Dracula with music by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet at Arlene Schnitzer Center, Portland, OR

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Goldfinger (1964)

After two strong initial entries in the James Bond film series DR. NO (1962) and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), the Bond filmmakers hit gold (no pun intended) with the third installment of novelist Ian Fleming's series called GOLDFINGER (1964).  GOLDFINGER is my favorite Bond film and as I confided in my DR. NO blog, my high school friends and I would watch GOLDFINGER over and over again while my Mom brought in popcorn or tortilla chips with melted cheese over it. We would sit silently in our small TV room and dream of becoming James Bond.  My high school friends even broke into two fun, distinct groups (I'm not going to call them gangs because it was all fun) called BOND and SWAT who would pull pranks on one another.

GOLDFINGER set the gold standard (again, no pun intended) for Bond films afterward and none has ever matched GOLDFINGER in my estimation although the recent Bond entry SKYFALL (2012) came very close. I still give the nod to GOLDFINGER just slightly because it has a better villain (Goldfinger), a superb henchman (Oddjob), and one of the best names for a Bond girl ever (Pussy Galore).  SKYFALL even has a nice nostalgic nod to GOLDFINGER when Bond (Daniel Craig) pulls out the Aston Martin DB5 from storage to take M (Judi Dench) up to his ancestral home in Scotland.

GOLDFINGER had a new Bond director as Guy Hamilton replaced Terence Young and the film does not miss a beat. GOLDFINGER still has the fantastic Sean Connery as James Bond, looking more and more comfortable as 007. The film gives us more detail about M (Bernard Lee) revealing his petty jealousy of Bond's multitude of skills (bourbon, gold, women), some nice flirting with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), and the first great display of Bond gadgets by Q (Desmond Llewelyn) that would become a staple in future Bond flicks. GOLFINGER is written by the dependable Richard Maibaum (who co-wrote the first two films) and Paul Dehn.

Bond films usually open with the end of a mini-mission for Bond and GOLDFINGER starts with a bang (literally) in one of its cheekiest prologues (1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME might be the best prologue ever). James Bond (Sean Connery) emerges from the water in a wetsuit, placing plastic explosives on giant containers in some South American banana republic. He unzips his wetsuit to reveal a white dinner jacket (with carnation) underneath. He steps into a nearby club as the explosives detonate, destroying millions of dollars worth of heroin. Bond follows a belly dancer back to her room where he's attacked by a thug. Bond dispatches of the thug by electrocuting him in the bathtub. As Bond leaves, he shakes his head muttering, "Shocking, positively shocking." Door slams cut to horns blaring and Shirley Bassey's incredible rendition of the theme song Goldfinger.

We catch up with Bond vacationing in Miami where CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) finds him and relays that MI-6 (British Intelligence) would like Bond to keep an eye on one Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), a gold industrialist suspected of smuggling 20 million pounds of gold all over the world to inflate the price of gold. Goldfinger is at the same Miami hotel as 007. Bond catches a beautiful woman Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) spying on Goldfinger's gin rummy partner, helping Goldfinger to cheat. Bond crosses Goldfinger and steals the girl. Jill is famously killed by Goldfinger's driver/caddy/henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) by painting her entire body in gold paint, causing skin suffocation (the urban legend was that Eaton died from this which is entirely false. Eaton lives today at the age of 76).

Hell bent on revenge but reminded by M (Bernard Lee) that he needs to stick to the mission, Bond follows Goldfinger to Switzerland after meeting and beating Goldfinger in a not so friendly golf game in England. Bond encounters Jill Masterson's vengeful sister Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet), also following Goldfinger so she can kill him for her sister's murder. They follow Goldfinger to one of his factories where Bond discovers how Goldfinger smuggles the gold around the world. Even more suspicious, the factory is full of Chinese agents including Mr. Ling (THE PINK PANTHER'S Burt Kwouk), a Chinese scientist.

Goldfinger's men capture Bond and kill Tilly (those Masterson girls are very unlucky). Bond is about to be neutered by an industrial laser when he bluffs Goldfinger, bragging he overheard Goldfinger and Ling talking about "Operation Grand Slam". Goldfinger whisks Bond and the rest of his crew to his Kentucky stud farm. Bond becomes acquainted with Goldfinger's private pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Goldfinger meets with several crime syndicates to thank them for smuggling different illegal items to his stud farm to be used for his fiendish plot. Then, he gasses them all to death. With almost all the loose ends tied up except for Bond, Goldfinger unveils his master plan. Goldfinger plans to break into Fort Knox, Kentucky (America's gold depository) and set off a small dirty (nuclear) bomb) that will turn the United States gold supply radioactive for the next 58 years, crippling America's economy. It's up to James Bond to stop Goldfinger's nefarious plan but he's a bit tied up at the moment as Goldfinger has handcuffed Bond to the nuclear device.

The character Auric Goldfinger is one of the Bond films most interesting, complicated villains. Goldfinger must have been an only child in the Goldfinger family, the golden child (still no pun intended). Clearly, he was spoiled and he doesn't like to lose.  He cheats at gin rummy.  He cheats at golf. He double-crosses nearly everyone he does business with. No wonder the only person Goldfinger trusts is Oddjob, probably because Oddjob can't talk back to him. Goldfinger is not very good with women either.  He pays Jill Masterson to be seen with him.  When he learns Bond has bedded her instead of him, he has Jill killed, covered in gold. After Fort Knox is to become radioactive, Goldfinger asks Pussy Galore if she'll stick with him but Pussy turns him down. Goldfinger's pudgy appearance doesn't seem to win over the ladies. Goldfinger's thoroughbred horse ranch in Kentucky is even called Auric Stud but Goldfinger is no stud compared to Bond. He's jealous of Bond's sexual prowess with women and even aims an industrial laser at Bond's manhood. Gold is Goldfinger's only mistress.

GOLDFINGER opens up the Bond series, taking us for the first time to multiple locations. Miami, Switzerland, England, and Kentucky. Previously, they were usually set in just one location like Jamaica (DR. NO) or Turkey (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE).  Even YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) is mostly set in Japan. Bond films would later become a travelogue whisking him to beautiful locations like Thailand, Egypt, and Brazil. When Roger Moore took over the reins from Sean Connery as Bond, multiple locations would become the norm for the series.

The gadgets of James Bond are multiplied in GOLDFINGER as Q unveils Bond's new car, an Aston Martin DB5 that has more than just power steering and anti-lock brakes. This car has a bulletproof shield, rotating license plates depending on which country 007 is in, smoke screen, oil slick, and the all important ejector seat for that unwanted passenger. As Bond and Q make their way to the vehicle, they enter the Q branch workshop where gadgets are tested. A man fires a machine gun at another man wearing what looks like a raincoat. A bulletproof raincoat. It seems to work but Q grumbles "It's not perfected yet." I'd hate to see the bad tests.

Casting for Bond films has always been interesting as the filmmakers often chose actors and actresses from all corners of the globe and with an international flavor. They also chose actors and actresses for their look even when they didn't always speak English the best.  Case in point is Gert Frobe who plays bad guy Auric Goldfinger.  Frobe, a German, also starred in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968). Frobe's English wasn't very good so most of his dialogue is dubbed by actor Michael Collins. Ursula Andress's voice would also be dubbed in DR. NO. But Frobe looks the part of Goldfinger, chubby with reddish hair and a penchant for wearing gold colored clothes. I can't imagine anyone else playing Goldfinger (and Orson Welles was even considered for the role).

For the role of Oddjob, wrestler Harold Sakata was chosen.  In Sakata's case, his character only grunts. But he's perfect as Goldfinger's henchman, thick and impenetrable using his bowler hat as a deadly boomerang. No one would top Oddjob until Richard Kiel came along as Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). Shirley Eaton who plays the doomed Jill Masterson reminds me of a British Marilyn Monroe. She has those same arched eyebrows and blonde hair and sexy voice and volumptous curves as Marilyn. No Bond character made a greater impact in less time than Eaton did before she famously was painted in gold and killed by a jealous Goldfinger.

 One of the unsung heroes of the Bond series is film editor Peter Hunt.  Hunt was editor for the first three Bond films and would even direct ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969).  Hunt made the fight scenes in the Bond films look raw and brutal and unrehearsed like the train fight between Bond and Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  But in GOLDFINGER, many of his edits are a thing of beauty, so smooth and almost unnoticeable. In the opening Miami scene, we cut from an aerial shot of a hotel pool and a diver jumping off a ten meter platform to an underground window inside the hotel as the diver enters the water. Many times editing is used to cover scenes that weren't properly staged or photographed but every single scene in GOLDFINGER flows perfectly and Peter Hunt's editing brings about the right amount of humor, suspense, and danger.
Director Guy Hamilton gets a lot of credit for GOLDFINGER'S success as well following in the footsteps of Terence Young who handled the first two Bond films.  Hamilton began as an assistant director and worked with director Carol Reed on the classic THE THIRD MAN (1949) and with director John Huston on THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951). Not many assistant directors move up to become directors which speaks volumes of Hamilton's ability and ambition. GOLDFINGER is probably the most serious of Hamilton's four Bond films he directed which isn't saying much as the film has loads of double entrendres and funny bits. But the film has its dark moments too. Revenge is a key motivator in the film. Both Bond and Tilly Masterson seek vengeance for the tragic murder of Jill Masterson. Revenge will have its consequences as Tilly learns. Director Hamilton's later Bond films are much more cheekier in tone with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) and LIVE AND LET DIE (1973). Hamilton would become the first director to direct two different Bond's with Sean Connery and Roger Moore who debuted in LIVE AND LET DIE.
Director Hamilton handles all the Bond elements with equal aplomb -- great fight scenes (the final showdown between Oddjob and Bond is often overlooked), beautiful women (for me Shirley Eaton steals the film from the bigger female star Honor Blackman); and the perfect meglomaniacal villain in Goldfinger. The fact that GOLDFINGER has been spoofed in other films like DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (1965) starring Vincent Price or the more recent GOLDMEMBER (2002), the third installment of the Austin Powers series with Mike Myers attests to GOLDFINGER's golden status (alright maybe this pun was intended).
GOLDFINGER just has so many different areas that rank it amongst the best of the Bond series. A great story, fantastic bad guys, a unique realistic plot that does not involve blowing up the world, and I barely even scratched upon one of the best opening theme songs of a Bond film (Shirley Bassey belting out Goldfinger) or the hallucinatory opening credits that would accompany the Bond theme song going forward.  If I had to award GOLDFINGER, I would give it a five gold stars (that's my last pun).

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