British secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery) has been assigned a mission to investigate a gold smuggler, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). However, as the investigation deepens and Bond becomes embroiled within the plot, Goldfinger’s plan leads to plans to break into the U.S. Gold reserve in Fort Knox. At the time of writing this I’m a few hours away from going to see Spectre, the 24th Bond film, the fourth starring Daniel Craig as agent 007, and the second to be directed by Sam Mendes, and despite some disappointed reviews I still can’t wait. I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool Bond fan, but I’ve seen all the films, own the DVD boxset of the first 21 and have Skyfall on Blu-Ray (I have no need for Quantum of Solace in my life). I don’t consider myself a fan because, although I’ve seen them all, many multiple times, most of them all kind of merge together in my memory. I can pick out elements of some, more often than not who the bad guy is, especially if it’s an actor I’m familiar with (Christopher Lee in The Man With The Golden Gun, Christopher Walken in A View To A Kill, Yaphet Kotto in Live and Let Die) and I’ve seen the ones that have been released since the 90s enough times to distinguish between them, but all the Connery, Moore and Dalton years just kind of blend. It doesn’t help that the last time I watched them all was seven years ago, when I watched the first twenty one, on my own, over the course of 9 days, playing them in the background whilst doing university work. All I can remember about this experience was that around the Octopussy and A View To A Kill hours I couldn’t bear the thought of watching another minute of Roger Moore trying it on and succeeding with a girl a third of his age. Needless to say, Moore is not my Bond. I grew up on the Pierce Brosnan years, so he was my first Bond. I’m also partial to Timothy Dalton’s more serious take (especially coming off Moore’s ridiculousness), would have liked to have seen George Lazenby actually get a chance to play Bond other than spending most of his film pretending to be someone else, and approve of the directions Daniel Craig has taken as a blend of pretty much every other Bond actor before him, but I think the hands-down best Bond will always be Sean Connery, and the film of his that I’ve always held as being my favourite film was always Goldfinger.
The thing that Connery does best is he always feels like he is in control of the situation. Even when he’s strapped to a table with a high-powered laser closing in on his double-oh and seven I still feel like he has the power in the scene, which is ridiculous, given he’s the only person in that scene strapped down and immobilised, who will imminently be singing soprano for the rest of his life, yet Connery sells it. He also has a knack for embracing how ridiculous some elements of Bond are, but playing them so straight that we can overlook them. Granted we’re now in a post-Austin Powers age, and Goldfinger was also released before Our Man Flint and the 1967 Casino Royale, both of which heavily parodied Bond and all the tropes within it, so back in 1964 what we would now consider comical clichés may have been seen as integral and important aspects of the film. I’m referring to things like Bond’s unfaltering ability to bed women within seconds of meeting them, or being issued with exactly the right gadgets he’ll need for the mission at hand, or using such bizarre equipment as a snorkel disguised as a seagull. At one point, early on, Bond realises a man is approaching from behind with intents to kill him by spotting a reflection in the eye of the girl he is currently kissing. It’s utterly ludicrous, but enjoyably so and somehow Connery sells it.
So what is it about Goldfinger that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack? It is, after all, the only Bond film other than Skyfall to appear on the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Well, I personally think it’s because Goldfinger is the most Bond film ever. It’s got every hallmark going. Firstly you’ve got the villain, a heavily accented multi-millionaire with an insane scheme that makes very little sense but has been planned out far in advance, allowing for every eventuality other than a British spy in the ointment. Said villain has a lavish lair complete with moving panels, hidden sliding floors, underground prison cells and scale models rising from unseen depths. He also has a henchman in the form of Oddjob (Harold Sakata, I implore everyone to head here to watch this video on him, it’s fascinating), who is both iconic in his appearance – a dapperly dressed yet very solidly built chap – and his choice of weaponry – his blade-rimmed bowler hat capable of decapitating a statue but only concussing a human. Oddjob is only comparable to Jaws (Richard Kiel, The Spy Who Loved Me & Moonraker) in terms of audience fanbase, with Jaws being the only henchman to return for a second film based on popular demand. I love Oddjob, but it’s clear Sakata wasn’t a great actor, but he didn’t need to be for this role. His character is mute, only required to make a guttural barking noise to gain attention, but he does need to be an imposing presence which, despite being 5′ 10″, he absolutely wad due to his inability to get hurt even when Bond was bashing him with metal bars. Plus, his hat weapon is, frankly, bonkers. Have you ever tried to throw a hat? They weren’t made for flying. Also, the notion that a brim only a couple of inches deep could cut the neck of a statue at least four or five inches in diameter with such a clean, straight cut is impossible. Yet for some reason I let this film get away with it.
As well as the villain and the henchman, Goldfinger follows the tradition of the Bond girls, and keeps them iconic too. The first we meet, and the first to be seduced by Bond despite him barging into her room and screwing up her job for her, meets a decidedly horrific end suffering from skin suffocation, being covered entirely in gold paint. It’s one of the more memorable images from a film full of them. A more memorable character however is the one played by Honor Blackman, continuing the tradition of ludicrous Bond girl names with one that has yet to be topped, Pussy Galore. Sure the likes of Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen, GoldenEye) and Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles, Moonraker) come close, but even they aren’t as blatantly on the nose as Pussy Galore, and it’s a name even Bond himself can barely take seriously, gleefully repeating it at any given opportunity. We also get the gadget-laden car (the Aston Martin DB5, complete with oil slicks, smoke screen, machine guns and ejector seat), Bond flirting with Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny, an internationally country-hopping plot taking in the likes of Florida and Geneva as well as Kentucky, and did I mention the scene where Bond is strapped to a table with a laser aimed at his balls? I did? Well then why are we even discussing this?
Re-watching this, Goldfinger is still great, but it’s not my favourite Bond film any more. That honour goes to one of the two Bond films I’ve now seen more than this one, Skyfall (the other being Casino Royale, because it’s always on TV and, whilst the poker scenes play out like an instructional video of escalating hand ranks, I rather enjoy that one too). Skyfall took most of the existing reasons I enjoy watching Bond films and put them in a really solid movie that also looked absolutely phenomenal, thanks to Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Goldfinger still holds up though, very much so, it just doesn’t have that moment where Bond jumps through a train he just ripped open with a digger and checks his cuffs before doing anything else.
Choose Film 8/10