22
Apr
17

The Man with the Midas Touch (James Bond 3)

Goldfinger was the film that perfected the James Bond formula. The first two films developed it, but there were bits that were rough around the edges and pieces that were missing. It wasn’t until this third film that everything solidified into the quintessential formula. Filmed on a budget of $3 million, and raking in a whopping $125 million, the filmmakers quickly learned that the public loved this latest iteration, and they have rarely strayed from it since.

The behind-the-scenes history of the James Bond franchise is often more interesting than the films themselves. A few years earlier, when the filmmakers wanted to make Dr. No, they had originally attempted to lure Guy Hamilton into the director’s chair. Hamilton declined, and the producers went with Terrence Young instead. This was a huge benefit to the film series, as it was Young who taught Connery how to play Bond. Without that insight, who knows if the series would have been so popular?

When 1964 rolled in, and it was time to begin production on the third Bond film, Young and the producers disagreed over how he would be paid. The producers wanted him to have a salary as he did for the first two films, and Young wanted a share of the profits, as he knew the series was going nowhere but up. The producers held firm, and Young walked. It was only then they were able to get Hamilton into the director’s chair.

Hamilton had actually known Ian Fleming. They both worked for British Intelligence during World War II. While this is a convoluted and fascinating history, I don’t think their acquaintance or insider’s knowledge of the spy industry had much bearing on the film that was ultimately made. Goldfinger takes a less realistic turn than its immediate predecessor From Russia With Love, and veers into the larger-than-life fantasy that the series would embrace for decades to come.

The writing of the film was a recipe for disaster. The original novel had a gaping plot hole: Goldfinger planned to steal all the gold from Fort Knox, a feat which would be impossible to accomplish before being caught or killed by the authorities. There were three screenwriters, one of which was brought back a second time to revise the script after people had already changed what he wrote. Needless to say, the writing was messy, and perhaps doomed from the beginning. It’s a wonder that none of this shows in the finished product. In fact, the writing is one of the best parts of this movie.

The plot hole was fixed brilliantly by writer Richard Maibaum. He changed Goldfinger’s plan to involve him irradiating the gold, making it unusable, and therefore increasing the value of the gold he already possessed. This plot, while far-fetched, could plausibly occur. It still stands as the ultimate Bond villain plan, and has been recycled by the series several times since.

Goldfinger’s biggest gift to the series was the pre-title sequence. One was used in the previous film, but it was short, somewhat lackluster, and didn’t include the real James Bond. This one, however, went all-out. In fact, it’s the best part of the entire film. It is a five minute long, self-contained mission that has no bearing on the main plot. Bond infiltrates and destroys a drug laboratory in Latin America, casually ignores explosions while walking through a nightclub in his tuxedo, woos a girl, thwarts an assassin, and utters a quip after he kills the assassin. If you could distill the best of James Bond into a single scene, it would be this one.

Several other series staples originated here:

  • 1) Bond’s beloved Aston Martin DB5 became his go-to vehicle, and it contained plenty of deadly gadgets.
  • 2) A big, brassy opening theme song performed by a popular singer of the time. In this case it was Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger.” Her vocals are iconic, and it would be hard to think of a better opening number to a Bond film.
  • 3) Bond relies much more heavily on technology in this film than in any other, which of course is carried on throughout the series.
  • 4) A female companion whose name is a double-entendre. Here, that character is Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman.
  • 5) A strange and fearsome henchman for the villain. In this case, it is Oddjob, a stout Korean man with a bowler hat that can decapitate victims when thrown.

While all of the above additions seem ludicrous on their own, when put together in the Bond setting, they work extremely well. It’s a testament to how well written, directed, and acted Goldfinger is, that we can see such insanity in the film, and accept it without a second thought. Better than that, it adds to the appeal of the film. Without these things, it would simply be less interesting.

The history of this film is indeed fascinating. But we don’t watch movies simply to read about how they were made. We watch them to be entertained. Fortunately, Goldfinger is extremely entertaining. It’s a near-perfect film.

Bond travels to new destinations, going from Miami to England to Switzerland to Kentucky. The parts that were shot on location, most notably the Alps, were gorgeously captured. The cinematography is incredible. And when the characters move inside, to what are obvious sets, it is easy to get lost in wonder. Goldfinger’s lair is futuristic, and the interior of Fort Knox (which was dreamed up entirely from the filmmakers’ imaginations) is stunning. While I wouldn’t say it’s the most beautiful Bond film ever made, it is one of the most visually interesting.

With two movies under his belt, Connery is now completely comfortable in his starring role. He plays Bond with suaveness, charm, and an undercurrent of menace. He also plays the humor more tongue-in-cheek this time around. His humor in this movie is the style of humor that would solidify as the overall tone for the Bond series until the modern era. The important part here is that while it’s not a comedy, Goldfinger doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows when things are ridiculous, and can inject levity where necessary. However, it never mocks itself or pretends that there aren’t serious consequences for the characters.

Gert Frobe plays the villainous Goldfinger with aplomb. In the previous film, Red Grant was every bit Connery’s equal in physicality. But Goldfinger, while not a physical threat, was able to match Bond intellectually. He always seems to be one step ahead of the hero, and it isn’t until late in the film when Bond finally deduces what he’s up to. Frobe’s performance is quite memorable, and he will always be one of Bond’s best enemies. In fact, the two of them have the greatest exchange in series history:

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.

The rest of the cast is interesting, but nothing to really write home about. Oddjob is cool as a henchman, but he’s a one-note character. Pussy Galore is supposed to be Bond’s feminine equal, but she arrives late in the film, and I never found her betrayal of Goldfinger believable. And the American gangsters, well, the less said about them the better.

The only plot issue in the film comes during what would be yet another classic part of the series. Goldfinger gathers a group of gangsters together and explains his entire plan to them. He asks them who wants to join him. He then leaves the room and gasses them all. The only purpose this scene serves is to allow Bond (and the audience) to learn what he is really up to. Logically, this scene makes no sense. If he was going to kill them, why would he explain his entire plan to them first? Why not just kill them?

While From Russia With Love was frontloaded with plot and backloaded with action, Goldfinger is more balanced. The action scenes are interspersed at comfortable intervals throughout the film to keep it interesting. The highlight of the action is the car chase in which Bond deploys all sorts of traps from his Aston Martin like machine guns, oil slick, smoke-screen, and an ejector seat. It’s pretty fun to watch.

If this all seems a bit trite, you must remember that in 1964 none of this had been done before. People watching this movie were seeing all of these things for the first time. Today, we may find Bond’s car a cliché, but back then it was a revelation.

Yet another iconic scene is the death of Jill Masterson. Bond seduced her and she betrayed Goldfinger. Bond later returns to find her dead, naked, sprawled across a bed, and her entire body painted gold. It has since become a renowned image. It has been parodied many times, and was even recycled in Quantum of Solace, substituting gold for oil. As you can tell from the length of this post, Goldfinger is filled with iconic things.

The directing was solid. Hamilton filmed the movie with a sure hand. I don’t find Hamilton’s style quite as dynamic as Young’s had been. When you watch this movie, you can see subtle changes in the visual techniques used. But that comes with the territory any time a new director is chosen. Even so, the movie is expertly directed. Hamilton gives the film a more casual energy. His style is consistent, and he turns in a great film.

Not missing a beat, the producers licensed James Bond merchandise. Everything they could possibly think of was produced. Toy cars, action figures, lunch boxes, clothing, puzzles, trading cards, and board games were all created. Cross-promotion filled their coffers more, and the world told the producers they were hungry for anything and everything Bond.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Goldfinger was a massive success. Audiences around the world devoured it, and cinemas had to stay open 24 hours a day to accommodate everyone who wanted to see it. Critics loved it, too. It was the first Bond film to be universally acclaimed. The previous films had been taken to task for being too violent for the era. Modern reviewers still love it, and it sits high at a score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

It is because of this movie that the “spy boom” of the 1960s began. They are too numerous to count, but some noteworthy ones include The Saint (starring future Bond actor Roger Moore), The Avengers, The Man from UNCLE, and Our Man Flint. Later comedies such as Get Smart and Austin Powers have drawn on Bond for inspiration. Without Goldfinger, none of those would have been made. And even if they had been made, they would have been far different. It’s not a stretch to say that Goldfinger changed entertainment.

Goldfinger stands as the high-water mark for the series. The formula it created has become the template on which all other Bond films are made. As such, all other Bond films are compared to this one. Considering it is near perfection in almost every way, it is virtually impossible for any Bond film to be better. Goldfinger brought the Midas touch to the Bond series.

The spy genre can be a difficult one, that’s why it’s amazing this movie comes across so flawlessly. It represents how great a movie can be when all the components work. It deftly maneuvers between drama, action, suspense, and comedy. It has strong performances from its leads, a legendary main character, and an engaging storyline. The film is confident and never once falters. It is also incredibly fun to watch. Goldfinger is beloved by James Bond fans, and it should be a part of any serious film-lover’s collection.

Verdict: Awesome

My other James Bond posts:

From Russia with Love

Dr. No

Spectre

Skyfall

James Bond Pre-Title Sequences, Ranked

Movies > Books: Casino Royale

Bond…James Bond 15-22

Bond…James Bond 8-14

Bond…James Bond 1-7

 

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2 Responses to “The Man with the Midas Touch (James Bond 3)”


  1. June 14, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    So, Oddjob remains loyal and stops the other henchman from defusing the bomb, despite being apparently left to die by Auric. I just don’t get him. And what about that mysterious smile? What’s going on his head?


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