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#60yearsofJamesBond: Goldfinger

In the latest of a series designed to celebrate 60 years of the James Bond franchise, I take a look back at perhaps the series' most iconic film...

By Joseph A. MorrisonPublished 2 months ago 12 min read
The original 1964 theatrical poster for "Goldfinger", designed by Robert Brownjohn.

The year is 1964. The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" was at number 1, BBC Two was launched, Harold Wilson became UK Prime Minister, the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination rumbled on, and Dalekmania swept the classrooms of the United Kingdom. And, on the 17th of September, the third Bond film, "Goldfinger", launched the franchise to stratospheric levels of popularity. The first two James Bond films, "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love", had been hugely successful, but the success of "Goldfinger" was on another level. It was the first Bond film with a budget befitting its blockbuster status; it was the first Bond film with a title song, sung by the legendary Shirley Bassey; it was the first Bond film to feature the Aston Martin DB5, with all the gadgets and tricks we know and love; and it was the first Bond film to be directed by legendary Bond director Guy Hamilton, who brought a whole new style and glossy look to the Bond franchise. In many ways, "Goldfinger" became the yardstick: the film against which every Bond film since has been measured against. It remains one of the most commercially successful entries in the franchise's history, and it has gone on to be hailed by critics and fans of the series as the best Bond film in the franchise's 60 year history. It has been parodied, emulated and spoofed hundreds of times over, perhaps most notably by the Austin Powers franchise. Nevertheless, "Goldfinger" remains an icon for the best of the Bond series, and stands today as not only the best instalment of the series to feature original lead actor Sean Connery, but also one of the strongest instalments of the series full stop.

The original James Bond, Sean Connery, together with the iconic Aston Martin DB5, in a picture taken on location in Switzerland. This film featured the first ever development prototype of the DB5, which they had to cut the roof out of in order to make the ejector seat stunt work. The revolving number plates were the idea of director Guy Hamilton, after receiving multiple parking tickets in London.

The best place to start with "Goldfinger" is its leading man. Out of the six Bond films Sean Connery was involved with, this contains, without doubt, his finest performance in the role. He's at his most confident, and most assured, without any of the issues of perceived boredom that would plague his later Bond films, and his performance from start to finish has to be part of the reason why this film remains so enduring. There's plenty of jokes, but not so many that it looks like Bond isn't taking things seriously, while the grit and steel that made Connery's Bond so appealing in the first place is still present and correct. In many ways, this feels like the ultimate cinematic version of Bond: both the faithful hardened spy of the Fleming novels, and the humorous quips and japes that fans of the movies love so much sit side by side, both feeling suitable for the scenario. While other films would try to be one or the other to varying degrees, "Goldfinger" is the one that manages to combine both without it feeling like it is weighted too far in either direction. This film is totally focused on Bond: he is the leading man who sweeps us through the story and the action, and Sean Connery does this with such style, such sophistication, such panache, that's it's hard to argue with. He is a leading man in every sense: whether he is squaring off against the villainous Goldfinger, or charming Bond girls Jill, Tilly or Pussy, he is someone who the audience really wants to rally behind, and that is purely down to the screen charisma of Connery. It is probably one of the best performances this franchise has ever seen, and it goes a long way to explain why this film has been such a success, and why the Bond of "Goldfinger" remains the yardstick for every cinematic version of the character since. It may not be the James Bond of the Fleming novels (he's perhaps a little too swarve and swashbuckling to be quite the same character), but does that matter when he's quite this convincing? I don't think so.

Sean Connery (James Bond) lights his cigarette, as the Heroin farm that he has rigged to explode is destroyed. This was the first film to feature a pre-credits scene that is only tangentially related to the main plot (in this case, allowing Bond to get to Miami). The scene of Bond removing his wetsuit to reveal a tuxedo underneath (seen shortly before this scene) has been parodied many times since.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, this film has, in years since, become the template for every Bond film going forward, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the film's plot. After a pre-titles sequence that is barely connected to the main plot, Bond is sent on a mission with high stakes for the world, there's a scene where he is given his gadgets by Q, there's a Bond girl at the beginning of the film who gets killed off, the villain has a diabolical henchman: all these key elements can trace their way back to "Goldfinger". There's a reason why all these things took off in the way they did, and it's because, by putting all these elements together, they combine to make a perfect picture. The elements are fun and exciting on their own, but put them together, and you have a cinematic formula that people will come back to again and again: no matter how many people will say they think it's old-hat. The formula of a Bond film is timeless, and "Goldfinger" is the timeless embodiment of it in action. Sure, Bond films adapt to the times, both in terms of outlook and in terms of pace, but that basic formula remains virtually unchanged. And yet, "Goldfinger" remains probably the best straight execution of the formula. From beginning to end, it is a film that is confident that what it is doing will work, and that had led to the Bond series being the success story that it is today. Sure, you can argue all about the plot holes, in the cold light of the modern day, but, back in 1964, this really was the bees knees, and, without the confidence this film exudes, it wouldn't have been the runaway success that it is.

Oddjob (Harold Sakata) and Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) at Goldfinger's private golf course, standing in front of Goldfinger's Rolls-Royce Phantom III. Director Guy Hamilton was lead to believe that Frobe could speak perfect English: however, it soon became apparent that he could not. Frobe's lines were therefore dubbed in post-production by English actor Michael Collins.

"Goldfinger"'s ground-breaking formula also extends to its characters, who very much set the template for the types of people you would expect to find in a James Bond film. The villain, the henchmen, the Bond girl; all the archetypal characters are there, for the first time in the format that we recognise them in. There's no attempt at subversion or pastiche: the film treats them seriously, and they end up becoming a huge part of the film's success as a result. Goldfinger, to this day, remains a top-tier Bond villain, and it isn't hard to see why. He's a multi-millionaire, with grand dreams of conquest and power, he has a psychotic henchman, a fancy car... and he's utterly mad. I mean, what a combination. It helps that Gert Frobe never overplays the part. I mean, sure, it's over the top and ridiculous. But Frobe never tries to camp it up or make it seem silly. Rather, he convinces you through a hugely physical performance of this man's power and stature, and he makes it clear right from the opening shots that this man is going to be a very difficult opponent for Bond. The same is true of his voice, although credit can't go to Frobe for that: rather, it must go to Michael Collins, who dubbed over Frobe in post-production when it was found that his natural voice wasn't suitable. It's probably one of the greatest overdubs in the history of cinema, and you probably wouldn't be able to tell, unless you knew that it had been overdubbed. Of course, though, every good Bond villain needs a good henchman, and, in Goldfinger's case, he has perhaps the very best: the mute, but incredibly sinister Oddjob. As iconic as the DB5 or the laser beam sequence, this hatted assassin remains one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, and it isn't hard to see why. Despite saying nothing at all, Oddjob has a hugely intimidating screen presence: partly this is due to his actions, partly this is due to the work of director Guy Hamilton, and partly this is due to the fantastic performance of Harold Sakata. I mean, it's such a great performance, and one that is often imitated, but never bettered. Sakata never lets anything cross his face: in many ways, his performance is so unreadable. But it's what makes Oddjob such a good villain, because he is almost machine-like in many ways. Together, they make a winning combination, and, while there are a load of side villains, honestly, it doesn't matter that they don't make much of an impression, because, between them, these two absolutely smash it.

James Bond (Sean Connery) is threatened by Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) by an industrial-strength laser in a scene now infamous in cinematic history, with probably the most famous James Bond line of all time: "You expect me to talk?" "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!"

The rest of the cast are talented and glamourous through and through. They all add to this film's reputation as a stylish classic, and are another key reason why this film succeeds. The golden body of Jill Masterson remains one of the most iconic and enduring images in cinematic history, and it isn't hard to see why. It all adds to the glamour of this film, and, while most of the guest characters don't really have anything in the way of a personality, or even a meaningful character arc, they are a huge part of cinema history, just by virtue of being in this film. There are some great actors giving great performances here, especially from people like Shirley Eaton, Martin Benson and Burt Kwouk, who flesh out the slightly thin parts that they have been given to play. However, one character and actor stands out as iconic in their own way: Pussy Galore, as played by the legendary Honor Blackman. Unlike previous Bond girls, Galore is strong willed and independent, and isn't afraid to stand up to Bond. Sure, it all does get lost in some scenes towards the end (after all, this film was made in the 1960s, when women were meant to be seen as damsels and all that), but I do admire a genuine attempt to give a Bond girl some agency. I particularly love Blackman's performance: fresh from her sparky repartee with Patrick Macnee in ITC's spy-fi series The Avengers, Blackman really pushes the independence of the character, and her palpable chemistry with Sean Connery helps make the second half of the film a dream, even during the slightly slower moments. Finally, the three Bond 'regulars' all return here, and "Goldfinger" is the film that finally solidifies their purpose going forward. The Q briefing, in particular, comes into its own, and Desmond Llewelyn begins his series of slightly antagonised banter with five of the six James Bond actors here. Like with most elements of this film, mind, Q's briefing is often emulated, but rarely bettered. Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee are also great, if a little underused, while Felix Leiter returns in a new guise, starting a line of recasting Felix with every appearance. While played as older than Jack Lord's Leiter was in "Dr. No", Cec Linder remains one of the most famous Leiter's, and gives a performance that bounces off Connery's easy-going Bond.

James Bond (Sean Connery) finds the body of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), covered in gold paint as a warning from Goldfinger. One of the most iconic scenes in the James Bond franchise, it took the make-up team an hour and a half to apply the gold paint to Eaton. The shot appeared on the cover of Life magazine in November 1964 as a result of how famous it had become. For the sequences in the title sequence with a golden-painted figure, model and actor Margret Nolan (who had the minor role of Dink in the film) played the part.

While the script, characters and actors all play a big part in this film's success, I think the greatest plaudits should actually be reserved for the film's production, which is one of the most confident and assured in cinema history. Every element is in tune with everything else, and there's a genuine sense of filmmakers attempting to push the boundaries of what is possible here. Of course, without a confident and assured director at the helm, none of this would be possible, and Guy Hamilton is definitely the confident and assured director this film was looking for. It is obvious from what is on screen that Hamilton is going for big action and big spectacle over everything else, and, while this approach might produce diminishing results over time (look at Hamilton's other Bond films to see that practice in action), it works here because this is a completely brand-new way of filmmaking. The expansive glamour of the locations, the sets, even the shots themselves: they all give a sense of spectacle that was perhaps absent in the first two Bond films, and helps to set the tone for what is to come later on. The use of gold throughout makes for a great running motif: whether it be in the set design or costume choices, it reinforces not just the villain's MO, but also the idea of the film as a glamour piece too. The sets from designer Ken Adam are perhaps the pinnacle of design for the franchise as well: the gold vault at Fort Knox stands as a particularly great example of this approach to design work. It adds an extra dimension to the film, which, when coupled with some innovative effects work and editing, makes for a level of quality never seen before in a motion picture. Of course, the grand score from John Barry plays its part too, and it's hard to see how this film would have been as successful without it. It's not quite as immediately ground-breaking as his work on "From Russia With Love", but it cemented the idea that Bond needed a big orchestral sound to really succeed. The sound of Bond, as a franchise, was further solidified by Shirley Bassey's theme song, which, more than any other, has remained the gold-standard (if you'll pardon the pun) for Bond themes to this day. It's big and brassy, and Bassey's powerful vocal help sell this as a production filled with class. While the other elements of this film help make it a success, it is perhaps the production elements that make the greatest impact, and helped change not just the destiny of the Bond franchise, but the destiny of cinema full stop. It is the quality of this film that helped birth the blockbuster as we know it today, and opened up a genre of film that, up till now, had been seen as pretty po-faced and old-fashioned. That's a legacy that cannot be overstated.

James Bond tails Auric Goldfinger in his Aston Martin DB5, in this photograph taken on location in Realp in Switzerland. Tailing after Goldfinger must have been pretty boring in such a fancy car - it's why he probably decided to crash Tilly Masterson's car. He did it for the kicks...

In conclusion, then, "Goldfinger" remains one of Bond's best ever cinematic outings. A confident script, some superb acting, fantastic direction, outstanding set design, and some of the most memorable music in film history all combine to make a film that stands as a marker for quality and quantity working together in harmony. It's easy to look back and mock this formula now, especially considering just how many times the James Bond formula has been spoofed. However, there's no taking away just how successful "Goldfinger" was: at the time, it spawned a spy/thriller revolution that lasted well into the next decade, and propelled the James Bond franchise from a successful series of films to mainstream pop culture classic practically overnight. More Bond films were guaranteed: it was now up to the producers to continue to build on the success of "Goldfinger", and see if lightning really did strike four times in a row...

You can purchase "Goldfinger" on Blu-Ray from Amazon by clicking on the link below, and from all good DVD and Blu-Ray shops.

Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), seen here with his trademark golden revolver, attempts to escape from Fort Knox in disguise. One original candidate for Goldfinger was legendary director and actor Orson Welles, but his fee was seen as too high for the producers. Frobe became the centre of a minor controversy during the release of this film: it was temporarily banned in Isreal because of Frobe's connections with the Nazi Party in Germay. However, the ban was lifted when a Jewish family publicly thanked Frobe for helping them escape persecution during the Second World War.

All pictures copyright to EON Productions. Thank you very much for reading.


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About the Creator

Joseph A. Morrison

25. Fan of Doctor Who, Blake's 7, The Prisoner and more old-fashioned TV. Reviewer, wannabe writer and general twit.

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