In the words of Ab Fab’s Eddy and Patsy in the middle of a wine tasting: ‘this… this is the one.’ Or at least so everyone says.
Some might argue that this is more of the recognised opinion rather than one that anybody actually holds. Others would point out that this is the quintessential Bond and that all that follow are merely hollow copies. Let’s dive in (to this web of sin) and find out, shall we?
As with many Bond films, the story itself is often inconsequential and really just an excuse to hang together various set pieces. Bond has to follow Auric Goldfinger, who is definitely cheating at cards and possibly smuggling gold, to find out what’s really going on.
From that point it all gets a bit hazy, but Goldfinger’s grand plan to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox in order to increase the value of his own gold is still pretty inspired.
The good guys
Sean Connery returns as James Bond for a third time. He knows exactly what he’s doing and how to do it. He even makes a powder blue terry cloth playsuit look, if not exactly masculine, not totally ridiculous – which takes some doing.
Sadly what Bond doesn’t do this time is show any propensity for being a decent spy. He reveals himself at the earliest opportunity to Goldfinger and spends the entire final act in captivity. Hardly Her Majesty’s finest agent and definitely not a Secret one.
Felix Leiter skipped From Russia with Love but returns here, now played by Cec Linder. Again he’s not given much to do other than facilitate various shenanigans on American soil, and in unusual product placement for a Bond film, eat Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It’s business as usual in MI6 though, with Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn all back and working hard. Goldfinger sees Q reveal his gadget workshop for the first time and gives Bond his first Aston Martin DB5 – but we’ll get to that in more detail later. It’s also the first time we establish the Bond/Q dynamic which would become a cornerstone of the franchise.
The bad guys
At least as iconic as Blofeld in the Bond villain canon, Gert Fröbe plays Goldfinger with such a twinkle in his eye that it’s almost possible not to root for him by the time he gets sucked out an airplane window.
Aside from being a ruthless megalomaniac, he only displays two flaws. First, he doesn’t kill Bond when he has the chance – there really is little reason not to let that laser do its worst. And second, his mint julep is all wrong and for an aesthete such as Bond would be an insult. A mint julep is made with crushed ice, and traditionally served in a silver goblet – not in a Collins glass and apparently ice-free. We’d have forgiven him if he’d got everything right but used a gold goblet, however. It’d only be fair.
Played by Olympian and wrestling star Harold Sakata, Oddjob is the wordless henchman to end all wordless henchmen (sorry, Jaws). His razor-tipped top hat is just so plainly ridiculous that it goes right through and out the other side to become genuinely amazing.
It’s rather difficult, in the 21st Century, to see past how horrifically misogynistic it is to name your lead female character Pussy Galore. To add insult to injury, Pussy is openly a lesbian, who is then ‘turned’ once Bond forces himself upon her. Up until that moment we have a Bond girl who is age appropriate, never needs rescuing and is utterly uninterested in James Bond, not to mention some surprisingly positive LGBT representation in a mid-’60s movie. While Honor Blackman puts in a great performance, sadly these indefensible elements of the film overshadow her status as an iconic Bond girl.
Boasting arguably the most memorable Bond girl death of them all, Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson isn’t on screen for long, but the image of her painted gold is indelible.
Poor Tilly Masterson has a rough time in this film. Her sister has been killed, she’s trying to take out Goldfinger with her rifle and Bond decides to ‘help’ by recklessly destroying her car and then taking her out into the woods where she eventually meets her fate at the hands (and hat) of Oddjob.
A minor part maybe, but Margaret Nolan was not just Bonds masseuse Dink in Miami – she was also the gold body in advertisements and in the title sequence.
The best bits
He loves only gold
Skin suffocation may have been invented by Ian Fleming, and technically it would have been more sensible to paint Bond rather than Jill, but it sure as hell made for a fantastic reveal (and marketing image). Quantum of Solace paid homage by painting Agent Fields in oil and displaying her in a similar fashion.
The Aston Martin DB5
Complete with every trick in the book, including but not limited to the often imitated ejector seat, no Bond car has ever lived up to this one (except possibly the Lotus Esprit which can turn into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me) and no car has made quite so many reappearances.
Presumably continually repaired by Q branch, the DB5 also pops up in Thunderball, Skyfall and Spectre, and with different registrations in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Casino Royale.
The first properly bonkers Bond cold open. For one thing, why go to the trouble of swimming just below the surface with a seagull on your head when swimming deeper with no seagull would be far more stealthy? But then we don’t watch Bond for tips on how to be an effective spy.
Unzipping to reveal a pristine white tux is improbable, but cool (three words which would become the franchise’s mantra for the next four decades). However, using a woman as a human shield, even if there is a thug with a gun in the apartment, isn’t Bond’s most heroic moment.
Bond is handcuffed to a nuclear device and has no idea how to disarm it. Fortunately he’s stopped from cutting a random wire when a helpful CIA agent pops up to point to the off switch. Just in case we weren’t yet sure what film this was, the countdown stops at precisely 007. Let’s just quietly ignore Bond’s nonsensical ‘Three more ticks and Mr. Goldfinger would’ve hit the jackpot’ comment.
Shirley Bassey almost passed out when singing the title song as she tried to keep the final long note going to match the length of the credit sequence: “I was looking at John [Barry] and I was going blue in the face and he’s going, hold it just one more second.”
All Sean Connery’s US-set scenes were actually filmed in Pinewood Studios, London.
Until Monica Bellucci was cast in Spectre, Honor Blackman was the oldest ever Bond girl. She was also the first Bond girl to have had a prior acting career – in fact she quit TV’s The Avengers to star in Goldfinger.
Honor Blackman’s martial arts skills were specifically written into the script. Used to performing judo for The Avengers on concrete sets, the hay bales used in Goldfinger were considered a luxury.
Orson Welles was first choice to play Goldfinger but was too expensive.
Gert Fröbe (or his agent) lied about his English proficiency – his accent was so strong that he had to be dubbed. He then went on to dub his own voice for the German release.
Ian Fleming died just before the film’s release.
Goldfinger’s car has the license plate AU1 – Au is of course the periodic table symbol for gold.
Goldfinger is undeniably a fantastic action film. It’s also one of the most problematic films in the Bond canon in terms of 007’s treatment of women, with Bond dismissing Dink with the words ‘man talk’ as he slaps her arse and respect going downhill from that point.
To a certain extent the argument that it’s ‘of its time’ holds water but that doesn’t really help a modern audience warm to the lead character. Ignoring these elements may allow us to appreciate everything else – fantastical villains, beautiful locations, some incredibly ahead of their time gadgets (Bond’s car has GPS in 1964!) – but the dated attitudes simply do hinder enjoyment now.
James Bond will return in Thunderball.
What do you think of Goldfinger? Let us know below…