Light Bondage: “Goldfinger”

Bond, James Bond. For fifty years that has been the cinematic calling card of one of films most enduring heroes. Sure, Bond was born in books, but it was through film that he became a household name and one of the movies’ most enduring legends. He is a character so archetypical that he is bigger than the half dozen men who have played him across nearly two dozen films, and that kind of longevity is both unheard of and a little bit magical.

Light Bondage is my attempt to rewatch the series and try to recapture some of what made these movies worthwhile. I might not always succeed (I’m looking at you, Roger Moore!) but in this biweekly series of articles we’re going to take a ride through the time capsule of the last half century with the world’s most famous spy/action star.

Goldfinger (1964)

I feel almost silly talking about Goldfinger. It’s the most famous Bond movie, regularly cited on lists as people’s best. It won an Oscar. I go into this project assuming that outside of Casino Royale, this is the Bond movie most people reading this have seen. So I’m going to be super light talking about the plot and instead talk in specifics about why I think this movie represents nearly everything wrong with the Bond franchise. That’s right: I actively dislike Goldfinger.

Let’s start with the simple facts: after two movies of fairly low-key espionage action, Goldfinger introduces many of the remaining archetypes the rest of the movies will come to drive into the ground–extravagant gadgets, gimmicky villains, elaborate death traps. This movie introduces Bond’s infamous Aston Martin, equipped with guns and an ejector seat and a tracking system and oil slicks. It contains a villain that throws his effin’ hat at people. The climax of the film involves a plot to detonate a nuke at Fort Knox, irradiating all of the US’s gold supply. Goldfinger takes James Bond and puts him in what is essentially more of a cartoon than a spy thriller.

And while I’ll admit that all is a matter of taste, what isn’t a matter of taste is just how sidelined Bond becomes in his own film. Sure, the Bond of the first two movies was hardly a man of decisive action, but Goldfinger opens with an array of really poor choices with how to handle himself that ends with two women dead (one famously painted gold as punishment for sleeping with him, an eventuality that the films continue to demonstrate the women have little choice in the matter in). Bond spends a majority of the movie captured by the eponymous villain, paraded about as Goldfinger elaborates ad nauseum on his extravagant, ridiculous plan.

The most obvious, most infamous picture I could include from Goldfinger. Also the only one I could find in hi-res. Go figure.

The problem is, for all the screen time Goldfinger gets, he’s a terrible villain. We’re introduced to him as a man who would cheat at cards with a friend, and then as a man so vain that he will happily cheat at golf to win. This is the same man, that seconds after putting Bond in the infamous death trap and expressing his expectation that Mr. Bond will presently expire, then falls for a bluff that a four year old could see through and springs Bond from his own deathtrap in order to provide him another 30+ minutes to escape.

And don’t even get me started on Oddjob. I admit a childhood playing the hell out of the N64 Goldeneye predisposes me to hate the chapeaued fucker, but he is the worst gimmick villain, a mute stereotype that’s all karate chops and sinister butlering right up to the point where this man, who has been shown to kill people with single-blows and crush golf balls in his hand, has a drag out Kirk-versus-Lizard style awful fight with Bond and loses. The same Bond that has spent the entirety of the movie getting beaten and captured by nameless thugs in pajamas and getting tossed about by every person who crosses his path.

And all of these action set pieces would be fine if the movie were better made. Despite having a budget equal to the last two movies combined, it’s clear that there were an array of poor choices made in editing likely due to not getting the shots needed. Really sloppy composites, the kind of jump cut editing I pointed out last movie but now used in really inappropriate places, and a tendency to speed up shots that ran long or didn’t quite have the impact that they were supposed to have. The problem is, changing film speed like that doesn’t give the movie a sense of energy, it just makes it look uneven and manic, the under-cranking more appropriate for the slapstick of silent films than to punch up poorly plotted and placed set pieces.

Two things: 1) that terry cloth shorts/shirt combo is AMAZING and 2) I love how unrepentantly hairy Connery is. Sure, it was the 60s, but you forget in today's era of smooth everything that dudes be hairy.

This kind of ridiculous nonlogic is all over the film, and while I admit that I don’t go into my Bond movies looking for accurate representations of reality, I feel like there’s an internal logic these movies should be following that Goldfinger simply seems to not give a single shit about. It’s not actively offensive, but it’s certainly dumb, and not the kind of dumb fun where I come out of it feeling okay about having spent my time just being entertained. This is the first Bond movie that feels phoned in, and its fame has and probably always will baffle me.

The Theme Song/Opening Titles:
Probably as famous as the movie itself, Shirley Bassey’s confident “Goldfinger” theme is ridiculous in all the best ways. Sure, the song is nonsense, but it’s an incredible earworm and the flexibility of the theme used within the movie it impressive. Also, the opening titles, despite having the typical naked lady, are infinitely more tasteful than From Russia With Love‘s gyrating belly dancer. Probably my favorite part of the movie, for whatever that’s worth.

Notable Ridiculous Gadget:
I already talked about the car, but honestly the most ridiculous gadget belongs to Goldfinger himself. About 2/3 of the way through the movie, he decides to invite a bunch of mobsters to his estate and lay out his master plan. To do this, he has an entire lounge that turns and flips and converts, transformers-style, into a war room. The pool table flips and rotates to become a command station to close skylights and seal the room with a map of Fort Knox, which he then augments by having a giant model of Fort Knox that rises from the floor. This is also a conveniently hollow model, obviously just for show and not functionally useful in any way, and it allows Bond to stick his head inside the fort from underneath to hear Goldfinger’s entire plot. Yes, really.

Bond Girl Award for Most Thankless Role:
Honor Blackman plays Pussy Galore. Yeah, you heard that right. Pussy fucking Galore. It’s so ballsy that I can’t quite call it self-parody, but god dammit does it make the character of Goldfinger’s ace pilot and right hand woman–a woman who is otherwise kind of great and brash in a way the prior Bond girls have not been–almost unbearable to think about. Especially given Connery’s (reportedly) censor-avoiding pronunciation of “Poo-shee” every fucking time she’s on screen. It’s the most awful thing I can’t believe I’ve suffered through multiple times.

The worst part is, in this movie Miss Galore (I just can’t do it. I’m not a prude, but god dammit) is way cooler than Bond. She’s at first totally adverse to his advances and calls him out on his smarmy bullshit multiple times. She’s an ace pilot, she can handle a gun, she knows judo and knocks Bond on his ass. She has a squad of women pilots in amazing mod outfits. I would much rather have had a movie about her and her amazing ass-kicking adventures than watch her slowly succumb to the franchise’s demands that Bond bed literally every woman but Moneypenny.

Pussy and her pack of pilots. Better than this movie deserves, honestly.

To add insult to injury, I find out in doing my research for this that apparently the only reason she’s tough is that in the original book she was a lesbian, thus making her doing man-stuff ‘totally okay’ aside from the part where it’s revealed that she’s only a lesbian because she was abused as a child. At least in the books Bond doesn’t bed her, instead having a semi-fond farewell as she’s dragged off to prison. Obviously you can’t have homosexuals in movies in the 60s, though, so all that remains is a sense (admittedly maybe better than Flemming’s hyper-sexist, vaguely homophobic concept) of badassery. Though knowing that the actress knew and portrayed Miss Galore as a lesbian makes the parts where Bond’s hypermasculinity win him into her pants all the more gross.

Best Bondickery:
This one comes really early in the movie, during the pre-title action scene that will become a standard in these movies. Bond blows something up and goes to celebrate with a dancer he is intimate with, only to realize as the last second that she’s working for the enemy when he sees an approaching goon through a reflection on her eyeball (a silly but admittedly stylish shot in a movie without many of them).

Bond, man of incredible tactical acumen that he is, decides the best course of action to avoid the blunt object the man’s going to club him with is to use the body of the woman he’s kissing as a shield, turning at the last moment and putting her skull in the way, at least knocking her out if not outright killing her (this being the opening title sequence, Bond walks out before we have any indication he didn’t just willingly let someone get bludgeoned to death on his behalf) before electrocuting the thug in the bathtub and leaving. Our hero.

JAMES BOND will return in THUNDERBALL

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About M

Artist, ne'er do well, militant queer.
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