Flickering Myth’s writing team count down to the release of Skyfall by discussing their favourite James Bond films; next up is Simon Columb with Goldfinger…
The 1001 Movies To See Before You Dieonly lists one James Bond adventure: Sandwiched between Joseph Losey’s The Servant and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising sits, awkwardly, Goldfinger. Kim Newman finishes his brief article on the film by stating that “Ever since, the series has been recycling”. Maybe so, but what a formula they created! Guy Hamilton, directing his first film in the series, managed to combine the cool of From Russia with Love with new, innovative elements – gadgets that were more than a briefcase, and an introduction that was simply unforgettable. Is it a duck? No, it’s James Bond. He is wearing a tuxedo underneath his wetsuit. Is this impossible? Not for 007.
This is the most iconic James Bond adventure – and the one film which, even at the time, critics began to realise represented more than simply ‘kiss, kiss, bang bang’. I don’t believe any other 007 film has established itself with such status as Goldfinger. Indeed, Dr. No started the ball rolling, From Russia with Love – though superior to both films – is more of an homage to Alfred Hitchcock than a rule-breaker film. If the films followed in the vein of the first two entries, then Bond surely wouldn’t have lasted 50 years – it would’ve struggled to reach the 1970s. Goldfinger has attributes that ensured Roger Moore’s 8-film canon could rely heavily on comedy to pull it through – combined with stunning locations and quirky villains / henchmen. Though Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in From Russia with Love was the first ‘true’ henchman in the series, it was Oddjob (Harold Sakata) who paved the way for legends including Jaws, Vargas and Nic-Nac. The exceptional lengths which Goldfinger (Gerte Frobe) plans to go to corrupt the world economy isn’t too far from the established SPECTRE game plan, but in terms of the future, Goldfinger works alongside China, not the infamous Blofeld troupe.
Ian Fleming’s book openly acknowledges the lesbianism of Tilly Masterson and Pussy Galore, but the film only hints at Pussy (Honor Blackman) as homosexual. Like Tilly (Tania Mallet), in the film, she is ultimately swayed by Connery’s charm. Fleming connected Goldfinger with SMERSH (the villains which became SPECTRE in the film series), but the film detaches him and, even ignoring the Cold War element, connects him with China and the atomic bomb. Coincidentally, it was China who detonated their first atomic bomb in October 1964. Writers Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn even corrected Fleming’s impractical end-goal of stealing gold bullion from Fort Knox and openly acknowledged it in the film – as Goldfinger reveals his ‘true’ plan of setting an atomic bomb off inside Fort Knox, contaminating the bullion itself. Talk about capturing the zeitgeist.
James Chapman writes in his brilliant book, Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films, how Goldfinger even gained parallels to Godard, while Penelope Houston, writing for Sight & Sound stated that “we know the clichés and can have a little fun with them” akin to the French New Wave. This is the core of the franchise, as throughout the previous five decades, the James Bond series has managed to create a style and formula that alters to suit the new generations. Though the first five films – Dr. No through to You Only Live Twice, they all feel innovative and unique, until the films become almost a parody of the mood ‘of the times’: Diamonds are Forever imitating The French Connection; Live and Let Die cashing in on the success of the Blaxploitation genre. But it is the formula established here that ensured their continuing success.
The film itself remains incredible as a product of its time, including a huge dollop of sexist bravado. Connery and Leiter (Cec Linder) in the initial Miami scene smacks a girls bum – “man-talk”. But the women are much stronger than the previous films – Tilly is avenging her sister’s death, Pussy initially argues she is ‘immune’ to his charm. It may be a long way off from Barbara Bach’s Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me and Sophie Marceau in The World is not Enough, but it was a start. On the other side of things, when you truly rip apart the narrative, you realise that James Bond himself is incredibly problematic in the film: he doesn’t escape Switzerland, leading to the laser-in-between-the-legs; he doesn’t manage to get word to Leiter about his whereabouts – leading to the death of Solo (Martin Benson); and he doesn’t escape the jail cell, despite his efforts. It is Pussy who saves him and switches sides. The final action sequence within the terrific Fort Knox (designed by iconic set-designer Ken Adams) only concludes as a specialist defuses the bomb – not 007… Despite what the numbers on the dial tell us.
This was a film which was made to draw in the international market – after capturing the European market in From Russia with Love. The budget was more than the previous two films combined and you can tell. The scale of this film is jaw-dropping – the aerial shots alone of Fort Knox, as hundreds of soldiers faint, is bigger than anything we have seen in the series so far.
This is where it truly began and we have the careful refinement by Broccoli and Saltzman to thank. We have the genius of Ken Adams and the screenplay by Richard Maibaum. Even the direction is rougher than before – handheld camerawork that Paul Greengrass must’ve seen before developing his own style that, in turn, influenced the James Bond series in 2006. After Goldfinger, everything was set in stone – but nothing would be the same, ever again. Not recycled – refined and truly outstanding.