‘You’re a woman of many parts, Pussy’.
During Goldfinger, James Bond (Sean Connery) spends much of his time in custody. A guest/prisoner of the eponymous villain, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), 007 alternates his stay by being in a cell, sharing quips with his nemesis and getting involved with Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). In the meantime, Goldfinger puts his plan of blowing up Fort Knox into action, dispatching those who are present to help and hinder him with equal abandon whilst rather inexplicably keeping alive the one person who can possibly stop him. Rarely have I felt so much like echoing the words of Scott Evil and crying ‘Why don’t you just kill him?’
Goldfinger was the Bond outing that truly defined the series. Dr. No offered an introduction to the adventures of a glamorous secret agent and From Russia with Love embellished it, yet it’s only with his third entry that we get the template for the next two decades’ output. That is both its blessing and its curse. Goldfinger is of course really god fun. Connery makes for an agreeable and charismatic lead, whilst Fröbe’s playing of Goldfinger sets the tone for all megalomaniac, ever so slightly unhinged villains to follow. The action rarely lets up even though it becomes obvious early in the film that Bond is going to walk away with barely a scratch. He’s hardly a spy by now and more like a superhero, seemingly impervious to bullets, aware of every pitfall before him and armed with a ready supply of quips to sum up all happenings in a pithy one liner. Speaking of arms, Q (Desmond Llewellyn) is now fully formed and a regular member of MI6. Already irritated by 007 thanks to the agent’s offhand way of losing and breaking his gadgets, he nevertheless creates for him a souped up Aston Martin that contains a dazzling array of gizmoes. So many of these are there that the film doesn’t even have enough time to show them all off. We are left to imagine just what else Bond’s car can actually do - fly? Make him an espresso? Give him a short back and sides?
The hard-bitten 007 of the first two films has gone. Here, he’s fighting someone who is rich enough to retire from his life of crime yet aims to bring the west to financial ruin all the same. The reason, presumably, is just because he can and it’s at this point that it doesn’t do to think about what’s happening in Goldfinger too hard. Once you do, the plot collapses like the fantasy it so clearly is. As possible as it was to understand the motives of SPECTRE in the first two movies, why Goldfinger bothers putting together an elaborate plot is less easy to fathom, as are his reasons for keeping Bond alive once he’s in his grip. I lost track of the number of occasions when 007 was at his mercy, beginning with the early scene where Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) is suffocated by having her entire body covered in gold paint whilst our hero is simply knocked unconscious. I can only guess that Goldfinger likes to play dangerously, that it pleases him to dangle Bond until he’s had enough, or possibly that he just needs to impress someone with expansive plans that few people will ever hear about.
At the bad guy’s side is the first in a series of larger than life henchmen. Oddjob (Harold Sakata) is Goldfinger’s mute, Korean bodyguard, a figure of incredible strength who tops off his prowess with a steel-rimmed hat that he can throw with deadly accuracy, as Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet) learns to her doom. Behind Oddjob is a small Korean army of servants, the sort that can be offed with some ease and keep coming back for more. Finally, there’s Pussy and her circus of formation pilots who also double as glamour models. I think they were last seen dropping millions of footballs onto London as part of an advertising campaign for The Sun.
John Barry is on hand once more to provide the score, one of the better known in the Bond canon thanks to its fantastic signature tune, which is belted out by Shirley Bassey. That it lacks any of the subtlety of From Russia with Love kind of suits the extravaganza unfolding on the screen. The film is directed by Guy Hamilton, supposedly with a tongue lodged firmly in his cheek. Hamilton would go on to direct three more Bond epics, along with Funeral in Berlin once the Harry Palmer series took a turn for the sillier. This is his best work. He’s more than capable of shooting large-scale action sequences and maintaining a blistering pace. The slow burning tension that marked Bond’s relationship with Red Grant is a thing of the past. Instead, we get 007 and Goldfinger exchanging memorable quips and beneath the ideological differences actually appearing to admire each other, indeed it’s possible to imagine a slightly less Alpha Male Bond ditching Pussy for a life of amused antagonism with the villain. Besides, there’s little chemistry between him and Ms Galore. Maybe this is why she doesn’t appear until the movie’s halfway point, which gives viewers time to forget his brief yet far steamier affair with the lovely, tragic Jill.
Perhaps the absurdity of Goldfinger is best illustrated in a single scene. Having assembled the cream of America’s crime world in his lair, Auric outlines his plans for detonating Fort Knox. However, instead of using an overhead projector for his presentation, the mastermind has a scale model of the base located beneath the floor of his games room, accessible via some switches on a console that happens to be on the underside of a pool table. Clearly this was the pre-PowerPoint era, though it seems an overly decadent means of explaining his scheme and particularly to a group of men that he has every intention of killing. The film teases us by letting the one mobster who doesn’t want any part of Goldfinger’s plan walk out alive whilst the remaining audience is gassed. But this doesn’t last very long. The appropriately named Solo (Martin Benson) is driven towards the airport by Oddjob who then shoots him and leaves him in a car that is finally crushed into a cube.
It’s all done with elan, affection and a sheer willingness to entertain. At no point does Goldfinger even attempt to suggest that the world of an agent is really like this; nor should it. Cinemagoers loved Goldfinger and even now the film is seen routinely as the definitive Bond adventure. But its success carried a sting in the tail. Saltzman and Broccoli naturally saw the film’s massive box office as the direction the franchise needed to take, leading to a succession of copycat follow-ups that recycled its composite parts, grew more fantastical and grandiose in their efforts to outdo previous movies, and ultimately bored Sean Connery into quitting.