Well, this Bond-a-week project isn’t exactly having the smoothest of starts. In my defence, I’m still not precisely convinced of what time zone I happen to be in. Remedial action must be taken on this front, and also on my increasingly ludicrous stack of photographs to sort, process and publish. Let’s get started with Goldfinger.
In some part, Goldfinger was what prompted this ill-advised adventure. As part of a discussion with my good buddy Craig, our wandering attention turned to the subject of the then recently televised movie on one of the higher-numbered ITV derivative repeat-mongers. I remember commenting something along the lines that for me, the moment when Bond transformed into something that’s substantially less interesting and more stupid is the nanosecond after Honour Blackman declares that “I’m Pussy Galore”. Bond’s addled acknowledgement of the unlikeliness of the name notwithstanding, I declared it the beginning of the end of Bond.
At the time, and bear in mind that I’ve never been the world’s biggest Bond fan, I believed that Goldfinger came far later on in the series than it actually does. It is, of course, only the third trip to the cinema for 007. Unarguably, and perhaps this is where my confusion arose from, it’s the prototype for almost everything that follows it, and establishes all of the tropes that turn the franchise from a series of spy adventures to a series of Bond Films, a sub-genre all of its own.
The car, the gadgets, the opening sequence mini-mission, the overtly high stakes evil plots and most vital of all, the villain parading around front and centre for most of the film. Dr. No was barely seen in the film that took his name. From Russia With Love’s main antagonist, SMERSH killer Donald Grant was seen more, but perhaps heard from less. Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger is all ingrained on the DNA of almost every scene in Goldfinger.
I am, again, rather making the assumption that you are all familiar with the goings on of Goldfinger, which may not be the case. At any rate, the Bank of England bigwigs inform M and our man Bond that they suspect that gold magnate Goldfinger has been illegally smuggling some of the shiny stuff between countries, with some potentially unpleasant repercussions for economies still pegged to the gold standard.
It’s left to Jimmy to investigate Mr. Finger’s operations, wheedling his way into Goldfinger’s dealings by dangling a bar of Nazi gold in front of him and promising there’s more where that came from. This meets with a mixed reception from Auric and his iconic hat-flinging sidekick, Oddjob, but Bond isn’t a quitter, trailing Goldfinger across Europe, getting his ass captured and tied to a table with a pointlessly placed laser bothering him providing yet another boon for lazy comedy writers, then hauled back to the States for the conclusion of his Master Plan, as he attempts to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold repository.
If that perhaps sounds familiar, even if you haven’t seen the film, perhaps it is because with some creative search and replacing, you could apply the above recap to damn near every Bond film that follows it. As templates go, there’s few that have stood repeated re-pressings as well as the narrative bones of Goldfinger.
It’s difficult to know where to place Goldfinger in the grand pantheon of Bond films. It’s surely the most influential of all of the series. There aren’t many films that could claim quite to have made quite the same stamp on the lineage of its descendants as Goldfinger. The only thing that Moore era Bonds have in common with Dr. No is the character name. They’d be far more familiar with Goldfinger.
Is that a bad thing? I suppose from the prospect of someone faced with another twenty odd movies that aren’t going to be a million miles away from this film over the next twenty odd weeks, it definitely is. I am, however, hardly a representative sample, and it’s difficult to argue with the box office results of the longest running movie series since the creation of moving pictures. Regardless, this marks the move away from a (still hardly grounded in reality) world of intrigue to a series where we’re often just marking time until the next curiously prone to exploding thing explodes.
It turns out that calling this the beginning of the end of Bond is wholly inaccurate in any meaningful sense. It’s the beginning of the beginning for Bond. It’s the end of the false beginning of Bond, the spy narratives with a talented but flawed and on occasion vulnerable protagonist. It’s the start of the Bond that’s a cape and incorrect undergarment placement away from being Superman. Commercially, it would be foolish to argue with the results. From a hoity-toity critical perspective, it’s the start of stagnation.
I had intended to end with the previous paragraph, providing as it does a nice callback to the start of this rambling write-up. It wouldn’t be accurate. While it’s possible to position this as the start of an avalanche of cliches, that would downplay how enjoyable Goldfinger actually is. For the first execution of the Bond Formula, it’s as fine an outing as any of the following. At least until post-Brosnan era Gritty Reboot, its only the less polished special effects and back-projection that dates it.
Besides, how on earth can you disrespect a film with Bert Kwouk, a machine gun toting granny and a shower of Mafia bosses that sound exactly like a parody of Mafia bosses with lines like “Hey, what’s with the trick pool table!”? It also provides a good chunk of the Austin Powers references, so it’s also achieved an inadvertent comic sheen over time. Perhaps that’s why the previous casual thought inspection left this Bond outing a little tarnished in my mind, but in the harsh light of cold inquisition, that’s not a tenable position.