Monday, June 25, 2012

Goldfinger - Incompetent Mr. Bond

Goldfinger - 1964

Bond: Sean Connery
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Produced by: Harry Saltzman & 
Albert R. Broccoli
Theme: "Goldfinger" performed by Shirley Bassey

I've written about Goldfinger before, albeit briefly. It really is the best Bond film. If you're only going to see one Bond film in your life, it should be this one. Unlike From Russia with Love, Goldfinger is not a sequel. You don't need to have seen any other Bond film to appreciate. There is one reference to the previous film. After Bond has been captured by Goldfinger, he asks about his luggage, specifically his attache case. Unfortunately it was "damaged during inspection." Sylvia Trench was originally intended to be in the film, but was cut when Guy Hamilton took the helm as director.

**Update: Bond also references a close call in Jamaica, an allusion to the events of Dr. No. That's the only other narrative element that ties to the previous films. The opening title sequence features footage projected onto the bikini-clad gilded body of actress Margaret Nolan (who plays Dink in the film). Most of that footage is from Goldfinger itself, but some of it comes from Dr. No and From Russia with Love, including the helicopter-chase sequence from the latter, which I can't believe I didn't talk about in my write-up. I guess the producers loved their completely out of place nonsensical North by Northwest homage so much, they used it twice. **

Goldfinger broke numerous box office records when it was released. A theater in New York stayed open 24 hours a day to keep up with demand. The theme song featuring Shirley Bassey was an iconic hit. It was also the first theme song to play over the opening title sequence. There was a song "From Russia with Love" but it only appears during the film. There's lots of interesting trivia about the film on IMDB, if you're interested.

I'm not quite sure why it's the best. Bond spends the entire movie drunk, incompetent, captured, or flirting with women. Sometimes all at once. He flirts with every woman he meets. Fifteen minutes into the film, he's already seduced Jill Masterson and gotten her killed. It marks the first time a Bond girl dies, and it's not the last. He gets her sister Tilly killed 45 minutes into the film.  In fact, that's when Goldfinger captures Bond. He spends the rest of the film his prisoner. 

Bond does exactly 6 things right in the film.

1. He forces Goldfinger to lose at gin.
There's nothing more exciting than two old men playing gin at pool-side in Miami beach. 
2. Seduces Jill. 
She doesn't make it difficult for him.
3. Beats Goldfinger at golf.
Yes, there is an entire tension-filled sequence in the film built around the strict rules of golf. It's hard to imagine such a thing in any movie today.
4. Bluffs Goldfinger into not bifurcating him with a laser.
One of the most cliched and classic Bond scenes of all time, featuring the famous dialog:
Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Golfinger: No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!

5. Seduces Pussy and convinces her to switch sides.

Yes, the primary love interest in the film is Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman. In the book Pussy was a lesbian (in fact, she lead an entire lesbian gang), but that was a bit to risque for 1960s cinema. Fortunately for Bond, she falls for him in the film. If Pussy didn't have a sudden pang of conscious, or if Bond weren't such an amazing lover, sixty thousand people would have been killed and Goldfinger would have succeeded in blowing up a "dirty bomb" in Fort Knox. That's right, "dirty bombs" existed before 9/11. Who knew?

6, Kills Oddjob.
This involves a nifty bit of foreshadowing. In the pre-title sequence, Bond kills an assailant who happens to be in a bathtub full of water at the time, by slapping an electric space heater into the water and electrocuting him. An hour and fifty minutes later, he electrocutes Oddjob in a similar fashion.

Everything else he does is a magnificent failure. He doesn't even diffuse the bomb himself. Just as he's about to make an educated guess that would have certainly blown himself up, someone arrives to diffuse it for him. I won't even give Bond credit for killing Goldfinger, who does himself in by firing his gun on a plane.

Still somehow everything works out in the end. Maybe that's the point. Even when Bond is at his worst, he still manages to save the world and get the girl.

1964 Context
President: Lyndon B. Johnson
He signed the Civil Rights Act in July of that year.
Queen: Elizabeth II

The final Looney Tune was produced by Warner Bros.

Best Picture Nominees:
My Fair Lady
Dr. Strangelove
Zorba the Greek
Mary Poppins

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