Wednesday, February 15, 2012

50 Years of 007 - Goldfinger

Cody discusses the film with the Midas touch and Bondmania explodes across the globe.

The Bond filmmakers were working very quickly at building their franchise in the early days. From Russia with Love had its premiere one year after the premiere of Dr. No, and by the time FRWL was finishing post-production they already had the third film decided and in development.

As announced in Russia's end credits, the next movie would be Goldfinger, based on the seventh novel in the literary Bond series. The main crew was assembled with returning members - cinematographer Ted Moore, editor Peter Hunt, screenwriter Richard Maibaum (with a revision by Paul Dehn), production designer Ken Adam, composer John Barry - but with one major exception: director Terence Young. After having directed Dr. No and From Russia with Love and being a key component in creating the cinematic image of James Bond, infusing the character with his own touches of taste and style, Young opted to leave Goldfinger and focus on making The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders instead.

To replace Young, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman turned to a director who had turned down the offer to direct Dr. No - Guy Hamilton. This time Hamilton accepted, and Goldfinger was on track to its premiere just 11 months after From Russia with Love.

Goldfinger is the film where it all came together, where all of the elements that had been assembling through the previous films finally locked into place like puzzle pieces and established the formula that would carry the series forward through the years.

It begins with the gun barrel. White dots move across the screen from left to right, becoming a gun barrel that tracks James Bond as he walks past. Bond turns mid-screen, pulling a gun and firing at us. Optical blood dribbles down the screen, the gun barrel wavers and becomes a white dot again, finding a place on the screen to settle. Once it's settled, it becomes the portal through which we enter the pre-title sequence.

From Russia with Love had a pre-title sequence showing the villainous Red Grant stalking and killing a man. While a couple future pre-title sequences would similarly focus on the villains, the one in Goldfinger is what most of them from here on out would be: a mini-adventure that shows Bond on a mission that has little or nothing to do with the story that follows.

Ian Fleming started the Goldfinger novel with Bond sitting in an airport bar, thinking over the mission he had just completed. The details given in this chapter - entitled "Reflections in a Double Bourbon" - are the basis for the film's opening, which shows Bond taking down a heroin smuggling operation.

One of the first images we see is a seagull floating along the water at a boat dock near the guarded heroin smuggling base. We quickly realize that the seagull is a stuffed animal perched on the head of a man who's swimming just under the surface. James Bond rises from the water, removes the seagull hat from his head and climbs onto the dock. Yes, wearing a seagull on your head while sneaking into a heroin lab is totally silly and unnecessary, the black wetsuit Bond is wearing as he swims in the dark water at night is all the cover he needed, but the seagull gets a laugh and shows up front that one thing Hamilton brought to this film was a more lighthearted, humorous tone.

Bond climbs a wall, knocks out a guard, and a passage from Fleming's novel plays out almost exactly, "Bond broke into (the) warehouse one night and left a thermite bomb. He then went and sat in a cafe a mile away and watched the flames leap above the horizon of roof-tops..." with some added humor and cinematic Bond cool. On the way to cafe, Bond removes his wetsuit to reveal a white tuxedo beneath. Entering the establishment, Bond looks the place over, checks his watch, and times it so that he's lighting a cigarette at the exact moment when the nearby heroin operation explodes.


Of course, movie Bond also has something going on with a local girl, Bonita (played by Nadja Regin), a bellydancer at the cafe. Regin was also in From Russia with Love, playing Kerim Bey's mistress, a fact that I didn't realize until just now. With an hour to kill before he has to catch his plane to Miami, Bond follows Bonita into her dressing room, where they begin to kiss... And in a very cool shot, Bond realizes that this is an ambush when he sees the reflection of an attacker in Bonita's eye.

Bond tussles with the attacker, who is played by a stuntman with a great name - Alf Joint. This situation plays out to a "shocking" conclusion, after which we segue into the next traditional element, the title sequence, this time properly accompanied by the title song, a very catchy tune wonderfully performed by Shirley Bassey.

The title sequence itself is designed by Robert Brownjohn and features moments from this film and From Russia with Love projected onto the gold-painted body of a voluptuous woman. This woman is actress Margaret Nolan, who we also see without the paint in the scene immediately following the title sequence. She plays a character named Dink, who's giving Bond a massage poolside at a Miami hotel. She's a lovely woman, it's a shame that she didn't have a bigger role in this movie or another Bond film down the line. Dink is quickly sent on her way when a familiar character approaches Bond.

In the book, Bond coincidentally runs into a man named Junius Du Pont, a character who had been sitting at the baccarat table as Bond played against Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Rather than refer to a story they didn't have the rights to, the filmmakers use a character returning from a previous movie, one who does show up later in the Goldfinger novel: CIA agent Felix Leiter.

Jack Lord had played Leiter in Dr. No and was offered the part in Goldfinger. A deal couldn't be reached, so the role was recast with Cec Linder. Linder doesn't have the suave coolness of Lord and looks considerably older than him despite being a couple months younger, but he does fine in the role. He also gets a similar reaction from the ladies that Lord would; watch for the bikinied sunbather who gives Linder an approving look as he walks around the pool.

Leiter is at the hotel to deliver word to Bond that MI6 head M wants him to keep an eye on a fellow hotel guest, a business man named Auric Goldfinger. Goldfinger is also sitting near the pool, playing cards with a man named Zimmer. Goldfinger is played by Gert Fröbe, a German actor. Though his voice was dubbed over by English actor Michael Collins, Fröbe does terrific work in his performance.

Goldfinger has been beating Zimmer at cards every day for a week and has so far won $10,000. In the book, Du Pont was the man who had been playing cards with Goldfinger and losing. Goldfinger must be cheating, but how? Du Pont asks Bond to help him find out. Bond observes the game and quickly figures out Goldfinger's set-up, but not as quickly as the film Bond, who is able to deduce how Zimmer is being cheated in under a minute.

The hearing aid Goldfinger wears is actually a radio receiver, he has an assistant on the balcony of his room watching Zimmer's cards through binoculars and telling him what's in the man's hand. Bond goes up to Goldfinger's room and sneaks up on his assistant: a young woman named Jill Masterson, played by Shirley Eaton. Bond introduces himself - "Bond, James Bond" - and Jill is quickly convinced over to the side of good. Bond takes over the radio transmission, telling Goldfinger that he'll be reported to the Miami police if he doesn't proceed to lose $15,000 to Zimmer.

With Goldfinger humiliated and busy losing, Bond takes Jill away for dinner at the best place in the town: room service in his room. Bond and Jill are so pre-occupied making each other "entirely satisfied" that their champagne loses its chill. As he goes to the refrigerator to retrieve another bottle, he speaks one of his cool, sophisticated lines: "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done, such as drinking Dom Perignon '53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit." But then he caps it off with one of the biggest errors in the series, a rare line that makes Bond seem totally out of touch: "That's as bad as listening to The Beatles without ear muffs." Goldfinger was made during the start of Beatlemania, filming began in February 1964, the same month that The Beatles were blowing the world up on The Ed Sullivan Show. And here's Bond talking about them like he's some square old man. This could've been an in-joke to the fact that Beatles record producer George Martin also produced Shirley Bassey's title song, but just taken in the film it makes Bond seem uncool. The wrong of this line was ultimately righted when Paul McCartney was hired to do the title song for the 1973 Bond film Live and Let Die, for which George Martin composed the score.

Bond is instantly punished after this quip, as a mysterious shadowy figure knocks him out. When Bond awakens, he sees a tragic sight that is one of the most iconic shots in the series: Jill Masterson on the bed, dead, covered entirely in gold paint.

Bond returns to London for a meeting with M, where he's chastised for his behavior in Miami. He was meant to observe Goldfinger, "not borrow his girlfriend." Bond is still on the Goldfinger assignment, but M reminds him that he is not to turn this into a personal vendetta. If he can't handle the assignment coldly and objectively, he can be replaced. Such warnings from M have become quite familiar, the recent films especially have had similar lines.

On his way out of his boss's office, Bond takes some time to flirt with Moneypenny, M's secretary. Over dinner that night, Colonel Smithers from the Bank of England explains to Bond and M why Goldfinger is a person of interest: the bank has noticed a leakage of gold from the country and Goldfinger is suspected to be melting it down, recasting it and smuggling it out to his own deposits around the world. Bond is to have a social meeting with Goldfinger and, with a bar of gold as bait, try to get him to talk business.

Before Bond heads off on this assignment, he stops to get gadgets from Q. This particular meeting with Q provided the blueprint for all of the meetings and interactions with Q that followed in the series. Desmond Llewelyn returns as the Major Boothroyd/Armourer character that he played in From Russia with Love, but Bond now calls him by the nickname Q, which is short for Quartermaster, the Q Branch of MI6 that he's head of. At the direction of Guy Hamilton, there's a different dynamic between Bond and Q, and Llewelyn's demeanor changes from the previous film. In From Russia with Love, Bond and Q's interaction was very low-key and mutually respectful. Here, as Q briefs Bond on the gadgets he's being supplied with in the Q Branch lab, with gadget testing going on all around them, Bond is like a bored schoolboy making light of everything and getting distracted while Q is bothered by his flippant attitude and chides him to pay attention. Q is very proud of his gadgets and is very annoyed by the damage caused to them on Bond's missions.

This film really marks the beginning of the more outlandish gadgetry in the series. Bond had a case with some goodies in the previous film, but they pale in comparison to the gadgets he gets in this one, most of which are packed into a silver-grey Aston Martin DB5. Tracking device, smoke screen, bulletproof screen, oil slick, machine guns, passenger ejector seat, this car has it all. Bond had a tracking device in the novel, the rest of these features are film exclusives.

Bond's social meeting with Goldfinger occurs at a country club, where they play a round of golf against each other. This is a very entertaining sequence, and I really like actor Gerry Duggan as Bond's caddy Hawker. I especially enjoy Duggan's delivery of the line, "If that's his original ball, I'm Arnold Palmer." As he cheats at cards, Goldfinger also cheats at golf, but Bond is again able to turn his schemes against him.

The golf sequence is also where we first see the face of the man who knocked Bond out earlier, Goldfinger's mute manservant Oddjob, played by professional wrestler Harold Sakata. For some reason, a lot of people think that Oddjob was played by a little person, a misconception also held by the designers of the multiplayer mode of the GoldenEye video game. Sakata's bios list his height as 5'8" or 5'10". These may not be inaccurate, but a little person he's not. After Goldfinger is humiliated by Bond for a second time, he has Oddjob display his secret weapon - the rim of Oddjob's bowler hat is metal and he can throw the hat with such accuracy and force as to knock the head off a stone statue.

Bond places a tracking device on Goldfinger's car as he leaves the club, leading to another sequence that I quite enjoy, wherein Bond tails Goldfinger along the beautiful, winding mountain roads of Switzerland. A second tail soon appears, a convertible driven by an intense young woman... with a sniper rifle. 

Bond has to take her out of the equation, and does so by pulling the Aston Martin up beside the convertible and sliding a spinning blade out of his hubcap, a gadget inspired by the bladed chariot wheels in Ben-Hur. The blade pops the convertible's front passenger tire, tears down the side of the vehicle and pops the rear passenger tire. When the woman drives off the road and Bond stops to assist her, all of their attention is centered on the popped tires. "Double blowout!" "How could new tires...?" "Defect of some kind." Not a word is said about the fact that the side of her car has also been ripped open. Did she think it happened when she went off the road? I don't know, but it's always stood out as odd to me.

It's eventually revealed that this woman is Tilly Masterson, out to avenge the murder of her sister Jill. It wasn't until this revelation that Bond found out Jill had been killed in the novel, he thought he had gotten her safely away from Goldfinger. Her having been killed in the room with him in the film adds another layer of tension to the interactions on the golf course, since we know that Goldfinger and Oddjob are dangerous, murderers.

Tilly is played by model Tania Mallet, who had been up for the role of Tatiana in From Russia with Love. She does a good job playing a strong (although way out of her element) character. Goldfinger was her only major film role, as she chose not to pursue acting as a career. She's quoted as saying, "If you're only going to make one movie in life, why not Goldfinger?"

Goldfinger's car ends up at a factory that he owns and Bond stakes the place out that night. He gets visual evidence that Goldfinger is indeed illegally smuggling gold out of England and Bond's job would be over right here if not for Tilly, who shows up with her sniper rifle and sets off a tripwire alarm. Chaos ensues, a car chase sequence during which Bond gets to put many of the Aston Martin's gadgets to use, including the ejector seat. 

There's a touch of the bizarre in this sequence, as the gatekeeper at Goldfinger's factory turns out to be a kindly little old lady... who doesn't hesitate to pull out a machine gun when Bond is attempting to get away. This was said to be a favorite moment of Alfred Hitchcock's.

Tilly doesn't survive the action sequence, killed by a bowler hat throw from Oddjob. This is a change from the novel, where she was killed in this way but much later in the story. It's a reasonable change, the character didn't have much to do during the time in between.

The sequence also doesn't end well for Bond, who soon finds himself strapped down to a table in Goldfinger's factory. In the novel, there was a circular saw set up at the edge of the table, with which Bond is threatened. Considering a saw too old fashioned, the filmmakers decided to replace it with something that would be more fitting to an approach of featuring cutting edge (no pun intended) technology and in some cases taking existing technology and advancing it "minutes into the future". They chose to threaten Bond with an industrial lazer, new and mysterious to audiences at that time, powerful enough to project a spot on the moon or cut through solid metal.

The lazer is switched on and slowly starts burning its way along the gold table. Bond is about to get bisected from the groin up. In a famous exchange, Goldfinger lets Bond know that nothing will get him out of this situation, he has no interest in getting any information from him. "Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." The tension mounts as the lazer inches closer and Bond desperately tries to say something that will save his life. He finally finds it with words that he overheard in the factory earlier: "Operation Grand Slam." Bond tells Goldfinger that 008 will replace him if he is killed and knows everything he knows. Goldfinger decides it will be safer to keep Bond alive and under his control.

Bond passes out, and when he regains consciousness he's on Goldfinger's private jet, headed for a final destination of Kentucky. The first sight Bond sees when he wakes up is the face of Goldfinger's personal pilot: Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore. The flight attendant asks if she can do anything for him and Bond orders a drink - "A martini. Shaken, not stirred." The first time that Bond himself has spoken the line in a movie.

The interaction between Bond and Pussy is very enjoyable to watch. He tries his best to work her over with his words, but she informs him, "You can turn off the charm. I'm immune." When she points a gun at him, the warning he gives her about the danger of depressurizing the plane if she fires starts off in a way that may be a nod to the great moment with Professor Dent in Dr. No, "That's a Smith & Wesson..." Another fun bit during the plane ride occurs when the flight attendant tries to keep an eye on Bond while he's in the restroom but he manages to block all of her peepholes.

Bond's captivity allows him plenty of time to spend chipping away at Pussy Galore's defenses against his charms over the rest of the film. It's hard for him to believe that she really knows who she's dealing with, being in Goldfinger's employ. "He's quite mad, you know?" Bond ultimately seems to win Pussy over with a literal roll in the hay, which does have an uncomfortably rough start to it.

Landing in Kentucky, Pussy Galore is greeted by her flying circus, a team of female pilots. I have considered company names and had several internet screen names since 1998 that have had "circus" in them, and Goldfinger is the reason why. They're all in reference to this film and Pussy Galore's Flying Circus.

Bond is locked up in a cell beneath Goldfinger's Kentucky residence, a horse stud farm, but manages to easily outwit a guard and get free just in time to eavesdrop on a meeting that Goldfinger is holding in a large rec room. Goldfinger has assembled in this room a group of mobsters from around the U.S., representatives of different criminal organizations from different territories, all of whom have done business with him and delivered supplies. Now he's briefing them on just what these supplies will be used for. Operation Grand Slam.

The way Goldfinger explains his plans is another example of the films stepping into a bigger, more technological world than the novels. As Fleming wrote it, Goldfinger just had a blackboard and a couple pull-down maps. Here, he has a pool table that turns over to reveal a panel of buttons and switches which he uses to close window shades and rotate walls. An aerial photograph of Fort Knox covers one whole wall, a giant model of Fort Knox rises from the floor, a spotlight shines down on it from the ceiling.

The goal of Goldfinger's Operation Grand Slam is to infiltrate the Fort Knox gold depository and steal the $15 billion of gold bullion inside. The depository is impregnable and 41,000 troops are stationed in the area. It's an impossible task, and that's just why Goldfinger intends to pull it off. He has spent fifteen years going over every detail and now he's ready to act. Man has achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor; climbed Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean, fired rockets to the moon, split the atom. This heist will be the miracle of the criminal field.

And Goldfinger has no more use for the mobsters. Since he already has their supplies, he can now eliminate them. When he exits the rec room, it's pumped full of lethal nerve gas. The same nerve gas that he intends to spray over Fort Knox in the morning. Since he kills the mobsters immediately after briefing them on Operation Grand Slam, there was no reason for him to have shared the plan with them. The logic of this scene is often questioned, but it's evident in the film that Goldfinger was just giving the briefing to entertain himself by being able to brag about his brilliant ideas. Of course, the real purpose for this scene to be in the film is to let the audience (and Bond) in on the scheme.

In the novel, the mobsters did have tasks during the Fort Knox robbery, after which Goldfinger would still execute them. But unlike in the novel, Goldfinger does not actually intend to just rob Fort Knox in the film. He has a goal that he didn't reveal to the mobsters.

When Goldfinger invites the recaptured Bond for a casual chat over mint juleps, Bond points out the flaws in Operation Grand Slam. It would be impossible to remove the $15 billion of gold bullion from the depository in the small window of time that Goldfinger will have, in fact it would take sixty men twelve days to load it onto two hundred trucks. Goldfinger has no intention of moving the gold. The true goal of Operation Grand Slam involves the detonation of an atomic bomb, irradiating the American gold supply.

This film steps away from the SPECTRE storyline that had been building over the previous films. Goldfinger is working for himself, with his actions also benefiting the Red Chinese sources that he acquired the atomic bomb from. His associates will be pleased with the resulting economic chaos in the West, while the deposits of gold that he already has will be increased in value. Goldfinger had ties to the Soviet organization SMERSH in the novel, but rather than swap SMERSH for SPECTRE, as they did in From Russia with Love, the filmmakers chose to make this a standalone entry.

Another change in the Fort Knox heist is the fact that, in the book, Goldfinger is thwarted at the gates. Further broadening the scope, the film takes us inside the Fort Knox gold depository. With the interior of this location being unknown to the public, production designer Ken Adam was given free rein to imagine what it might be like, creating "a cathedral of gold".

Goldfinger is a massive film, particularly for the time, much larger in scope than its predecessors. Its box office success was massive as well, it broke records and became the fastest grossing film of all time. With the success of this film and the James Bond merchandising that took off at the same time, the series truly found its place in pop culture.

Unfortunately, the character's creator didn't get to see the world's Bondmania reach its peak. Ian Fleming died the month before Goldfinger's release, at the age of 56.

It may seem odd that the most popular film in the series is also one in which James Bond is, with no exaggeration, a prisoner for half of the film, an almost helpless observer who's taken along for the ride by the villain. Yet, despite this, it's successful because Bond never loses his cool. He puts so much wit and charm on display that we never doubt his ability to stop Goldfinger, he retains a confident swagger and takes playful swipes at his captors.

He does the same in the novel, which also had a lighter tone than most of the other books. There were a few humorous lines directed at Oddjob that I wish had made it into the film because I think they would've played very well. In one instance, Bond calls Oddjob to the room where he's being held, assuring the henchman, "It's all right, I'm not going to kill you yet." In another scene, Goldfinger tells Bond that Oddjob can kill a man with a single blow to any of seven spots on his body. Bond replies, "That's interesting. I only know five ways of killing Oddjob with one blow."

Goldfinger remains the top film of the series in the public consciousness. It has the most popular villain, henchman, female character, car, song, moments, and the most often quoted lines. Odds are that the average person will say that Goldfinger is the best Bond film ever made. That's the answer so often given that some fans have taken to griping about it, poking holes in the story and logic. Myself, I fully embrace Goldfinger's popularity, I love the film. It is one one of my favorite films within the series, and beyond that it's one of my favorite films, period. The performances are great, the humor works perfectly, the sets are very impressive, and Guy Hamilton did a fantastic job directing. It's pure entertainment, a thrilling spectacle of a movie that keeps a smile on my face for the duration. 


  1. I love the theme song to this movie.

  2. Goldfinger is my absolute FAVORITE Bond film of all time. Very nice and detailed article about it.

  3. Fantastic overview of Goldfinger! It's one of my favorites as well, though I tend to cheat and speak of a favorite for each Bond actor so I get mulitple faves. One of the most mindboggling things about this movie's popularity at the time of its release is that theaters in New York City were kept open 24 hours a day to accomodate the crowds, with some later show ticket holders also comped a meal somewhere nearby to keep them occupied until their showing. How the theater could profit on those tickets after buying a meal? No idea. But 24 hours a day! Man, I wish Ian Fleming could have lived even just one more year - so he could have seen the world jumping on the Bondwagon!