Ahead of the release of SPECTRE this autumn, the Bond Reloaded series takes a weekly look back at each film in the iconic James Bond franchise. It continues with an examination of Goldfinger – an iconic Brit classic.
If you’re a Brit and you’ve ever flicked on ITV on a Sunday afternoon, you’ve almost certainly seen Goldfinger – the third Bond film. There’s a reason that it’s become a perennial favourite; it might just be the best movie in the entire Bond franchise to date.
Given the continuing and complex legal wranglings over authorship of Thunderball, producing duo Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli looked to the seventh of Ian Fleming’s novels for the next big screen outing. Sean Connery was back on board, with Guy Hamilton taking over from Terence Young in the director’s chair.
They couldn’t have known this at the time, but what they were about to create would become one of the most iconic films in the history of British cinema.
The man with the Midas Touch
Goldfinger sees Bond cross paths with businessman Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), who is willing to cheat and steal to get what he wants. His antics within the gold industry have aroused the suspicion of the American government, so Bond is sent to investigate. There, he makes enemies of Goldfinger’s mute henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) and his attractive personal pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).
Much of what would become the Bond formula was established in From Russia With Love, but Goldfinger perfects it. The film marries the relentless and thrilling forward momentum of Dr. No with the verbal sparring and narrative breathing room of From Russia With Love.
“Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Bond. It may be your last.”
Like other action movies, Goldfinger is propelled along by set pieces. Crucially, however, the set pieces in this film don’t necessarily feature much action. In fact, the best set piece sequences in Goldfinger are those that centre around other pursuits. A prime example of this is the golf game between Bond and Goldfinger, which is witty, tense and every bit as thrilling as any car chase.
That’s not to say that there isn’t real action in Golfinger. The film features an innovative car chase at one of Goldfinger’s facilities and a show-stopping finale set at Fort Knox. Here, every bit of action is warranted by the story and helps to enhance the film.
Interestingly, Goldfinger makes a number of interesting changes to the Bond character. This is not a superheroic figure – it’s a fallible man, with sizeable weaknesses. Goldfinger is one step ahead of Bond throughout, cementing himself as one of the most memorable villains in the history of the franchise. Rather than sleuthing secretly, Bond spends much of the film at Goldfinger’s mercy, rescued only by his last-minute liaison with Pussy Galore, who is far more interesting than her Carry On-style name would suggest.
It’s a brave move to make Bond such a beatable figure, but it more than pays off. All of the best heroes need help to come out on top and it’s important to believe that, just once, evil might not allow itself to be defeated.
Worth its weight in gold
Goldfinger is one of the most memorable Bond films, partially due to its seemingly endless stock of images and moments that would instantly become iconic parts of popular culture. Whether it’s Shirley Eaton lying on a bed covered in gold paint or Bond lying on a golden slab as a laser slowly moves towards his genitals, the images of Goldfinger are indelible.
In the case of the latter moment, the tension is all real according to the autobiography of special effects guy Albert J Luxford. As Sean Connery lay at the mercy of Goldfinger’s laser, the slab he lay upon was being cut for real from below by an acetylene torch wielded by Luxford. Luxford couldn’t see Connery and so was waiting to be told when to stop. Connery could have been fairly confident, but at least some of his terror and desperation was real.
“This is gold, Mr Bond. All my life I’ve been in love with its colour, its brilliance, its divine heaviness.”
Eaton’s moment is a similarly iconic one, described in The Essential Bond as “one of the most enduring images in cinematic history”. Jill Masterson’s unconventional murder, at the hands of brutally insane henchman Oddjob, is the first instance of what would become a familiar Bond trope – the death of a woman inciting Bond. In Goldfinger, Bond’s mission has a personal edge to it as a result of the death of one of his romantic conquests. It immediately sets Goldfinger up as a ruthless figure – he had her killed for merely spoiling his card-cheating ruse.
Gert Fröbe is excellent in the title role, with Goldfinger established as a physically imposing, brutish man who nonetheless recruits others to do his dirty work. His criminal plot is an impressive one, driven by his own financial interests and completely devoid of compassion for humanity. Were it not for his sticky end at the climax of Goldfinger, he could easily have become a returning thorn in Bond’s side. So influential was Fröbe’s performance that the character was hilariously parodied in the third Austin Powers film as Goldmember.
It would be remiss to discuss Goldfinger without making reference to Shirley Bassey’s theme song. Few would argue that it is the most instantly recognisable of the Bond themes and Eon have yet to find a singer who suits the world of Bond as well as Bassey, who would return to perform the themes for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 and Moonraker in 1979. Unusually, it’s a theme that focuses in on the villain, which paints him as a mysterious, powerful man before the film even begins.
A glittering legacy
Like the previous Bond films, Goldfinger made an enormous splash at the box office. It recouped its then large $3m budget in the space of two weeks, with demand for the film so high that, according to James Bond: The Legacy 007, the DeMille cinema in New York City had to remain open 24 hours a day over the Christmas period.
Since the film’s release, Goldfinger has been widely lauded by critics. It has been called the best of all of the Bond films by the likes of Total Film, Entertainment Weekly and IGN. Goldfinger also became the first Bond film to win an Oscar, when Norman Wanstall picked up the coveted gong for Best Sound Effects at the 1965 ceremony.
“There’s always so much going on around Mr Goldfinger. It would be a shame not to accept his hospitality.”
Goldfinger isn’t just the best of the James Bond films. It’s one of the best British films ever made. It brings together everything that has made James Bond such an enduring pop culture figure and cranks it up to eleven with glee. The fact that so many of its biggest moments have become truly iconic is no coincidence, merely a result of the film’s incredible power.
Next week, Bond takes to the high seas with underwater adventure Thunderball.
What do you think of Goldfinger? Where does it stand in the pantheon of Bond films? Is Sean Connery the best lead in the franchise’s history? Let me know in the comments section and keep your eyes peeled for more Bond Reloaded next Monday.