This film has everything required
for instant and prolonged success.
It cannot fail to hit the jackpot.
- Kinematograph Weekly (December 1964)
Film: 1964 (#3)
Book: 1959 (#7)
Auric Goldfinger is smuggling gold, and lots of it. Bond is assigned to figure out how, and instead gets in Goldfinger's face. Two dead Mastersons later, Bond is about to get lasered in half until Goldfinger decides to keep him alive so he can brag about his spiffy plan to nuke all the gold in Fort Knox and render it unfit for market. He promises Bond a front-row seat. Unfortunately for him, his henchwoman Pussy Galore seems to like Bond a little more than she should, and because she is Honor Blackman, ass is kicked and Goldfinger eventually goes skydiving without a parachute. Oh, yes, and nobody is really gassed to death. Except the mobsters, of course.
Book vs. Film
We're still in the realm of close adaptations. Goldfinger is theoretically linked to Smersh in the book, though not strongly. In the movie he is linked to Communist China (strangely, given the producers' deliberate move away from Cold War associations in the previous film), but again, it doesn't seem especially important - everyone knows that Goldfinger is really in it for the gold and none of his other allegiances can be trusted.
Bond encounters and interferes with Goldfinger in Miami by sheer chance - neither M nor Leiter is involved. (The person Goldfinger is cheating at cards asks him to investigate.) Later, when he gets back to London, he is asked to look into the gold smuggling purely by coincidence. The film is correct to correct this.
Tilly Masterson lives all the way through Operation Grand Slam before she is killed. Presumably her death happens earlier in the film to clear the decks for Honor Blackman, but it might also be part of the film's downplaying of the book's worst aspect. In the book Tilly is stated explicitly to be a lesbian and so is Pussy Galore, along with her entire crew (who are acrobat/burglars in the book, not stunt pilots). Tilly hopes Galore will protect her from Goldfinger and Oddjob. As noted on the previous page, Fleming's attitudes toward lesbianism are simultaneously offensive and leering. To give you an idea, Fleming describes Tilly as "one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up"; has Bond think (of Galore) that "her sexual confusion is attributable to women's suffrage"; and later notes "Bond felt the sexual challenge all beautiful Lesbians have for men." Galore's miraculous conversion is barely tolerable in the film, implausible and offensive in the book.
[Let it be clear: I have utterly no issue with lesbianism or depictions of it in fiction. My point is that the situation is so grossly mishandled by Fleming that it is painful, and it would have been better to have omitted those aspects entirely if they were going to be treated thus. Get it right or don't do it at all. I concede getting it right might have been too much to ask from a fifty-one-year-old ex-Naval officer in 1959, which just underlines that he Shouldn't Have Gone There. The film does its best to defuse this - never in the film is it stated what Galore's sexual preferences are - but we are still left with a very unsatisfactory situation - see below.]
In the book, Goldfinger is trying to steal the gold from Fort Knox. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum would not stand for this, for the reasons discussed in the film, and came up with the alternate idea of trying to irradiate the gold. "My apologies, Goldfinger, it's brilliant!" Oddjob survives until the plane; he is sucked out the window, not Goldfinger, whom Bond strangles.
There is a fair chunk of internal analysis of Bond's character in this book, giving us insight into what makes the man tick. Some of the things which make him tick are unfortunate, such as a Saint George fixation. We also begin to see more of Bond's sick sense of humor, particularly in his taunting Oddjob (see also just below).
Not good. Quoting Bond Films: "Bond seemingly decides that the best way to achieve his mission is to spend the entire film being as rude as possible to everyone he meets, including his enemy, his superior, and a woman he's trying to seduce." Every time he gets one of the few opportunities the film gives him for style points, he squanders it (e.g. showing off about the brandy in front of his boss). Has a tuxedo on under his wetsuit - then looks good in it for about five seconds before commencing a brutal fight followed by a "shocking" murder. (Admittedly, they were trying to kill him.) M doesn't trust him with a gold bar overnight. Q already thinks he's a pain in the ass. Tilly Masterson dislikes him from the beginning.
I comment on Bond's passivity in the face of events in the previous two pages, and it's true that he does more to actively influence the plot here - but he does it by deliberately stirring up trouble in counterproductive ways. In fact it's his only technique, throughout the film. This is definitely Bond as Wreaker of Havoc, and M is right to upbraid him for it.
This is one of those films where I detect an overt condition of Women Being Killed Because of Sex. Worse, the film seems to want to have it both ways: Jill dies because she did have sex with Bond, and Tilly dies because she didn't. Galore is presumably only saved from some horrible fate because of her miraculous conversion. In retrospect, Dink was probably lucky to get away with just a sexist remark!
I discussed on the introductory page why the leading Bond woman in any given film must ultimately, dissatisfyingly go limp so she can be rescued, but the thing is, Galore doesn't actually get rescued or need rescuing. If anything, she saves Bond's ass. She would almost be the best, strongest Bond woman ever - if it weren't for that utterly dissatisfying conversion.
It didn't need to be that way. The script could just have well had Bond successfully convincing Galore that any alliance with Goldfinger was going to end badly for her as well and that it was in her own mercenary interests to help him - forget the idea of an appeal to conscience, and totally scrap the it'd-be-laughable-if-it-weren't-obnoxious premise that the sex with Bond is so good that she cooperates with him just because of it. A pragmatic approach, which would have much better fit the way Blackman plays the character. But that would have left Blackman as an unrepentant "bad girl," with no consequence for it, which is apparently a lot bolder than the film was willing to go. Bad girls die in Bond films, so clearly Galore had to reform entirely. Feh.
Apart from the relationship with Galore, which has some complexity to it, the only woman Bond has more than one or two lines with is Tilly, to whom he is utterly contemptuous; sadly, the script is written to exacerbate this, by making her character a fairly unsympathetic one for no good reason. At least she is allowed to be impatient and angry with Bond, which is no less than he deserves here - and, as noted above, gets fatally punished for it.
UA coughed up a budget for this film of over three million, more than the budgets of the first two films combined. Again they were rewarded, by the most eye-opening take for a Bond film yet. Numbers don't always match, especially when some sources give figures in pounds and some in dollars, but in its initial US/Canada run, the film made over ten million dollars. Over the long term and worldwide, far more.
Terence Young was out of the running for this film from the beginning; he asked for a percentage of the profits, and didn't get it. Guy Hamilton, who had been considered for Dr. No (and who may have turned it down at the time, depending on who you ask), took the reins. Hamilton is credited for two changes in tone; first, he wanted to downplay the superman aspects of Bond by making the villains stronger, and second, he was largely responsible for adding in the (somewhat sick) sense of humor that later became its own worst enemy.
Richard Maibaum continued his run, with help from Paul Dehn and a couple of uncredited inserts from Wolf Mankowitz, who remained friends with the producers. (The car-crusher scene was Mankowitz' work.) John Barry did the score again, and Robert Brownjohn reprised on titles (which may show he only had one idea, since this is the second film to flash images across women's bodies). Incidentally, the gold woman in the titles is not Shirley Eaton (Jill), but Margaret Nolan (Dink).
Ken Adam returned for this film and was able to build the first of his brilliantly insane villain-lair sets. He also made up the inside of Fort Knox (the crew were allowed to film the outside, but not go in). Despite the fact that in the real world gold is never stored in stacks this high because of its weight, the set is visually brilliant. The Fort Knox controller sent the film crew a letter congratulating them on their imaginative approach.
Connery never actually went on location in this movie. He was tied up initially filming Marnie and the Miami sequences were shot without him; the Miami and later Pinewood shots were reconciled via back-projection and match sets that didn't quite match. Editor Peter Hunt said later he felt "the sequence didn't work" and that he hadn't been able to save it. Connery was injured during the sequence where Oddjob knocks him out, and had to take a hiatus from shooting; he used this as a lever for renegotiation, reportedly getting a salary increase and a cut of the profits for all the films from From Russia With Love onward. The exact terms of this agreement were the subject of a lawsuit by Connery in 1984.
Honor Blackman was not only the first Bond leading woman with substantial prior acting experience, she was also the oldest (at 37) and may very well still hold that record. She is in some ways an unlikely fit as a "Bond girl"; nonetheless, I can find no evidence that anyone else was given any serious consideration for the part. She came to the producers' attention mostly through her role as Cathy Gale in "The Avengers," and her Bond part was rewritten slightly to take advantage of her knowledge of judo which had been acquired for that show. Frankly, as others have noted, the physical and character demands of this film were probably far less than was asked of her in her Avengers run! Certainly she appears to breeze through it - the only time the actress appears ill at ease is when she is required to go limp for Bond.
Gert Fröbe was little-known outside of Germany before this film. Broccoli happened to have seen a film of his and recommended him to Hamilton. When Frobe's initial scenes were filmed, the crew realized his English was not up to the task. He had learned his lines phonetically and the result was unacceptable. Despite reported coaching from Nikki van der Zyl and direction to improve his speech timing, he was eventually dubbed by Michael Collins. (Van der Zyl, by the by, dubs Shirley Eaton in this one.) There is a rumor that Orson Welles was considered for this part but deemed too expensive.
Harold Sakata was a wrestler and former Olympic weightlifter. His wrestling pseudonym, "Tosh Togo," is given along with his real name in the credits. One of the most memorable Bond villains ever, despite the fact that the character essentially does not speak. It must be the bowler.
Cec Linder plays neither the best nor the worst Felix Leiter ever. Originally Linder was going to play cheated businessman Simmons and Austin Willis was to play Leiter; they swapped just before shooting. They are the only cast actually present at the Miami shots.
A credit is given to one Charles Russhon as "technical advisor." Russhon, a former Air Force lieutenant-colonel, was actually the unofficial government and military liaison for the production. He previously had helped negotiate some land use with the Turkish government for From Russia With Love. Here, he was instrumental in getting location filming and unprecedented flyover permission at Fort Knox, and probably also helped arrange the use of actual soldiers for the gas scenes (they were each paid $20 and a beer for their trouble, and were cued to fall down by Hamilton blowing a whistle from a helicopter). The banner at the film's Fort Knox which reads "Welcome General Russhon" is the crew's shout-out to him. We will hear from him again at Thunderball.
Bond Films: "Perhaps the most highly and consistently praised Bond picture of them all, Goldfinger is far slower and more low-key than you remember it being, and gives its leading man little or nothing to do. Despite this, it is fluid, witty, sexy, excitingly shot and brilliantly performed - physical proof that you can make an undeniably great film with an episodic script, characters that don't so much develop as stroll around pouting, and a resolution in which the ostensible lead character plays no real part."
I quote that because I can't improve on it.
Perhaps the best testimonial for this film is that, unlike some of the other great Bond imagery, the striking images in this film are still striking today: Oddjob, Goldfinger himself, the improbable Pussy Galore, and especially the death of Jill Masterson which continues to startle. Unfortunately, the startling images are a bit front-loaded, which means that once we've seen Jill's death and seen Oddjob take the statue's head off, the movie inevitably seems to slow down, at least to latter-day eyes.
As noted above, this is one of the first views we get of Bond as troublemaker. As M points out, there is no reason for him to get in Goldfinger's face about the card-cheating at the beginning, and he may well have made life more difficult for himself later by doing so (in the book, even more so than in the film, it's evident by the time of the golf game that Goldfinger knows perfectly well who spoiled his card scam). He does it because of his natural instinct to stir up chaos, which I don't object to; but stirring up chaos is pretty much the only thing Bond actively does in this film, which is a problem. He also spends far too much of the film in captivity, which slows down the Kentucky sequences even further.
Despite its pacing, this is one of the films that holds together better than its corresponding book. In addition to correcting the Fort Knox plot, the film also lets us get into the vault (in the book, Operation Grand Slam dies ignobly before they ever get there). It shows us Jill Masterson's death (in the book Bond is told about it, far after the fact) and gets rid of Tilly much earlier (which I think on balance is probably a good thing). On the down side, the film's handling of the various mob bosses makes considerably less sense ... and though Goldfinger's reasons for keeping Bond alive may be more believable in the film, they have the side effect of all that jail time for Bond.
So much has been written about the damned car that you'd think it was the star of this film, despite being underused and of little relevance to the plot. The much-touted ejector seat gets used, but in a scene that clearly feels inserted just to give the device some kind of payoff. At least it does provide us with the famous "I never joke about my work, 007"! Say this for the car, it did wonders for Aston Martin's business, single-handedly rendering them profitable after years of shakiness. One gadget which was written for the car but never shown was a dispenser that scattered nails/spikes/caltrops along the road. Some reports say there was a fear this would be copied in the real world; odd, since they didn't have similar qualms about the oilslick or the tire-slasher.
Hamilton reportedly did not want Q to reveal all the features of the car in his briefing, especially the ejector seat; he felt it would be better if it were a surprise. Broccoli urged him to tell all, and Llewellyn's lines were rewritten. "I learned a great lesson," Hamilton said later, admitting Broccoli's instinct had been sound. This has been the rule ever since - warn the audience about a gadget in advance. Some Bond films have broken this rule, but have done so to their detriment.
Just in case you have never read this anywhere before, "skin suffocation" is not actually a thing and you can't die purely from having every inch of you covered with gold paint. You could, however, die of heat stroke; unrestricted skin is vital for your body's heat exchange. The crew took no chances; Shirley Eaton's stomach was not painted, a doctor was standing by, and the shoot took only a single morning, an hour and a half of which was spent putting on the paint in the first place.
This photo is required by law on all web pages about this film.
Incidentally, some remarks in the book imply Goldfinger likes to paint women gold before he has sex with them, although presumably not usually to the point of lethality.
UA was not happy about the name of the female lead character. You may detect from my usage above that I'm none too fond of it either. I'm not squeamish, it just seems ridiculous and unnecessary. While heaven knows other Bond characters have had dumb joke names, those tend to be either tossed aside as one-liners or even not mentioned at all (see Quantum of Solace). This is a main character. The producers thought about changing it to "Kitty," then decided to stand their ground, leaking the name and casting to the press early so it couldn't be changed. Of all the fights to fight .... Blackman, for her part, reportedly delighted in using the name often in interviews to watch reporters squirm. US censors did not insist on a name change, but refused to allow the name to appear on promotional materials.
The laser scene is a buzzsaw in the book. Forgive the cheesy-SF look of the laser; no one had ever shown one on film before, and they were making it up as they went. They attempted to film an actual industrial laser first, and it wasn't very impressive. The flame you see on the table is the result of an oxyacetylene torch being used beneath the table by a technician, and the beam is an optical effect. Connery's convincing agitation in this scene is not acting; he was actually on the table while a live, very hot flame was coming near him.
The character Goldfinger is named after Ernö Goldfinger, a prominent Modernist/Brutalist architect and apparently a dislikeable person. In addition to bad reports on Goldfinger from his friend John Blackwell, Goldfinger's cousin by marriage, Fleming is said to have been annoyed at Goldfinger for the demolition of Hampstead cottages for the Willow Road project (see link above). Upon publication of the book, Goldfinger threatened to sue; Fleming threatened to change the character's name to "Goldprick" and insert an erratum slip into the books explaining exactly why. The matter was settled out of court.
The bomb is supposed to be stopped with three seconds left, but the producers went for the cheap joke (not for the last time, alas) and filmed an insert that shows it stopping at 007, making Bond's "three more ticks ..." remark nonsensical.
The entire pre-credits sequence is a riff on a few lines at the beginning of the book. Bond is recuperating in Miami after closing down a Mexican heroin operation. If the woman in this sequence looks familiar, it's because you just saw Nadja Regin in From Russia With Love as Kerim Bey's wife (or girlfriend).
If Smithers, who briefs Bond on gold smuggling, looks familiar, it's because you either watch a lot of British television, or because you've seen A Hard Day's Night and recognize the stuffy businessman on the train: Richard Vernon.
Late in filming, Hamilton went back to Fort Knox with an small crew for additional photography. One of the people he brought was Broccoli's stepson, Michael Wilson (Dana Broccoli's son by her first marriage), who acted as an assistant director. Remember this name for later.
Ian Fleming showed up at Pinewood to see a little of the filming of Connery and Eaton in Goldfinger's hotel room. It was his last such visit. He died on 12 August 1964 of heart disease.
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