Thursday, March 15, 2012

Goldfinger (1964) - Bond as Damsel in Distress

The Best of the Bonds!

Goldfinger original poster
"Goldfinger" (1964).
"Goldfinger" (1964) is a classic tale of the adventures of British secret agent James 007 Bond (Sean Connery). Directed by Guy Hamilton for Eon Productions, the company of Canadian Harry Saltzman and American Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli, it set the standard for action/adventure crime thrillers that the first two films in the series had established confirmed and enlarged a franchise that will outlast us all. German actor Gert Frobe played the title character, a villain obsessed with gold. In brief, the film covers the attempt by Goldfinger, who is obsessed with gold, to corner the market on that precious metal. 

Goldfinger Shirley Eaton
Shirley Eaton being painted gold (David Hurn).
It is up to James Bond to try and stop him on behalf of the British Secret Service. Some of my earliest memories involved a product from this film, a toy remote-control Aston Martin that was probably the coolest gift of my childhood. The franchise, if anything, grows stronger with the years. It moved the franchise into the cultural mainstream that was just on the verge of recognizing fashionable London and cool sports cars and outlandish gadgets. One could say that it (along with the Beatles and many other factors) helped open up the cultural possibilities that blossomed in 1965-1967.

Goldfinger original poster

If you had to pick out one thing about this film, it is that it is visually striking. In my humble opinion, that is what makes a great film - it is a visual medium, after all. You need a variety of colorful, dramatic scenes, or mundane scenes made exciting by the story. Here, we have the exotic - Fort Knox - and the mundane - a golf course, a car crusher - each used in such a way as to provide the variety and intrigue that makes for a visual feast.

Goldfinger Gert Frobe
Gert Frobe as Goldfinger, cheating at cards.
Good visuals are just the beginning of a great film, though. There must be a great story that provides something unusual. Here, we have James Bond, the archetypal spy/assassin, essentially playing the damsel in distress. Watch the movie and see. Who gets terrorized by having his associates killed and their remains left as a deadly threat? Who almost gets that unkindest of cuts from a massive, phallic laser until he cajoles his way out of it? And speaking of phallic, the film's title is easy to interpret in a suggestive way.

Goldfinger Shirley Eaton
Behind the scenes of Goldfinger (David Hurn).
Who has powerful males continually trying to intimidate and use him as their tool? Who winds up essentially tied to the train tracks as the on-rushing train is only seconds away and is saved by another man? Who even winds up having as his love interest a delightful-looking lesbian? The classic end line - "I must have appealed to her maternal instincts" - winds it all up.

Harold Sakata Goldfinger
Harold Sakata as Oddjob.
It is this sort of going-against-type that elevates the film to classic status. We've seen the tough-guy thing in too many movies (the trend now is over-the-top tough-girl movies and that is getting boring, too). A vulnerable Bond who does NOT wind up saving the day, but still manages to appear heroic throughout and ultimately does prove his manhood, now that is the foundation of a classic tale, because invulnerability is silly and pretentious, overcoming vulnerability and doing it with good grace and humor the stuff of legend.

Honor Blackman Goldfinger
Honor Blackman: "You have nothing I want."
Gert Frobe made his (English-speaking) career with the one immortal line "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" Harold Sakata, as "Oddjob," is the classic henchman of the entire Bond series.  He accomplishes more with a glower and his deliberate gait than other actors manage with five pages of dialog.  He was a star weightlifter prior to acting, and it shows. Honor Blackman shows enough studied ambivalence as an ice princess in so many ways that she keeps us - and Bond - guessing right up until the end.

Margaret Nolan Binky Goldfinger
"Binky" didn't say much, but then, she didn't have to.
Sean Connery - when people say he was the best Bond, I think many are thinking of this film. He looks much better here than in the earlier films and keeps the irony from getting out of hand in his one-liners as tends to happen in the later ones. This is his best film, and that covers a lot of ground.

Honor Blackman Goldfinger
"Who are you?" "My name is P Galore." "I must be dreaming."
Honor Blackman quit her role in "The Avengers" to star in this film. She holds her own against Sean Connery and continued the trend of menacing older women begun in "From Russia With Love." The barn scene between her and Scene Connery is a classic.

Goldfinger Sean Connery Shirley Eaton
Sean Connery with the golden girl.
One of the notable aspects of this film is the number of women who appear briefly but were featured heavily in advertising.  Do you know who Margaret Nolan was? Probably not. She had a tiny role as Bond's masseuse, Binky, and was onscreen for a matter of seconds. She appeared everywhere in the promotion of the film, however.

Goldfinger Shirley Eaton
Shirley Eaton applying the final touches for her big scene (David Hurn).
The famous "golden girl" Shirley Eaton, the one who as helping Goldfinger cheat at cards but then got distracted by Bond and made Goldfinger lose, likewise appeared only briefly. She plays Jill Masterson, Goldfinger's secretary. However, Shirley Eaton lives on in film history as the girl who meets her demise by being painted gold and left on her bed.

Sean Connery Goldfinger
Sean Connery in command.
"Goldfinger" rightly lives on as a fan favorite. It has been caricatured here and there, perhaps most amusingly in the 1967 "Casino Royale" parody, but holds up well. The key is the dapper Sean Connery, who fit his role perfectly. The Bond cars, which figured prominently but not overwhelmingly in the first two James Bond films, really became iconic with the Aston Martin DB-5 in "Goldfinger." It was such a good-looking car with so many fancy gadgets that every boy wanted to own a replica of it.

Sean Connery Goldfinger
This is the classic Bond.
The theme composed by John Barry and sung by Shirley Bassey was a big hit and helped establish the Bond theme songs as huge opportunities for major recording artists. After this, singers at the tops of their game such as Tom Jones, Paul McCartney and Duran Duran would jump at the chance to do a Bond theme song and live on in Bond immortality. Unfortunately, many original ingredients of the storyline have been so over-used in subsequent films, such as the gadgets and the eccentric henchman and the campy tone - that the film can come off as less than it is. Don't be fooled - this is one of the classics of the last half of the 20th century in terms of cultural impact and pure entertainment value.


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