Back before the dark times, before the old site blew up like a villain’s volcano lair, Wrenage and I were working our way through all of the Bond movies in order. Like James Bond, Stark and Wrenage Will Return – always! We won’t let a little setback like the total destruction of all of our work keep us down. So, after Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and a small internet-based hiccup, we are back with the movie that many credit with cementing James Bond’s place in cinematic history – Goldfinger. Although, this also might be where opinions start to vary.
Hold onto your potatoes, Outposters. Bond On!
Goldfinger – Behind The Scenes
Bond had arrived. Dr. No exploded onto movie screens and nobody had seen anything like it. It made over 60 times its budget. From Russia With Love was released barely a year later, with a budget doubled to $2 million. It pulled in $80 million. Bond-mania was building, and 007 was a very profitable business. Contracts were already in place, and a third movie was inevitable. The budget was set at $3 million, the budget of the previous two movies combined. This was considered huge at the time, even though it’s only equivalent to around $25 million today.
While From Russia with Love was still in production, Richard Maibaum began working on the script for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the next movie. However, with the release date set for September 1964, not enough time existed to prepare for location shooting in Switzerland. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was put on hold as they rethought the next entry. The court case between Kevin McClory and Ian Fleming surrounding Thunderball was still in the High Court, so that was out.
Bond and his appeal has always skewed global rather than US-centric. Dr. No and From Russia With Love were huge in Europe, Latin America, Japan, and countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sought a story that would allow more focus on the United States. Goldfinger was chosen due to a plot centering on Fort Knox.
Richard Maibaum sharpened his pencil and wrote a script in double-quick time. In the novel, Goldfinger simply plans to steal the gold. This had been commented on by critics as being implausible, as it would take Goldfinger twelve days to load all the gold. Bond mentions this in the movie. Instead, Maibaum did what Bond writers frequently do – he turned to the headlines. The political sphere was alive with talk of a Red Chinese atomic bomb, so that was used to close the novel’s loophole by replacing the theft of gold with the irradiation of gold.
The focus on the American elements proved difficult. Harry Saltzman disliked the first draft as being “too American” and brought in Paul Dehn to revise it. Dehn better brought out the British side of things, but Connery disliked his draft, so Maibaum returned. During this process, a key part of what would become Bond-lore would be cemented.
Dehn suggested that the pre-credit sequence used in From Russia With Love should return but this time be an action scene with no connection to the plot. Maibaum created a pre-title sequence based on the opening scene of the novel. In the book, Bond is waiting at Miami Airport on his way home from a mission where he killed a Latin American drug smuggler. The movie shows this mission as the pre-credit scene, leading to the delivery of one of Bond’s most famous lines:
“Shocking. Positively shocking.”
The trademark Bond-quip, the sardonic one-liner, wasn’t just used for laughs here. If you study the line as delivered by Connery, it is also a statement of his disgust at the betrayal of the woman.
Wrestling with how to appeal to the American market wasn’t just limited to the script outline itself. One character’s name presented particular problems. America was a chaste and censorious place. The moral monitors caused many movie productions sleepless nights. While the name Pussy Galore followed the tradition of Bond girl names, producers were concerned over the reaction of over-bearing American censors. They thought about changing the character’s name to Kitty Galore. Director Guy Hamilton nixed this, telling the producers:
“If you were a ten-year old boy and knew what the name meant, you weren’t a ten-year old boy, you were a dirty little bitch.”
He would later tell this story:
“The American censor was concerned, but we got round that by inviting him and his wife out to dinner and [told him] we were big supporters of the Republican Party.”
During the promotion, actress Honor Blackman took great delight in making the uptight American interviewers squirm by repeatedly mentioning her character’s name. American censors did not interfere with the name in the film itself, but they did refuse to allow the name “Pussy Galore” to appear on promotional materials. In the US market, she was simply called “Miss Galore” or “Goldfinger’s personal pilot” in all materials.
While most of the key people were back for Goldfinger, one big piece of the puzzle went missing. Director Terence Young took a powder over money issues. He wanted a percentage of the profits, and Saltzman and Broccoli balked. Considering Goldfinger made $120 million off a $3 million budget, Young was likely right on target in wanting his slice of the pie.
With Young out of the picture, Guy Hamilton came in. No reach existed in this decision. Hamilton was approached to do Dr. No before Terence Young. Hamilton also knew Connery from way back, so they got along gangbusters. Wrenage prefers Hamilton to Young, feeling his style is a bit more breezy, and he is a bit better at capturing money shots. While working his way up the food chain, Hamilton said…
“I found that working with bad directors was infinitely more [educational] because you watched them get into trouble three times a day and puddle around and you say, you know, I won’t do that, I don’t want to fall into that trap.”
Hamilton brought a number of other things to James Bond besides his eye and leadership. His goal was to make Bond less of a superman and build up the villains. This decision is pretty evident in Goldfinger, as Bond often steps aside to play second fiddle in the plot. Hamilton was also responsible for adding the friction between Q and Bond.
Desmond wanted to play Q as Bond’s buddy, but Hamilton said, “No, you don’t like him.”
“Why not?” Desmond said. “Everyone likes Bond.”
“Not you, because Bond doesn’t treat your work with the respect it deserves.”
After a hiatus on From Russia With Love, Ken Adam came back and nailed it with his Goldfinger set design. Peter Lamont also came on board. Lamont was no slouch himself and worked on many more Bond films, plus with James Cameron. While the laser room and Goldfinger’s rumpus room are highlights, the standout set is Fort Knox. No one knew what the inside of Fort Knox looked like because it was classified. Broccoli said he wanted a “cathedral of gold,” so that is what Adam and Lamont delivered. They later got a letter from the woman who ran Fort Knox, congratulating them on their imaginations.
Goldfinger also added the final Bondian element to the formula: a cool car. Bond’s Aston Martin appears. Aston Martin was initially hesitant about giving Ken Adam and special effects man, John Stears (who later went on to work on a little film called Star Wars), a car because they didn’t think it was possible to make the modifications Adam and Stears had in mind.
“Just give us the car and let us worry about that,” Stears said. He also stated that one of his most memorable moments was cutting a hole in the roof of the beautiful Aston Martin as soon as they received it.
Since everything had to be done mechanically, Adams and Stears were challenged to make it all work, but make it work they did. They fit multiple gags into the car, even if it did require some finagling. For example, a tank was put in the trunk for the oil spray, and then the tank had to be taken out to make room for the bulletproof panel protecting the back window. Some gags were also left out of the finished film, such as road spikes, a phone, and even a TV screen.
An anecdote about the car also reveals the storytelling instincts of Broccoli. Originally, the car’s tricks were going to be revealed during the car chase. Broccoli said, nope, you show the audience exactly what the car can do at the beginning of the film; then they will anticipate it the whole time. And that was the exact right way to do it.
At the end of the day, Hamilton said his goal with Goldfinger was to take viewers to wonderful places, show them beautiful girls, give them suspense, laughs, and enjoyment. What, no ideological agendas, Mr. Hamilton? For shame!
On a more serious note, it is a shame that the most important person in James Bond history did not get to go on the journey Hamilton had in mind. While Ian Fleming had a chance to visit the Goldfinger set, he didn’t get to see the movie. Fleming was not a health-conscious person, and his lifestyle of boozing and smoking caught up to him. He died of a fatal heart attack August 11, 1964. He was only 56. It is strange to think that if he had lived an average life-span, he might have made it all the way to the Brosnan era of Bond.
Do You Expect Us To Talk?
Stark: So, this might be where thoughts diverge. This might be where the fiery fury of Outposters is directed at me. You see… I just don’t like Goldfinger all that much. There. I said it. It’s out in the open now, and I can’t take it back. Everyone knows. It is written down in the historical record of Last Movie Outpost that the world’s biggest Bond fan is actually a heretic.
Wrenage: Goldfinger solidified the James Bond formula, and Maibum’s script became the blueprint for subsequent films. All of the elements are finally present in their proper places: pre-credit sequence, theme song with credits against female forms, a megalomaniac villain, a physical henchman, a grandiose plan, dangerous girls, cannon-fodder girls, gadgets and action.
For these reasons, Goldfinger is often near the top, or at the top, of James Bond rankings. Is it going to be at the top with Stark and I? Judging from Stark’s opening words, he is not going to go along with the crowd. He is going to have courage in his convictions and point out that the emperor may be missing some articles of clothing. I would like to mercilessly mock him for his position, even go so far as to reference him as an ignorant slut, but, to paraphrase Vasquez in Aliens…he may be right.
Stark: I am not saying it’s a bad movie. Objectively, it’s a great movie. It just doesn’t press my buttons like other Bond outings. I know it’s got all those great Bond hallmarks like the Aston Martin, the pre-title, the opening song being belted out by Shirley Bassey, the henchman, and the gadgets. I get all that. It just leaves me a little cold. A slight mark against it for me is that I don’t think Miami and Kentucky and a road in the Swiss Alps are exotic. My biggest issue, though, is this.
Remember in The Big Bang Theory there is a semi-famous scene where the boys have introduced the girls to Raiders Of The Lost Ark for the first time? The girls point out that Indiana Jones is entirely inconsequential in the movie. He could have stayed at home and the Nazis still would have found the Ark eventually, opened it up, and melted. Leaving aside that this misses a lot of the nature of storytelling and the adventure along the way, it does mean that the actions of Indy are, overall, pointless. There is a bit of that here. James Bond is kind of inconsequential in his own movie.
He spends the whole movie reactive or getting knocked out and captured. He gets both Masterson sisters killed. He spends the rest of the film as a prisoner, his efforts to alert the authorities fail and he eventually ends up being chained to a bomb which would have killed him had Pussy Galore not had an outbreak of good conscience. He doesn’t even defuse the bomb. Someone else turns up to do it just in time.
I suppose the only thing he could actually take credit for is that Pussy Galore, a lesbian in the book, is potentially turned good by the promise of Bond’s magic cock.
Wrenage: All I can say is…
Ranking And Rating
Let’s start working our way through the scoring system and see where Goldfinger ultimately falls. Will Stark burn it to the ground? Will Wrenage rescue it with higher numbers? Or will one be turned in the process?
Wrenage: It is my understanding that people consider Bond at peak cool in Goldfinger. I always viewed it that way, but upon this most recent watch, I realized something about the Goldfinger Bond — he is a total troll.
Bond is a know-it-all with M. He prods Q. He pokes the bear with Goldfinger in Miami and on the golf course. He ingratiates Tilly. He toys with Mei-Lei. He is fake pious with Pussy. He messes with Oddjob. He messes with Goldfinger’s guards. He basically messes with everyone. My favorite moment is when Bond is on the plane at the end to go have lunch with the President. Suddenly, he is on the wrong end of a gun as Goldfinger pops out of the cockpit. Bond’s response:
Hello, Goldfinger. Are you going to have lunch with the president, too?
Connery looks to be having fun with this kind of total, nonplussed trolling, and, while it is a bit of a departure from a more professional Bond in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the behavior can be rationalized. Bond operates in harness with people in the first two movies. He is working with Leiter and Coral in Dr. No, and he is a tagalong to Kerim Bay for much of From Russia With Love. Bond operates independently in Goldfinger. He is a provocateur, and his modus operandi seems to be to mess with everyone he comes across until a way forward is revealed. The question then arises, does this turn Bond into too much of a punchline in Goldfinger?
Stark: There is an element of that in Tomorrow Never Dies, when Brosnan’s Bond just flat out tells Elliot Carver he knows it was him in their very first meeting simply to provoke a reaction. I kinda love it there, not so much here. I could handle Bond being supremely confident here, if he just wasn’t so ineffective in his own movie.
Wrenage: Personally, I enjoyed it. I’ll interpret it as a “never let them see you sweat” attitude. Bond spends much of the second act powerless, so trolling may be his only weapon. We would also be remiss to not mention Bond’s terrycloth onesie. Truly, Sean Connery and Tom Selleck showed the world how men should wear shorts. Alas, the rest of us are weak and beggarly and insist on shorts reaching the knee. For this, I hate myself.
Stark: The world has turned against cargo shorts, but I will never surrender to that camp-as-fuck, turned-up skinny jeans shorts style that makes everyone who wears them look like an effeminate mincer. That said, I concur, Connery’s toweling onesie game is so on point in this movie. Nobody else could really pull it off, ever. Connery is now effortless in the role.
Wrenage: The Masterson sisters are great examples of characters as plot devices. Ultimately, Jill Masterson exists to be covered in gold, which is an incredible image. It probably deserves consideration as one of the most iconic movie images ever. It is perfect on multiple levels, especially storytelling. It tells you all you need to know about Goldfinger. Meanwhile, Tilly Masterson exists for only two reasons: to give the movie a bit of intrigue while Bond follows Goldfinger, which would be boring in and of itself, and to be killed by Oddjob’s hat. Once the hat gag is introduced on the golf course, it has to be used on a person. Way to step up, Tilly.
Stark: If I remember rightly from the novel, and it has been a while, Jill dies “off-camera” in the book, so that image is entirely made up for the movie. It is just mentioned in the book, not experienced. Also, Tilly is a much bigger character, in plenty of scenes. Also, she’s a closeted lesbian. Fun fact – Tania Mallet tried out for the Tatania role in From Russia With Love but was unsuccessful. She also was a model, and she returned to modeling from this as it paid better than acting.
Wrenage: And that brings us to the true Bond Girl of the film, Pussy Galore. She is a decent match for Bond. She is a pilot. She knows judo. She is no pet of Goldfinger. He is a means-to-an-end for her. She works for him to make a whole bunch of money. These things make Pussy Galore a solid character, but her turn to the good side is too abrupt. It comes across as the result of Bond’s machismo. Meanwhile, other reasons are present but poorly presented. The fact Goldfinger lied to her, and she was going to murder tens of thousands of people with nerve gas rather than knock-out gas was the main reason for her flip.
Stark: It was Bond’s magic cock! Mass murder is just a contributing factor. Or at least, as you say, that’s how the movie makes it seem. Honor Blackman was a goddamn national treasure over this side of the Atlantic and she is fine as hell in this role. The lesbianism is played completely down for the movie, as opposed to being the central theme of her character as in the book. Pussy Galore is the character name that launched a million imitators though, isn’t it?
I do find her quite brusque and unappealing in this movie while the turn is, as you say, poorly presented. She loses marks for all that.
Wrenage: Yeah, the Pussy Galore moniker brought out the mockers, that’s for sure. I suppose it culminated with Austin Powers’ “Allota Fagina” character. Confession: I can enjoy the Austin Powers movies to a degree, but a part of me loathes them for spoofing the Bond movies. It all came out in the wash, though. The Austin Powers franchise is dead, but Bond keeps rolling on.
Wrenage: Goldfinger and Oddjob make for a great one-two punch of brain-villain and brawn-villain. Gert has a jocular quality to his performance. It is an interesting study in body language because nothing about Goldfinger’s balding, portly stature is imposing in and of itself. It is all in the way Gert carries himself. One gets a Hermann Goring vibe from Goldfinger. I imagine Goldfinger was also really good at rugby in his college days. And, he probably eats people.
Stark: I remember as a child I knew him from Goldfinger before I knew him from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which probably tells you quite enough about me as a child! Fröbe was cast because the producers saw his performance as a child molester in the German film Es geschah am hellichten Tag... so I suppose he has that going for him! The weird little fact here is that Fröbe spoke next to no English and learned his lines phonetically. When he spoke them, he was too slow and they had to redub him at twice the speed. He was redubbed by TV actor Michael Collins, and the job was completed so satisfactorily that they study it in film schools all over the world as the most successful deployment of dubbing. Trivia time – The only time his real voice is heard is during his meeting with members of the Mafia at Auric Stud. When Bond is hidden below the model of Fort Knox, it is Fröbe’s real voice in the background. The fact that I have shit like this in my head is why there is no room to remember anything important.
Wrenage: Harold Sakata is borderline loveable as Oddjob. He always has a friendly smile, even as he is murdering you. Admittedly, his killer hat is a bit ridiculous, but he is of Japanese descent, after all. I’m pretty sure we all know that every Japanese person who has ever lived can throw anything as a weapon, but we are afraid to say it because it might sound racist. This is a mistake because they are out there right now, waiting to throw things at us and mock us for our lack of math skills.
Stark: And, of course, the fact his character is meant to be Korean! I think, again going back to the book, that the bowler hat is an invention of the movie and not in the book.
Wrenage: A sudden memory bubble pops into my brain. In the novel, I believe Oddjob lacks fingernails because he toughened his hands up to be stone-like instruments of death. Supposedly, Sakata’s hands were instruments of death in real life, as well. Connery said Sakata didn’t properly pull his strike when Bond gets knocked out by Oddjob after his dalliance with Jill Masterson. Connery’s pain in that scene is genuine.
Stark: You are right. In the book, he’s deliberately created extra tough calluses to make his hands and feet like stone.
Wrenage: Also, we must mention Cato from the Pink Panther series puts in an appearance. Burt Kwouk plays a Chinese operative who delivers an atomic bomb to Goldfinger. It’s always nice to see Burt.
Stark: Not his last 007 appearance either!
Wrenage: I love the flamboyance of Goldfinger’s plan. Breaking into Fort Knox to irradiate the gold is gloriously grand. Despite a great caper, solid dialogue, a good first act, a good third act, and a good climax, the second act of Goldfinger has issues. Stark is correct. Bond is reduced to a prisoner role while the movie goes on around him. A series of contrivances also happen. Bond’s escape, Pussy’s turn, overhearing Goldfinger’s plot, and more. Fortunately, a few gags happen to keep the movie moving, such as the car-crushing scene.
Set designer Ken Adam said it was difficult for him to watch the car-crushing scene. He thought the Lincoln Continental that was used was a beautiful car. Apparently, the scene was a favorite with audiences, as well. Wrecking a luxury car in such fashion was a fresh gag to viewers in 1964.
The knock-out gas used by Pussy Galore and her crew also has magical plot abilities. It requires zero time to disperse. As soon as a plane flies over, troops pass out. Guy Hamilton used the same group of soldiers to film these scenes. He said they thought it was silly, but they all got $10 and a beer, so they went with it.
Stark: There’s a story there too. As you would expect, the US military was very strict about not flying low over Fort Knox. The crew did it anyway and the military went absolutely mad. The nerve gas scene is just poorly executed, to me. Instantaneous and simultaneous knock-out gas? Really? Then again, an act ago there was an ejector seat in a car, so…
On the plot itself, it is a good one and the irradiation addition in the movie, as opposed to the simple heist of the novel, is a great element.
Wrenage: I suppose one could rationalize the super potent knock-out gas. It is all a ruse, and the troops only pretended to be gassed. Ergo, their Lebron James-style flopping is excusable.
Wrenage: Goldfinger ups the action considerably over Dr. No and From Russia With Love. The pre-credit is already trying to be reminiscent of the train fight in From Russia With Love. From there, we get car chases, more fights, explosions, airplanes, and even a little old lady with a submachine gun. I had forgotten about the little old lady with the machine gun. I imagine that went over great with audiences in 1964, as well. Even now, it plays like a modern joke. The James Bond action quotient continues to grow as the James Bond series goes along, but the amount of action in Goldfinger is nicely spaced. While not excessive, it keeps the movie moving along.
Stark: Although strangely the whole thing feels like a drag, to me, at many points. I guess it’s just my prejudices stopping me fully engaging, perhaps?
Wrenage: Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is nothing special. Bond blows up some sort of posh laboratory, beats a guy up and electrocutes him in a bathtub. Originally, Bond was supposed to fight a different actor in the opening sequence, but the actor set to play the henchman had a second job — as a cat burglar. The dude got caught, so stuntman Alf Joint got the play the role instead. Alf was chosen because he had high cheekbones, and the crew thought they could make him look reasonably Latin American. Personally, I think they made him look more Franco Nero than Latin American.
Stark: Now the pre-title is one that I do like. I can take or leave the seagull on the head. That’s more Roger Moore’s style. The effortless cool of the tux under the wetsuit, the non-flinching at the explosion, the throwaway quip. This is stuff I can get behind.
Wrenage: The tuxedo gag is primo. I had forgotten all about it and realized Arnold’s character in True Lies is referencing it at the beginning of that film.
Wrenage: Goldfinger is an iconic Bond song, and Shirley Bassey gives it her all. On the last “he loves gold!” she actually had to remove her brassier to ensure the lung capacity.
Oddly enough, Saltzman hated the song. He called it the worst bleeping song he had heard in his bleeping life, but they had no time to change it. Oh, Harry, if you would have lived to see the modern era of music, surely you would have taken your hearing with an icepick by now.
Meanwhile, John Barry’s score for the rest of Goldfinger is lovely. I especially like the lazy rendition of the theme as Bond drives through Switzerland. The other highlight is the score for the assault on Fort Knox. It features driving drums, blaring brass, and what sounds like a xylophone. Barry was actually scoring as he received film from the cutting room. It truly is a testament to the talent working on these first Bond films. They cranked one out every year, even as they changed stories on the fly twice. Color me impressed.
Stark: There are a few instances in Bond history where you hear of Saltzman’s opinion on something, and just think “Thank God it was him that sold up and shipped out!” as sometimes I think these movies became great despite him, not because of him. This is one of those times. I am no fan of Bassey or the song. I prefer my Bond themes to challenge and this one is basically the normie archetype… but you can’t argue with iconic, and this is iconic.
Wrenage: Goldfinger is often recognized as a top Bond film. Plus, it features Bond’s first gadget car. Other than that, there is not a lot to score in the X-factor department. A gaff in the dialogue is worth mentioning. At the end, the bomb countdown stops at 007, yet Bond says, “Three more ticks.” This is because the countdown originally stopped at 003. The filmmakers couldn’t resist the joke in the final edit, however.
Stark: This gets weird for me, as it has it all. Everything. Goldfinger is the Bond blueprint over any other movie, really, and yet it just doesn’t click for me. The ultimate Bond movie, starring the ultimate Bond, and when viewed in isolation, none of these categories can be objectively scored down as bad. The sum of its parts is, strangely, more than the whole.
From Russia With Love (61.5)
Dr. No (49.5)
That’s A Wrap
Stark: Well, that was a weird experience. As I said, nothing in the movie is bad. It’s just… overrated? Is it just my natural contrarianism coming out against something so beloved? Maybe my years of reading Fleming and immersing myself in all things Bond is counting against me here? I prefer From Russia With Love. The strange conundrum of none of the aspects we score being bad, and yet the whole movie not being up there for me, rears its head here as it scores higher than Dr. No but I prefer Dr. No. So go figure? That said, I don’t think I have ever turned Goldfinger off if I channel surf into it. I last saw it on the kitchen TV, while drinking too much red wine at the same time as cooking a full roast. In retrospect, that was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon.
Wrenage: Is Goldfinger worthy of the hype or is it overrated? It is a little of both. It’s a solid Bond film, and Rotten Tomatoes has it as the #1 Bond movie overall. It’s not my number one, yet I wouldn’t call anyone who has it in their number-one position an ignorant slut. It contains all the things a person could want in a Bond film, and it is a good deal of fun to watch. Like all of the Connery films, it has a ton of style, and it is easy to see why it was a worldwide phenomenon. It is also the first time Stark has scored a Bond film lower than me overall. I am not entirely comfortable with Goldfinger being lower than From Russia With Love in the scoring. Personally, I’d put Goldfinger above From Russia With Love, but this is the checks-and-balances system at work. I am excited to see how it all shakes out at the end of the day. It will be especially interesting when we have to decide which films to drop down a tier.
Next time, Stark and Wrenage tackle the movie that nearly brought the world of 007 to its knees – Thunderball.
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