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Section: Reviews
Goldfinger Movie Review

James Bond is back in action! Everything he touches turns to excitement!

Title: 'Goldfinger'

Released: 12/21/1964

Budget: $2,500,000

Gross (US; Worldwide): $51,081,062; $124,900,000

Producer: Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Satlzman

Writer: Richard Maibaum & Paul Dehn

Director: Guy Hamilton

Based On: Book 'Goldfinger', written by Ian Fleming

Stars: Sean Connery as James Bond 007, Gert Forbe (as Auric Goldfinger), Honor Blackman (as Pussy Galore), Shirley Eaton (as Jill Masterson), Harold Sakata (as Oddjob), Tania Mallet (as Tilly Masterson); Also Starring Bernard Lee as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.

Plot: See COMMENTARY

Commentary: Providing the world with memorable images, characters, and sequences, 'Goldfinger,' is one of the most popular films in the series. It may also be the most overrated Bond film. A drastic departure from its serious, slick predecessors, the third film in the franchise is nothing if not fun. In some ways, 'Goldfinger' seems to serve as a template for Bond films to come: more use of gadgets, more elaborate set pieces and special effects, more humor, and more over-the-top plots and characters.

The film opens with a clever, and often duplicated, idea for a pre-title credits teaser. We get to see Bond on a completely unrelated mission to the rest of the story. It's a fun way to get a movie going. The filmmakers essentially place us into a scene that could be a climax for a different movie, and even though the filmmakers don't share any details of the plot or the characters involved, we're still interested in seeing Bond do his work, even though he does seem to be in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. This teaser sequence allows Bond to use gadgets we might not otherwise see and provides us with the memorable image of Bond seeing his enemy’s reflection in a beautiful girl’s eyes.

After the title credit sequence, featuring Shirley Bassey's wonderful title track, the film takes us to a Miami hotel, where Bond is vacationing and enjoying his time with a pretty blonde. CIA agent Felix Leiter (now played by Cec Linder, who looks a lot older than Jack Lord but is actually younger) shows up and tells Bond that M wants him to keep an eye on a man named Auric Goldfinger, who is also staying at the hotel. This is a pretty weak way to start the plot of the movie. In 'Dr. No,' M assigns Bond to investigate the disappearance of an MI6 agent in Jamaica. In 'From Russia with Love,' Bond goes to Turkey to steal a Russian decoder. But in 'Goldfinger,' Bond just happens to be vacationing at the same hotel in Miami where Goldfinger is staying. This is the first movie where Bond stumbles onto a grandiose scheme (in this case, Goldfinger's Operation Grand Slam) practically by accident.

At the Miami hotel, Bond notices that the wealthy Goldfinger is cheating an old man at cards out by the pool. Bond sneaks his way into Goldfinger's hotel room, where the beautiful, bikini-clad Jill Masterson is laying on the balcony, looking at Goldfinger's opponent’s cards with binoculars, and reporting on what she sees to Goldfinger through a radio device. Bond takes the microphone from her and has a little fun with Goldfinger, who has an audio-receiving earpiece in his ear. After the fun and games, Bond and Jill hit it off and engage in a different kind of fun in bed. 007 goes to the kitchen of his hotel room, where someone is waiting and knocks him out. When he wakes up, Bond goes back to the bedroom, where he finds Jill lying face-down on the bed, motionless and painted gold. Jill death provides one of the most memorable images in the series, and it is also the catalyst for the rest of the plot – obviously, since she has been painted gold, Goldfinger is behind her death, and Bonds knows that only someone really evil would murder somebody else in such a way and for such a stupid reason. If Goldfinger had only waited to kill Jill until she left the hotel and James forever, the British agent would not have been so interested in Goldfinger and seeing what exactly he’s up to.

Bond goes back to MI6 headquarters in London where he reports on Goldfinger to M, who wants to find out how Goldfinger smuggles his gold from one country to another (but this mission is more or less a MacGuffin), and Bond goes to Q's lab to load up on new equipment. Q's lab is an important, fun addition to the series that will provide for memorable scenes for the next 40 years (Q's quip, "I never joke about my work, 007," is especially funny in retrospect). Q also introduces Bond and the audience to the gorgeous Aston Martin car, loaded with gadgets which are put to good use in the rest of the movie.

Bond sets up a game of golf with Goldfinger to try to learn more about him, but the game is no ordinary, friendly match between friends. Goldfinger cheats at this game too, and Bond cheats as well by switching Goldfinger's ball. It's a funny, memorable sequence, and we get to meet Oddjob, Goldfinger's "mute" Korean caddy/butler/driver with a lethal metal-trimmed bowler hat. Oddjob is another example of the film being loaded with memorable, parody-ready bits.

After the game, Bond puts a tracking device on Goldfinger's car. When Goldfinger puts his car on a plane and flies to Switzerland, Bond does the same with his Aston Martin. Soon, we’re taking a scenic drive through the Alps, where Bond notices he’s not the only one following Goldfinger. When Goldfinger makes Oddjob pull the car over for a quick snack, Bond pulls over as well, on a hill where he overlooks Goldfinger. The camera beautifully pulls back from Bond to the other car, where a woman with a gun aims below. Neither Bond nor the audience is sure if she's aiming at Goldfinger or Bond, and Bond intends to find out. Knowing that he still has the tracking device on Goldfinger's car, Bond stays back, and uses some of the many gadgets Q installed in his car to destroy the woman’s car. Bond pretends he had nothing to do with the accident and gives the woman a ride to a gas station.

Soon, Bond learns that the woman is Tilly Masterson, Jill's sister, bent on revenge against Goldfinger. Tilly's background could make for an interesting character and ally – she has a personal motive to stop Goldfinger whereas Bond is all business and duty – but the dynamic is never fully realized. That night, Bond and Tilly both sneak around Goldfinger's Swiss plant. They set off an alarm, and Goldfinger's goons come after them. Oddjob kills Tilly with has hat, and Bond uses his car's gadgets to more humorous effect (especially when he ejects one of Goldfinger's goons from the passenger seat) until he is finally caught.

Goldfinger straps Bond down onto a table with a completely unnecessary but quite cool and memorable plan to kill Bond – an industrial laser aimed to rip through Bond's body, starting at the crotch (which is especially fitting because of Bond's sexual conquest of Goldfinger's assistant Jill). In what may be the most often quoted bit of dialogue in any Bond film, Bond asks Goldfinger, "Do you expect me to talk?" to which Goldfinger responds, "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die." Goldfinger turns on the laser, and the scene is thrilling enough that we think Bond might actually be killed. Bond repeats something he overheard Goldfinger discuss that night while eavesdropping – "Operation Grand Slam" – and Goldfinger shuts of fthe laser, presumably fearing that Bond knows all about his scheme and has reported it to MI6. Of course, Bond doesn't know anything, so Goldfinger could have just killed him right there, and his plan would have gone on without a hitch.

Instead, Goldfinger puts Bond on a plane, piloted by Goldfinger's personal pilot, Pussy Galore, with the final destination of Kentucky, where Goldfinger has a farm. Presumably, Goldfinger is also flying to Kentucky at the same time, because he is there when Bond arrives, and why he is flying without his personal pilot seems a little strange. On the farm, Goldfinger places Bond in basement prison, from which he escapes in a very funny scene that demonstrates just how stupid the goons of super villains can be.

Upon escaping from his cell, Bond listens in on a meeting in which Goldfinger tells his scheme to a room full of mafia men and other baddies from around the country. Everybody in the room has provided a service or product to Goldfinger that is indispensable to his plan, and he owes them each a great deal of money. Each can have his payment now, Goldfinger explains, or can wait until Goldfinger goes to his "bank" to get even more. His "bank," he says, is Fort Knox. Operation Grand Slam is his scheme to break into Fort Knox and detonate a nuclear device that will make all the gold inside radioactive, and thus, worthless, for 58 years. The rest of the gold in the world, much of which Goldfinger owns, will skyrocket in value. The problem with his big explanation to these criminals – besides the fact that it will be dated come Richard Nixon's presidency and the elimination of the gold standard – is that he has absolutely no reason to tell any of these criminals about his plan – he kills them all, immediately after telling them. The scene serves as nothing more than a convenient way for Bond to learn what Operation Grand Slam is. What makes this sequence even more troubling is what happens when one Mafioso tells Goldfinger that he'll just take his payment now. Goldfinger says okay and sends the criminal off in a car, only to be killed in an incredibly convoluted, unnecessary, and time-consuming way at the exact same time as Goldfinger gasses the other criminals to death at his farm. Nothing really makes any sense, but everything still remains pretty entertaining.

Pussy, who seems to run a flying circus of lesbians (although this is never as explicit as it is in Ian Fleming's novel), catches Bond eavesdropping. Afterwards, they get to talking and eventually he converts her from lesbianism to heterosexuality, and also, seemingly, although the filmmakers intentionally deceive the audience by not showing this, he converts her from the bad side of the law to the good side. The filmmakers trick us, on the day of Operation Grand Slam, because everything seems to be going according to Goldfinger's plan – Pussy and her fellow female pilots fly over the Fort Knox area, presumably releasing a toxic gas. The film shows us army officers and soldiers, as well as Felix, keel over when the planes fly over, making the audience think they are all dead. Goldfinger and his goons drive up to Fort Knox and break in, and a helicopter comes with a nuclear bomb provided by a foreign power. The bomb is set inside the vault of gold. But here's the catch: Bond apparently, after the tussle in the hay, convinces Pussy to radio Washington, D.C., and reveal Goldfinger's plan. And for some idiotic reason, Washington (or possibly Felix) thought it would be a good idea to let Goldfinger think he's going to get away with it. Only once the bomb arrives and is set does the army and CIA wake up and come to the scene. Sure, the decision not to arrest Goldfinger on conspiracy to commit terrorism charges makes for an exciting film, but it's far from realistic.

As the army comes in to save the day, Goldfinger disguises himself as an officer and escapes (apparently he suspects that his perfect plan would be spoiled in just this very way). Bond and Oddjob are locked inside the vault with the bomb. Oddjob really has no reason left to be loyal to Goldfinger, since as far as he knows, a bomb is going to explode right next to him, but he decides to fight Bond to the death nonetheless. The fight is exciting and memorable, and Bond manages to disarm the bomb.

Rather than getting out of the United States for good, Goldfinger takes Pussy and hijacks the plane Bond is taking to fly to D.C. and be congratulated by the President. Goldfinger and Bond engage is fisticuffs, Goldfinger gets sucked out of the plane, and Pussy and Bond are forced to parachute out. It's another fun scene to end a fun movie.

'Goldfinger' is really a series of fun, memorable sequences and characters strung together by an exciting but unrealistic and far from perfect story. Clever gadgets, over-the-top characters (especially Gert Frobe's Goldfinger), great action, and excellent special effects replace the more deliberate pacing, outstanding character development, and smart stories of the first two films. And for the most part, these changes will remain a constant for much of the series.

Verdict:
3.5/4.0

Also in the Goldfinger dossier:   Allies | Gadgets | Girls | Pictures | Reviews | Teaser | Villains
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