style to the series with which to launch it, right from Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence, everything feels joyous, with a spring in its step and a knowing a sense of humour dotted throughout.
It is a blissfully confident film. The humour is upped considerably, although never to the levels they would come to during the Roger Moore era, with moments dotted throughout that are ridiculous but handled with such bravado that you go with it anyway, with nearly everything encapsulated by its approach to the character and the film itself in its pre-title sequence that saw elements that were equal parts ridiculous, yet smooth (the fake bird on Bond’s head, the white tuxedo under the scuba diving suit) and the combination of a scathing one-liner following the dispatch of a villain (shocking). Some of these elements had been there in the previous two films, but here everything would run so smoothly and brilliantly that the third Bond film functions very much as a solidification of the entire Bond formula.
What’s even more remarkable about Goldfinger is how James Bond sometimes feels like a supporting character. He doesn’t drive the story so much as gets caught up in it, and even spends the near entire second half of it as Goldfinger’s prisoner.
The film is of course called Goldfinger and so much of it is centred around Gert Frobe’s performance, which causes some confusion as to how critique that performance. Frobe is the actor on screen, but it wasn’t uncommon for the producers at this point to cast brilliant European actors and actresses and then have them dubbed in post-production.
Many of the female voices, including Shirley Eaton here, were dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl, and while she also worked as Frobe’s English language coach during Goldfinger’s production, it was British actor Michael Collins who did the voice for the titular character, which means that a lot of the credit of the performance must also go to him.
It’s those line deliveries that are killer; ‘No Mister Bond, I expect you to die’ is as iconic a line in any of Bond film and right up there with ‘Bond, James Bond’ in terms of lines of dialogue that are endlessly quoted when discussing a 007 film, and a lot of its heft and punch is down to the manner it’s delivered. The scene it’s a part of is also as iconic a moment of 60s cinema as there is; having captured Bond, Goldfinger straps him to a table and plans to use a laser to kill him, threatening to cut him in half, beginning with his genitals.
Fleming’s novel had used a buzz saw that was placed under the table, but the changing to a laser showed a canny ability of Eon to change things to make them even better on screen, while also showing how much the series was in love with technology, with this movie also being the one where the gadgetry would come to the fore.
It’s a moment of incredibly canny suspense, but also strangely funny; the laser making its way to Bond’s private parts works as its own brand of suspenseful comedy because we know how sexually active the character is, and while we know he’s not going to die or even lose the family jewels, the build up of John Barry’s music (on magnificent form here) and the sweaty looks on Connery’s face make it a grim moment of sweaty palmed suspenseful humour.
Goldfinger manages to straddle a line between being both funny and yet having verisimilitude. We laugh along with the film, but the audience is also on the edge of their seat. Hamilton’s handling of the film would prove to be one of the most influential aspects on the series, while fully taking the series into the 60s. Britain was swinging at this stage in time, The Beatles were proving hugely successful and had cracked America via The Ed Sullivan Show (although Bond clearly wasn’t a fan as evidenced by his ‘ear muffs’ joke early in the film), while the film itself has an effortless 60s cool aesthetic when one thinks of the decade.
This isn’t the type of sixties portrayed in the first two films which had the shadow of the fifties still somewhat hanging in the air; this was something more jovial. The film isn’t like an Andy Warhol painting or anything; the film isn’t awash in colour or displaying a swinging nature the likes of which Austin Powers would spoof, but there is an enjoyable laid-back nature to it that is never even lost when Bond is captured in the second half and spends the entire film with the shadow of death hanging over him. Live fast, because tomorrow you might die at the hands of a golf-playing, gold obsessed villain with plans to be the richest man in the world. Of course, if Goldfinger were written today, it’s possible Fleming might have written him to be President of the United States.
The first three 007 pictures could be seen as a film franchise learning its own tropes and clichés, clichés that would come to define so many films of the increasingly heightened spy genre that was about to explode because of this film’s success; a maniacal villain with a imaginative yet life threatening plan; a silently menacing henchman with a quirk, in this case a steel-rimmed hat; elaborate methods of murder that look astonishing on screen and yet make no sense when you really think of them (what if Bond had woken up and saw Oddjob painting gold onto the ill-fated Jill); a plethora of gadgets from Q, along with a gadget laden car, in this case the Aston Martin DB5.
The latter is a brilliant piece of narrative engineering for sure, and while conceptually it’s hard to figure out the logic of some of the gadgets that are in that car (how the hell does it hold so much water and oil to disperse on to other cars in pursuit, not to mention machine gun bullets and several other number plates?), like everything else about Goldfinger, everything is on such great form that you just go with it.
The scene where Bond receives his equipment from Q had been a staple from Dr. No, but like so much here, Hamilton would put a stamp on to it that it would come to define scenes like this for every movie going forward. Bond’s scene with The Armourer in Dr. No and subsequently with a debuting Desmond Llewelyn in From Russia with Love were pretty run of the mill affairs, with Q explaining the equipment in question, but here it gets turned into a mini-verbal comedy of antagonism that would end up becoming ingrained into every film that it didn’t matter if they were just variations of a theme. They were just a massive joy to watch and fuelled even further by Llewelyn having wonderful chemistry with subsequent Bonds.
Hamilton would go on to direct a further three films later in the series, all of which would be produced and released in the early 70s, two of them Roger Moore films, and yet none ever quite reached the touch he brought to proceedings here. A touch of the 60s futurism of Dr. No had returned, although maybe not as overtly, while the Cold War-aesthetic of From Russia with Love had all but vanished.
Bond might be a spy working for the greater good, but Goldfinger, as will many other films of the series, fashions him more as gentleman adventurer of sorts, an approach that was very much Hamilton’s and which would run through Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.
The gentleman aspect of Bond, though, does come into question regarding his conduct towards Pussy Galore.
The late, great Honor Blackman was superb in the role, and the film allows the character to hold her own against Bond for much of the running time, but Bond must not only save the world, he must also get laid and it’s in the latter that the film comes into the realm of queasiness and will leave modern audiences discovering the film for the first time questioning the depiction of Bond’s ‘seduction’ of Pussy.
Even before #MeToo and #TimesUp, the scene was always one that came under fire, and there’s no denying that watching Galore relent to Bond and eventually ‘give in’ to his ‘charms’ gives what is an otherwise frivolous film a darker quality that one can see why so much of the gender politics of these films and the era they were produced comes under much debate.
Of course, she turns to the side of the angels, she has to otherwise Bond is a goner, it’s just a shame the film didn’t try to give more dramatic heft to the character or her change of allegiance. Honor Blackman is wonderful throughout, playing the role with a charming disdain that is incredibly entertaining to watch. It’s almost as if the film didn’t quite want her to have a crisis of faith on screen and so decided the only way for her to change her outlook was for Bond to win her over with his sexual prowess, which once again opens up so much debate.
It’s another part of 60s Bond that ages the film very badly, and while latter-day millennials and Generation Z may cry out in disdain, for what it’s worth it’s a scene that for as long as I can remember has always played problematically.
It’s a grim blemish on an otherwise massively entertaining film. Even the climax throws in a battle sequence the likes of which the series was going to take to an even greater scale come the following year’s Thunderball. There are copious extras firing guns against each other in a mini war outside Fort Knox, as well as a bomb countdown, and a one-on-one fight between 007 and Oddjob.
Where From Russia with Love went with the claustrophobic punch up between Bond and Grant, here the expansive Ken Adam design for Fort Knox becomes the setting for a brilliant open fight between Bond and the silent henchman, a trope the series will return to several times in is near sixty-year run. There are legitimate stakes here, and the film cutting back to the countdown would become another cliché that the series would take advantage off over the years. It eventually builds to the wonderful visual joke of the bomb being defused with 007 seconds to go, a joke added much later on when it had in fact stopped at 003 before Saltzman thought it would be better to end on a 7. It would be perfect if the film didn’t retain Bond’s line about ‘three more ticks’.
The film was a massive box office smash and solidified the series as one that was going to stay around for a while. The time was now ripe for Bond to go bigger than ever, and when a deal was formulated with Kevin McClory to adapt Thunderball, the plan was put in place to produce the biggest Bond film of them all.