Welcome to James Bond Revisited, a weekly series where I watch and review every James Bond film leading up to the 25th film in the franchise No Time To Die, set to release this April.
By 1963, the world was firmly in the grip of “Bond Mania.” The two previous films (Dr. No and From Russia With Love) had captivated audiences across the globe and made Sean Connery a household name.
But all was not well behind the scenes. In 1958, author Ian Fleming was trying to find producers interested in bringing James Bond to the silver screen. One producer, Kevin McClory rejected all the books but liked the character at the center, so he, a friend of Fleming, Ivar Bryce, and British playwright Jack Whittingham set to writing an original Bond screenplay with Fleming, Longitude 78 West. However, the project fell through and Fleming used the concept for his novel Thunderball, resulting in years of legal battles between Fleming and McClory, the effects of which were felt by the franchise for decades. But that’s a story for another night.
With Fleming and McClory locked in legal battles, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman instead chose to adapt Goldfinger. The film would have a budget of $3 million, roughly $24 million by today’s standards. Goldfinger would become the first true blockbuster of the series. It is a classic Bond adventure… for good and ill.
James Bond Revisited: Goldfinger
After completing a deadly mission, James Bond is sent to Miami. There he meets CIA agent Felix Leiter and given orders to spy on a gold dealer named Auric Goldfinger.
Bond observes Goldfinger playing cards poolside and deduces that he is cheating. Bond’s suspicions are confirmed when he breaks into Goldfinger’s hotel room and discovers a woman named Jill Masterson with binoculars slipping information to Goldfinger through an earpiece. Bond puts an end to Goldfinger’s scheme and sleeps with Masterson.
Afterward, Bond is knocked unconscious by a shadowy assailant and wakes to find Jill Masterson dead, covered head to toe in gold paint!
Back in London, Bond meets with M and is given the mission to discover how Goldfinger smuggles his gold into other countries. Bond tracks Goldfinger to a country club and challenges him to a game of golf (try getting away with a scene like this in the Craig era!). Goldfinger cheats with the help of his caddy, but Bond outfoxes him and wins the match. Goldfinger knows that Bond is up to something and threatens him by introducing him to his caddy/assassin, a Rubenesque and silent killer named Oddjob who comes with a steel-rimmed hat he uses to decapitate a sculpture. These movies are great. Though Bond doesn’t know it, we recognize Oddjob as Bond’s assailant from his silhouette earlier.
Bond pursues Goldfinger to Switzerland, where he is almost assassinated by a sniper in the mountains. The assassin is Jill’s sister, Tilly Masterson, searching for revenge. Bond and Tilly break into Goldfinger’s base of operations. He discovers that Goldfinger smuggles gold by making it a part of his gold-plated car. He also hears Goldfinger talking about “Operation Grand Slam.” An alarm is tripped. Bond and Tilly try to escape, but Tilly is murdered by Oddjob and Bond is captured.
Goldfinger has Bond strapped to a metal table where a laser burns through the metal between his legs. Bond talks himself out of castration by claiming to know the inner workings of Operation Grand Slam.
Bond is taken to Goldfinger’s plane, where he meets Goldfinger’s pilot, Pussy Galore. They arrive in Kentucky, where Bond puts together Goldfinger’s master plan. Operation Grand Slam will team Goldfinger with the Chinese and set off a dirty bomb in Fort Knox. The gold inside will become worthless for almost sixty years, and Goldfinger’s wealth (mostly in gold) will skyrocket and the Chinese will benefit from the United States’ financial collapse.
The operation goes into effect and all seems to be going Goldfinger’s way. Pussy Galore’s team of pilots fly over Fort Knox and knock out soldiers with poisonous gas. Meanwhile, Goldfinger and the Chinese break into the Fort and start the bomb. However, earlier in the film, Bond seduces her and turns her to the side of justice! Galore then turns on Goldfinger, and all of this has been a rouse. The Americans attack the Chinese soldiers, and Goldfinger escapes in the chaos, leaving Bond to deal with the bomb.
After a brief fight with Oddjob that comes to a “shocking” end, Bond is left wondering how to stop the bomb, when Felix arrives and disables the device with 0:07 seconds left. The world cheers or groans.
The world saved, Bond is given a hero’s welcome and told he will meet with the President of the United States. He boards a plane, only to discover that it has been hijacked by Goldfinger and Pussy. The two fight and a gunshot creates a hole in the plane. Goldfinger is sucked out the window where he falls to his death. Bond and Pussy survive the plane crash before being air-lifted to safety by the Americans.
Bond Has Arrived
If you’ve been following this series of articles up to this point, you will know that the Bond series has been a journey of “firsts.” First Gunbarrel sequence, first Q Gadget scene, etc. In this regard, it is indisputable that Goldfinger is the first true Bond film.
Three films in, and the franchise has finally hit a groove, not unlike when you’re cutting wrapping paper and the scissors start to glide. In a tight 110 minutes, Goldfinger manages to become the poster child for a classic Bond adventure. It has 007 partaking in ridiculous action. It has a woman with a silly name. It has a wonderful villain with an iconic henchman. It has a clever villainous scheme and a nail-biter of a climax. It has the Aston Martin DB-5, Bond’s signature car, and now it has gadgets from Q which means the first gadget car chase! And it has possibly the most famous Bond song ever recorded with a legendary singer providing the vocals.
It provides action, suspense, mystery, humor, and sex. It is no wonder Goldfinger is often cited as the best of the series. Goldfinger sets the template that almost all succeeding films will follow and the yardstick by which they will be judged for better or worse.
The Bond Song/Title Sequence
From its opening notes, ‘Goldfinger’ grabs the audience by the lapels and screams, “I AM AWESOME!” Few songs can elicit such an immediate response. There is confidence, and there is ‘Goldfinger.’
The song was composed by James Bond regular, John Barry while the lyrics were written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Legendary singer Shirley Bassey performs the song and brings a powerhouse vocal performance to match the full orchestra. Bassey’s vibrato on the last, long note brings the house down.
Indeed, ‘Goldfinger’ is arguably the most well-known song of the franchise. It is frequently cited as one of the best, if not the best Bond song.
Robert Brownjohn returns to design the titles and recycles the method of projection he used previously on From Russia With Love. While FRWL projected the names of the cast and crew against gyrating, curvaceous women, here Brownjohn projects clips from the movie against gold-painted women. In so doing, Brownjohn has refined and perfected his Bond opening titles. Projecting Bond in gold against a model’s supple body is maybe the Bond title sequence at it’s most refined.
Brownjohn must have known that he had created the mathematically “perfect” Bond credit sequence. He never worked on another film in the series. His absence in Thunderball is conspicuous but we’ll talk about that next time.
A Film of Contradictions
It would be easy to look at the success of From Russia With Love and say, “Alright, let’s just do that again!” However, Goldfinger plays against the audience’s expectations from the previous film. In doing so, Goldfinger would perfect a formula that has kept the franchise running for over half a century.
While From Russia With Love keeps its villain concealed, Goldfinger displays him loudly and proudly. So much so that he’s the title.
The previous film has a tense and contained climax aboard the Orient Express. In Goldfinger, the final confrontation is set in Fort Knox, with an open set that leads to a clean fight.
The biggest change is the tone. Instead of the dread that runs through From Russia With Love, the primary tone in Goldfinger is one of general amusement. Instead of Bond being “murdered” in the pre-credits setpiece, in Goldfinger, Bond emerges from the sea wearing a fake duck on his head. The movie broadcasts its message loud and clear: this is a romp.
Bond is coy and almost playful. His escape from Fort Knox is played almost as a lark. Bond will defeat an enemy and seduce a woman less than thirty seconds later. Already, we can see James Bond becoming less of a spy and more of a fantasy for young men.
The Aston Martin comes to a fork in the road. One route has espionage and spy work and following receipts. The other has gadgets and action and sex. From this film onward, Bond takes the latter road almost every time.
The Gold Standard of Bond Villains
Goldfinger goes from being a standard Bond adventure to the standard Bond adventure by hitting the bullseye in every category. It has a memorable song, imaginative gadgets, beautiful women, and some colorful baddies.
Unless you count the Chinese in Act III, there are only two villains in Goldfinger. Luckily, quantity does not equal quality. Instead, we are gifted two of the most memorable villains in cinema history, Goldfinger and Oddjob.
In the role of the lead baddie, we have Gert Fröbe as the titular Goldfinger. As I mentioned earlier, Goldfinger wastes no time bringing our villain front and center. The head of Spectre wouldn’t be revealed for two more movies. Meanwhile, Goldfinger stomps through scenes with an audacious presence.
From his massive, gold-plated car, to his gigantic brick of a Body, to his deep, heavy voice (provided by Michael Collins), Goldfinger is a real ham of a villain. It is hard to imagine an antagonist less in-the-shadows. Goldfinger has no time for subtlety. His physicality perfectly matches his character. He’s not a physical threat like Red Grant in the previous film, but he doesn’t need to be since he has Oddjob.
Goldfinger is fun to watch because he takes pride in his work. He loves to win and enjoys it visibly, whether that’s cheating at cards or cheating at golf. When explaining his devious crime to his investors, he prances around the room like a schoolboy. His scheme is so deliciously clever that he can’t help but prod James along as he susses it out. And yet, when the plan falls apart, Goldfinger is the first to turn on his allies, flip his uniform inside out, and flee. And of course, there is his immortal delivery, half-laughing, “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” You can’t beat that.
It remains to be seen if Goldfinger is the best Bond villain but you can rest assured, he is among the top of the villain heap.
And then there is Oddjob. Oh, Oddjob, how I love thee.
Oddjob, played by Hawaiian-born Harold Sakata, is the greatest henchmen since Darth Vader. Like Goldfinger, Oddjob serves as an opposite number to Red Grant. He’s portly and sweet-looking, and he’s always smiling, as though he knows how you’re going to die. While Red Grant’s loose lips gave him away, Oddjob never says a word, and while he may look like a teddy bear, he can crush a golf ball in his fist. Even his hat is lethal.
Not every villain gets its own commercial for cough syrup.
The Bond Girls
The women in Goldfinger do not fare as well as their villainous male counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, there is at least one female addition to the Bond lexicon that will go down as one of the all-time highs, but one great female character is not enough to spare this film it’s more troubling implications.
For now, let’s just talk about the main Bond Girl with a name almost as iconic as James Bond himself.
Bond talks his way out of a jam and takes a tranquilizer dart to the neck. He awakens on Goldfinger’s private jet, piloted by a striking blonde named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). “I must be dreaming,” Bond says to himself.
Like the main theme, Goldfinger, and Oddjob, Pussy Galore frequently finds herself on Top 10 Bond Girl lists. How could she not? She’s strong, capable, and unimpressed with Bond. The best Bond Girls are the ones who don’t take his shit, and that starts right here.
On top of being an ace pilot, Pussy has a team of her own, an all-female group of aviators called ‘Pussy’s Flying Circus.’
If there were any justice in this world, Pussy would have gotten a spinoff series about her elite squad of pilot criminals.
Still, while Pussy Galore is a fun character well-played, the film treats her poorly in the end. And that means we have to have a discussion.
The Elephant in the Room
Here is a basic rundown of the women in Goldfinger and their fates…
- Bathtub Assassin (kissed, then beaten but alive wearing only a towel)
- Hotel Masseuse (spanked)
- Moneypenny (unkissed, alive)
- Jill Masterson (screwed, then killed by Oddjob with paint)
- Tilly Masterson (unscrewed, then killed by Oddjob with hat)
- Pussy Galore (forcibly kissed, screwed off-screen, alive)
When it comes to the women in Goldfinger, you can either be screwed sexually or screwed mortally. The only two exceptions are the female assassin in the beginning (because the hero can’t kill a woman) and Moneypenny (because of tradition).
At one point, Bond grabs a Hotel Maid’s wrist and guides her key to Goldfinger’s room to help him sneak in. While hardly the most egregious sin, it is symptomatic of a greater issue, Bond’s treatment of women.
I can already hear a certain population pulling out their hair. “Bond always gets the girl!” they scream. “You can’t even lightly grab a woman by the wrist anymore?” “PC police!”
Listen, I have no problem with Bond “getting the girl” at the end. I have no problem with movies where men get women, women get men, or robots get each other. But in Goldfinger, Bond’s hound-ery not only borders on parody, but actively makes him bad at his job.
Towards the beginning of the film, Bond spies on Goldfinger cheating at cards. He breaks into Goldfinger’s hotel suite where he finds Jill Masterson in a bikini with a pair of binoculars, telling Goldfinger his opponent’s cards through an earpiece. Bond subdues Jill and threatens to out Goldfinger unless he intentionally loses the game and continues to lose until he pays back all the money he won playing dirty. Goldfinger snaps his pencil in rage.
And then, after provoking this villain, he turns and has sex with Jill!
IN THE SAME HOTEL!
WHEN HE IS WITHIN SPITTING DISTANCE FROM GOLDFINGER!
And that’s just James being stupid. What about Jill? Does she have any sense of self-preservation? You’d think from her performance that by humiliating Goldfinger, Bond has banished him from existence. She’s grinning and positively horny, rubbing herself against him. She’s even smiling when Bond grabs her by the face and shoves her on the bed because she was distracting him on the phone. Not a great look, James.
Then Oddjob knocks Bond unconscious and kills, strips, and paints Jill (hopefully in that order) off-screen.
But what is to stop Oddjob from killing Bond right then? Is it to send a message? “Back off, MI:6 or I’ll paint more of my employees!” You can answer this question with all the justifications you’d like, but it doesn’t change the fact that Bond shouldn’t have been off-guard in the first place.
In From Russia With Love, Bond is tricked into having sex while being filmed. By Goldfinger, he’s doing it because Bond has a quota.
And I didn’t even mention how the scene begins with Bond telling a masseuse to scram because “man talk,” before spanking her ass.
And that’s just poor Shirley Eaton.
Just about everyone else either has sex with Bond, dies, or has sex with Bond and then dies.
Of course, Bond has always had one foot in the world of espionage and the other in the realm of fantasy, but in Goldfinger, that balance begins to tip dramatically towards the dream.
Men pose no threat to him. No one can outsmart him. Even your sexual orientation is no match for him.
Pussy Galore is presented as immune to Bond’s charm (Hays Code for ‘lesbian’). But all it takes is for Bond to lure her into a barn in Kentucky and a literal roll in the hay to turn her to the side of good. Maybe once upon a time, this sort of treatment was to be expected, but in a post-#MeToo era, scenes with Bond holding a woman down and forcing a kiss on her doesn’t play as romantic or kinky at all. It just comes across as assault.
It is almost as though Bond’s penis can make villains convert, like a gadget from Q Branch. “Now see here, 007. We’ve created this new drug that turns everyone into a British Loyalist. The only problem is that it needs to be inserted vaginally.”
“I’m sure I can find shomething to prick her with.”
Fellas, when you tell a woman that you like James Bond and they roll their eyes, this is why.
Goldfinger 50 Years Later
Goldfinger is a great film. I know that I dogged on it in the last two segments but it is grand.
The production design by Ken Adam is the best to date, with the set for Fort Knox being the highlight of the film. The movie is well-shot, credit to Ted Moore, and John Barry’s soundtrack continues to be inspired.
Stuntman Bob Simmon’s fight choreography is also at its peak, with Bond’s duel with Oddjob and his barnyard tussle with Pussy Galore standing out in particular.
But what stood out most distinctly was Goldfinger’s readiness to play around with the tone. So many action movies are just gunplay and fisticuffs. Heck, even Mission: Impossible has gadgets. But Goldfinger is smarter than that. Great action movies have a variety of tones. If the action genre were music, the best films are a symphony, while the bad films are one guy hitting you with a tuba.
Goldfinger has its share of beat-em-ups, but it also takes time for two distinctive car chases (the edge-of-your-seat gadget chase in Goldfinger’s fortress and Bond’s playful pursuit of Tilly in Switzerland. It can find tension and humor on a golf course, for goodness sake. And who could forget possibly the most iconic image in the series with Bond strapped to a table with a laser between his legs?
Goldfinger represents the Bond franchise at its peak. While not a perfect film, it offers a diverse array of flavors for audiences to enjoy. It is no wonder that James Bond was the man of the 60s. Every year saw the release of a new Bond film, each grander than the last. That bubble had to burst eventually (see Thunderball) but at least we got Goldfinger out of it.
Goldfinger: The gold standard of Bond films.
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