After a great introduction in Dr. No and a fleshing out of the character in From Russia with Love, James Bond returned, as promised from the last movie, in Goldfinger. There are some changes: Bond's on again/off again girlfriend Sylvia Trench is gone, as is director Terence Young. Guy Hamilton takes over. Also, instead of being buried within the film like most '60s movie themes, Shirley Bassey's title song roars over the opening credits as scenes from the movie are projected on a bikini-clad Shirley Eaton. Also, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is nowhere to be seen.
And thus you are introduced to the pinnacle of the Sean Connery era of James Bond films, and the one that is most fondly remembered by many fans. We're still jumping around, with Goldfinger being the seventh of Ian Fleming's original series of novels, and, even though he got to visit the set, Fleming passed away before the premiere. Still, it would have been something for him to be proud of: it's short, exciting and in large part sticks to the general plot of the book.
Bond (Sean Connery) thinks he's going to soak up some sun and his usual sort of fun in Miami. He finds out that MI6 had ulterior motives for sending him to the states when he is contacted by CIA agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) and told that the Americans and the British are concerned with the dealings of one Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). They are sure he is up to something, but not sure what.
Bond's arrogance and need to mess with Goldfinger almost blows the entire operation and gets Goldfinger's assistant Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) killed. Given a second chance by M (Bernard Lee), Bond attempts again to draw out what Goldfinger is up to, only to further upset him and get on the bad side of his henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata). He does manage to track him to Geneva, but his efforts get him captured and almost killed. He talks his way out of it, and finds himself back in the States. He also meets a key piece of Goldfinger's plot: his personal pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), who ends up doubling as Bond's minder while her boss goes about his plot.
It seems that the gold in his possession isn't enough, and Auric Goldfinger wishes to hit the ultimate gold repository: Fort Knox. He has a complex plan to both make himself richer and rid himself of James Bond once and for all. However, his ultimate goal goes way beyond simple theft.
There are so many iconic scenes from this movie: Jill Masterson's nude, gold-painted body, Oddjob's demonstration of his hat skills and Bond's threatened bisection by laser are just a few. Among all the exciting goings on is the location filming that made the first two movies such a treat, even if poor Sean Connery was stuck back in England due to simultaneously making a film with Alfred Hitchcock. We get to see Miami at its height in the '60s as it took over from Havana as a high-end party town, beautiful shots of the Swiss Alps and even a few scenes filmed in Kentucky.
Not Fort Knox itself, though. If you thought Dr. No's lair was impressive, this time around an entire exterior and interior set of Fort Knox was built at Pinewood Studios. Naturally, there was no real idea what it looked like inside, but apparently they got it pretty close just by guesswork. What they did manage to build, however, was a great arena for the final showdown between Bond and Oddjob.
Sean Connery is more than just used to the role at this point; he is James Bond, which in many ways explains his restlessness with the series, as he had desires to be known for more than just the British spy as his career went on. Based on his performance in this movie, until Daniel Craig came along, there was little doubt who the best actor was to portray the role.
As always, Bond needs villains that are up to his standard, and Gert Fröbe makes Goldfinger not just one of the best in the Bond series, but when it comes to movie villains period. While Blofeld may have a striking look and a white cat, Fröbe plays Goldfinger as having absolutely no sense of loyalty, morality or humanity. Just like the metal he loves so much, he is flashy, but ultimately cold inside. He is also the rare villain in this series who doesn't feel the need to go through an explanation of his plans (at least not to Bond, who he just offhand decides to kill once he realizes he is too dangerous of a nuisance). It is Bond that has to do the talking to live the first time around, and in the second instance he survives by pure luck of the cavalry arriving just in time.
I am also happy that Bond is still not a superhero. His failings are quite up front, with some references to his alcoholism (something made more apparent in the books) and his other dalliances managing to get two innocent women killed. Neither Shirley Eaton nor Tania Mallet (as Jill's sister Tilly) have much screen time, leaving the focus on Honor Blackman. While not as blatantly lesbian as Pussy Galore in the novel, the hints are still there - it's the '60s, so putting her in a "man's role" as a pilot is practically a neon sign from the time. Since it's not really emphasized, the fact that she ultimately falls for Bond makes it more like a "tough girl" relenting than a woman being "turned" by the right man. Either way, Blackman makes the role memorable for being more than just a pretty face or plot device. It's also nice to see someone do some real martial arts moves, as Blackman actually knew judo and doesn't do the fake flailing around seen in most films.
There really isn't too much negative to take away from Goldfinger, other than some of the scenes in Miami were obviously done with rear projection, but that's more due to certain limitations of making films in the 1960s than anything else. There have been recent campaigns to discredit the movie by viewing it through a modern gaze, but it's more a reflection on how times have changed and the fact that too many people are more interested in scoring political points rather than seriously viewing an earlier movie in its historical context. Or, in the case of Goldfinger, just going along for a fun ride and wishing that many of the current films could come up with a pairing of villains as interesting as Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob without feeling the need to throw in unneeded backstory.
Time: 110 minutes
Starring: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Harold Sakata
Director: Guy Hamilton