“He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch…”
Goldfinger is one of the Bond movies I remember best, having seen it a number of times, including as part of the James Bond film course I took in college. It’s also one of the best known Bond films, including a number of iconic gadgets, scenes, and lines that have indelibly entered popular culture. That said, younger-me still found it a little boring because it didn’t move as quickly as later Bonds and the only real gadgets in it were a car and a radio transmitter. (Ironically, the only real gadgets in Skyfall are a very similar radio transmitter and the exact same car.)
But given the stunning treatment of the previous two Bond movies, I was looking forward to seeing how this one looked fully restored. I can honestly say I wasn’t disappointed.
This is the movie where Bond first became fully Bond. Everything came together, big touches and little touches. Here were the first true “gadgets,” and the beginning of Q’s prickly antipathy toward Bond for never bringing his equipment back in one piece. Here was the first pre-credits teaser that was unconnected to the rest of the main story. Here was the first truly memorable henchman. It’s no wonder Bond mania took off from here.
As with the previous movies, the print has been amazingly restored, and is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Goldfinger is the last Bond to be made for 1.66:1 except for Live and Let Die. All other Bond films have been in 2.35:1 cinemascope.
After Bond takes out a drug refinery in Central America, he lands in Miami, where he’s told to keep an eye on one Mr. Auric Goldfinger. He catches Goldfinger cheating at cards, forces him to lose, and ends up getting an attractive woman killed by “skin suffocation” in gold paint. Back in England, he learns Goldfinger has been smuggling gold and nobody knows how, so he arranges to meet Goldfinger, follows him to a refinery in Switzerland, then gets captured and spends half the movie as Goldfinger’s prisoner as he learns of Goldfinger’s scheme to break into Fort Knox—not to steal the gold, but to destroy it with a nuclear bomb. Fortunately, 007’s ingenuity (and a lot of luck) saves the day.
Even though I was an adult the last time I saw this movie, I still feel like I can better appreciate it now through the eyes of experience. There is just so much to like about Goldfinger: Shirley Bassey’s bravura performance of the opening titles, John Barry’s amazing score. The humor, the gadgets, the action, the memorable villains, and so on. If the science is a little passé (we now know “skin suffocation” doesn’t actually happen), that doesn’t detract from the iconic image of a dead girl completely covered in gold paint.
Designer Ken Adam returns to the fold, having been absent making Dr. Strangelove during From Russia with Love, and provides more of his iconic supervillain lair designs. Goldfinger’s “rumpus room” with its transforming pool table and retracting floor, is a wonder to behold—such a wonder, in fact, that it distracts the audience from the nonsensical nature of the scene: Why is Goldfinger telling the mobsters his plans when he just plans to kill them all anyway? (Apart from needing to tell the audience what he’s up to, of course.)
Adam’s other designs are no less spectacular. The interior of Fort Knox, the completely made-up “temple of gold,” makes an impressive locale for Bond’s final showdown with Oddjob. Even the hidden drug processing lab in the opening teaser is quite memorable.
Editor Peter Hunt once again brings his trademark brand of cuts on action to the movie, picking up the pace in little ways it’s not as easy to appreciate looking back from an era in which everyone edits that way. But that editing style helped set the pace for many more action movies of the later ‘60s, leaving behind a legacy of a great change in cinematic style.
It’s interesting to note the inversion of the usual movie formula here. In most films, the hero gets beat by the bad guy the first few times until he finally comes around to defeat the bad guy in the end. But in Goldfinger, Bond comes off on top in his first couple encounters—then is captured, strapped to a laser table, and nearly cut in half, and spends most of the rest of the film as a prisoner. His attempts to get word out are foiled. If Bond hadn’t managed to seduce Pussy Galore, Goldfinger would have won.
This is also the first Bond movie to feature the battle royale, with dozens (in later movies, hundreds) of extras battling it out at the climax. Practically every Bond movie would end this way right up until View to a Kill. It’s one of the big things I miss in the later Bond films—getting to see those huge set piece battles go on while Bond moves amid the chaos in search of the archvillain.
All in all, Goldfinger was the franchise’s first really big success. (It’s a pity that Fleming didn’t live to see it.) Small wonder that the Bond merchandising craze kicked into high gear with this movie and the equally-impressive Thunderball to follow. Vodka, towels, shoes, toys, even cologne were all produced bearing the 007 logo. (My late film professor, who I mentioned in the last post, told a story of saving up, as a boy, to buy his Dad a bottle of “007 Cologne” for Christmas one year. His father acted grateful at the time to spare his feelings, but later admitted that the stuff smelled terrible.) Bond mania was in full swing, and hasn’t been topped since (save, perhaps, by the Star Wars marketing mania of the ‘70s).
One of the interesting things I’ve been noticing, watching the Bond movies in sequence, is that there are a surprising number of continuity nods back to earlier films. In From Russia with Love, SPECTRE wants revenge for the death of Dr. No. In Goldfinger, Bond refers to Felix Leiter’s time in Jamaica in Dr. No, and asks after his attaché case as seen in From Russia with Love. It’s clear the movies were meant to be considered part of the same continuing story, but you don’t see that as often in later films that generally don’t refer back to each other at all. In that respect, the continuity nods to Daniel Craig’s earlier Bond movies in the latest Craig film, SPECTRE, could be considered something of a return to form.
Goldfinger is the first of the Blu-rays to have two commentary tracks—one for the director and major cast and crew, the other for lesser cast and crew. As with prior tracks, both are assembled out of interviews with the various people involved. They both manage to have quite interesting things to say. There is also a “banned” Criterion commentary track that covers some of the same territory, including using some of the same voice clips, albeit with a few more risqué elements. There’s not quite so much of a gap between the Criterion track and those included on the disc this time, however, perhaps in part because there are two “official” ones to take up the slack.
There are the usual featurettes and interviews, some modern and some period, offering insight into the making of Goldfinger, the Aston Martin DB5 car, and the car’s great popularity even aside from the Bond movie itself. Between these and the commentary, it’s hard to imagine there’s much a viewer doesn’t know about the movie by the time it’s over.
Next up is another one of the all-time greats: originating director Terence Young’s last Bond film, Thunderball.