Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A lesson in perfection - Classic Bond - Goldfinger

Goldfinger has the reputation as the best of the Bond movies, and it is easy to see why. It combines scenes of riveting tension with superbly choreographed action set-pieces and adds a layer of sophisticated dry wit which the previous films lacked. It moves the series further into the realms of the overblown comic strip and, in this respect, was hugely influential in the development of the action genre, where 'bigger' rapidly became equated with better.

In his third Bond film, Sean Connery successfully defined a toned-down, more sympathetic version of the character. His treatment of women is less perfunctory and his violence is generally in self-defence. Connery is convincing in action but seems most comfortable with the snappy delivery of numerous one-liners. He receives impressive competition from Gert Frobe who, despite being dubbed to hide his poor English, plays Goldfinger with a fine combination of strutting vanity and thuggish menace. Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore is a thoroughly liberated woman who is more than a match for Bond, even if she is eventually, and disappointingly, removed from the action. The regular cast of MI6 staff are also defined here, with Bernard Lee's M, Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny and especially Desmond Llewelyn's Q delivering memorable cameos.

The action in Goldfinger is confidently handled through a combination of fast editing by Peter Hunt, committed stunt work from Bond veteran Bob Simmons and Guy Hamilton's willingness as director to combine comic strip antics with a certain realism. However, Hamilton also handles the quieter moments with style and charm, notably the golf game, one of the most enjoyable scenes in the series. The intelligent and often witty script by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn punctuates the car chases and fights with some highly quotable dialogue exchanges. Equally notable is Ken Adam's art direction , as luxuriantly baroque as John Barry's music score and Shirley Bassey's performance of the theme song.

Goldfinger is light and superficial but it is a confection produced with great skill and care, showcasing the talents of some of Britain's finest technicians. Most significantly, it strikes a balance between action, spectacle and humour which the Bond series never quite got right again.



Published by


Volume 31, No.370, October 1964, page 149


En route to London after a successful Caribbean operation, James Bond stops off at Miami. Here he is asked to keep an eye on the very rich and very mysterious Auric Goldfinger, whose current pastime is the systematic cheating of a wealthy American at cards. Bond calls a halt to this by suborning Goldfinger's secretary and accomplice, Jill Masterson. In revenge, Goldfinger has Jill murdered - suffocated under a thin coating of gold paint. Back in London, Bond learns that the Bank of England wants to find out just how Goldfinger is contriving to smuggle bullion out of the country. He tracks Goldfinger's Rolls Royce across Europe to his Alpine headquarters, encountering on the way Tilly Masterson, sister of the murdered Jill, who is hunting Goldfinger with a shot-gun. But Tilly is killed by a lethal blow from the stiffened bowler which Odd job, Goldfinger's Korean henchman, hurls like a discus; and Bond himself, having identified the smuggling technique (a solid gold Rolls), is captured. He is flown out by Pussy Galore, Goldfinger's private pilot, to the Kentucky ranch where the master criminal is assembling the cast for his greatest coup - operation Grand Slam, a raid on Fort Knox. His plan : to paralyse the defences by a lethal nerve gas sprayed from the planes of Pussy's flying circus; then to blow the place up with an atomic device borrowed from Red China, so making the entire American gold reserve radio-active. Under Bond's influence Pussy changes sides and puts through a call to Washington. Bond is rescued from the vaults of Fort Knox, where he has been left handcuffed to the bomb, survives a final encounter with Goldfinger, who has boarded a U.S. airforce jet in general's uniform, and finally parachutes to safety with Pussy.

A seagull bobs on a night sea; slowly it rises from the waves, and from under it emerges 007 in frogman's kit. He scales a wall, throttles a guard, plants a dynamite charge, hops back over the wall; the frogman's suit is stripped off to reveal a white dinner jacket, with carnation for adjusting in buttonhole ... So Bond is off again; and, as with From Russia with Love, a pre-credits sequence of breathless speed and impudence tips a colossal wink at the audience. After these first five minutes of outrageous violence, callous fun and bland self-mockery, the tone is so firmly set that the film could get away with almost anything. Having hit on a gold-plated formula, the Broccoli-Saltzman team have had the wit to keep on developing it: their only worry now must be how far they can keep it up, in ensuring that each adventure is more enjoyably extravagant (or extravagantly enjoyable) than the last one.

Here, they have gone all out for sets and gadgetry. A laconic secret service man introduces Bond to the Aston Martin special, fitted out with radar, smoke-screen, flamethrowers, machine-gun headlamps, and an ejector seat for unwanted passengers. Later, all this equipment is of course put to good use. When Goldfinger wants to dispose of a recalcitrant ally, he has the man shot by Odd-job, who then drives the corpse to a yard in which cars are pulped for scrap metal. Into the works goes a gleaming Thunderbird; from it emerges a neat little cube of scrap. Sympathy, it goes without saying, is all for the car, with none to spare for the corpse. Ken Adam's sets, notably the operations room at the Kentucky ranch and the glittering vaults of Fort Knox, are masterpieces of technological fantasy.

Only characters as extreme as Gert Frobe's bloated, tweedy Goldfinger, and Harold Sakata's entirely imperturbable Odd-job could live up to them, and even Honor Blackman's Pussy, in spite of the judo and the wardrobe, seems a trifle diminished. Characters, in Goldfinger, have to make an immediate impact: they will probably be dead before they get a second chance. But the real trick of the formula - not, incidentally, Ian Fleming's formula at all, but the films' invention - is the way it uses humour. In all his adventures, sexual and lethal, Bond is a kind of joke superman, as preposterously resilient as one of those cartoon cats. It may be Paul Dehn's collaboration on the script which here gives a new finesse to the jokes; or it may simply be a growing confidence on the part of everyone concerned, and most notably of Sean Connery himself. Goldfinger really is a dazzling object lesson in the principle that nothing succeeds like excess.

The Monthly Film Bulletin was published by the British Film Institute between 1934 and 1991. Initially aimed at distributors and exhibitors as well as filmgoers, it carried reviews and details of all UK film releases. In 1991, the Bulletin was absorbed by Sight and Sound magazine.

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