For the love of entertainment
More camp. More action. More elaborate deaths. This is the birth of Bond as we know him. In subsequent movies (and especially with subsequent Bonds) the camp factor would threaten to eclipse everything else about 007, but right now, in this glorious moment, the series hit the sweet spot. There’s camp. Oh yes. But there’s action. There’s drama. There’s Sean Connery in a teeny tiny bathing suit (turns out that mini-blue number Daniel Craig wore in Casino Royale was an homage. Who knew?!). Have your favorite henchman make you a beverage and let’s bask in the warm, golden glow, shall we?
After a jaunt to Latin America in the pre-titles sequence, Bond is sent to Miami by M (still Bernard Lee) to observe bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger (see villain section below). Goldfinger has been smuggling gold internationally and it’s up to 007 to uncover just how the dastardly millionaire is doing it. Of course, things quickly get more complicated when it turns out Goldfinger is raising the stakes and has a mysterious plot named “Operation Grand Slam” coming to fruition, and it has something to do with the gold in Fort Knox. For the first half of the movie Bond assumes that Goldfinger is planning to steal the gold, but there’s a neat little twist when it turns out Goldfinger knows he could never get away with all that gold, so instead he plans to detonate an atomic device in Fort Knox–radiating the gold and rendering it useless for about 60 years, and making Goldfinger’s holdings the most valuable in the world. It’s basically a heist movie, which makes the plot that much simpler to understand than the spy machinations of the previous films. So this is a Bond movie that fires on all cylinders: great, simple premise, great Bond in Sean Connery, great filming (which was not always a case in 007’s early days), an action-packed script, and some seriously memorable characters. Any time you make a list of the best Bonds, this one has to be included in the top five. I had such a hard time picking an iconic moment for this post that I had to use three (see below). That pretty much says it all.
Notable First: 007’s iconic Aston Martin obsession takes flight here when Q supplies him with his very first tricked out vehicle. This also marks an escalation in gadgetry in which each film will try to come up with a spy tool more outlandish than the last. We’re still relatively in the realm of realism here, but things will get wacky real soon. For all the traveling he’s done in the first two movies, this is also the first time Bond lands in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Ally: CIA agent Felix Leiter is back, this time played by Cec Linder. Gone is the American version of Bond we last saw in Dr. No. This time around Leiter is a bit frumpier and happy to be in a sidekick role. He might as well be 007’s puppy, but his enthusiasm is kind of endearing.
Bond Girl: Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder may be the ultimate Bond girl for most, but there are many who would make a case for Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore. And there’s a good case to be made, least of all because Blackman is the first Bond Girl who isn’t dubbed–meaning that unlike Andress, she gives a full performance. And what a performance! She just oozes sex and sarcasm. Seriously, Pussy Galore has no patience for your sass. Also, this is a Bond girl who has her own Bond girls. Seriously, Pussy has a posse (I apologize wholeheartedly for that joke). Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus is a front for her gang of gorgeous female pilots/henchwomen, and they sure adore their leader (as an aside, Pussy will not be the last Bond girl to have her own circus). Anyway, most Bond girls just fall over into bed with 007, but Ms. Galore is near-unattainable (in the source novel she’s a lesbian), and she has no time for 007’s silly flirting. Of course, she’ll eventually warm up to his charms, but the chemistry getting to there is thrilling.* She starts out as Goldfinger’s henchwoman, but this lady is her own being, subservient to no one. The name Pussy Galore is the one that springs to mind first when asked for an example of a Bond girl. There have been lots of Bond girls with ridiculous names, and Pussy Galore is definitely their queen, but I do think that what raised the character to another level is the performance of Honor Blackman. She made Galore more than just a name. It is worth noting that at age 37 Blackman was and is the oldest Bond girl, and she just schools the hell out of the others. Amateurs.
Supporting Bond Girl: Pardon the pun, but there are Bond girls galore in this movie. In addition to having one of the most famous Bond girls in Pussy Galore, Goldfinger has one of the best-known sub-Bond girls with what has to be the most famous demise in the Bond canon (see iconic moments below for more on that). Shirley Eaton doesn’t have much screentime as Jill Masterson, and hoo boy is she a bit of a cliche, but she enters the echelons of Bond fame by exiting the plot in spectacular, gold-tinted fashion. Jill is one of those characters whose actions don’t quite make sense. She’s Goldfinger’s girlfriend, helping him cheat at cards, then when Bond sneaks into her hotel room she doesn’t question it, she just hops into bed with him. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know his name. In her defense, though, Sean Connery was wearing a terry cloth onesie. You know, as spies do. But wait! Jill Masterson’s sister also gets in on the action! Tania Mallet makes an equally brief appearance as Tilly Masterson, who shows up to avenge her sister’s death despite her clumsiness and ends up getting killed with a hat. You read that correctly. But wait, there’s more! In the pre-titles sequence 007 romances Nadja Regin’s belly dancer Bonita, only to be double-crossed by her (see iconic moments below). Maybe he should have worn the terry cloth onesie.
Villain: You have to ask? He is, after all, in the title of the movie. Auric Goldfinger is in the house, and he is a douche. He isn’t an ice-cold psycho like Dr. No or Blofeld (who skips this movie), he’s basically a spoiled, petulant baby who has the means to make his megalomaniacal dreams a reality. Imagine Veruca Salt crossed with Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and you have his spirit animal. I mean, this is a guy with all the money in the world at his fingertips and he cheats old men at card games. By the poolside. On vacation. For fun. The douchebag meter can’t even get a reading on this because it is off the charts. Even so, hot damn does this guy make a compelling baddie. Credit goes to Gert Fröbe, naturally, for bringing Goldfinger to glorious, ginger life, but he does get some demerits for being dubbed. That’s not really his fault, of course, but one of his biggest moments (see iconic moments below) is so heavily reliant on the inflection of his voice, that it’s disappointing to discover it wasn’t part of Fröbe’s performance. I suppose it’s par for the course in early Bond. A lot of the actors in the early films had to be dubbed, and it’s hard to argue that Fröbe isn’t perfect as the visage and emotions of Auric Goldfinger. As with so many other elements of this movie, Goldfinger is part of the Bond canon that simply cannot be ignored when selecting a top five in each category.
Henchman: I’m tired of mentioning how iconic all of the people in this movie are, so let’s just take it as a given that the deliciously menacing Oddjob is one of the 007 tops. Aside from the physical presence provided by professional wrestler Harold Sakata, this guy kills things with his hat. He’s amusing, yes, but this is a baddie who demands respect and fear. And he doesn’t say a single word during the course of the film.
Theme song: Oh, glorious day! SHIRLEY BASSEY HAS LANDED! And here we are, finally enjoying a song with all the bombast, talent, and delicious camp appeal that the Bond series deserves. Dame Bassey’s divatude can hurt mere mortals who are unprepared for its glory. I mean … YES TO EVERYTHING. That sound you hear is men across the nation gay gasping. It’s funny, though, I honestly think this song would not work at all without Shirley Bassey. She’s the magic, the secret ingredient the Bond music world was waiting for to realize its full potential. Without her we might still be listening to Sinatra rejects played in the background of love scenes. Not for Shirley. She demands nothing less than splashy opening credits with gold-painted dead ladies having images of 007’s intrigue projected onto them. She is the only performer to sing more than one Bond song, and she’s done three. And when they celebrated Bond’s 50th anniversary at the Academy Awards, they naturally had Dame Bassey there to belt this one out just as well as she did almost fifty years ago. Amazing.
Iconic Moment: There are too many in this movie to pick just one. That tells you just how good this one is. First up, there’s Jill Masterson’s big demise. After Bond has a tryst with Jill in her hotel room, he gets knocked out by Oddjob. When he wakes up he finds that Goldfinger has repaid Jill’s cheating by dipping her in gold and leaving her gold-plated corpse on the bed for 007 to find. The official cause of death given is “skin suffocation,” which thankfully isn’t a real thing (especially for Shirley Eaton), but it is nonetheless terrifying. Not to mention an image you won’t be able to get out of your head any time soon. It’s a pop cultural landmark in a series chock full of them. Next, a moment that earns icon status because it has been copied numerous times as an homage to Goldfinger. In the pre-titles sequence Bond visits Bonita, a nimble little belly dancer, in her dressing room as she is taking a bath. Little does he know that he has walked into a trap, but he soon finds out (and rebounds) when he sees a reflection of the goon approaching him from behind reflected in Bonita’s eye. Poor Bonita takes the hit, but at least she’ll be able to walk away from this fight in the end. The same can’t be said for the goon. We also get perfect delivery of what would become standard-issue quip from Bond after a fight: a quip. Finally, yet another pop cultural landmark that has inspired countless imitations. After Bond is captured investigating, Goldfinger has him strapped to a table and points a laser at him. The laser begins to slowly move up toward 007’s precious groin area, threatening to slice him in half, prompting Bond to desperately ask if Goldfinger expects him to talk. That’s when Goldfinger casually utters a comeback that has been echoing in pop culture ever since. It’s disappointing that Gert Fröbe was dubbed, so this execution is only partially his, but the moment stands not only as a brilliant overly-elaborate scheme to kill Bond, but as an exemplary moment of the witty dialogue the series is capable of at its best.
Grades: Movie: 5/5; Bond Girl: 5/5; Villain: 5/5; Henchman: 5/5; Theme Song: 5/5
*It has to be said, though, the scene where she and Bond finally get together is, well, kinda rapey. And unfortunately, that’s pretty par for the course in these early Bond films. That’s a very serious conversation to have, though, and it should be done in a much more formal forum than this.