Musings on Bond at 50: Goldfinger

Posted: 13 August 2012 in entertainment, film
Tags: , , , ,

Goldfinger48 years after its release Goldfinger continues to be hailed as the quintessential James Bond film.

Goldfinger. He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch.

With the release of Goldfinger James Bond truly became the man with the midas touch. Produced on a budget on £3 million (as much as Dr. No and From Russia With Love combined) the third film in the series recouped its costs within two weeks of release and would eventually go onto gross nearly £125 million at the box office worldwide. It was the first Bond film to be a genuine blockbuster. Ironically, given the vast sums of money involved in production and profit, Goldfinger was the subject of several fee disputes that lead to changes both in front of and behind the camera.

After his exemplary work on the first two films it was no surprise that Terence Young was signed up to helm Goldfinger. However Young left during the early stages of pre-production as the result of a pay dispute with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The director attempted to negotiate a share of the box office profits as part of his contract but the producers were not willing to entertain such a request. To replace Young the producers brought in Guy Hamilton, who would up the tongue-in-cheek possibilities presented by the Bond universe and gave Goldfinger a more humorous approach than Young’s grittiness. Although Young and Connery had injected dark humour into the first two films it was with Hamilton that the era of the Bond one liners truly began. Unfortunately the approach descended into excessive camp humour, poor puns and self-parody in the 1970s.

After his well-received appearance in Dr. No the producers invited Jack Lord to reprise the role of Felix Leiter. In common with Terence Young he soon departed the project after his demands for co-star status, a bigger role, and increased fee were all rejected. In his place Cec Linder (best known to British audiences for his appearance in the classic BBC TV series Quatermass and the Pit) was cast as Leiter. This was the first in a woeful series of miscasting Leiter. Linder displayed zero chemistry with Sean Connery and came across as a bland and disapproving uncle rather than a counterpart of Bond as had been the case with Lord and the Felix Leiter of Ian Fleming’s novels. Over the coming decades the unwillingness of the producers to agree to or negotiate fee demands would lead to decisions that would affect the series.

There was clearly an attitude of the series being bigger than any individual and a cheaper alternative could always be found. Though this approach could not always be employed in one unique area: the actor portraying James Bond. By the time Goldfinger went into production Sean Connery was in an incredibly strong position to renegotiate his contract with Broccoli and Saltzman and by the time the film was released Connery had a deal that gave him a 5% of the profits of any Bond film he starred in.

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No Mr Bond, I expect you to die.

Goldfinger - Jill MastersonAuric Goldfinger’s obsession with gold is a thread that runs throughout the film and nowhere is this better reflected than in the method by which the traitorous (in his eyes) Jill Masterson is put to death. Shirley Eaton was propelled into the international limelight when she appeared covered from head to toe in gold paint. It is a hauntingly erotic yet horrific moment when Bond discovers Jill’s body on the bed. From that moment onwards his duel with Goldfinger takes on a personal edge.

Nearly every Bond villain faces comparison to Gert Frobe’s masterful gold-obsessed Auric Goldfinger. From cheating at golf to detonating a nuclear weapon he has no compunctions about committing any criminal act in order to increase his hoard of bullion. Ultimately Goldfinger is not a genocidal madman engaged in a bizarre scheme to trigger a war or destroy the world simply for the sake of doing so – he is a thief on a grand scale and in this era of bankers stealing and squandering billions he seems all too possible.

Backing up the ultimate Bond villain was the ultimate Bond henchman: Oddjob. In real life Harold Sakata was considered an “absolutely charming man” (as many many villainous types often are) but on film he was stoic and deadly as Oddjob. On paper the concept of using a bowler hat rimmed with a razor blade as an instrument of murder likely seemed laughable but played deadly straight by all concerned it became a terrifying concept. The showdown between Bond and Oddjob in Fort Knox became a contest of Bond’s ingenuity against Oddjob’s pure muscle. Sakata’s dedication to the role was demonstrated during the electrocution of Oddjob as he was badly burnt by the pyrotechnics but clung onto the rails until Hamilton shouted “Cut” so that the director could get the required footage.

Goldfinger - James BondOne of the most controversial elements of Goldfinger, at least for those born with no sense of humour, was the character of Pussy Galore. For a time it looked as though she would have to be renamed “Kitty Galore” in order to appease straight-laced moralists but ultimately the producers went with the original name and Honor Blackman took great delight in saying “Pussy Galore” as often as possible during publicity tours so as to embarrass the interviewers. Along with Honey and Tatiana, Pussy completed a glorious trio of blonde Bond Girls from Connery’s first outings. Not until The Man with the Golden Gun would there be another blonde Bond leading lady.

One reason for the choice of Goldfinger as the third film was the opportunity to use locations in the USA in order to appeal to American audiences. Despite location filming in Miami and Kentucky, including extensive work at Fort Knox itself, Sean Connery never set foot in the USA during production. Apart from a brief trip to Switzerland for footage of Bond’s trailing of Goldfinger’s Rolls Royce most of Connery’s scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios (with an outing to the nearby Black Park for the chase sequence with the Aston Martin). The classic golf match between Bond and Goldfinger was filmed at Stoke Park Club and it was during the shooting of those scenes that Connery began his life-long love of the game.

Goldfinger - laser roomThe script writers cleverly dealt with most ridiculous aspect of Ian Fleming’s novel, namely Goldfinger’s intention to steal all the bullion from Fort Knox, by cheekily using Bond himself to point out the implausibility of his creator’s grandiose theft scheme and then revealing their own clever twist of rendering all the bullion worthless by irradiating it. Clever scriptwriting also lead to the creation of the most famous dialogue interchange in the series when Bond faces being dissected by a laser beam. In the novel when Bond is captured in Switzerland he escapes death by offering to work for Goldfinger and unbelievably the villain accepts. In the film the dreadful sequence is replaced by the classic scene where Bond uses guile and pure bluff to escape death. One aspect that could not be fixed was Bond spending most of the last third of the narrative under lock and key and Goldfinger’s plans only being foiled thanks to Pussy’s last minute change of allegiance rather than any brilliance on the part of the British agent.

Bond: Ejector seat? You’re joking!
Q: I never joke about my work, 007.

After his introduction as Boothroyd in From Russia With Love it is here that Desmond Llewelyn first presented the character of Q that would be so beloved of Bond fans for the next 35 years. Each appearance of the cantankerous Quartermaster and his latest arsenal of lethal gadgetry became a much anticipated element of each new film and Llewelyn himself would go on to become one of the greatest ambassadors of the series. Credit for the characterisation of Q lies squarely on the shoulders of director Guy Hamilton. It was his suggestion that the Q should not adulate Bond as the “great 007” but demonstrate annoyance with him. All Bond ever did was ridicule Q’s hard work and then proceed to destroy said work in spectacular fashion. Connery’s tendency to fiddle with the gadgets on set and distract Llewelyn from his lines was also worked into scenes so as to exasperate Q’s impatience with 007.

Goldfinger - Aston MartinThe show stopping gadget of the film and possibly all 22 films to date is undoubtedly the Aston Martin DB5 as outfitted by Q Branch (in real life special effects expert John Stears). Subsequently regarded as one the most famous cars in the world the DB5 has become one of the icons of the series and has made return appearances in Thunderball, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale and Skyfall. Bond driving any car but an Aston Martin is simply wrong.

Throughout the 110 minute running time of Goldfinger lie the fingerprints of a production team at the height of their powers and supremely confident in their abilities.

After being absent for From Russia With Love Ken Adam returned as designer and did so with an glittering array of sets. From Goldfinger’s laser room to the briefing room Adam’s vision continually takes the breath away with its audacity. All of that is trumped with the entry into the extraordinary underground bullion repository at Fort Knox. Denied access to the genuine facility for research Adam let his imagination run riot and created a cathedral of gold to act as the backdrop for the final battle between Bond and Oddjob.

Goldfinger - Odd JobGoldfinger provided a legacy of golden brilliance to the series and introduced numerous tropes that would resonate down through the following decades: pre-credits action sequence, Shirley Bassey’s classic theme song, the 3 Bond Girls structure, Aston Martin, super villain and henchman with unique quirks, fairly bonkers and larger-than-life nefarious enterprise, John Barry’s bold and brassy music, Ken Adam’s epic sets, and the coalition of good guys fighting villain’s minions near the conclusion.

The Sean Connery era can effectively be split into two trilogies: Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger forming the first, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever the second. The first trilogy introduced the cinematic 007 and fine tuned the elements that would endear the character and his universe to the world for the next five decades. If the series had concluded with Goldfinger then it would have been a near perfect film trilogy but with the success of the first three films there was no way that Broccoli and Saltzman were going to shut up shop. More and more outings for 007 were inevitable. However Connery’s next trilogy would in no way match up to the glory days of his first entires in the James Bond series as the character became increasingly swamped under grandeur and gadgets.

1 From Russia With Love
2 Goldfinger
3 Dr.No


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