Friday, February 12, 2021

Green Phoenix - Goldfinger Review

On a black background, a woman in underwear painted gold stands on the left. An image of Bond and a woman is projected on the right side of the woman's body. On the left is a phrase of the tagline: "James Bond Back in Action". Below is the title and credits. 

Hey everybody, its time once again to return to our slow review of the entire James Bond franchise. Over the next three weeks, we will cover another two films in the series (with a book review in between) before moving on and taking yet another break to focus on other subjects. This week, we turn our sights to the film that is widely considered among the best Bond films of all time and the one that truly helped make the James Bond franchise into what it is today.

Released in 1964, Goldfinger was based Ian Fleming's seventh novel of the same name. The film in may ways finalized the formula for the Bond films that would follow and has become a sort of benchmark for the franchise. Even if it wasn't the first film in the series, Goldfinger has managed to carve a place for itself with James Bond franchise as the first quintessential Bond films and has become mandatory viewing for anyone, even with it still possessing some of the more troubling cultural norms which were all to common in films of that era, which I will touch upon in the larger review.

But I am excited and do enjoy watching this film so as you can imagine, the review will be largely positive. Let's take a look at Goldfinger, the third film in the James Bond franchise.

***
  • Directed by Guy Hamilton
  • Produced by Eon Productions
  • MPAA Rating: PG
  • Running Time: 110 Minutes
***

SUMMARY

Sean Connery returns as James Bond in his third outing, this time Bond is sent to spy on the notorious gold magnate and suspected smuggler Auric Goldfinger who has been manipulating the international gold markets by means unknown to MI6 and the CIA. The two agencies believe that more is afoot and demand Bond find out what he is up to.
 
In the process of tailing Goldfinger, Bond is eventually captured and learns of a daring plot to break into Fort Knox and steal the United States gold bullion repository. But there seems to be more to Goldfinger's plot then what first appears and Bond will have to deal with his two henchmen, the quiet and deadly Oddjob and the beautiful Pussy Galore in order to stop him.

***

REVIEW

I would not consider it an exaggeration to consider this film iconic. Goldfinger has held its position among the quintessential spy films for decades since its release and that legacy is unlikely to be eliminated anytime soon. And for good reason in my honest opinion.
 
So much of what makes James Bond so popular and referential in our modern media was created with this film. While Dr.No and From Russia with Love started the franchise and created the blueprint and prototypical formula for the Bond films, Goldfinger is the film that perfected that formula and from which all successive Bond films are thus based.
 
Chief among these might be the introduction of a unique title sequence song. While Dr.No and From Russia with Love did have opening sequences, it was Shirley Bassey's amazing rendition of "Goldfinger" whilst images of the film were projected upon the gold-painted body of Margaret Nolan that established the long-held and widely regarded tradition of the Bond opening. And what an opening, Bassey's vocals really help to immediately place the viewer in the somewhat tongue-in-cheek world of James Bond and gives the iconic Bond sound some much needed gravitas. Even after over two dozen Bond films, "Goldfinger" remains among the greatest opening tracks in the entire franchise, a testament to how much influence and quality a trendsetter can have in the long-run.

From a visual standpoint, the film really leans heavily into the gold aesthetic, as you might imagine. This has also ensured that the film has some truly iconic moments. The image of Shirley Eaton's body being covered in gold paint to indicate her death has become the stuff of cinematic legends and the laser scene has been referenced and spoofed countless of times, even outside of the spy genre. The film still manages to look amazing even after nearly 50 years and the quality of practical effects used are phenomenally clever which just goes to show the skill of the crew to truly bring the fantastical world of Bond to life, even if that world is also a little silly.

Much of that campy quality is born from the combination of story, dialog, and character performances. The story is ostensibly a heist film with some heavy science fiction elements involved involving nuclear weapons and the American mafia. James Bond spends the first third of this movie essentially playing games with the villainous Goldfinger and it is this exchange that really helps to breathe life into the both characters. Gert Fröbe is absolutely stunning as Goldfinger, who has long since become one of Bond's most iconic villains. During research, I actually learned that Fröbe actually had a great deal of difficulty with his accent and so was dubbed over in most scenes by the British actor Michael Collins. This only makes the dual performance all the more amazing because Auric Goldfinger is a near perfect amalgamation of sleazy businessman, suave criminal mastermind, and mad scientist. His interactions with his sidekicks and especially with Bond are among the best of any of Bond's villains. Even Ernst Blofeld doesn't have nearly the same level of interplay that Goldfinger has with Bond, due in large part to the many quiet interactions which occur before Bond's capture.

Beyond Goldfinger, we also saw the introduction of a true lead henchman in Oddjob who is just a fantastically simple bad guy (even if he is very culturally inappropriate nowadays). His final fight with Bond in the gold depository is a highlight of the film and his deadly bowler hat would help inspire future lead henchmen (like my personal favorite, Jaws). We also saw the reintroduction of Q, MI6's weapons developer whose performance in Goldfinger would be the blueprint for all future portrayals of the character.

Pussy Galore by Honor Blackman.jpg
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore
Of course, what would Bond be without his Bond girls and Goldfinger actually has three. The two Masterson sisters who both meet grisly ends as a result of aiding Bond in his efforts against Goldfinger, and the lead Bond girl, Pussy Galore. Pussy Galore has entered the annals of Bond history for being almost the quintessential Bond girl (even being the first of the Bond girls to be a predominantly innuendo-laden name). She is one of Goldfinger's most trusted henchmen and it is her shift in allegiance that plays a role in Bond's ultimate victory.

Though how that allegiance is gained does lead into one of the very unfortunate things about this movie that severely dates it and, in my opinion, represents some of the worst of the Sean Connery-era Bond's misogynistic and toxic overtones. Pussy Galore, despite presenting herself throughout the entire film as a severely capable and intelligent women is Bond's equal in nearly every way (a credit to Honor Blackman's stunning performance), is "convinced" to aid James Bond after he "seduces" her in a scene which even as a child, I felt had some very questionable consent involved. The scene definitely raises some eyebrows for me and is something which I cannot help but point out. Following that scene, almost all of her agency is taken away from her and she becomes just another damsel-in-distress that Bond must rescue and then reward him with sex.
 
Sean Connery's Bond has many of these moments throughout his tenure of questionable behavior towards women but the barn scene is probably the most openly problematic in my mind. It's not enough that I would say to avoid this movie, but I do think that a trigger warning is absolutely a safe and responsible action to put forward. Despite my love for Connery's portrayal of the character, this extremely dated and unfortunately period-appropriate Bond and the overall portrayal of women in the film is just something that is a product of his times and the Spy genre in the 1960s (and something that hasn't completely changed too much even today, unfortunately).

Despite my misgivings about that one scene, the overall story is actually quite good. The film, as stated previously, presents the villains plan as predominantly a heist and it even films the climax of the movie as one. It is however, the introduction of the nuclear weapon that the true plan is revealed and the tone somewhat shifts. But this plot is really the finale of a much more interesting plot. Most of the movie actually centers around Bond being a prisoner of Goldfinger, being kept alive only because he convinces the villain that he is more useful alive than dead. Bond is forced to play mental games with Goldfinger and his associates in order to save the day and it presents a truly unique narrative that I can't quite think really happens in another Bond film.

It's quite common for Bond to get captured and make a daring escape in the climax of the film, but Bond's capture actually occurs at the end of the first act, which leaves him in a precarious position. It's a welcome shift that I think works to the films favor in providing a formula, but keeping that formula loose.

All in all, Goldfinger is the gold-standard of Bond films and it, moreso than Dr.No and From Russia With Love, represents the fully actualized Bond film. It has the formula mastered, the perfectly balanced combination of villains, humor, girls, henchmen, and sophistication that makes the Bond franchise the powerhouse that has become.

 
VISUALS
  • 8/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 9/10
CHARACTERS
  • 9/10
STORY
  • 9/10

 FINAL SCORE - 8.75/10

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