RECAP: Goldfinger

Goldfinger (1964): Guy Hamilton

Still the-ahem-GOLD standard of James Bond movies, the third Bond movie in as many years catapulted the character and its star into icon status. If From Russia with Love left any doubt, Goldfinger erased thoughts that Bond would fade in years to come.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: James Bond counters a gold-mad villain named Goldfinger, a man determined to nuke the bulk of America’s gold supply. 

Hero (3/10)

James Bond (Sean Connery) was promised to return for Goldfinger, and he does just that. Bond slides into the groove in his third cinematic adventure that defines the series. Goldfinger might be the third Bond movie, but it’s the first “Bond Movie.”

Bond opens the film in silence, breaking into and destroying a weapons factory in an unnamed city on a unnamed continent. He spends the evening making it with a hotel belly dancer, and we learn a lot about Bond in this moment. While lounging in his room, she asks him why he always carries a gun. “I have a slight inferiority complex,” he says.

In Bond’s hotel room lurks a would-be assassin armed with a club. Bond, who is kissing the dancer, spots the goon reflected in the dancer’s eye. Bond turns the woman, so she receives the blow from the club. After a brief fight, the goon ends up in the bathtub. He sees Bond’s holstered gun dangling from the wall and struggles to grab it. Bond reacts quickly, knocking a heater into the water-filled tub. Water conducts electricity very well, right into the body of the flailing goon, who dies. Bond’s thought on the matter: “Shocking.”

So yeah, this Bond is losing some respect for women, or dames, as he would call them in the 1960s, letting one take a blow meant for him. Whether he suspected her or not in letting the goon enter the hotel room is left unsaid. Later, Bond dismisses a masseuse named Dink with a spank, telling he it’s time for “man talk.” This is a Bond movie, so she has to be cool about it. Later, Bond is instrumental in the death of Jill and Tilly Masterson (Shirley Eaton and Tania Mallet) . Yes, Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) had these sisters killed, but Bond wasn’t exactly heroic in his treatment of them.

Bond uses a hotel maid to enter Goldfinger’s suite in Miami, and I mean he literally uses her, taking a keychain attached to her person and dragging the poor woman to the door to unlock it. He destroys Tilly’s car in Switzerland because he wants to get laid.

Bond is so retrograde in his treatment of women that it affects his work. While stalking Goldfinger’s Switzerland plant one night, he spots Tilly creeping through the woods, eager to snipe Goldfinger to avenge her sister. Bond interrupts her, and the ensuing struggle causes Tilly’s rifle to trip a perimeter wire, alerting the guards in the plant. Had Bond done nothing she might have survived and he might have kept his cover. Instead she died and he was captured and nearly killed.

So what if she killed Goldfinger? It’s not like Oddjob (Harold Sakata) was going to pick up the slack and complete Operation Grand Slam. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) didn’t care enough. The American mobsters didn’t know what the plan was. Goldfinger’s scheme would have died with him.

Bond is so woman blind that he can’t pick up on the key, unsaid fact of Goldfinger: the female lead is a lesbian. Pussy says she’s “immune” to Bond’s charm, and he doesn’t get what that means. Later, the pair literally roll in the hay, as Pussy shows off her judo skills. Bond gains the upper hand, mounting her and (nearly? actually?) raping her. Pussy struggles against the kiss she knows is coming. The music swells as if they are destined lovers, and Pussy sort-of relents to a kiss before the movie cuts away.

James Bond literally cannot fathom a woman who wouldn’t want him. No mainstream movie in 1964 would dare come out and call a lead actor gay, but that’s what the script hints at. Bond represents Britain’s old guard in so many ways, and disbelief of homosexuality is one of them.

How about Bond’s spy skills? Well, they suck. He’s caught early and almost dies. Bond probably never comes closer to death in any of his movies then he does when strapped to Goldfinger’s laser table. In one of the series’s most famous scenes, Bond asks, “Do you expect me to talk?” “No Mister Bond,” Goldfinger answers, “I expect you to die.”

Bond spends the second half of Goldfinger in the villain’s company, buying time until he can learn about Operation Grand Slam and negate it. Bond tries to contact the CIA about Grand Slam, but his note is intercepted, so to speak, and destroyed before contact is made.

We assume that Bond convinces Pussy to switch out the nerve gas canisters with inert gas, which allows the American soldiers to survive that attack and foil Goldfinger’s plan, but we only have his word on that.

Villain (6/10)

Gert Frobe famously saw his performance dubbed. The native German sounded so poor in English that his lines were unusable. Why producers did not catch this with an audition is beyond me. Nevertheless, Frobe surely found it strange to see himself but hear the voice of stage and TV actor Michael Collins. They did a good job melding the two. If you don’t pay close attention you won’t suspect dubbing.

Goldfinger is a man obsessed with gold. You don’t need dubbing to discern this. Perhaps you listened to the opening theme song (another series staple spawned in this movie), when Shirley Bassey croons again and again, “He loves gold, only gold.” His entire persona revolves around gold. He wears gold (or yellow) clothes. His car is yellow painted and literally made of gold (to smuggle across borders). His associates are (mostly) blonde. He kills a woman by painting her to death, in gold. His name is Auric.

He loves gold…only gold. He loves GOLD!

So it’s no surprise that he wants to break into Fort Knox’s gold depository, the world’s largest. More than $15 billion in gold, the bulk of the American holdings, sits in a vault beneath Kentucky’s famed blue grass hills.

Dubbed Operation Grand Slam, the plan is the most ambitious in criminal history. Goldfinger lays out his philosophy to the American mobsters he’s contracted to help him. He compares his plan to blasting rockets to space and splitting the atom.

“Man has climbed Mount Everest,” Goldfinger says, “gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor… except crime!” He calls his plan, to which he’s devoted 50 years of his life, “foolproof.”

So you know it will go wrong. Thing is, you don’t know what his plan is. Bond is wise enough to figure out what Goldfinger’s up to. He brainstorms with the villain late in the film, explaining that he did some math, and it would take several days to steal all the gold in Fort Knox. “Who mentioned anything about removing it?” Goldfinger asks with a smirk.

Bond thinks about it. Astonished, he apologizes. Goldfinger plans to break into Fort Knox not to steal the gold, but to destroy it. Working with China, Goldfinger has smuggled a nuclear device, as he calls it, into America. Using nerve gas to incapacitate the tens of thousands of soldiers surrounding the depository, Goldfinger will enter the vault and detonate the nuke, which will irradiate the entire gold holdings for 57 years. “Fifty-eight, to be exact,” Goldfinger corrects Bond.

Goldfinger, as we learned earlier, has stockpiled gold for years, moving it around the world in ways the British have yet to learn. (He melts it and melds it to his car.) With billions of dollars off the market, the value of all gold, including Goldfinger’s gold, will increase, by ten times, Goldfinger estimates.

This really is a great idea. The other part of the plan is lunacy. To buy time to enter the depository, Goldfinger relies on his personal pilot Pussy Galore and her Flying Circus of trained pilots. These pilots will fly above the town and disperse delta nine nerve gas, knocking out everyone for at least an hour. That’s all the time Goldfinger needs to land the nuke, arm it, and fly away.

The problem is the gas. How can they have enough gas to knockout 50,000+ people through the air? That’s not explained, but the quantities must be as overwhelming as stealing $15 billion worth of gold would be.

Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus

The gas seems not to concern Goldfinger. What concerns him is Bond. Goldfinger captures Bond sniffing around his operations in Switzerland and is set to kill him in the most famous of all cinematic torture scenes. Goldfinger has Bond strapped to a table of gold. Above him is an industrial laser. The laser beam heats up, slicing through the metal and inching its way toward Bond’s groin.

Bond, nervous, tries to babble his way to safety. He mentions Grand Slam, and Goldfinger correctly deduces that Bond probably overheard someone say those words, and he couldn’t possibly know what they mean. Bond asks if Goldfinger can take that chance. Goldfinger says he can’t, and he cuts off the laser.

This is concerning. Bond also stated that everything he knew MI-6 also knew. So if Goldfinger killed Bond or let him live made no difference, MI-6 already knew everything Bond knew to that point, as far as Goldfinger knows. So killing Bond would help Goldfinger evade MI-6, at least until 008 came aboard. He should have killed Bond. (Sure, every villain should kill their nemeses, but Goldfinger had a rare case of giving up because he was worried about what someone else knew, not anything the hero did to extricate themselves from the trouble.)

My favorite Goldfinger moment occurs after his plan is upset by the American troops. Goldfinger strips to a fake colonel’s uniform–his escape plan–and draws out a pistol. He shoots his Chinese co-conspirator, and orders American soldiers as if their boss. But, such is Goldfinger’s love of gold, that his pistol is colored gold. No colonel would carry a gold pistol, and he would be discovered immediately if anyone noticed it, and they would, because it’s a gold gun. Goldfinger couldn’t help himself.

Action/Effects (7/10)

After Bond upsets Tilly Masterson’s attempt to avenge her sister, the two are chased through the woods surrounding Goldfinger’s Switzerland factory. Luckily Bond brought his tricked out Aston Martin, a car stuffed with gadgets we expect to see used.

Bond, driving, is chased by two, possibly three cars, each with two gunners hanging out the side and firing at the car. The Aston Martin’s bulletproof glass is doing its job, so far, but they need to evade the gunners.

Bond fires the smoke screen, and smoke billows behind, cloaking the cars in pursuit. One driver loses control and smashes his car into a tree. The other car escapes and keeps shooting. Bond tries the oil slick, and red, arterial oil sprays from the rear light, as if the car’s alive but bleeding fast.

The oil sends a car careening down a hill and exploding. Ka-POW; that was a big blow up. But the chase is not over. The first car, or perhaps another car, is back, its occupants shooting. Bond’s had enough. He stops the car and activates the rear bulletproof shield, a metal grate covering the rear glass. He opens the door, hides behind it, and fires, covering for Tilly as she dashes into the woods.

Well, Oddjob makes quick work of this. He sends his murder hat whooshing into the night. Tilly topples, dead. Bond witnesses the effects of his tactics before going away to be strapped to a laser table.

The laser cutting scene is the movie’s best scene, and one of the series’s most famous. Goldfinger’s “No Mister Bond, I expect you to die,” line is classically villainous. The sound of the metal melting, the laser’s “woo woo” sound, and Bond sweating out getting his dick lasered off are all indelible images.

Sidekicks (4/8)

Felix Leiter returns (different actor, though) as a CIA agent. Felix does little to aid Bond until the end, when he’s able to relay Bond’s information to the Army, and help Pussy change the gas canisters meant to knock out the town.

Goldfinger is notable for its introduction of Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and Q branch. Q appeared in From Russia with Love, but he’s upgraded in Goldfinger. This Q is surly, annoyed that he must give his precious gadgets to Bond. He asks that Bond try to bring back all the tech in one piece this time, a theme throughout the series.

It’s Q who delivers copious pieces of tech that will help save Bond’s life. Q describe and Bond uses a magnetic homing device to track Goldfinger’s car across Switzerland, and a miniature version Bond places in his shoe. Q also spends much time on the Aston Martin DB-5 and all its accoutrement, which you know will come in handy. Boy, does it.

Henchmen (8/8)

Silent, smirking, bulky, dapper–these are words to describe the all-time best Bond henchman, Oddjob. The Korean bodyguard/assassin/caddy to Goldfinger, Oddjob speaks only once in Goldfinger, when he barks words at the blue-clad guards in Goldfinger’s employ. Otherwise he says nothing.

Oddjob’s crushing a golf ball with his hand.

Oddjob is famous for his razor sharp top hat, which he first displays for Bond by decapitating a marble statue with it. Later, he crushes a golf ball with his hand. Still later, Oddjob receives the task of killing one of the mobsters who backed out of Operation Grand Slam. Oddjob, ostensibly escorting the man to the airport with $1 million in gold in the trunk, turns off the road and shoots the man. Oddjob then drives to a scrap yard, where we watch a long scene in which the car, and the body and gold inside, are compacted into a cube of metal small enough to be driven back to Goldfinger’s ranch by Oddjob.

Oddjob does all this dressed immaculately. He’s a classic henchman, in that he is an extension of his master’s will. Oddjob knows that he will die in Operation Grand Slam, and not only does that not bother him, he kills a man who it does bother. Here’s a guy who can take a gold brick to the chest and smile about it.

The other henchman is actually, gasp, a woman. Pussy Galore leads a batch of pilots set to gas the town and base surrounding Fort Knox’s gold depository. In Pussy’s first appearance she introduces herself, to which Bond responds that he must be dreaming. I’m sure many a moviegoer felt the same way in 1964.

Pussy Galore

Pussy is Goldfinger’s personal pilot, the best in the business. With golden locks and cropped riding pants, she won’t bow to your patriarchy, man. Her skills on the ground are solid. She twice takes Bond to the ground with her judo moves (which Blackman showcased on The Avengers TV show).

But it’s Pussy’s aerial skill that earns her money. She flies the helicopter carrying the nuclear device to Fort Knox. She flies Goldfinger’s personal jet. She doesn’t know much about guns, as Bond points out when she points a gun at him so powerful that it would shoot a bullet through him and the fuselage of the jet. Goldfinger does exactly this later, and he’s sucked out of the jet for it.

Goldfinger‘s lasting impact stems from these two henchmen. They are foils for each other, without knowing and rarely appearing in a scene together. If they made a sequel to Goldfinger, I’d rather Pussy and Oddjob star. They are not only two of the Bond series’s favorite villains, but two of cinema’s.

Stunts (3/6)

After Bond gets Tilly killed, he’s escorted to the Switzerland factory. For some insane reason they let him drive his own car, though a blue-and-gold-clad goon rides pistol (not shotgun, because he’s carrying a pistol). This is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve seen in the Bond franchise.

Bond drives toward the factory. The convoy stops at a road gate, operated by an old lady. This funny moment seems like it should be cut, but hang on, it pays off.

The convoy turns right, but Bond speeds away left. He flips up the cap on the gearshift and presses the red ejector seat button. Earlier, Bond scoffed at such an idea. Now it might save his life. The roof pops off and the gun-toting goon flies out.

Now there’s chaos. All these guards are wondering what to do. Bond drives through them but hits no one. The old lady operating the gatehouse comes out with a machine gun and lays down hell fire on Bond’s car, which is taking quite the beating tonight.

Bond’s forced onto the factory grounds. He takes corners quickly, sliding around them and knocking over crates, boxes, canisters, whatever’s on hand. Pursuit cars zoom around the compound. Bond evades them, until he turns down an alley and spots a car zooming toward him.

Bond plays chicken with the approaching car and loses. He swerves his car into a brick wall at the last moment. Oddjob shows up to capture Bond and reveal that the car Bond thought was a car was actually a reflection of his car. The implication is clear–only Bond could defeat Bond.

Crates getting crushed.

Terrific driving on backlots led to a fast-paced sequence.

Climax (4/6)

Climax indeed. Ha. Bond would get it.

Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus blankets the town in knockout gas, in a terrific sequence of flying, overheads of Kentucky, and dozens of extras dropping at the snap of fingers. Thousands of people out cold as Goldfinger’s men drive to the gold depository’s gates.

But it was all a ruse.

What I didn’t understand about the Army’s plan was why they chose to wait for the nuke to activate before attacking. I guess they wanted to be sure the “device” as Goldfinger calls it was in place, killing two birds with one stone, if you will. That’s all that makes sense, but it’s quite dangerous to do so.

Once it’s activated the troops snap into action. They slowly creep toward the depository as Goldfinger snaps into action. Bond, wearing a tux, is handcuffed to the device as both are lowered to ground floor of the vault. Goldfinger, to his credit, does not take a gold bar as a souvenir.

Troops faking it.

When the shooting starts Goldfinger enacts his escape plan. He closes the vault, locking Oddjob, Bond, and a random goon inside, and changes into a US Army uniform. He draws a gold gun and emerges into the firefight. He first shoots the Chinese nuclear scientist who activated the bomb, then gives orders to the Americans storming the compound. When their backs are turned he shoots them with a machine gun.

Bond, locked inside with thousands of gold bars and minutes to deactivate the nuke, works the bomb. There’s little he can do, since he’s still cuffed to it. Since the vault is closed, one of the goons wants to shut off the device. Oddjob, committed to his work, chases him and throws him over a ledge. He falls 40 feet to his death. Bond realizes this man has the keys to the cuffs. He jimmies the bomb toward the body and unlocks the cuffs before Oddjob can get to him.

Oddjob throws his hat at Bond but misses, although it cuts some wires running up the wall. Keep that in mind. Soon Bond and Oddjob face each other on the floor, ready to do battle. Bond strikes first, throwing a gold brick at Oddjob, The thing bounces off Oddjob like a ball thrown by a child. This will be an uphill climb for Bond.

What’s happening outside the vault? The troops are slowly working their way to kill some bad guys. Goldfinger’s men retreat into the vault’s antechamber, shooting backward. It’s a long time before any American has the presence of mind to toss a grenade in there.

Bond and Oddjob, having thrown their items at each other, must fight. Oddjob is game; Bond is worried, but duty calls. Bond leaps into a headlock. Oddjob lifts and throws Bond into a wall. Get ready for a lot of that. Bond attacks with a wood pole, which Oddjob chops in half. He grins.

Bond is thrown and slides on the floor. Is it often waxed? Bond takes a metal lever and swings at Oddjob. This Oddjob cannot chop in half. But he does duck it and easily disarms Bond of it. Bond is tossed into another wall. They are really exploring the space.

Oddjob chops Bond in the kidneys, and it nearly kills him. Another chop to the gut and slide across the floor places Bond near the wire cut earlier by the razor hat. Bond takes the hat, and Oddjob drops his smile. They circle each other. Bond forehands the hat toward Oddjob.

Now, I play a lot of disc golf. Forehanding a shot is not a good way for a rookie thrower to accurately fire a disc. No wonder it misses, lodging in a metal bar protecting the gold. Oddjob’s smile is back. He walks to the hat, and as he touches it Bond does another floor slide–he must practice that to do it so well–and grabs the live wire earlier cut by the hat, touching it to the metal and shocking Oddjob. Having used the “shocking” one-liner earlier in the movie, Bond tells his compatriots later that he “blew a fuse.”

Shocking.

Let’s get back to that nuke. Bond spends a lot of time bashing the box with gold, struggling to open it. He notices  others streaming into the vault, as the American soldiers have opened the vault and the bad guys are retreating into it.

Bond finally gets the device open and quails at its gears and wires. He has no idea what to do. The camera dashes from rotating doohickey to blinking thingamajig to wrapped whats-its. Then, just as he’s about to tear apart some wires, a man previously unseen interrupts, his hand entering the frame to turn a switch, deactivating the nuke at–007 ticks. Get it, cuz he’s 007?

Ha.

The scale of the finale earn most of the marks. Goldfinger does escape and nearly kills Bond in his jet, but an ill-advised shot blows a hole in the fuselage and Goldfinger is sucked out of it. Bond and Pussy parachute from the jet moments before it explodes.

Jokes (4/4)

Naming a character Pussy Galore is all I need to award maximum points.

Setting (4/4)

With an even larger budget, Eon Productions bounced Bond across the globe. Bond shows up at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, and overhead shots establish that this was so. (Never mind that only one of the actors was actually at the hotel.)

Bond drives around Switzerland’s beautiful winding roads, following Goldfinger. This is all the footage you need to book your next vacation for Switzerland.

A classic pairing of golfer and caddie.

The important parts of the movie occur in Kentucky, of course. The US Army actually allowed the film crew to fly over Fort Knox, though when the flyers dropped below the agreed upon altitude floor, the Army was incensed. Those overhead shots of Kentucky are real.

The inside of the gold depository is not. No one was allowed any access to the gold, and for good reason. If someone actually wanted to steal gold from Fort Knox, watching clips of Goldfinger would be the only way to figure out how aside from unearthing the original blueprints. Instead the set designers made up everything. The real place probably doesn’t have gold bars stacked on gold bars in plain view like it’s El Dorado, but the movie set does, and it’s all the more memorable for it.

Some shots from the depository.

Fight coordinators allow Bond and Oddjob to really explore the space in their climactic fight, and I came away thinking that the US government knows how to wax its floors. Bond was sliding all over them.

Goldfinger doesn’t feature splashy beaches or ancient monuments, but it makes up for it in stacks and stacks of gold. No other Bond movie features that, and that sets it apart.

Commentary (0/2)

There’s people out there who love gold.

Sure are, and that’s all Goldfinger has to say about the world. You must admire the filmmakers for NOT inserting Bond into the Cold War. I know that was more a Soviet Union vs. United States thing, but the Brits were certainly involved.

A, not The, man with the golden gun.

Goldfinger started filming in 1964, a couple months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the human race ever came to nuclear war. There is a nuke in the movie, but the Chinese supply it. The movie even visits famously neutral Switzerland. Don’t accuse this movie of making political statements; that’s fine that it doesn’t.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

Goldfinger has two diametrically opposed ideas about women. Bond is prehistoric in his treatment of and confidence in women. He helps get two of them killed because he believes them incompetent. He doesn’t realize Pussy is (probably) gay. He lets a woman get clubbed nearly to death in his hotel room.

However, the movie is pretty woke about its female characters. Pussy Galore is Goldfinger’s personal pilot. Her Flying Circus is all female. It’s Pussy who changes the gas canisters, allowing the Americans to win the day. Bond does nothing, literally nothing, as far as we see, to foil the plan.

“Man talk.”

These opposites put me in a bind, so I cut the score in half.

Others

  • I love the “whoosh” the killer hat makes. It’s almost its own character.
  • I love the “woo woo woo woo” sound the laser makes.
  • We finally get the answer to what was on everyone’s mind in the ’60s, what does Bond think of The Beatles? He says that to drink Dom Perignon above 38 degrees is like listening to The Beatles without earmuffs. In other words, both things suck to do.
  • “I’m Pussy Galore,” is one of those statements you never expect to hear in life.

Summary (42/68): 62%

The Canon Bond, the Bond to End All Bonds, the ne plus ultra Bond; call it what you will, Goldfinger set the standard for Bond movies and nearly all spy movies to come. Goldfinger deserves mention alongside Citizen Kane, Star Wars, Psycho, and others as one of the most influential movies ever made.