WFTB Score: 14/20
The plot: James Bond is charged to discover why a certain Auric Goldfinger has been smuggling and stockpiling gold. The spy soon becomes a ‘guest’ of the ruthless villain in both Switzerland and Kentucky, and although Bond discovers Goldfinger’s masterplan, it looks highly unlikely that he’ll be able to do anything about it. Unless, of course, he can bring his charms to bear on someone in Goldfinger’s organisation.
So, Mr Bond. This is the one many call your finest hour, your pièce de resistance, your…gold standard, as you might have quipped yourself. The question is, is this truly the pinnacle of 007’s career, or a case of ‘all that glisters* is not gold’?
Holidaying in Miami, Britain’s finest spy James Bond (Sean Connery) is given little time for R&R as he’s given a mission to tail Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe, dubbed menacingly by Michael Collins). Goldfinger is a man who will win at any costs, such as cheating at cards by getting the lovely Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) to spy on his opponent for him. Bond finds a way to distract Jill, but Goldfinger doesn’t take kindly to the interference and the poor girl ends up suffocated by gold paint. Undeterred, James continues to cross paths with the man his bosses suspect of smuggling gold – to what end, they know not – and follows him to a lab in Geneva where Auric discusses ‘Operation Grandslam’ with a Chinaman called Mr Ling (a young Burt Kwouk). Bond is captured and wakes up on Auric’s plane, piloted by the alluring and improbably-named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). She flies him to Goldfinger’s ranch in Kennedy where the full details of Grandslam are spelt out: with the help of Pussy’s ‘Flying Circus’, Goldfinger is going to break into Fort Knox. A crazy plan, but not half as crazy as what he plans to do once he’s inside. In captivity, 007 must use all his wiles (plus whatever assistance Cec Linder’s Felix Leiter can give him) to get amongst the action, even if that means letting his lips do the talking.
The first thing Goldfinger does is get its basics right. Connery is superb as Bond, cool as ice when he needs to be (listen for his expertise on wine and his quip about The Beatles) but capable of working up genuine indignation and a sweat linked to real fear – the tension of the famous laser scene is matched by little else in the Bond canon. He also has a great foil in Frobe’s bullying Goldfinger; a relatively large portion of the film sees the two in close proximity, and the villain’s obvious loathing of Bond’s suave nature is a joy to behold. Shirley Eaton is lovely in her all-too-fleeting role and Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is a winning combination of pseudo-lesbian attitude (‘I’m immune!’ she claims when Bond first turns on the charm) and feminine beauty. The story is simple to follow and builds to an exciting and (fairly) credible climax, directed with an eye on keeping the action moving.
So far, so satisfactory; but Goldfinger is blessed with a plethora of iconic touches that lift it from competent to classic. There’s the wonderfully grandiose theme tune (sung by the wonderfully grandiose Shirley Bassey); Jill’s grisly but memorable death, so limply imitated in Quantum of Solace; Harold Tanaka’s mute but menacing Odd Job and his borderline-comic weapon of choice; the already-mentioned laser scene with the immortal line ‘No, Mr Bond…I expect you to die!’; the first appearance of Bond’s gadget-laden DB5, complete with James’ trademark spiky exchange with Desmond Llewelyn’s Q. In this company, even silly moments such as the old lady wielding a machine-gun work. Goldfinger manages to keep action, sexiness and comedy in balance like no other Bond film before or since.
Which is not to say that everything stands the test of time. Pussy’s pointy-brassiered pilots look ridiculous in the 21st Century, Tania Mallet puts in a spectacularly wooden turn as Tilly Masterson, out for vengeance, and you could easily trim a few minutes from the long-winded and slightly clumsy golf game in which Bond continues to get Goldfinger’s goat. And of course, there are massive liberties taken with our goodwill, not least the atomic bomb’s counter which keeps clicking, but only runs down when the camera is on it. Even here, however, the film finds time to be both cool and exciting, Bond in a lather over which wire to pull until a scientist calmly intervenes, stopping the timer on…ah, you guessed it.
If you want to enjoy the film completely, you have to blithely overlook, ignore or forgive a few sizeable implausibilities in the plot: Goldfinger’s willingness to keep Bond alive, given how he treats virtually everyone else he comes into contact with, for example. Or consider what happens (off-screen) after James and Pussy’s roll in the hay: they go back to their separate quarters, Ms Galore does all her tipping off, canister substitution and so on, and Goldfinger – pretty much the definition of a control freak – doesn’t even ask how her afternoon went? But such is the stuff of Bond, and for many the more unfeasible or outrageous parts of the plot are half the fun. And even though Pussy’s conversion is perhaps predictable, at least Bond uses emotional blackmail as well as more direct means of persuasion to bring her round. Goldfinger is occasionally corny, but it’s never lazy.
I’ve reviewed enough Bond films by now for you to know that I’m essentially not a great fan. For me, the films have been far too content to live off a limited clutch of plots, tropes and catchphrases over their fifty-plus-year span, and anyone who enjoys hearing ‘shaken, not stirred’ in every single film might equally enjoy the repetition of Teletubbies. That said, when Connery put his heart into the role and everything else came together, 007 could provide solid, thrilling entertainment: and Goldfinger is as good as Bond gets.
NOTES: That’s right, glisters. Just because nobody else quotes it properly, doesn’t mean I have to join in.