GOLDFINGER is probably one of the most famous James Bond movies. From the instantly recognizable theme song by Shirley Bassey to the laser that makes every guy cringe in horror to the iconic image of the girl painted gold, when people think of 007, they think of GOLDFINGER. This 1964 film set the template that would come to define the film series.
Casual fans of James Bond might be surprised to realize that GOLDFINGER is actually the third film in the series. That’s because its predecessors, DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, are vastly different from the formula that GOLDFINGER established. Elements of the Bond formula are in place in the first two films but GOLDFINGER codified them and a successful franchise was born. Sure, each Bond film tries to tweak the formula, and the best films find ways to completely subvert it. But if there was ever a reliable franchise, it’s the James Bond film series.
What I love most about GOLDFINGER is Goldfinger himself. As the major villain of the movie, Goldfinger is both dangerously mad and meticulously methodical. The big scheme in the movie is crazy but it actually seems well conceived. Even Bond observes that it’s a good plan. We also get to spend a good deal of time with Goldfinger; he becomes a realized character rather than just a perfunctory Big Bad. The core of Goldfinger’s evil comes from selfishness and dishonesty. He’s a petulant child with the means and the madness to give into his own whims. With such a compelling villain, GOLDFINGER the film does not feel as dated as other Bond films.
Well, almost. If there’s one part of GOLDFINGER that does feel dated, it’s the romantic subplot between Bond and sexy pilot Pussy Galore. After the helpless Honey Ryder in DR. NO and the demure Tatiana Romanova in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Pussy Galore’s independence and confidence are refreshing. The film, however, treats those very qualities as something for Bond to conquer. Their rumble in the hay is meant to be sexy fighting, but the staging is too odd to accomplish that. It’s a shame because Honor Blackman is a super cool lady. My favorite role of hers is as the goddess Hera in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS but she is probably best known for her starring role on the 1960s TV show, The Avengers. (Fun fact: when Blackman left The Avengers to film GOLDFINGER she was ultimately replaced by Diana Rigg, who went on to play another memorable Bond Girl in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE). In a more modern film, Pussy Galore would be a worthy adversary for Bond but in GOLDFINGER, she is just another goal for Bond to accomplish.
Another interesting detail is that Bond saves the day in the end almost by chance. He spends a large portion of the film as Goldfinger’s prisoner and almost seems outmatched by him. Bond struggles to fight main henchman Oddjob and could not diffuse the bomb at the end. Plus, Goldfinger’s plan of mass murder does not go as planned because Pussy Galore switched the nerve gas with a placebo. The film presents Bond as a smart agent but one who also relies on luck and circumstance to complete his mission.
That’s a noteworthy place for Bond to be in. While later Bonds might be shown as virtually indestructible, I always appreciated when Bond made a mistake or when his feathers got ruffled a little bit. It’s because of Sean Connery that Bond can remain collected and heroic even when he has to wing it and hope for the best. Connery just has a cool masculine charm; his Bond can get away with anything because he looks so cool doing it. Connery is definitely my favorite Bond (though Daniel Craig is eyeing the top spot after SKYFALL).
But that’s the thing about James Bond. Each incarnation of the secret agent has his own legion of fans. My mom likes the comic adventures of Roger Moore. I know some film fans that like the gritty and tense Timothy Dalton films. Pierce Brosnan feels like a precursor to the Craig films (at least until Denise Richards was cast as a nuclear physicist). Even George Lazenby has his supporters.
The series is so fun and exciting that it is hard not to get sucked into the gambling, the girls and the gadgets. GOLDFINGER is a prime example of how the films can get your adrenaline pumping with an interesting plot, some fun characters and great action scenes. So, sorry Shirley Bassey, but when Goldfinger beckons me into his web of sin, I must go in.