2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 3: GOLDFINGER (1964)
THE GOLD STANDARD “It’s another Bondbuster!” bragged the marketing – but, in truth, Goldfinger was the first, the film whose blend of carnival-hearted thrills, outsized ambition and cheeky wit defined not only the notion of a Bond movie but every quip-studded action flick that followed. Guy Hamilton replaced the dapper Terence Young as director, substituting a quicksilver energy and lightness of touch for his predecessor’s old world panache. It’s a film with a matchless swagger, pumped by the growing power of the Bond brand. Just watch as the camera swoops low into Miami, John Barry’s score sounding impossibly bullish as we sail past a parade of poolside beauties – soon one of the defining cliches of the franchise – and the promise of good times under the Florida sun. Yes, it feels a world away from Dr No’s superstition-haunted Caribbean or From Russia With Love’s intrigue-soaked Istanbul, but this brash American landscape of empty highways, vast horizons and drive-in diners must have seemed just as tinglingly exotic to British moviegoers of the early ‘60s. A wry sense of absurdity infiltrates the series for the first time: Bond’s underwater mission in the pre-titles finds him with a duck disguise on his head. Connery rips it off with the same ill-concealed contempt he reportedly reserved for his toupee after a take.
HE LOVES ONLY GOLDGoldfinger not only sets the house style of the Bond movies – it gives us the first bona fide Bond song too (the titles of Dr No and From Russia With Love had played over instrumental versions of their themes, though a snatch of Matt Monro’s croon drifts from a transistor radio in the latter). As sold by Shirley Bassey in imperious, full-throated diva mode, it’s an incorrigible tart of a showtune, all brass stabs, pomp and menace. The words “Pretty girl, beware” feel like a foreshadowing – Bond leaves a trail of death behind him in this film, with both Masterson sisters losing their lives in memorably nasty ways. Robert Brownjohn designed the film’s innovative title sequence, which mixes eerie surrealism (the Aston Martin’s tumbling numberplates replace the mouth of a girl – Dali would have approved) and brazen, molten eroticism, as flames lick the thighs of a golden girl. It’s all very sexy, aloof and sinister and feels deeply, brilliantly Bond.
ALL THAT GLITTERS “Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean,” declares karat-lusting rascal Auric Goldfinger. “He has fired rockets at the moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavour… except crime!” Take one look at Ken Adam’s phenomenal Fort Knox set, gaze at its gleaming walkways and impossible mountains of bullion, and just for a moment you share Goldfinger’s insane ambition. Originally the setpiece climax was set to take place at the gates of America’s high security gold reserve. An eternal, instinctive showman, Cubby Broccoli knew that the audience needed more. “I want to see a cathedral of gold,” he demanded, dreaming big, and Adam delivered, his abject ignorance of the building’s true interior forcing him to concoct a glittering fantasy treasurehouse that doubtlessly leaves the reality for dead.
ODDJOB MAN Goldfinger’s malevolent, golfball-crushing manservant establishes another mainstay of big screen Bond lore – the freaky henchman with the lethal twist. As Oddjob, Harold Sakata is a silent, smiling, impeccably mannered tub of muscle, forever shadowed by an eerie tinkling on the soundtrack. He’s the angel of death after a stint in butler school, a master of deadly millinery. Sakata won a silver medal for weightlifting at the 1948 Olympics and was spotted by Guy Hamilton while wrestling on a TV show under the name Tosh Togo. Goldfinger was his first break in acting, and he came to it with admirable professionalism. He was badly burned during the electrocution scene in Fort Knox, refusing to let go of the sparking wire until he heard Hamilton say “Cut!”.
PUSSY POWER A recently concussed Bond returns to consciousness. A haughty yet twinkly blonde swims into focus before his eyes. “My name is Pussy Galore,” she announces. Bond smirks, visibly swallows. “I must be dreaming,” he murmurs. Watch this scene in the 21st Century and you might be baffled by the long silence that follows, a strange blank space in the narrative that soon makes perfect sense if you see it as built-in recovery time for the original cinema crowd to stop laughing. Yes, it’s one of the screen’s filthiest double entendres – fretful studio execs even considered neutering the name to Kitty Galore – and it’s to Honor Blackman’s credit that Goldfinger’s personal pilot is remembered as so much more than just a shameless piece of wordplay. Blackman was a household name already thanks to her turn as dominatrix daredevil Cathy Gale in The Avengers, and she brings to Pussy all the charm, steel and self-possession of one of Steed’s partners. She was used to doing her judo moves on the unforgiving concrete floor of a TV studio, so her scrap in the hay with Sean Connery felt like a comparative luxury.
THE ASTON MARTIN An elegant silver bullet, enshrined forever in Corgi toy form, Bond’s tricked-out DB5 remains 007’s definitive set of wheels (he drives a stately 1933 Bentley convertible in the Fleming books). The management at Aston Martin needed some serious wooing but finally relented and loaned the filmmakers the development prototype of their desirable new baby, remaining sceptical that the movie’s FX technicians could squeeze any more gizmology into its gleaming chassis. On Goldfinger’s release the car became a phenomenon, arguably eclipsing Connery himself. The Aston Martin’s introduction gives us our first Q lab scene, soon to be a mainstay of the franchise. While Connery’s sardonic incredulity sells it (“Ejector seat? You’re joking!”), so does Desmond Llewellyn’s deadpan self-belief in the glorious absurdity of it all (“I never joke about my work, 007!”).
THE GOLDEN GIRL It’s the imperishable image of the film – Jill Masterson’s gilded corpse, laid on a hotel bed. And somehow it sums up the essential DNA of the Bond films in a single, potent visual. It’s as elegant as it’s sinister, as sexy as it’s menacing, as poisonous as it’s alluring. Just watch Connery’s war of emotions as he discovers Jill’s gold-painted body. His face shifts from genuinely startled to professionally intrigued to, ultimately, a fleeting sadness at the realisation that Jill is the latest piece of collateral damage in his deadly lifestyle. “It didn’t occur to me that I was naked,” said Shirley Eaton, who won the cover of Life magazine in November 1964, a vision of 24 karat glamour.
TRIV AND LET DIE
While Shirley Eaton is the gold-plated victim on screen, Carry On starlet Margaret Nolan is the golden girl in the title sequence and posters (Nolan also appears as Dink in this movie).
My Fair Lady’s Theodore Bikel nearly won the role of Goldfinger.
Goldfinger’s laser is the first time such a device had been seen on screen.
Director Guy Hamilton’s hassle with parking tickets in London inspired the idea of the Aston’s revolving numberplates.
Hamilton told Desmond Llewellyn that Q must never admire Bond, even though Llewellyn’s instinct was to stand when his superior officer entered the room.
There’s a nod to Goldfinger in the Avengers episode “Too Many Christmas Trees”, where Steed receives a card from Cathy Gale and wonders whatever she can be doing at Fort Knox…