Saturday, July 9, 2011

Definitive Bond Marathon: Goldfinger (1964)

007, following an encounter of the most extraordinary kind in Miami, USA with multi-millionaire and entrepreneur Auric Goldfinger, was given the task of investigating the man’s suspected practice of smuggling gold bullion around the world for as of yet unknown purposes. Following a less than quaint match of golf with Goldfinger, 007 followed the shrewd business man to his largest factory in Switzerland via a homing device. It was there that our man learned that not all was what it seemed with Goldfinger. In league with the Chinese, Goldfinger had in fact been smuggling gold by clever means, but before 007 could do anything, he was kidnapped.

 It only once in the clutches of his new foe that 007 could finally unravel the entire plot: an extraordinary attempt at contaminating the entire reservoir of gold bullion at Fort Know in Kentucky, USA through a nuclear bomb. But Goldfinger was not the only antagonist in this operation. Bond was also forced to deal with the millionaire’s personal body guard and assassin, a mute but sturdy Asian named Oddjob as well as his personal assistant, a charming but unforgiving woman named Pussy Galore. 

With Goldfinger, the game changes. Guy Hamilton is brought aboard and brings with him a flare for thrills, fast and energetic pacing, and a sense of the wondrous.  The filmmakers had created somewhat of an odd hybrid of detective story and high-tech action with Dr. No. They then brought things back to a more grounded reality with From Russia With Love. The sky seems to be the limit with Goldfinger, which sets the tone for so many of the future instalments in the series. The world of film looks and sounds like the real world, but around every corner there is something that looks and sounds unique and different. The villains are larger than life, the gadgets are ultra sophisticated (even by today’s standards) and the woman have that extra pizzazz that most Bond girls are famous for. Even Bond himself (Connery) seems to have extra kick about him which propels him to unquestionable iconic status. The dialogue snaps  more in this chapter, with some real zingers being thrown out and about between many of the characters. Bond and the supporting characters had some good lines in the previous two movies, but this is where the real game of one liners which people love or hate really all began.

Yes, if you are among the casual fans or even the uninitiated but possess some sort vague knowledge about who Bond is (knowledge, which I can attest to, is typically limited to rather silly exaggerations about what Bond does and doesn’t do), the source of what you know, or what you think you know, probably originated from Goldfinger. The world of Goldfinger, as I touched on above, breathes in a heightened reality. It isn’t a science fiction movie, far from it, but there are many elements which make it feel bigger than what we’ve seen before. Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Richard Maibaum took some liberties from the Ian Fleming novel and really pushed the envelope in terms of action and flare. The film simply drools of cool. Connery talks with a smoothness and is equipped with brains and wits that many future film protagonists have attempted to emulate, but few have truly succeeded. Everything in Goldfinger is click, super slick. The cars, the locations, the action, the sexy women. Absolutely everything people associate with Bond is found in this movie and virtually all of those elements are at their finest as well.  
There is a reason why the pre-title sequence is often cited as being a great sequence. Those opening five minutes alone contain most of the iconic 007 ingredients:
-Bond arrives at his mission check point via disguise, a disguise which also permits him swim, hence showing off his athleticism.
-Bond infiltrates the enemies compound, cool as a cat. He even takes out a guard with a single wicked kung-fu chop. Hiya!
-Bond plants the explosive device and leaves the enemy compound. Once outside the walls, he removes his wet suit, only to reveal the perfectly tailored white tux underneath.
-Bond goes to nightclub, where a sexy dancer makes eye contact. They’ll be making out in just a bit.
-Bond calmly, almost aloofly observes his watch and just at that moment, the enemy compound disintegrates in a humungous explosion in the background.
-Bond walks up to a stool to meet his contact, the latter which tells him to get on the next plane.
-Before doing so, Bond returns to his hotel room, where the sexy dancer lady awaits. They make out.
-In the girl’s eye’s reflection, Bond notices someone sneaking up from behind.
-The two brawl fiercely. His opponent is quite good, but Bond eventually throws him in the tub.
-From the tub, the enemy reaches out for Bond’s pistol, but before the villain can fire, Bond, quick thinker that he is, tosses a lamp into the bathtub, thus electrifying the man to death.
-Bond leaves the room, but not before casually saying: Shocking. Simply shocking.’
-Cue Shirley Bassey.

Violence, a clever one liner, a sexy girl, a well prepared and equipped super spy, and a mini-story line to boot. 5 minutes. The essential Bond. What’s amazing is that the rest of the bloody film actually lives up to the hype created by that pre-title sequence. Director Hamilton infuses the movie with a remarkable brisk pacing. I mean, this thing moves along like a high speed train. I can’t really think of a boring moment per say, any moment that plainly and simply does not work for me at all. In fact, I’d say the film has a better pacing than the original novel, and I’d wager that a lot of that has to do with Hamilton’s direction. He really understood the sense of adventure and how quick pacing is often required to preserve the momentum in films of this nature.
There is also a sense of grandeur which makes Goldfinger feel a bit like an epic. The pre-title sequence alone can take care of the epic feel, but then we have the Miami sequence (which leads to one cinema’s all time great deaths), the drive through Switzerland, the introduction to Pussy Galore, the introduction to Oddjob, the chase involving Q branch’s Aston Martin DB5, the finale which has the U.S. army fighting the Chinese, etc. There are some huge things going on in this movie. I even think the villain, who for all intents and purposes shouldn’t come across as more than an angry fat man, is quite interesting as the antithesis to everything Bond is and does.
So why is this not my all time favourite Bond? Just a few little details I suppose. As a serious fan, I can nitpick quite a lot when it comes to this franchise, and there are some elements which, while I certainly don’t hate them (far from it in fact), they don’t quite measure up to what I take as ‘great Bond’ elements. One of them is Oddjob (Harold Sakata). Yes, he is definitely iconic for many reasons, but I like my right hand men to be more like Grant: imposing with a clear sense of cunning and at least somewhat grounded in reality. After all, Bond swings a huge metal pipe onto his chest and the dude just smiles. That’s maybe, just maybe, a bit too much for my tastes. I think Oddjob is an interesting character, I just don’t hold him to the incredible standards most do. Red Grant is my all time henchman.

Another thing that succeeds in bugging me ever so slightly is the treachery of Pussy Galore. She has it made with Goldfinger, she really does. Her turning to the side of good, while I suppose it must happen ultimately, occurs too quickly. I can sort of imagine the filmmaker’s argument as to why she switches sides so suddenly: ‘Well, he’s Bond!’ Yeah, he is Bond but I need a bit more than that. In fact, you can call me crazy, but when we get to Thunderball, I’m going to explain my theory as to how the filmmakers actually make up for this little hiccup. I swear, it’s almost as if they knew that had mishandled Pussy Galore and wanted to correct themselves.
A word of caution: let no one come to think I don’t think of Goldfinger highly because of those two issues. If you somehow still doubt that, read everything I’ve written thus far. If you’re still doubting me, read what’s coming next: Goldfinger is damn fine entertainment and I’ll take it over almost any other (non-Bond) action movie.


Dan said...

Excellent post, especially with the look at the opening scene. I admire Goldfinger and how the Bond franchise changed because of it, but it's also not among my top favorites. The Pussy Galore issues are part of it, and the pace is also extremely slow in the second half. This isn't about the time period, as I love From Russia with Love and Thunderball. This one just loses steam after a great first hour.

edgarchaput said...

@Dan: I would not say that the movie loses steam per say, because I think the Fort Knox climax ultimately has a lot going for it despite how cheaply filmed some moments are.

However, I don't think there is any question that when people think of great Goldfinger moments, most come from the first half of the film.

Dr Blood said...

Yeah, I'm torn now between Goldfinger and From Russia With Love as being the quintessential Bond film. I also really like Goldeneye but I know I'll get abuse for that. :)

edgarchaput said...

@Dr Blood: Hey, don't be ashamed for loving Goldeneye so much. It is, arguably Brosnan's best Bond film and I think he was a pretty good Bond overall, that is saying something. Plus, it has incredible action scenes. The only thing holding Goldeneye back, for me, is the score, which is pretty weak.