Welcome to my review of Goldfinger, the third part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. Over the course of the next couple of months, I’ll be watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my previous review, From Russia With Love, here. Spoilers follow.
(dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
Well, that’s this challenge finished, right? Goldfinger is the definitive Bond film—everyone says so. It’s got Sean Connery, it’s got Q and the cool car, it’s got the preposterous villain and a Bond girl called Pussy Galore, and it’s got Dame Shirley Bassey wailing out the theme song over the opening credits. I might as well pack up and watch something else now.
Except… I’m not looking for the definitive Bond film. I’m looking for my favourite Bond film, and awesome though Goldfinger is, I’m not sure it ranks in the number one spot.
As I said above, Goldfinger is a mightily good film. For a start, SPECTRE are nowhere to be seen, which means that the villain isn’t a vague, behind-the-curtains kind of guy: Gert Fröbe plays Auric Goldfinger, a bombastic German with a fetish for gold who surrounds himself with minions such as the mute Korean hat tosser, Oddjob (Harold “Tosh Togo” Sakata). Bond is sent to investigate Goldfinger’s gold smuggling, which then mushrooms into a plot that involves hot female snipers and breaking into Fort Knox.
Along the way, we have some of the most iconic scenes in the Bond franchise, and possibly in the whole history of cinema. We have the gold-painted murder of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), which has become the quintessential Bond image. We have Goldfinger’s laser slowing working its way up to Bond’s groin, along with what has to be the most quoted line from any Bond film: “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!”. We have the amazing fight between Bond and Oddjob (“He blew a fuse!”). And we have the car.
Ah, the car. Almost everyone now looks at the Aston Martin DB5 and thinks of it as 007’s car. Generations of bankers have now bought this car in the hopes that it can somehow make up for their loss of hair and lack of personalities. It’s a car that you can only get away with if you are an international super spy. It has class, it has style, and it has an ejector seat. The chase scene around Goldfinger’s smelting plant makes use of every single weapon in that car’s arsenal, which the audience has been waiting for impatiently ever since Bond paid his visit down to Q’s lab.
The scene with Q near the start of the film was what proved to me that this was the first film with the fully-fledged Bond formula. Connery and Desmond Llewellyn snark at each other like they’ve known each other for years and it’s one of the best moments in the whole film. The look on Bond’s face when Q tells him that the briefing “shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours” sums up the next forty-odd years of their relationship.
So why isn’t this my favourite Bond film? It’s hard to say because this is certainly amongst the best of the franchise. Maybe it’s because I think From Russia With Love just has a better story and hangs together as a film more coherently, even though it lacks those scenes that have come to define the Bond franchise.
Or perhaps it’s because Bond himself doesn’t really do anything except annoy Goldfinger and crash the Aston Martin; Goldfinger’s plan is in fact foiled by Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), who worked for the bad guys until Bond rubbed his magic penis on her. Up until the point where Bond floors Pussy with a judo throw, Pussy doesn’t even want to have sex with Bond. In fact, it’s arguable that she didn’t want to have sex with him after the judo throw either; her consent comes a little later than is strictly comfortable for the viewer. Pity, because up until that point she was one of the more interesting Bond girls on the basis that she didn’t automatically want to sleep with him; it felt like Bond would have to work to gain her affections for once. But no: a literal tumble in the hay and a bit of pressure and there she goes.
I also wasn’t a massive fan of the pre-credits sequence (looking around the internet, I may be alone in this, but here’s my argument: Bond enters the film wearing a duck on his head), despite it having (again) one of the best known Bond one-liners following a fight involving a bathtub and an electric fan. And all to stop, what, heroin-flavoured bananas? Really? Later in the film, Goldfinger explains his plans to the mob bosses, only to immediately kill them. It’s weird stuff like this that brings me back out of my happy suspension of disbelief.
Still, this is not even close to being a bad film, and is still definitely one of the best of the franchise. Coming into this challenge, I expected Goldfinger to top my list, at least until I watched Goldeneye or the Daniel Craig films. Instead, however, Goldfinger comes a very close second to From Russia With Love. Positively shocking, indeed.
Title song: Shirley Bassey’s extraordinary Goldfinger, in what would be Dame Shirley’s first out of three Bond songs.
Greatest moment: It’s the car, isn’t it? You can talk all you want about golden women and fights in Fort Knox, but the greatest moment is when Bond finally presses that red button in the gear stick.
Worst moment: The seduction of Pussy Galore, if only for the uncomfortable sexual politics and the impact it has on the plot.
Best gadget: Yeah, it’s the car again.
[On being shown his new tracking device and the map in the Aston Martin]
James Bond: Ingenious, and useful too. Allow a man to stop off for a quick one en route.
Q: It has not been perfected out of years of patient research entirely for that purpose, 007.
Most obvious product placement: I wanted to avoid the easy answer and put Slazenger golf balls here, but let’s be honest: it’s the car. Aston Martin’s DB5 is still known as the coolest car in the whole world thanks to Goldfinger, but the real winners were Corgi, who made the toy cars with working weapons.
Verdict: As stated above, Goldfinger is an excellent film, and I fully expected it to be top of my list. Unfortunately, despite its probable status as the ultimate James Bond film, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as From Russia With Love, which wins Goldfinger a well-earned silver medal on the podium.
- From Russia With Love (dir. Terence Young, 1963)
- Goldfinger (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)
- Dr No (dir. Terence Young, 1962)
James Bond will return… shoot through in a few days for my review of Thunderball!