Goldfinger is perhaps James Bond’s most popular adventure on film, but you may remember that the book left me cold. To be honest, I also find the film to be dated and silly, so I happen to go against popular opinion there. For the most part, the film adaptation stays fairly true to the book. There are some key differences, however. Let’s take a look at them.
The Book Version
The full review of the book is here, so I’ll just run down the plotpoints that are different here. James Bond is morosely thinking about morals and what it means to have a license to kill when a series of coincidences bring him to a hotel in Miami to investigate whether or not a man is being cheated at cards by Auric Goldfinger (who had stealthily become the wealthiest man in England). 007 uncovers the cheating scheme and humiliates Goldfinger by forcing him to pay back the money and by taking his personal assistant, Jill Masterton, as his sex slave on a train journey out of Miami. In the movie this expedition only comes up after Bond has been sent by M to investigate Goldfinger. Also notable from this sequence is that the most iconic thing that happens in the movie (Jill’s death by gold paint) happens off-screen in the novel.
Back in London, 007 is tasked with finding out how Goldfinger is smuggling gold into and out of England in order to fund SMERSH’s evil activities. Bond meets Goldfinger for an endlessly described game of golf, then tours Goldfinger’s home and is nearly caught spying. You’d think he’d never done this before.
From there Bond goes on an incredibly long-winded road trip to follow Goldfinger and ends up running into Tilly Masterton, Jill’s sister. From her he learns that Jill was killed by ‘epidermal suffocation’ (which is not a real thing) after Goldfinger had her painted in gold. James and Tilly are kidnapped by Goldfinger and forced to take part in his evil scheme to rob Fort Knox with the help of a team of gangsters and mafia men. James thinks Tilly is a bitch for not responding to his advances, but when the lesbian gangster Pussy Galore arrives on the scene and catches Tilly’s eye he figures out the score.
James manages to leave a message behind on a plane with instructions on how to get the message to Felix Leiter. Regardless of how improbable the scenario is, when Goldfinger’s scheme totally unravels on the day of the robbery it is clear that the message got through and Leiter was able to get the CIA involved to stop Goldfinger. Tilly refuses to listen to 007’s advice and is promptly killed in the gunfight.
On his way back to London, 007 is kidnapped at the airport and put on a plane with Goldfinger, Oddjob, and Pussy Galore. Just when things look bleak Bond gets a note from Pussy declaring she’s on his side and with her help he is able to shoot out a window that sucks Oddjob out (which was Goldfinger’s fate in the movie). 007 strangles Goldfinger, forces the plane to land, and beds Pussy Galore–who decides her lesbianism really just came down to never having met a real man before (I can’t even with that one).
The Movie Version
Again, I have a full rundown here so let’s just look at what’s different in the plot. M asks Bond to keep an eye on a man named Auric Goldfinger in a hotel in Miami (which is so much better than the book’s nonsensical series of coincidences). Bond can’t resist uncovering Goldfinger’s elaborate ploy to cheat at cards poolside and beds his accomplice, Jill Masterson (not Masterton anymore). In the afterglow, 007 is knocked unconscious and when he wakes he finds Jill dead on the bed, having been painted in gold.
Bond further investigates Goldfinger to find out how his smuggling operation is working by having a quick game of golf with him. 007 then follows Goldfinger to Switzerland, where he briefly encounters Tilly on her revenge tour before she is killed by Oddjob’s hat. She might as well not even appear for all the good she does the story in the movie. Bond is captured and nearly killed with a laser, but he manages to convince Goldfinger that MI6 knows he is investigating Goldfinger, so if he mysteriously disappears it will tip them off to his evil scheme (which makes so much more sense than the book’s ludicrous decision to have Goldfinger employ Bond as a secretary during the set-up and execution of his plot).
Bond is taken prisoner but overhears Goldfinger explain his plot to a bunch of gangsters he wants to employ as helpers in his scheme to rob Fort Knox. Then, for no apparent reason, Goldfinger gases all the gangsters to death. I mean, why even bother bringing them out to meet with you?
Recaptured, Bond finds out Goldfinger knows it would be impossible to actually steal the gold from Fort Knox (addressing a serious plot hole from the book). Instead, his actual mission is to detonate an atomic device inside Fort Knox to make all its gold useless for for sixty years–and making Goldfinger (who has no ties to SMERSH or even SPECTRE in the movie) the wealthiest man in a world that has been plunged into economic chaos.
Bond seduces Goldfinger’s brassy pilot, Pussy Galore (who is not actually a lesbian in the movie) and manages to turn her to the side of good with his magical penis. She changes out the nerve gas meant to poison the soldiers at Fort Knox with a fake, unraveling Goldfinger’s plan. Bond and Oddjob have a knock-down, drag-out fight in Fort Knox until 007 manages to electrocute the henchman and defuse the nuclear bomb.
Bond is invited to meet with the president as a thank you for his work (in the books such recognition is frowned upon), but Goldfinger hijacks the plane. Bond manages to get the upper hand, a window is shot out and Goldfinger suffers Oddjob’s fate from the book as he is sucked out. 007 and Pussy Galore parachute to safety.
Which is Better?
The movie. Hands down. I still find it dated and think the movie suffers from some bad plotting (Pussy Galore’s inexplicable change of heart, the murder of the gangsters, etc.), but it’s still so much better than the book, which is just a hot, offensive mess.
For more, check out my Bond page–which has movie recaps and best-ofs. Up next, we’ll compare the film and book of For Your Eyes Only.