Thursday, 20 September 2012

50 Years of Bond: "Goldfinger"


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, and the 23rd Bond movie, Skyfall, is set to hit theatres this November. I thought now was a pretty good time to revisit several of the Bond films. I'll probably not cover every film but I'll discuss the most important films in the franchise as well as my personal favourites, which do overlap frequently. The next film is the big game changer of the series up to this point: Goldfinger.

When I was discussing From Russia With Love, I said while I don't always think of the Bond films as sequels to one another, that From Russia With Love was one of the best sequels ever made. And now with Goldfinger, I would argue this is one of the best third installments ever made. And in a rarity for third installments, Goldfinger is even more influential and iconic than its predecessors. This is where, for better or for worst, the Bond formula was really nailed down. While those formula elements had been present in the previous two films-the "Bond girl," Bond's personality, the mix of violence and sex, and even Desmond Llewelyn showed up as gadget master Q in From Russia With Love- this is where the the gadgets became more prominent, the Bond woman names more suggestive, the one liners more frequent, and the overall tone went from cold war espionage thriller to pure escapism. If you showed Goldfinger to someone more familiar with the Pierce Brosnan films, or even the Roger Moore films, it'd probably be more recognisable as a "James Bond film" than the previous two films. I say for better or for worse because the Bond formula would haunt the series for the next two decades and would take it down a path that diverged from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels.

But I shouldn't be coming off as such a downer. Goldfinger is a film that truly defines escapism. You watch it to get away from reality-to lose yourself in a world full of gorgeous women, funny one liners, cool cars, and a hero who's effortlessly suave and sophisicated-the ultimate ladies man. Again, this movie really defined what the whole Bond series is about. The film begins with the pre-titles sequence, introduced in From Russia With Love. This time the "real" Bond actually appears and we have the first mini-adventure of the series, in which Bond (Sean Connery) emerges from the water in Latin America- with a fake pigeon on his head no less. He then places explosives in a drug lord's lab, preventing the drug lord from dealing heroin to finance revolutions. After he successfully plants the explosives, Bond slips out of his swimsuit to reveal that he's wearing a white suit underneath. He walks in to a night club and as the explosives go off, he just casually smokes a cigarette. It's a great classic Bond sequence, showing Bond's professionalism and his calm under pressure. Of course, Bond's not out of the woods yet. As he goes upstairs to an exotic dancer's dressing room, he's attacked by a man. In a cool visual, Bond catches the man's reflection in the woman's eye- and actually lets her take the hit! It's one of those Bond moments that's pretty "politically incorrect" but is effective in showing how cruel Bond can be, even to a beautiful woman. As the man falls in to the bathtub, he reaches for Bond's shoulder holster, containing his gun. Bond throws a lamb in to the tub, electrocuting the man. "Shocking. Postively shocking," Bond says as he leaves. As the door slams the screen cuts to black and we hear the first notes of Shirley Bassey's Goldfinger theme.

This pre-titles sequence is great in how it economically shows us the type of world Bond exists in as well as creating a mini-adventure where a lot of thrilling stuff happens in only a few short minutes. I love the cut to the title sequence and theme song. Bassey's voice is powerful and the song has a sinster vibe to it as Bassey warns a woman about not entering Goldfinger's "web of sin," that  he only loves gold. Bassey belts out that final note like no one's business.

The film begins with Bond vacationing on Miami Beach when his friend from the CIA, Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) tells him that M (Bernard Lee) wants Bond to keep an eye on Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), whom MI6 suspects of gold smuggling. Bond discovers that Goldfinger cheats at cards by having his "girlfriend" Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) use binoculars to spy on Goldfinger's playing-mate from Goldfinger's hotel room. Bond talks through the radio that Jill uses to communicate with Goldfinger and tells him to "start losing." Jill takes a liking to Bond and...well...you know. What I like about this sequence is, like the pre-titles sequence, it's very economic in setting up elements of the plot. We get the antagonistic relationship between Bond and Goldfinger and the film further develops how this is a fantasy world. Despite just meeting her, Bond is able to take Jill to bed. I feel the Bond series is the ultimate wish fillfullment fantasy for men and the best example of which I can think of a hero really defined by his sexual appetite.

And let me say, while she's only in the film for a few minutes, Shirley Eaton is one of my favourite Bond women. She's one of the first Bond women, along with the other women in this film, that doesn't come across as naive. And she doesn't just fall in to Bond's arms either. In these shots, notice that Bond actually has to come to her. She doesn't have to move for him, or any man.

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I also really like Eaton because I think she's just so gorgeous. The reason she's only in the movie for a few minutes is because she's killed by Goldfinger via being covered in gold paint, from which she suffocates. The image of Jill laying on the bed, covered in gold paint, is probably the most iconic image in the entire film, and maybe the whole series. Notice the pillow convienently placed in front of her rear:

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The image is both really cool and stunning, as well as tragic. I believe this is the first time in the series that we see how Bond's sexual appetite can get someone innocent killed. And again, I love how this whole sequence establishes many things about the plot and the world in which the film takes place-Bond vs. Goldfinger, Bond's regret and anger over Jill's death, and the appeal and danger of Bond persona.

I think it's time to talk about what ultimately makes this film work, and that's Sean Connery's performance. He had played Bond twice by the time he made Goldfinger and he had really become comfortable in the role. People always say Connery became bored with the role-and that's no doubt true-but here I feel he's having a lot of fun, bringing a dry sense of humour and an interesting blend of confidence and vulnerability to the role- as well as essentially being the straightman to the absurd stuff going on around him. I love when Jill tells Bond that Goldfinger only pays her to be seen with him, to which he replies, "I'm so glad." He line reading and smile are priceless. His eyeroll during Q's demonstration is also funny and encapsulates how Bond has never been that interested in what Q has to tell him. I also like his brief shout when he asks M what his assignment is about, communicating Bond's anger at Goldfinger as well as frustration in not knowing what this assignment was about in the first place. It's a very human moment for Bond, one that grounds the character in some kind of emotional reality.

Let's also not forget the scene where Bond almost gets cut in half by Goldfinger's laser, which contains the infamous exchange between Bond and Goldfinger, "Do you expect me to talk?/"No Bond I expect you to die!" In this scene we really get a sense of Bond's fear that I think we'd lose in many of the later films. It's also pretty funny because the laser will go through Bond's crotch first, stripping him of his manhood first before stripping him of his life.

Before this sequence, Bond is hiding out above Goldfinger's industrial plant. As night comes, he encounters Jill's sister, Tilly (Tania Mallet), who is trying to kill Goldfinger in revenge for the murder of her sister. Bond had met her earlier that day, not knowing she was Jill's sister. After a chase sequence in Bond's car, Tilly is murdered by Oddjob (Harold Sakata), Goldfinger's henchman. Oddjob kills people with the razor blade hat he throws. I haven't read the book but to my understanding Tilly has a bigger part in the novel than in the film, though I believe she also dies in the novel. I would've liked if Tilly stayed around a little longer. The fact that Bond was responsible for her sister's death would've been an interesting element to explore in terms of Bond and Tilly' relationship. It feels that Tilly is set up to be a more important part of the plot and then that plot thread is cut short. We definitely feel the tragedy of her death-Tilly is ultimately out of her element in trying to kill Goldfinger. But like Jill, Tilly isn't made out to be weak or naive-which I like.

Of course, it's forgivable that Tilly isn't in the rest of the movie because we're soon introduced to one of the most dynamic Bond women in the series' history-Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), Goldfinger's personal pilot. This is the first of the Bond woman names that's very suggestive-and reportedly the name was very controversial. The first time we see Pussy it's through Bond's hazy vision as he wakes up from being tranquilized. Putting us in Bond's perspective really emphasizes Pussy's beauty and I like that when she introduces herself, Bond says "I must be dreaming," instead of the rumoured original line, "I know you are but what's your name?" which would've called too much attention to the absurdity and suggestiveness of her name. It's much better to just let the name speak for itself without the film winking at us. 

Pussy is smart, assertive, has a no-nonsense attitude, and is "immune" to Bond's charms, the subtext being that she's a lesbian, which is due to her being a lesbian in the novel. Blackman makes Pussy feel like a fully formed presence in her first scene alone. For me she also gives off a Catwoman vibe with the sound of her voice, very Eartha Kitt-like, which goes along nicely with her first name. Bond's overtaking of Pussy later on the film is unfortunately one of the more uncomforting moments in the series and also makes the film feel rushed as well. It would've been much better to develop Bond and Pussy's attraction to one another in order to reach Pussy's eventual change of heart about Goldfinger's operation.

Goldfinger plans to break in to Fort Knox but not to steal any gold. His plan is to actually detonate an atomic bomb in the building, making America's gold supply radioactive for over 50 years and thus raising the value of Goldfinger's gold. It's one of the best overall schemes in a Bond film actually-even Bond is impressed.

Terence Young, who directed the previous two Bond films, did not return for this film due to contract negotiation problems. Guy Hamilton was brought in to direct this film and what I like about Hamilton's direction is that he doesn't call attention to the more absurd elements of the film. And as one reviewer pointed out, the later Connery Bond films were very matter of fact about their absurdity whereas the Roger Moore films called a little too much attention their absurdity-with double-taking pigeons and what not. I like Hamilton's staging of the final fight between Bond and Oddjob in Fort Knox.While not as great as the one between Bond and Red Grant in From Russia With Love, is still effective in that, unlike more modern fight sequences, it's not edited to shreds and feels like two guys genuinely going at it.

While I would argue that From Russia With Love is the superior film, Goldfinger may be the more fun of the two. What it lacks in the psychological complexity of Bond films such as On Her Majesty's Secret Service or Casino Royale, it makes up for in inventiveness and economcy. And while this film defined the Bond formula, the series would go even bigger in the next film. James Bond will return in: Thunderball.        

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