Goldfinger (1964) – Film Review
by @Roger Crow
Film makers are like safe crackers, trying to find that perfect combination which will open the doors of success. And the tumblers really fell into place with James Bond’s third outing.
From the relatively short, snappy pre-credits sequence in which 007 emerges from the water in a (comedy) wet suit; plants a load of explosives; strips off to reveal an immaculate suit, and goes for a drink just as the crime lord’s den explodes is superb. Little wonder it later inspired True Lies; the suit was also echoed in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Then there was the opening number and those titles. Shirley Bassey turned everything up to 11, while John Barry was taking no prisoners. It was less of a song and more a statement of intent from that explosive first note. Big, bombastic and unforgettable, while those lyrics were peerless. Take a bow Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
Everything that follows is just as classy and well crafted, from Shirley Eaton’s iconic sacrificial golden pawn Jill Masterson (swoon), to Auric Goldfinger himself. Given the Austin Powers spoof Goldmember, it’s hard to watch Gert Frobe’s villain without hearing Mike Myers’ “I lavvv gold!” echoing, but let’s get past that.
Director Guy Hamilton, arguably the first great franchise action director, took old tropes like the hero in peril/sawmill blade scenario and milked the tension for all it was worth as Bond considered becoming half the man via a laser beam. (Together with that and Oddjob crushing a golf ball, Freud would have had a field day with his castration complex theory, a recurring theme in many a great blockbuster).
The script by series regular Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn (who later rebooted the early Planet of the Apes saga) is superb. For example, has there ever been a better bit of two-way banter than:
“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No Mr Bond. I expect you to die.”
“Set the bar so high”
And of course Oddjob, with his razor-tipped bowler hat was the ultimate evil sidekick. Harold Sakata in his film debut never topped the almost mute performance. But that’s Goldfinger for you. It set the bar so high for all action films, little wonder so many had a hard job surpassing it. Even the ultimate gadget, Bond’s trademark Aston Martin with its ejector seat and machine guns, would be the one dusted down and reworked so many times in the future. Sorry Lotus. No call for a submersible car these days it seems. Which kid didn’t want a toy version in ‘64? And if you kept it in the box in mint condition, chances are it would fetch around £700+ in 2021.
Okay, the (real) DB5’s sat nav was a tad primitive back then, but just the idea of a system telling you where you needed to go was pure fantasy. How things changed.
Then there’s Pussy Galore, one of the most intriguing Bond women in the franchise with obviously the most outrageous name. After two films in which 007 just looked at a woman and they fell into bed with him, he needed a ‘challenge’. Could a lesbian stunt pilot be ‘converted’ after a tumble in the hay with MI6’s most famous killer/sex pest? Apparently that’s all it took, but this was Fleming’s fantasy world rather than the real one, and anything was possible.
Cinematography by recurring Bond employee Ted Moore is splendid, while returning production designer Ken Adam once more proves why he was the top of his class when it came to making movies look phenomenal.
Now ticking bomb syndrome is one of the laziest plot devices in cinema. Yes, it’s a great way to create instant tension, but recurring flashes of a bomb countdown tends to get annoying after a while. But back then? With 007 chained to said bomb, it was cinematic nirvana.
If there is a weak link it’s Cec Linder’s Felix Leiter. He’s no Dr No’s Jack Lord (who wanted a bigger billing apparently), which is probably why this was his only appearance as 007’s old CIA mate.
Like all great films, there’s such a wealth of hidden gems in Goldfinger, many of which influenced the music business. I hadn’t realised the 1996 track ‘6 Underground’ by Sneaker Pimps borrowed from Barry’s score. And here’s a random bit of trivia: If Goldfinger had set off his dirty bomb in 1964, by 007’s reckoning, the gold would stop being radioactive any day now.
Though Connery returned to the role several times more after this, some would say he was never better than tackling “the man with the Midas touch”.
Keen golfer Connery might have even agreed with the analogy that while some Bonds landed in a bunker, this was a hole in one.