The Weekly Bond Countdown: #4 – Goldfinger (1964)

Ok, hold your horses!  Put the weapons down and call off the riots.

Yes, Goldfinger is NOT my number one Bond film.  SHOCK.  HORROR.  I must be insane right? Every poll I see rates this as number one and consistently tops the charts.  To be honest and fair, this was a decision not taken lightly.  Depending on my mood, my top five are easily interchangeable.  But I had to follow my heart on this one.  By all means, Goldfinger placed as the fourth best Bond film does not mean it’s terrible.  It’s a very good film in fact.

I guess the reason why Goldfinger is always rated so highly because it’s a film that culturally launched Bond from a very good film character to an icon of a generation and something that defined the 60s.  Men wanted to be him.  Women wanted to be his girl.

Let’s also put this into perspective.

Nowadays, we have become accustomed to the Bond marketing machine, with recent commercial collaborations with Coca Cola and the recent Heineken advert for example.  But back then, Goldfinger became the introduction to how future Bond films were advertised.

Bond’s car, for example, the classic, iconic and beautiful Aston Martin accompanied the film stars to every movie premiere that was scheduled on the promotional tour.  This car became the ultimate driving symbol for the franchise, with the car’s immediate sales rising significantly after the film’s release.  The car even featured at the New York World Fair in 1964, dubbed “the most famous car in the world”.

Merchandising suddenly became a massive opportunity with clothes and most famously, the Corgi toys became available.  Prince Charles had a special model built for him when he was a child.

I’m even a proud owner of a Corgi Aston Martin (and no…that car will never leave that box!)

Corgi Aston Martin

The fans more than ever hysterically fell for Sean Connery’s charms as he was mobbed by fans everywhere he went – something which started as fun which turned to annoyance by the time You Only Live Twice came to fruition. Iconic moments in the film, such as Shirley Eaton as the Golden Girl lying dead in a hotel room, Oddjob and his razor brimmed hat and Pussy Galore’s introduction became household defining moments.  And who can forget the grand overtures of John Barry’s most famous Bond theme with Shirley Bassey belting out the lyrics.

Bond fever and most importantly, a Bond blockbuster had finally arrived.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Goldfinger became the blueprint and the launch pad for all other Bond films to follow.  The style, the villains, the women, the gadgets and the cars became signature-defining moments in the Bond franchise, something that can’t be overlooked in terms of its legacy.  The formula hasn’t always been perfect, because Goldfinger essentially led to creating that larger than life spy in the following films but I can’t sit here and tell you this film is crap because it’s not!

One of the reasons why Goldfinger remains the best-loved Bond film is because of Connery’s performance. There’s an instant satisfaction with him. But instead of talking about his charm or his sex appeal (or those questionable moments where he changes Pussy Galore’s sexual orientation), Connery is able to showcase Bond not having all his own way, which is rarely seen with him.

For the first time in the series (at that point) we see Bond in major peril.  Yes – I’m talking about the classic (and infamous) laser scene.  For me not to talk about that scene would have been scandalous.  I love that scene purely because it’s not Bond escaping from danger but it’s more of a stay of execution.  It’s a psychological torture for the audience as we wonder, “How is he going to get out of this?” because there were no gadgets to aid him.  Perhaps today we are not so easily scared and we know our heroes, one way or another are going to escape because of how easy to digest and formulaic the plots are.  But I can imagine the audience of that time who watched it in the cinema being in fear that Bond could be no more, and the villain, for once, was going to win.

Another reason why that scene is so good is because of the revealing conversation between Goldfinger and Bond.  You see throughout the film, they have tit-for-tat games trying to outsmart each other.  For example –

  • Bond stops Goldfinger from cheating at a card game and steals his girl in the process.  Goldfinger takes revenge and has her painted gold.
  • Bond wins a golf game, Oddjob, Goldfinger’s loyal henchmen, demonstrates his power, if Bond should ever cross him again.

Quite cleverly the film builds up to the laser scene, which gives it greater context and that feeling of uncertainly.  The conversation I alluded to boils down to Bond saying anything to stop the laser from removing the very “tool” a man holds dearest.  Bond knows he is beaten and you actually see panic in his face.  He talks about 008 coming to replace him if he fails to report for example, a nice small reminder of the type of agency that Bond works for and that he is not the only top spy.  And of course, the most quoted Bond line ever, “Do you expect me to talk? No Mr. Bond I expect you to die” – really emphasizes the point.  Goldfinger is a clever man.  All this small talk is just delaying the inevitable as he’s not interested in what Bond has to say until he mentions Operation Grand Slam.  The audience breathes a sigh of relief that our hero comes out of that situation in one piece and yet after that scene Bond is still not out of the mire, as Goldfinger holds him captive.  It’s not the gadgets that save him, its Bond’s intuition which he uses in great effect throughout the film.  It also presents a nice psychological battle between the two men in direct contrast to Bond’s physical battle with Oddjob in Fort Knox, which showcases Bond’s weakness as a fighter against a much stronger opponent.  You could say this was the film where Bond is truly tested on all levels as a spy and these factors are rarely mentioned when you see those “best Bond film” lists.

Speaking of Goldfinger, he truly is a great villain.  Complex, smart and powerful, I love his presence on screen.  But what I appreciate most is that he brings a degree of freshness to the series.  The first two films were dedicated to SPECTRE and their course for world domination.  But with Goldfinger, here was a villain who was outside that group and operated within his own means and on his own terms. His methods were pretty grand, as demonstrated by his attack on Fort Knox using an aerosol gas dispersal, courteously of Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus.  Having this type of villain was key for the series because suddenly the franchise was less dependant on one organisation dominating the storyline.

Walking through the Bond exhibition in 2012 and seeing all the memorabilia for the film really brings Bond home.  It puts Goldfinger in perspective in terms of pop culture and its legacy.  Goldfinger won an Oscar, which was on display at the Barbican.  It won best Sound Effects, a feat only recently beaten by Skyfall when it picked up golden statues for Best Original Song and Sound Editing.  It’s a shame that the exhibition was only temporary – surely Bond deserves a permanent holding somewhere?  He is of course a national treasure.

I guess there is an element of feeling proud – whether you are a Bond fan like me or just a casual viewer, there is something to take from it.  We all have a Bond moment.  For me, Goldfinger is simply a classic.  It’s a film that blends and weaves drama and action and completely justifies the hype (and can be overhyped because it’s always talked up as being the best Bond).  For others, Goldfinger became an inspiration – a certain Mr Pierce Brosnan watched the film when he was a child and decided to become an actor.  He even dreamt of being Bond one day…and I guess the rest is history.  We can’t overlook its impact on cinema when films that came after Goldfinger were spy-orientated, such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, based on the book by John Le Carre and my favourite Michael Caine film, The Ipcress File (a film produced by Bond producer, Harry Saltzman and music by John Barry).  In TV, we had The Man From U.N.C.L.E. starring acting legend Robert Vaughn and David McCullum.  And when movies become popular, you open yourself to parodies, which explain the Casino Royale spoof and the Austin Powers movies.

I know we all have our favourites but the Bond franchise wouldn’t be what it is today without Goldfinger – that is a fact.  There are so many iconic cinema moments, even after fifty years, we are still talking about it and it’s context within the series.  It’s timeless.  Fleming wanted to create the spy novel to end all spy novels and he accomplished that.  It’s a shame he passed away before seeing the true impact of his work.  But as I mentioned earlier, this film set a standard.  It raised expectations of what we have come to expect from a Bond film and that is sheer entertainment, but most importantly it cemented a hero to believe in.

The Countdown So Far:

Three more reviews to go!  Check back next week Wednesday to find out which Bond film comes in at #3

Author: Kelechi Ehenulo

Creator and writer of Confessions From A Geek Mind. Loves sci-fi and LEGO - couldn't ask for a better combo!

4 thoughts

  1. Goldfinger is a great Bond film, and I agree with you that it set the template for so many of the entries to follow. Even so, it’s also not at the top of my list. I’m just a little gold towards it and think it doesn’t grab me in the same way that some of the others do. It’s still definitely in the conversation, but it would fall just outside my top five.

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    1. Can definitely understand. Goldfinger is hyped so much that it does lose its novelty. It almost becomes lazy to say its #1 all the time without the justification. Being 4th on my list is still a respectable position for a timeless film.

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