My James Bond retrospective: Goldfinger.

Right on the heels of the previous film comes yet another Bond adventure, this time with Guy Hamilton taking the chair as director. Harry Saltzman and “Cubby” Broccoli return to guide the franchise, and James Bond films begin to take on a personality of their own. Many of the established pieces of 007 lore are put into place with Goldfinger, and when this film hit theaters in 1964, the whole world is stricken with “Bond Mania.”

With the immense success of the first two films, a ton of pressure was on Saltzman and Broccoli to deliver with this third film. Because of their track record, the film was billed as bigger and better than either of the first two, and it was time EON Productions proved they had what it took. After all, they now had a budget that was equal to the budgets of both Dr. No and From Russia with Love combined.

And so, in September of 1964 (January 1965 here in the States), we met Goldfinger.

They say, “the third time’s the charm,” and in the case of James Bond, that couldn’t ring more true. While From Russia with Love had pacing issues, Goldfinger moved at a much more satisfying clip. The film editing felt tighter, the acting appeared stronger, and the plot was more cohesive.

The pre-title sequence has little to do with the film as a whole, but features Bond being betrayed by a woman while on a mission in Latin America and uttering the famous line, “Shocking. Positively shocking,” after electrocuting a man in a bathtub. Clever. And characteristic of this slightly more lighthearted film. He then heads to Miami and the opening titles roll.

Several Bond staples appear for the first time throughout this film. There’s the sexual innuendo embedded in a character’s name (although I would hardly call the name “Pussy” an innuendo). There’s the silver birch Aston Martin DB5. And then there’s Bond’s trip to Q Branch where he meets with Q, who was introduced as Major Boothroyd in From Russia with Love.

The film established the trajectory for the Bond franchise. Guy Hamilton created something new within the mold of what Terence Young had done in the previous two films, and it was superb. The introduction, “Bond. James Bond,” returns (albeit not nearly as debonair as in Dr. No), and in so many ways this film just works. There’s some mystery surrounding what’s going on and what Goldfinger is up to, and unlike in From Russia with Love, the audience isn’t let in on the secret, maintaining some suspense throughout the film until Goldfinger unveils his diabolical plan. The murder of Jill Masterson (played by Shirley Eaton) is chilling, and when her dead body was revealed, I caught myself gasping internally even though I knew exactly what I was about to see. The filmmaking is that good. The scene is iconic and synonymous with James Bond (despite its scientific inaccuracy, but hey, this is Bond). Even if you haven’t seen Goldfinger you’re likely quite familiar with the eerie image of a dead girl covered in gold paint.

We soon meet Tilly Masterson, Jill’s sister, who’s seeking revenge for her sister’s death by killing Goldfinger. To be honest, I’d have to say that I liked her character a lot and was disappointed to discover that she wouldn’t have more than just a few minutes of screen time. She was headstrong and knew exactly what she wanted. She wasn’t too good with a rifle though, which is suspicious because she had her initials engraved in her rifle case. Ah well, the writers had to reveal her identity somehow.

After Tilly’s demise, we see quite possibly the most recognizable scene in all of Bond film history. Goldfinger captures Bond and places him on a table where he gives him a demonstration of his new laser. (Here’s a fun fact: this is the first time a laser beam is shown in film.) The most memorable bit of Bond-film dialogue takes place here.

Shortly thereafter we’re introduced to Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman (who, incidentally, is the first Bond girl to have an established acting career prior to her role in a Bond movie). She’s a tough girl who resists Bond’s advances through most of the movie and presents more of a challenge to Bond than he may have bargained for. Sexy, determined, and dangerous, Pussy Galore is the most attention grabbing Bond girl yet. And she shows off almost no skin throughout the whole movie. How about that?

If there’s something bad to say about this film it’s that it sends the the Bond franchise down a road that I think it should not have traveled. Dr. No and From Russia with Love were simple spy thrillers. No gimmicks, no gadgets, and no games. While Goldfinger steers clear of camp, it doesn’t avoid nodding in that direction, leading subsequent Bond films down that road, culminating in films like Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker and Die Another Day. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. For now, Bond is a British spy, gadgets be damned.

And, like the end credits said, “James Bond will return…”

Next up, Thunderball.

(Click here to go back to the list.)

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