Bond: The 60s Six – ‘Goldfinger’

With the first two outings, James Bond was garnering a following stateside and around the globe. EON Production had two modest hits that showed that the franchise has legs. Goldfinger was teased in the credits of From Russia With Love to give fans in 1963 something to look forward to in 1964. This is a tradition with most Bond films mostly stating “James Bond will return” to this day. The return in 1964 would be one for the book as this is when everything Bond is known for is finally in play for even the most casual of fans. 

On a personal note, I had not seen Goldfinger in more than a decade since I last wrote about it, so I have been excited to rewatch it. Goldfinger is also the only venture to get away from the looming arm of SPECTRE and other connections to Blofeld. It’s closer to a Monster of the Week episode than adding anything new to the overarching threat. Yet, it’s hailed as one of the best of the series and still tops the top three of many lists. It’s also the first Bond film to be widely successful at the box office proving how much of a juggernaut the franchise would go on to be. The DeMille theater in New York showed it 24 hours a day just to meet the demands of the public. Bond was now the name on everyone’s lips in 1964 and Sean Connery was a bonafide star. Now in the 2020s, it’s worth revisiting to see why it became such a cultural sensation.

James Bond (Sean Connery) is on a mission to find out the whereabouts of Auric Goldfinger’s dealing in the United States (Gert Forbe). Goldfinger is obsessed with gold that he loves its value and is trading it. The only problem is whether the trading of his supply of gold is legit and not an illegal scheme. Given this is a Bond film, that may seem like a foregone conclusion. Bond comes face to face with Goldfinger and his henchman butler Oddjob (Harold Sakata) in a golf game of wits. Yet, Bond ends up under the care of Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) much to his chagrin who helps him uncover what Goldfinger is truly up to. Armed with his gadgets and a suped-up Ashton Martin DB5, it’s up to Bond to ensure Goldfinger loses his Midas touch.

Goldfinger is pure gold in every way shaping the Bond franchise into a juggernaut. There is not a dull moment in the film, even if it can go over the top. It seems designed with the intent of being a crowd-pleaser, but also welcoming fans unfamiliar with the series. Getting away from SPECTRE for a bit for another mission was a wise route to do just that. This marks the first of many standalone Bond outings. The franchise strives on becoming more standalone once SPECTRE and Blofeld are dropped. The reasoning behind that will be explained when reviewing Thunderball. Making it more standalone also leads to great villains and wonderful stories without having to rely on an overarching plot. The best sequels are ones that stand on their own merits. Goldfinger truly excels on that front. It hones into that by having a focused plot and villain that can be dealt with in about a two-hour runtime without having to build to another movie or lean into callbacks. It’s a nice touch that missing from modern sequels. Sometimes it’s okay for a sequel to be its own thing. 

James Bond (Sean Connery) brings out the white tux bringing the cool before another dangerous mission. Source: EON Productions

To speak of Connery being great as Bond once again is redundant. Here, however, this is the Bond everyone makes fun of. Connery sells quips as if they were always second nature. He swoons and romances like no one else. He is also smart and still keeps humanity to him. His finest bit of acting as Bond comes in the famous laser scene. Goldfinger has him strapped to a table with a laser slowly going towards him. Bond does let out witty lines, but the fear on his face with each passing moment is great. He can put on a brave face, but once real danger appears, he is human at the moment. He charms his way out of it like always, but those few brief moments beforehand are filled with astounding tension.

That is also helped by the fact that Goldfinger is such an amazing bastard of a human being. Gert Forbe does a great job with his presence and his demeanor. British TV actor Michael Collins dubs for Forbe and the vocal match-up is wondrous despite the dubbing not matching at times. His admiration, rather obsession, with gold, makes him a greedy and heartless man. He even used gold paint to kill a woman for Pete’s sake. This is conveyed through his master plan which is a great bit of evil with Goldfinger revealing his plan to mobsters and subsequently killing them all as he leaves the room. His Operation Grand Slam plot to radiate Fort Knox’s gold supply by blowing up a nuclear device to wreck the U.S. economy is brilliant if beyond terrifying. He doesn’t care as long as others take his gold and pay to be supplied by him. When face to face with Bond, he also shows no signs of holding back. His iconic line of “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” after Bond asks if he expects him to talk is also the height of how evil he is. Goldfinger is the absolute GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of Bond villains for a reason. 

Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) holds a gun to Bond under the orders of Goldfinger. Source: EON Productions

Another GOAT is Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore setting the standard. If Tatiana Romanova created the mold, Blackman broke it immediately. She is tough and can stand toe to toe with Bond getting the job done. She holds her own with grace and gravitas that is beyond compare. Blackman was cast after being Cathy Gale on the British TV show The Avengers (no, not those guys) having already had experience being in an action-focused series. She shines her being Bond’s equal and an aide of Goldfinger. Once her change of heart kicks into Bond’s side, she is forever the gold standard for how “Bond girls” are seen and compared. She and Tatiana Romanova are in the top tier in that category.

Harold Sakata as Oddjob is iconic in itself. The butler look, the bladed hat, and his silent demeanor as a goon are perfect. Sakata is legit a pro wrestling legend under the name Tosh Togo, which shows here. His physical prowess is on full display during the fight scene, including the famous Fort Knox bout. He is a formidable foe taking Bond to task and unstoppable. Sakata nails it to the letter becoming one of the more iconic henchmen. They are few and far between, but Oddjob fits in great company with Red Grant before him and Jaws after him. (He is also the cheapest character in Goldeneye. Don’t play with him if you decide to cross me in that game.)

The action in this film is stellar. I adore From Russia With Love for the more honed-in spy aspects, but Goldfinger delivers on the action side of Bond-like no one’s business. The chase involving the Ashton Martin DB5 is still as exciting and enthralling as it might have been back in ‘64. The layers upon layers of gadgetry involved and Bond’s use of them elevates it to one of the best. Once the ejector seat button is introduced in the Q scene, you just know that the bad boy is getting pushed and it’s going to be ridiculous. The aforementioned fight at Fort Knox is grand with Bond and Oddjob going at one another with the two battling and tossing each other about the place. The opening scene taking out the heroin plant is great, if ridiculous, with Bond setting up C4 to blow things up complete with a white tux for a classy finish. It’s a series high for the 60s setting up for even more stellar action to come in the sequels. 

What else Goldfinger set ups is the true theme song intro. Producer Harry Saltzman deemed Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” as the “worst fucking song I ever heard in my life.” Luckily, he is a film producer and not a music producer because anyone that knows music knows this is a masterclass. Bassey’s voice ebbs and flows between bombastic, brash, and sultry throughout the song. There’s a reason Bassey comes back for two more songs (“Diamonds Are Forever,” “Moonraker”), but none come at close as this one. The title sequence also adds to it as it’s simplistic with projections of upcoming scenes in the film on a golden woman. It’s an extension of From Russia’s opener that will only continue to become perfected as time goes on.

Goldfinger is superb by setting the next wave of Bond films while still standing on its own. Many newcomers start with this film and it’s not hard to see why. It is the text definition of a Bond film and it’s perfect for it. From Russia With Love remains my favorite, but Goldfinger is close behind.

Goldfinger: 5 out of 5
Bond: The 60s Six 3/6 Complete

Next time, SPECTRE is back to wreak havoc against Bond on the land and the sea to garner their revenge in Thunderball

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