AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 110 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
James Bond is having a break at Miami Beach where he receives instructions from his superior M, via CIA agent Felix Leiter, to observe bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger, who is staying at the same hotel as Bond. He catches Goldfinger cheating at gin rummy, blackmails him into losing and beds his employee Jill Masterson, only to be knocked out by Goldfinger’s Korean manservant Oddjob and then waking up to find Jill dead, covered in gold paint. In London, Bond is tasked with determining how Goldfinger smuggles gold internationally and, after winbing a golf game against him with a recovered Nazi gold bar at stake, follows him to Switzerland where he encounters where a vengeful Tilly Masterson, out to avenge the death of her sister….
And to be controversial…..Goldfinger is widely considered to be the ultimate Bond movie, but I’ve always found it a little overrated. Watching it for the umpteenth time for this review, I enjoyed it greatly, as I always do, but also ended up being a tad underwhelmed when the film finished, wondering to myself why it’s so often considered to be the peak of the Bond films, the one which all others should aspire to be. I’m not at all saying that it’s a bad movie – a glance down at my star rating should reassure any lovers of Goldfinger that I still consider it to be very good – but as I write I can think of at least 7 or 8 Bond films that I prefer and probably as many that I genuinely think are better films….and that are also better Bond films. One thing I am in total agreement with the majority is that Goldfinger has more iconic things in it than any other Bond film, but that is also the main reason, I think, why it’s just a bit less than the sum of its parts. Again, I still think that the first Bond film to really laugh at itself is a fine piece of entertainment; smooth, witty ,glossy, oozing 60’s cool and extremely tight [something Bond films, which are prone to stretching out set pieces, aren’t known for]; in fact it’s an even more economical, fluid piece of storytelling than Dr. No, but every time I watch it I find a few notable faults, especially in the second half which, after an excellent first half where the film maybe is almost as good as it’s reputation, suffers from some weak writing and sloppy plotting, while Bond is, quite frankly, an idiot throughout; clumsy, useless and constantly being outdone.
The script, initially by Richard Maibaum but rewritten by Paul Dehn at co-producer Harry Saltzman’s behest, again followed its source novel reasonably closely but changed bits here and there, notably some re-ordering of events such as Tilly being alive for much longer, and even making some improvements such as the dead, gold painted Jill being seen rather than just heard about, and Goldfinger out to blow up Fort Knox rather than rob it. Terence Young declined to direct due to a pay dispute, so Guy Hamilton, who’d turned down Dr No, replaced him. Jack Lord was to reprise the role of Felix Leiter but demanded co-star billing, a bigger role and more money, while Orson Welles also proved too expensive for the part of Goldfinger. Gert Frobe took the role but had most, though not quite all, of his lines dubbed. Armed with a budget that was still equivalent to those of Dr. No and From Russia With Love combined, Goldfinger was partly shot in Miami, Switzerland and Kentucky, but was mostly filmed in and around Pinewood Studios. Nobody was allowed in Fort Knox, and the military raised hell when the pilots of Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus flew only 500 feet above the place rather than the allowed 3000 feet. Filming was delayed when Sean Connery injured his back during Bond’s fight with Oddjob. The final tussle aboard Goldfinger’s jet originally had Bond fighting both Goldfinger and a henchman but was, for some reason, cut down. After the BBFC requested the removal of a shot of Bonita getting out of the bath, plus the shortening of the bath electrocution and the Bond/Jill love bedroom scene, Goldfinger quickly became the fastest grossing picture in film history at the time. The original end title credits had James Bond will return in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service until the legak problems with Thunderball were finally sorted out.
The pre-credits scene, inspired by a few lines from the book, is a fantastic mini-movie, and could almost be considered a perfect distillation of the Bond movie into a few minutes [see, I am still praising the film greatly], the best thing to show someone if they want to get a quick idea of the franchise but can’t be bothered to watch a whole movie. Bond emerges from the water, disguised as a duck, in some Latin American country to blow up a heroin-making factory, then kisses a woman in her dressing room, only to have to kill an attacker whom he sees reflected in her eyes. Humour, an explosion, a pretty girl, a [though admittedly rather brief] fight; it’s all there. Then we get what still remains one of the greatest of Bond title songs, ballsy, catchy and lyrically just the right side of absurd, and belted out by Shirley Bassey over Robert Brownjohn’s superb title sequence where bits from this film [including a cut shot set in ‘Q’s lab] and the two previous ones are projected onto gold images which far outdoes Brownjohn’s words projected onto a belly dancer in From Russia With Love. The film proper sadly begins with some so-so back projection because Connery couldn’t actually be in Miami, plus a cringeworthy bit of sexism as Bond dismisses a girl with a slap on the bum and the words: “man talk”. Never mind, the story gets into gear immediately with Bond foiling Goldfinger’s cheating at cards, bedding his helper, then finding her covered in gold paint in a genuinely atmospheric, even eerie, moment.
A golf game between Bond and Goldfinger is such fun to watch because of the nicely subtle acting by Connery and Frobe in the scene, then it’s off to Switzerland and the fabulous Aston Martin, introduced in the first truly classic ’Q’ scene, gets a full work out with most of its special features being used. Goldfinger is one highlight after another for quite a while, the film peaking with the unforgettable scene of Bond strapped to a table while a laser [a buzz saw in the book] cuts through the wood and edges towards his groin. The exchange of: “Do you want me to talk”? “No Mr Bond, I want you to die” remains classic. But the film then goes down a notch or two once we relocate to Kentucky, with Bond spending too much time locked up and too many awkward plot devices seeming to exist just so that Bond can learn about things, from a Mafia-style execution where a car is crushed with a body in it then returned to Goldfinger, to the truly clunky bit where Goldfinger explains his plan to his criminal associates, then gasses them minutes later. At least the whole Fort Knox climax, which contains the first of many ‘an army of good guys arrives to battle the bad guys’ sequences in the series, is, aside from the inexplicable bit where Oddjob, locked in a room with a bomb, kills the person who can disarm it, still tremendous stuff and the final bomb ticking scene remains the most hair raising in the series, partly because Bond doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do, though it’s marred by the awkward insertion of a ‘007’ on the ticking bomb when it stops when it’s obvious that there were only three seconds to go – a line saying the latter even remains in the film! The final plane showdown with Goldfinger is somewhat abrupt.
Goldfinger is overall a little lighter than Dr. No and From Russia With Love, though does manage a few shifts in tone very well in the first half, such as when the gleeful, almost science-fictional fantasy of Bond’s magic car [love the smile on Tilly’s face when the first car chasing them is put out of action] turns to tragedy when Tilly is killer by Oddjob’s razor brimmed hat. The fights, most of them quite short except for the epic battle with Oddjob which succeeds in being in complete contrast to the more hectic, faster showdown with Red Grant, remain quite brutal. Unfortunately Goldfinger contains what for me is my least favourite scene in any Bond film. Maybe Bond doesn’t actually rape the lesbian Pussy Galore, but I don’t think you need to worship at the altar of political correctness [and I certainly don’t, something that’s probably apparent if you’re familiar with my reviews!] to find his forcing himself on her and her quickly giving in being highly dubious, unpleasant and tarnishing the innocuous nature of the enterprise. But then Bond is also responsible for the deaths of two sisters earlier; in fact you could almost say that if Bond hadn’t interfered with Tilly trying to kill Goldfinger, his plan may not have happened in the first place. The rather dumb Bond seems to do little actual work in the film and sometimes just seems to fall into it all, while it’s Pussy who really saves the day. Even if one realises that the film couldn’t be too obvious about her sexuality, her character is woefully under developed despite Honor Blackman’s best attempts. Goldfinger himself though is great; he looks like a cuddly old grandfather, and that’s precisely why he’s such a great villain. You’d never suspect him in a million years.
Hamilton’s direction provides plenty of zip and zest though there’s less of that fast Peter Hunt editing on display. Connery for me is a bit too relaxed in this one; he’s still fantastic to watch, but it’s a shame that the slightly rough edge he previously brought to the character has been all but ironed out. Composer John Barry composed what in some way his most repetitious Bond soundtrack, most of it based on the theme song, or parts of it, though of course it’s a brilliant tune and he weaves it throughout the score skilfully. The very brass-led score has a brash, bold, even sexy edge to it, along with some cues that have a chill to them like the superbly tense music accompanying the laser scene. Crammed full of great little touches, from Oddjob looking approvingly at himself in a mirror to a little old lady blazing at 007 with a machine-gun, Goldfinger is very good, but it feels a bit rushed overall and does, for me, suffer from some serious script defects. Despite this, I do agree that it’s probably the quintessential Bond film to watch because of its many great and famous ingredients. For me though, the 007 franchise would peak with the next three films.