Our Word Is Our Bond returns, and today Ernie Magnotta gives his verdict on Goldfinger (1964) starring Sean Connery, Gert Frobe and Honor Blackman.
The term “game-changer” may have been invented after the 1964 release of the third James Bond classic, Goldfinger. Up to that point, the suave British superspy with a license to kill (expertly portrayed by Sean Connery) had already starred in two excellent films for Eon Productions, Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963), both of which were based on novels of the same name by the late, great Ian Fleming. The stylish, sexy and extremely entertaining films were a tremendous hit with audiences, so there was no doubt in the minds of Bond producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman that James Bond would return. However, even though they both wanted to make the best Bond yet, what the two producers hadn’t counted on was that secret agent 007’s groundbreaking third adventure would instantly propel the popular character into iconic status while, at the same time, becoming a cinematic blueprint which all future Bond films (and many future action films) would follow for years to come.
Starting with the exciting opening sequence, a “teaser” which has nothing to do with the rest of the film’s plot, Goldfinger establishes new styles that became mainstays of the enduring series. Other examples include the unforgettable opening theme song, a Bond girl named Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman), as well as incredible, almost over-the-top gadgets such as “the most famous car in the world”, a thoroughly modified Aston Martin DB5. All of these new additions to the series would be repeated with slight variations in each succeeding sequel.
The film itself, which revolves around agent 007(Connery)’s investigation of gold obsessed Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), a wealthy businessman who, with the help of his powerful henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata), plans to raise the value of his own fortune by contaminating all the gold in Fort Knox, was expertly written by Richard Maibaum (who penned thirteen of the first sixteen Bond films for Eon) and Paul Dehn (and was based on Fleming’s 1959 novel of the same name which the screenplay follows about seventy-five percent). Their classic and engrossing script is considered to be a textbook example of how to write a wholly effective action-adventure film.
Goldfinger, which was shot in England, the Swiss Alps, Kentucky and Miami, Florida, is superbly directed by Guy Hamilton (taking over for director Terence Young). Hamilton would go on to helm three more Bond adventures including 1971’s Diamonds are Forever which was originally planned as a sequel to Goldfinger. Hamilton, who was good friends with star Sean Connery, wanted to make Goldfinger bigger and a bit more fun than the previous two instalments. Along with high adventure (the opening teaser, Bond’s iconic battle with Oddjob), Hamilton not only perfectly balances elements of suspense (the legendary laser castration sequence), eroticism (a naked woman completely painted gold) and humor (a machine gun-toting old lady), but was also responsible for the casting of Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman and Harold Sakata. His marvelous shot where Goldfinger is almost killed by a mysterious woman while an oblivious 007 is caught in the middle is a well-crafted piece of pure cinema storytelling.
Goldfinger is also skilfully edited by the amazing Peter Hunt (who would go on to direct Bond #6: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and, like most of the early Bond films, benefits from Hunt’s fast cutting and does not contain one ounce of extraneous footage.
We also have some lovely cinematography by Ted Moore (who photographed seven Bond films in total) and awesome production design by the amazingly talented and Academy award-winning Ken Adam (whose mind-blowing sets graced seven of the first eleven Bond adventures). Adam not only completely created the breathtaking look of Fort Knox, but also Goldfinger’s deadly laser room and his fun, revolving rumpus room.
Taking the idea of From Russia With Love’s trick briefcase to a whole other level, Adam, along with special effects supervisor and Oscar winner John Stears (who worked his magic on six Bond films), also built the Aston Martin which included delightfully cool features such as built-in machine guns and an ejector seat on the passenger’s side (although the revolving license plates were the idea of Guy Hamilton who, at the time, wished his own car contained this feature because he kept receiving numerous parking tickets).
The highly memorable theme song was composed and conducted by the legendary John Barry (who also composed the film’s lovely soundtrack and scored eleven other Bond films). The Goldfinger song is belted out perfectly by the amazingly talented Dame Shirley Bassey (who would go on to sing the title tracks to Bond #7: Diamonds Are Forever and #11: Moonraker). Bassey’s powerful voice brings the wonderfully catchy lyrics of Leslie Bricusse (who also wrote the title song for the fifth Bond adventure, You Only Live Twice) and Anthony Newley (who first recorded the Goldfinger song, but was replaced by Bassey) to life. Although Matt Monro sang the From Russia With Love theme in the previous film, it was a light, romantic song heard only in that movie’s closing minutes. With Goldfinger, we are treated (for the first time) to a booming, unforgettable title song (during the very visual opening credit sequence); a technique which was be repeated in every Bond film from this point on.
Filling in for Maurice Binder (who created the incredible opening credits of fourteen Bond films as well as creating the iconic gun barrel sequence), graphic artist Robert Brownjohn (returning from the previous Bond) not only contributed Goldfinger’s mesmerizing credits, but the film’s classic ad campaign as well.
What more can be said of Sir Sean Connery’s brilliant interpretation of promiscuous, vodka martini-drinking, Walther PPK-carrying MI6 agent James Bond? There’s not much I can add, but I will say that the multi-talented actor’s performance is not only iconic, but, as much as I love all the Bond actors (especially Roger Moore), has yet to be topped. Connery has stated that one of the main reasons he became so identified with the role was because he played the reality of every scene. The legendary actor played 007 as tough, but cool and always witty, in six Eon productions. Connery returned to the role for the seventh and final time in the Warner Bros. one-shot Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again (1983).
Although he spoke little English and had to be dubbed by Michael Collins, German actor Gert Fröbe shines as the megalomaniacal Auric Goldfinger (a role sought after by both Theodore Bikel and Titos Vandis). His classic line “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” is just one of many memorable moments in the film and the larger than life, brilliant character is considered to be one of 007’s greatest villains.
The beautiful Honor Blackman, star of TV’s The Avengers, is likeable, tough and extremely capable as Goldfinger’s personal pilot and main Bond girl Pussy Galore (the character’s moniker was the one that really started the tradition of Bond girls’ names being sexually suggestive).
Olympic weightlifter and professional wrestler Harold Sakata, aka Tosh Togo, is believably intimidating as Goldfinger’s silent, but deadly assistant, the bowler hat throwing Oddjob. Sakata’s Oddjob is one of the best (if not the best) and most remembered of the Bond henchmen.
After Goldfinger murdered her by completely covering her in gold paint (which is one of the most striking images in the film), gorgeous golden girl Shirley Eaton (playing the character of Jill Masterson) became an international icon (although, model Margaret Nolan, who plays Dink early in the film, appeared covered in gold in not only all of the Goldfinger promotional material, but in the opening credit sequence as well).
Rounding out the cast, Tania Mallet is appropriately cold and angry as Jill’s vengeful sister, Tilly Masterson; Cec Linder becomes the second in a long line of actors to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter following actor Jack Lord who first essayed the role in Dr. No and, to our great delight, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell all return as Bond’s endearing “family”: M, Q and Miss Moneypenny, respectively.
Last, but not least, fans of the original Pink Panther series will recognize Cato himself, the great Burt Kwouk as an aid to Goldfinger’s mad plan. Kwouk would go on to appear (in different roles) in You Only Live Twice as well as the 007 spoof Casino Royale (both 1967).
Made for only $3 million (the combined budgets of the first two films), Goldfinger, which appealed to children as well as adults, went on to gross almost $125 million and quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. Bond-mania had begun as a merchandising boom which consisted of action figures, lunch boxes, puzzles, games and toy cars flooded stores around the globe.
The sexy, exciting, exquisite-looking, well-structured, lean, fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek, fun, engaging and top-notch (on every level) film was the biggest of the first three Bonds and holds the record as the fastest grossing movie of all time. Without a doubt an event film, Goldfinger, with its outstanding craftsmanship as well as its many new additions to the 007 formula, forever changed the Bond series as well as the future of action cinema in general, and is considered by many (including myself) to be the best of the Bonds.
MoM Rating: 10/10