Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bond-arama: No. 00? Goldfinger (1964)

Next we come to Goldfinger. Goldfinger is the first Bond film to put it all together and have all the elements required of Bond films. It has an excellent plot, memorable quotes, an iconic villain, and Bond girls out the wazoo. This one also routinely gets chosen as the best Bond film. On the other hand, this one has some serious flaws. Does it have enough to be No. 001 of 0023?

Plot Quality: Taken at face value, Goldfinger probably has the best plot of any Bond film. The story begins with Bond resting at a hotel in Miami. As he gets a massage, Felix Leiter appears and points out a man named Auric Goldfinger. Goldfinger is an industrialist who is vacationing in Miami and likes to cheat at a friendly game of cards. He cheats by having an escort, Jill Masterson, spy on the game with binoculars and tell him what the other man is holding over a radio transmitter. Bond meddles with this and then takes Masterson to bed. She will be killed during the night by being painted gold... perhaps the most iconic moment in the entire series.
Bond returns to London. He’s told to investigate Goldfinger, because MI-6 knows that Goldfinger is smuggling gold, but doesn’t know how. Bond proceeds to challenge Goldfinger to a round of golf at an exclusive club; they will play for a bar of gold Bond claims to have obtained from a lost Nazi hoard. Both sides cheat, but Bond cheats better and wins the match. The angry Goldfinger tells Bond they better never cross paths again.

Bond then follows Goldfinger to Switzerland, where the sister of Jill Masterson, Tilly, makes an attempt on Goldfinger’s life. Bond spies on Goldfinger at his plant and learns that Goldfinger smuggles gold by having various parts of his car made of gold, which then get removed once the vehicle passes through customs and get melted back down into bars. Bond also learns about something called Operation Grand Slam, which Goldfinger will perform for a Chinese communist agent. Right after learning this, Bond is captured in a chase which will leave Tilly dead. Goldfinger plans to kill Bond by dissecting him with a laser. This produces the most memorable exchange in the series: “Do you expect me to talk?” asked Bond. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” retorts Goldfinger. Bond, however, talks his way out of this and convinces Goldfinger to keep him around as insurance.
The film next moves to Kentucky with Bond as Goldfinger's prisoner. Here, Bond learns that Goldfinger plans to explode a dirty atomic bomb at Fort Knox. His thinking is that by making the US Government’s gold supply radioactive the value of his own gold will soar. This will also suit the Chinese who want economic chaos in the West. But Bond stops Goldfinger’s plan with the help of Goldfinger’s henchwoman Pussy Galore. Goldfinger escapes however, and returns to try to kill Bond. He fails and dies. Bond prevails.

As plots go, this one is really strong. The story moves quickly and efficiently. The story is not dull. The stakes are high and there's plenty of action. And best of all, Bond and Goldfinger are constantly dueling with each other in one form or another, which really drives home the “worthy adversary” aspect of the film. The film also has an excellent travelogue feel, especially in Switzerland. The ending is exciting too as you watch Bond struggle to disarm an atomic bomb. Good stuff... great stuff.

Yep. But when you look beyond face value, there are problems, and the more you think about the film, the more obvious and glaring these problems become. For example, it makes sense that Goldfinger would not kill Bond in Switzerland and that Leiter would not come rushing in to save Bond in Kentucky. Those are actually explained well in the dialog. But why does Goldfinger give a lecture to the mafia about Operation Grand Slam? He clearly intends to kill them, so why go through the hoax of explaining the plan and offering them each a share of the outcome only to kill them moments later. Presumably, it’s just ego and he likes to hear himself speak, but it feels like he only does this to let Bond “discover” what is going on. Also, why would Pussy suddenly change sides merely because of one roll in the hay. That doesn’t fit her character at all. Perhaps if Bond told her something she didn’t know about the plan, e.g. the likely death toll, then it could be believable, but as it’s presented, it’s not.
The big issue, however, is that Bond does nothing to earn his victory. Goldfinger bizarrely tells him about the plan, i.e. Bond doesn’t “spy” it. Even so, Bond does nothing with that knowledge. He can’t tell the CIA or MI-6. Instead, he has sex with Pussy, hoping that she’ll go to Washington. But she already knows about the plan and doesn’t even need him to tell her what he learned. Further, Bond does nothing to persuade Pussy to change sides except have sex with her, and that feels like a nonsense reason for her to change sides.

Moreover, once the military plan starts, you right away realize that it’s a stupid plan. This plan meant they not only could not monitor Goldfinger, but they had no control over what he did. Basically, the planned called for Goldfinger to wait for the military to stop him. And Bond’s participation is irrelevant. Indeed, Bond doesn’t even know about the plan, and he doesn’t actually stop the bomb even though he’s there. He just fights with Oddjob until the experts arrive and stop the bomb. In effect, while the audience is told that Bond is the hero, he really does nothing except wait as Goldfinger’s prisoner until the military saves him and stops the bomb, and they only do that because Pussy told them about the plan.

As an aside, why did Goldfinger even bring Bond to the site of the bomb? Why not just shoot him and be done with him once the plan began? He doesn’t need him at that point.
The film does a good job of disguising these flaws with action, which is probably why most people don’t notice. Indeed, Bond is constantly escaping and getting caught again. But if you stop to think, then the whole thing starts to feel a bit like a fraud as you realize that nothing Bond does really affects the plot. Still, enough people either don’t notice or don’t care because this one is routinely chosen as the top Bond. And I think part of that is because this was the first film to pull it all together. Goldfinger is the first truly larger-than-life villain in the series. Red Grant is just a thug, and his plan feels rather run of the mill. Dr. No has a bigger plan, but he lacks the personality that has come to be seen as necessary in these villains. Goldfinger has it all. He also has the first silly henchman and the first fantastic theme song, which happens to be about him. And even beyond that, there is an enjoyability factor with this film which sets is apart. It certainly belongs in the top three.

Bond Quality: This is Connery’s third outing and I have to say that he’s taken a step back in this one. In Dr. No, Connery had the cold-blooded aspects down perfectly even as he projected the ultimate suave spy. He gave hints of being friendly and loyal to Felix, but was mainly deadly serious. In From Russia With Love, he maintained what he had in Dr. No while adding more loyalty and a sense of sexual playfulness which made him irresistible. In Goldfinger, Connery loses both his killer instinct and his sexual playfulness.
The problem is this. After Jill, Bond never really has much sexual chemistry with the women he meets. In fact, they seem to actively dislike him and the film never gives the relationships enough time to overcome this. At the same time, you start to realize that the only reason Bond survives the movie is that Goldfinger chooses time and again not to kill him (Miami, the golf club, Switzerland after car crash, Switzerland with the laser, twice at the Kentucky ranch, once when Operation Grand Slam begins, once when the military shows up to stop Operation Grand Slam). Several of these can be explained but most cannot. Even worse, however, Bond never seems to worry about this except the one time with the laser. In fact, he comes across as a man who has read the script and who knows he’s in no danger. Thus, he plays the role more as a smartass than a super spy. I actually suspect that the cold-blooded nature of Thunderball was an attempt to rectify this.

All that said though, Connery is still an excellent Bond and he's more relatable in this film than any other Bond film he made because he comes across as calm, charming and funny.

The Bond Girl: The Bond girl is a true weakness in this film. Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterson and had real chemistry with Connery. She ends up encased in gold, one of the most iconic moments in the entire series. Tania Mallet plays her sister Tilly Masterson, who seemed like she would have played well against Bond. Unfortunately, neither is in the film very long.
The official Bond girl was Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore. Blackman comes across as a rather cold, butch lesbian and she and Connery have no chemistry at all. Her character is also nonsense, being a daring pilot, flight instructor and misanthrope who decides to change sides after having implied sex with Connery in a barn. Then, somehow, she ends up helping Goldfinger try to kill Bond again at the end of the movie even as she’s on Bond’s side. That is really bad writing and Blackman lacked the acting ability to pull it off.

Villain Quality: If this film deserves to be ranked as the best Bond film, it is because of Goldfinger himself. Played by Gert Fröbe (and dubbed by Michael Collins), Goldfinger is one of the most richly drawn villains in the series. Goldfinger is an industrialist who is also a petty psychopath. He cheats at cards to win a few hundred dollars. He cheats at golf. He is a very insecure man who pretends to be an iron giant. His love of gold is almost fetishistic. And not only that, but each of these traits is used by the writers to drive the character. It is his desire to win, which makes him challenge Bond. It is his insecurity which lets Bond escape death. It is his arrogance which keeps him from succeeding. And all of this combines to create a character who is simultaneously the first truly larger-than-life villain in the series, but also such an insecure snippy little bastard that you loath the man. In effect, you want to see this man beaten because you hate him, not because you accept the goals over which the film is fought.
His plan too is the first true “Bond plan,” in that it is both larger than life and totally unexpected. Dr. No’s plan was larger than life, but the idea of toppling a rock felt very real world. It was something you could see a foreign enemy doing. Red Grant’s plan was something we would consider typical of spies. This plan, however, was ingenuous. Indeed, when you first hear that Goldfinger does not intend to remove the gold, but instead intends to radiate it, you know you’ve just heard something no one else has ever suggested. That provides this film with an incredibly strong touch and it forces you to rank Goldfinger very highly. He may in fact be the best Bond villain ever because of these two points.

So what we have here is a film with a strong and interesting plot if taken at face value. You have a more relatable Bond. You have a scheme that is truly ingenious and makes the film stand out. You have a strong villain who elicits an emotional response from the audience. And you have a film that is routinely listed as the best Bond film ever and which comes in at number three at the box office. Against this, you have the nagging feeling that Bond doesn’t earn his victory, that the good guys win because of deus ex machina, and that Bond has read the script and knows he’s in no danger.

So where should this film rank? Is it worthy of the top spot? You tell me.


shawn said...

Is "Goldfinger number one?
Breaks out Golderfinger accent- "No Mr. Bond, I expect it is number zwei."

I have to say, it is probably the most recognizable Bond movie out there. From the theme song sung by Shirley Bassey to the golden girl to Bond almost being cut in half by a laser. Who isn't familiar with "Goldfinger"? I love it, it is a solid film, but I prefer my spy movies to be more government versus government oriented, at least when they take place during the cold war.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Which would you rank as number one?

I agree that this is the most recognizable Bond film. This seems to be the one that everyone knows, even non-fans. And it is a great film despite the flaws.

shawn said...

I would rank From Russia with Love as number one. Great spy high jinks while remaining believable, great villians, nice exotic locals and babes and a solid story. It's East versus West and the good guys win. Yeah, yeah, I know it isn't really east vs west as everything is set in motion by SPECTRE, but hey, Rosa Klebb is former Russian Intelligence and Red Grant smacks of soviet training as well.

tryanmax said...

After reading the review, I feel confirmed that Goldfinger should be number 3 (if not 4). Auric Goldfinger himself is what keeps this film afloat, but is he enough to counter the lesser elements?

Not for me. Especially not Pussy Galore who, as you say, comes off exactly like a butch lesbian--and not even the sort that Mr. Bond might be able to "cure." Also, the way that Connery pronounces her name actually grosses me out.

But, really, what topples the whole movie for me is the model of Fort Knox. Who builds a model like that, complete with a peephole right inside the fort? It's goofball, that's what it is.

PDBronco said...

"If you're wondering how he eats and breathes, and all those science facts, just repeat to yourself it's just a show; 'I really should relax!'"

That's how I feel about all of the plot issues with Goldfinger. Yes, Pussy Galore switched sides a little to easily. Yes, the lecture on Operation Grand Slam was a little too convenient (especially with the windows in the model of the Fort Knox Repository). But overall, I don't care because it is a fun ride. This might actually be one of the fastest (and smooth) Bond plot, because it feels more logical in structure (not that it actually is, it is a Bond plot after all, but it feels like it). And I do agree that a lot has to do with the character of Goldfinger. You do a great job of describing who Goldfinger is, and his strengths and foibles do clearly drive the plot. Why does Goldfinger hold his Operation Grand Slam lecture? It's his ego, he believes his plan is so ingenious that he has to tell it to somebody to feed his ego. Why does he kill the one gangster who said "No" in such a complicated, bizarre method (crush him in his car?)? Because his ego can't understand why anybody doesn't see his genius. Why doesn't he simply shoot Bond? Because his insecurity and ego needs an audience.

But is this my #001? To be honest, it depends on my mood. I rank Goldfinger and From Russia With Love as #001 and #001a - they keep flipping their order. The rest of my rankings: #003 - OHMSS, #004 - You Only Live Twice, #005 - Thunderball, #006 - Dr. No.

PDBronco said...

(and I noticed that as I typed, I screwed up the last verse of the MST3K theme - for accuracy sake... "I should really just relax!")

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, On a personal level, I rank this one fairly low by comparison. I think this is one of those moments though where the spectacle of the film is enough to ignite the public's imagination and that is why this film is often seen as the best. Also, the film is very good at hiding its flaws.

Consider the fact that Connery does nothing to solve the movie. It doesn't feel that way when you watch him. He sneaks around and discovers what Operation Grand Slam is. Then he convinces Pussy to alert Washington. Then he fights Oddjob to stop the bomb from going off and then you have the tense scene where he tries to disarm the bomb. The whole thing is action packed.

It's just after you think about it that you realize that he could have been removed from the film entirely and nothing would have changed unless you accept the idea that Pussy only needed sex to develop a conscience.

Sadly, a lot of this could have been fixed. Bond could have told Pussy that the spray would kill rather than put to sleep. Bond might have had to kill the guy with the key to set off the bomb. Maybe he even does do the disarming. All of that would have helped.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Personally, I would too.

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, I agree. If you just accept the plot without thinking too hard, then this is a great plot. As you note, it's very smooth. It's a fun ride. There is just enough of everything and in the right proportion to feel like a great film. The flaws are there, but the film itself feels so solid that you can easily ignore them... something which isn't the case in the Bond films at the bottom of the list.

I also agree with your explanations of Goldfinger's conduct. Those are the explanations I've always used -- ego and insecurity. He wants everyone to tell him he's great... then he kills them.

All in all, I don't personally rank this one as number one, but I can't argue with anyone who does.

PikeBishop said...

Which team are they talking about Pussy switching? Ahem. I think that is an ambigous question.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, LOL! In all honesty, I think they were implying that Bond made her switch from being a lesbian, but they obviously don't go into that with too much detail. It just seems to fit the whole sexual superman image they've given him.

PikeBishop said...

sidenote: Andrew I finally watched YOLT (the only one I have never actually seen) I'll comment over there later.

AndrewPrice said...

Great! :)

PikeBishop said...

Your analysis of Bond's actions in this film reminded me of the Big Bang Theory epsiode where Amy ruins "Raiders of the Lost Ark" by pointing out to Sheldon that Indiana Jones is essentially irrelevant to the plot and climax of the story.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, True, but again, they hide it very well because he seems to be doing things -- like telling you what is happening and how to survive it.

Tennessee Jed said...

From Russia With Love, for me, stands alone atop the pyramid. I know I probably bore folks with my constant ranting about the books, but that film was just a great spy story, and casted perfectly. But this is Goldfinger we are talking about. I was sorry you left out one of the very best scenes in the movie where Bond "beats" Goldfinger in a game of golf. Although in the book the round was intended to be played at a thinly disguised "Royal St. Georges," it was actually filmed at Stokes Poges Club just west of London.

The book does a much better job of delving into the lesbianism of Tilly Masterson who is in love with Pussy Galore. She probably senses that Pussy was not really game and saw Bond as a rival. Pussy was neither the first nor last to fall unrealistically for Bond's charms, just the first (and only) woman who mistakenly was confused about her sexual identity.

Oddjob is just a great, great villain, and that final battle with Bond almost carries the film. But, the whole nerve gas thing seems so unrealistic, that I have to personally rank this one behind Russia, Dr. No,, Thunderball, and Casino Royale, and put it in the 5th spot. There is, a slight difference in how I rank the films if I am ranking favorites vs. technical ranking based on objective criteria. Then, Goldfinger comes in second for the golf scene, Jill, Pussy, Goldfinger, and Oddjob. Leiter was the worst Leiter ever.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, The golf scene is fantastic. I love it. I love how they cheat each other. I love how he drops the gold bar.

I haven't read this one, so I didn't know Tilly knew Pussy. That's interesting that the lesbianism is discussed in the book, but is never mentioned in the film, yet it comes across.

I like Oddjob a lot, but he does set a very bad precedent.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Sorry to hear about your ipad!

Rustbelt said...

First, (imitates the judge from the "Agent for H.A.R.M." episode), PDBronco:
for getting the MST3K lyrics wrong, you are hereby sentenced to a year of non-public service in Deep 13 as Dr. Clayton Forrester's new guinea pig. You will test out new inventions, sit daily in the Tough Love Chair (from "Bride of the Monster") , occasionally have your blood replaced with radiator fluid ("Eegah"), and have all your hopes and dreams repeatedly crushed by the aforementioned Dr. Forrester. (And, no. No time on the S.O.L., as that would constitute reward, not punishment.)

As for Goldfinger...
Andrew, I re-watched this one last Thanksgiving. It was then that I noticed all of the flaws. (And I subsequently wondered if 'Thunderball' was the first self-referential film in correcting the silliness of how Goldfinger is rectified.) I then consulted my partner Science- and our shadowy third man, Logic- and reached a sad conclusion. We've had to diagnose Goldfinger with Fargoenza- the syndrome of a hero winning the day through luck rather than skill.

However, I have to agree that Auric Goldfinger is the glue that holds the film together. (Despite wasting time on the lecture with the Central Casting Gangsters given entirely for exposition for the benefit of Bond and the audience.) He's a far cry from the duds of the 70's who just want to rule the world from their "moon bases" equipped with "lasers."

That being said, since this film is the genesis for many of the Bond world cliches- villain with an accent, showing Bond hospitality instead of killing him, henchmen with gimmicks, etc.- do you think this film will continue to hold up and age gracefully in the future as we get farther from the 60's? Or will the cliches and story flaws eventually outdo even Goldfinger himself?

Tennessee Jed said...

It is interesting how a film that has been parodied often eventually becomes a self-parody. Andrew, in the Goldfinger novel, Tilly doesn't die in Europe. The word lesbian is never mentioned, and the relationship is implied rather than stated directly. We cannot tell for certain whether Fleming intended Pussy to be a confused 'hetero' or whether Bond was such a stud he simply turned her. Either way, the point to build the cliche of Bond and the Bond girls.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I do think this film will continue to stand up. In many ways, this film has become a classic and stands on its own now outside of time. In other words, it's value is no longer judged against the series, it has independent value like a Casablanca.

On the gangsters, something that has always bothered me personally is the HORRIBLE dialog of the gangsters once the floor starts to move. Look at these lines:

"What's with that trick pool table?"
"What are you trying to pull, Goldfinger?"
"I don't like being cooped up like this."
"What's that map doing there?

These aren't things real people say in that situation. This reads like nonsense filler. Would a mobster really say, "Gee, I don't like being cooped up?" Wuss. Even worse, this dialog is meant to tell the audience to watch the pool table. This is pathetically obvious narrative meant to direct your attention to the things the director wants the audience to watch. It's like a running commentary of the action... "Look, Bond has pulled his gun and now he's aiming!! Oh good, now we are running away!" It makes me cringe.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, They never say it about Pussy in the film, but it certainly comes across. And I really do think the idea was to imply that Bond is so sexy that he can turn a lesbian straight.

As an aside, it's a good thing they didn't openly say this though because then I think you would see protests today with demands that this be cut out because this idea that you can turn a lesbian by having sex with her is something rapists are doing in India and Africa, and I doubt Bond could get away with it in these current circumstances.

tryanmax said...

For the definitive guide on how to turn a lesbian straight, see Chasing Amy. Or don't, because that movie is just awful.

PDBronco said...

Rustbelt, I have just one thing to say...

"Deeeeep Hurting!"

(And I'm assuming that I'd be the test subject before something is unleashed on TV's Frank. In other words, I'd be closer to Bobo.)

PikeBishop said...

Speaking of Pussy (feels great to be able to type that legitimately), I am in the distinct minority here who does not find Honor Blackman all that hot. Bad hairstyle (even for the sixties) and she looks to be about fifty! Her line delivery isn't the best either.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I don't think you're in the minority at all. If I may quote Trainspotting:

"Honor Blackman... a.k.a. Pussy Galore, right?
What a total fucking misnomer.
I mean I would not touch her with yours."

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I've never seen it.

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, Hypno-helio-stasis.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: LOL great quote

Koshcat said...

Chasing Amy wasn't that bad, was it? It has been awhile and I don't remember much. It was one of Afflecks (both of them) earlier movies. I particularly remember the scene on the swing where a certain sexual act between lesbians is discussed.

Back to Goldfinger. I agree that I enjoy this film but in hindsight it has a lot of weak spots. I didn't understand the purpose of telling the gangsters just to kill them. Wouldn't it have been better to have one of them decline earlier and make him the guy crushed in the car. Then have him explain his plan to the other investers. At the end of the speech the crushed car could be brought in and a witty statement about how he can alleviate any anxieties for those looking to get out. Basically, trap them into agreeing with Goldfinger. This does a couple things. First, gives a real reason Bond might overhear the plan. Second, shows how shrewd and determined Goldfinger is. Third, it makes Goldfinger look somewhat logical (needing investors) rather than just evil (kill investors).

As for Pussy, Bond is soooo awesome women become lesbians after being with him because it will never be as good again.

tryanmax said...

Koshcat, this comes from a place that really enjoys Kevin Smith movies: Chasing Amy is the worst.

Koshcat said...

It certainly wasn't memorable.

Liked you review of Conan as well, tryanmax.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, The whole gangster scene could use some work to make it make more sense and to punch it up.

In fact, there's another silly part to consider. Do you really think he can kill those gangsters just to get rid of them? Or will the rest of their gangs come after him?

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