Growing up, Goldfinger was always that film my dad would go on about that he would always fall asleep in front of on Bank holidays or Christmas.
I never understood it myself, all the worship. All I could see was a glib Sean Connery spending literally half the film zwaggering around the villain’s palatial estate despite being a bloody prisoner.
My tiny, 8 year old brain just couldn’t fathom it, why wasn’t this smug idiot escaping? Schwarzenegger or Stallone or Ford would’ve fought their way out almost immediately, but not before slaughtering the villain and reshuffling his property into fiery rubble – but THIS guy? He wasn’t. He was just… enjoying himself.
And here we find ourselves to the secret behind Goldfinger’s legacy, the reason it’s been the go-to template for every Bond since and why it is to action movies what Halloween is to slasher flicks.
While swaning around Miami Beach in a truly ghastly sky-blue piece of poolside leisure wear, 007 finds that his next mission is spiteful bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger, whom Bond immediately pisses off by forcing him to lose a shitload of cash in a crooked card game and banging his ladyfriend. It’s hardly the sort of stealthy approach most people would try, but there you go. After his cheeky attempt to get under his target’s skin leaves the young woman murdered in the most protracted and iconic way possible (skin suffocation by gold paint because… I don’t know, bullets cost money?) Bond tracks Goldfinger and his mute Korean man servant Odd Job to Kent where he poses as a fellow dealer in gold and indulges his enemy in a high stakes game of golf (?). Goldfinger, rankled by losing out to Bond repeatedly, demonstrates how messing with him is seriously unwise thanks to his burly butler’s taste in lethal head gear (a steel rimmed bowler hat thrown with unerring accuracy) and leaves for Switzerland. Again Bond follows and, after some nasty business with the ill fated sister of the ill fated gold paint murder victim, eventually ends up a prisoner of Goldfinger at his ranch in Kentucky under guard by Goldfinger’s stern head pilot, the gloriously named Pussy Galore. Soon the gold dealer’s plan is revealed and Bond finds out that he plans to storm Fort Knox but not to rob it. A nuclear device is to set off in the vault; thereby dangerously irradiating the gold reserves and making them essentially unusable, simultaneously increasing the value of Goldfinger’s own reserves and giving the Chinese a foot hold in the ensuing chaos of the world’s economy.
Soon the plan is underway and Bond (who bizarrely has been brought along on this little jaunt instead of being left moldering and bullet-riddled in a shallow grave) strives to thwart it with the help of Pussy who has switched sides. Can Bond defuse a nuke, defeat the hulking Odd Job AND alert the CIA that this plot is unfolding right under everyone’s nose or will the greedy supervillain… get the gold?
While the previous Bond flicks were quite low budget affairs which stuck hard to the basic rules of the spy movie, Goldfinger (which had a budget of the previous two movies combined) seems to have little to no interest in keeping things even remotely subtle. The bombastic pre credits sequence, in which Bond reveals he’s sporting an unrumpled tux under his wetsuit, blows up a drug plant and casually electrocutes a man with a wry one liner, goes straight into the deafening WAH-WAH of Shirley Bassey’s timeless theme tune as a full on balls-to-the-wall statement of intent. Being James Bond is fucking AWESOME.
The film leads us willingly through the far more playboy-ish life of our lead than we’ve ever seen before, throughly removing the sense of danger that From Russia With Love had with it’s spy games and replacing it with a sheer sense of bravado that’s clung to character ever since. It’s no longer IF Bond can survive whatever fiendish attempts on his life occur, it’s now HOW does he survive. The threats mount (chiefly, the sheer unmoving physicality of Odd Job) but James feels no more in danger than a puppy in a disaster movie, fighting, shooting, blogging and, yes, fucking his way out of everything in his path with an amused smirk permanently plastered to his face as if he’s the only one in on the joke that he’s now become an unkillable cinematic demi-god. It should should any interest and tension stone dead and yet Connery, director Guy Hamilton and composer John Barry easily overcome this by making literally EVERYTHING ridiculously iconic. Not a single thing happens in this film that didn’t inspire hundreds of homages, ripoff, inspirations and blatant copy cats for decades to come and they come at a dizzying rate. The gadgets, Q, the Aston Martin (crashed surprisingly early) the villain, the female lead (note the school boy exuberance Connery brings to every time he says “Pussy”), the sets, the score, the one liners, the gimmicks, the creative kills, it’s all here, fully formed and virtually bloody perfect. Virtually…
The spectre (no pun intended – this is a rare Blofeld free Connery Bond) of what exactly was suitable “at the time” rears it’s head in Pussy’s change of allegiance after her physical and metaphorical roll in the hay with Bond. It never sat well with me way back then and it still doesn’t sit well with me now and probably never ever will (at best she’s no longer “frigid”, at worst he’s “cured” her of being gay) and whatever you take away from it, it kind of weakens such a strong female character that all her ideals (even if they are villianous) can be dropped because a man forced a kiss on her and it’s the only sour point in an otherwise flawless film.
Goldfinger isn’t a movie you watch, no that’s what Dr No’s for. Goldfinger is a film you experience. While you observe Bond, you BECOME him as you immerse yourself in his world where good guys win without barely putting a hair out of place and tyranny and out and out rotters are brought to heel with an outlandishly bizarre demise.
The one with the Midas touch indeed…