1964’s Goldfinger is often referred to as the quintessential Bond movie. Based on the novel of the same name, Goldfinger once again establishes a number of tropes followed in the series ever since. It became the first movie in the franchise to win an Academy Award and to receive largely favourable critical reception upon its release. It’s the first movie in the franchise to double up its extended opening credits sequence and a song titled after the movie. And it’s a great song by Shirley Bassey, who would later go on to sing the theme songs in “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Moonraker”. The gadgets from Q that Bond uses are a lot more high tech – a gadget car. This is the movie that turned the franchise into a true phenomenon.
And yet, I’ve never liked this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it. I just don’t care for it all that much. I’ve seen it three times. It was the second Bond movie I ever saw in full, back when I was in my early teens, and I found it boring. The second time, a few years ago when I bought the Sean Connery DVD sets, I found a couple moments hard to sit through. I liked it a bit more this time, but I still don’t like the movie as a whole. But we’ll get into the specific reasons why later.
It’s worth noting that this movie released on September 17 of 1964, just over a month after Ian Fleming died. As a heavy smoker and drinker throughout his adult life, he suffered a heart attack in 1961 and struggled with recuperating for years. While staying at a hotel in Canterbury, he collapsed after a busy day with another heart attack, dying the next morning on August 12. His last two Bond books released posthumously, “The Man With The Golden Gun” and “Octopussy and the Living Daylights”. Man with the Golden Gun in particular never finished the editing process before Fleming died, and he openly showed dissatisfaction with its rough draft.
Goldfinger began production while there was still a court case between Fleming and script writer Keven McClory surrounding Thunderball, so producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman turned to Goldfinger for the third movie instead. Goldfinger enjoyed what was then a large budget of $3 million, the equivalent of the first two Bond movies combined. That made it the first Bond movie classified as a blockbuster.
The increased budget clearly shows. There’s a greater variety of sets in the movie. There’s a lot more detail in the major sets like Goldfinger’s base of operations. Unlike the green screen heavy car chase in the first movie, the car chase in Goldfinger uses some actual practical effects, and it hides its “green screen” effects much better.
Script writer Richard Mailbaum started off by fixing an often criticized plot hole in the original novel. In the novel, Goldfinger planned to steal all the gold from Fort Knox. However with Goldfinger’s forces, he’d need 12 days to steal all the gold. Instead, he would plan to irradiate it with the then topical Red Chinese atomic bomb concepts, which would make the gold he already possesses worth a lot more. A couple people came in to rewrite the draft, but when Sean Connery didn’t like the rewrites, Mailbaum came back to finalize the script.
Because this movie is so well known and full of iconic moments, I won’t bother describing the plot in detail. I’ll just assume that anyone reading it is familiar enough to know what I’m referring to. Instead, let’s just break down what I like and don’t like about this movie. Apologies if you haven’t seen it in a while (or ever) and this part of the blog post confuses you.
First, here’s what I like. As with the earlier movies, the fight scenes show Bond using a lot of intelligence and creativity. There’s one great moment where he’s fighting a would-be assassin, and he throws him into a bathtub. While the assassin reaches for a nearby gun, Bond quickly finds an electric fan and tosses it in, electrocuting his attacker. It’s not only a clever moment, but Connery perfectly portrays a man thinking about his next move.
The added humour works more often than not. And while this movie is light on action compared to today’s Bond movies, there is enough to keep the first half of the movie moving. The movie also makes great use of its scenery, like the hillside roads of Europe, a classy golf course, and the streets of Miami early on in the film.
All of the major performances are great too, from the silent yet proudly deadly Oddjob played by Harold Sakata, to the cold main bond girl Pussy galore, played by Honor Blackman.
One, this movie just feels slow at times to me, dragging on in the middle. There’s a long period of time where the mental games Goldfinger is playing with Bond’s allies starts to feel repetitive. He just keeps outsmarting everyone, even if he doesn’t need to be that smart to do so.
Two, there are things in the movie that don’t make any sense. For example, the one Bond girl dying of skin suffocation after being painted gold. That’s physically impossible. You breathe through your nose and mouth, not through your skin. Even if the paint was toxic, it would take a long time to actually kill someone if it was merely put on their skin. Although being dipped in molten gold would kill you pretty quick.
One major reason I don’t like this movie all that much is that pretty much everyone is an idiot at one point or another. There’s that famous moment where Goldfinger is threatening to kill Bond with the laser. All it takes for Bond to convince him to stop is asking him if he can take the chance that 008 will succeed where he fails? Goldfinger is convinced right away that Bond is worth more to him alive. How exactly? He knows that Bond knows very little about his operation, and wouldn’t have had time to even tell anyone its name. He also gives the captive Bond a bit too much freedom in his estate, especially after he escapes his cell and learns more about Goldfinger’s plans.
Bond’s CIA allies are also dumb. They see Bond walking around Goldfinger’s estate and automatically assume that everything is fine, even though there are constantly guards surrounding him. And of course Bond is an idiot for planting his tracker on one of Goldfinger’s visitors as he’s about to leave, even after learning of Goldfinger’s habit of killing his guests.
And of course there are the problems with Goldfinger’s plot to begin with. First, considering Fort Knox in Kentucky has never held more than 2% of the world’s refined gold at any time, irradiating it wouldn’t increase the value of his gold all that much. It might not even effect the value of his gold at all. Second, contrary to what is stated in the movie, Fort Knox isn’t the United States’ biggest gold depository. That title actually belongs to the Federal Reserve in New York City. Even in the 1920’s, the Federal Reserve held 10% of the world’s official gold reserves, including deposits from 36 foreign nations. That last fact alone would make irradiating that gold supply far more likely to increase the value of Goldfinger’s own gold collection.
But what really bothers me is how Bond deals with Pussy Galore, the main Bond girl with an awesomely suggestive name. From the moment they meet, Galore seems to be immune to Bond’s charm. At the most she’s throwing quips right back at him in a nastier tone. Yet towards the end of the movie, Bond kind of throws himself on her in a barn. Somehow this is enough to convince a previously dedicated Galore to switch sides. It doesn’t quite feel like a rape scene, but it’s borderline in that direction. It feels misogynistic.
But like I said, I don’t hate this movie. I just don’t care much for it. I can see why other people do like it and if you’re one of those people, I don’t want to take that away from you. One would be a terrible person to want to make people enjoy a piece of entertainment less. Well … if that entertainment isn’t morally reprehensible in the first place. Goldfinger most certainly isn’t that.
Bond kills – 9
Other’s kills – 68
Total kill count – 77
Sean Connery’s kill count so far – 24
That makes Goldfinger by far the deadliest Bond movie so far. That stat doesn’t last long though.
Next up is Thunderball, which had an unofficial remake with Sean Connery years later called “Never Say Never Again”. I’ll cover that another month along with a bunch of oddball Bond movies. We’re half-way through the official Sean Connery era Bond movies. Next month I’ll be starting my Dreamworks Blogathon, and I’ll probably switch back and forth between these two blogathons each month for the next while.