GOLDFINGER: That’s as Bad as Listening to the Beatles Without Earmuffs

Goldfinger (1964) – The 3rd James Bond Film; The 3rd (of 6) Sean Connery Films – Directed by Guy Hamilton – Starring Sean Connery, Shirley Eaton, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Harold Sakata, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, and Bernard Lee.

GOLDFINGER is one of the best movies ever to grace the big screen.

We have a fantastic story, fantastic villains, fantastic action sequences, fantastic dialogue, a fantastic mix of danger and dry humor, and a fantastic actor at the height of his powers starring in a franchise movie that finally realizes what it wants to be and knows how to make it happen. It’s smart, clever, a bit cheeky, extraordinarily paced, and beautifully filmed. It has scenes you’ll know even if you’ve never seen a James Bond movie because they’re just that iconic. We get the birth of Bond’s gadgets, and the birth of Bond’s Aston Martin.

GOLDFINGER is the quintessential James Bond movie, the one that has absolutely every element anyone could ever want from a Bond film and all of them delivered at the highest level possible. It is the Bond film that casts the longest shadow and it is the ghost that every subsequent film until Martin Campbell’s CASINO ROYALE has to take into account.

What’s so rewarding about this most recent re-watch is seeing it in the context of what came before. This is the third Bond movie and instead of feeling tired or like yesterday’s lunch chucked back up and recooked, GOLDFINGER feels unabashedly confident about moving things forward. In my review of DR. NO, I mentioned that while it’s a decent enough film, it doesn’t exactly feel like the launch of a franchise. GOLDFINGER does. You watch this movie and you know there’s going to be more Bond films coming. As a viewer, it’s an absolute pleasure to watch a franchise grow over the course of these first three movies. The writers, actors, and producers got better at their craft instead of simply giving us more of whatever worked in the previous film.

I’m not suggesting that GOLDFINGER is a radical departure from DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, but it’s not overburdened by them, either, and manages to be both familiar and fresh; it has the confidence to do new things but also do old things and make them their own, too. Given some of the clunkers that follow (including clunkers from Connery), I wish they’d had the same confidence to be their own movie instead of simply trying to mimic and regurgitate this film.

GOLDFINGER is the movie where Sean Connery stops and James Bond really begins. It’s a riveting performance by Connery. He’s so good here that he fully becomes this character; as a result, he really isn’t Connery anymore, at all. He’s Bond, a charming, intelligent, fallible spy able to both charm the ladies and throwdown with the men. There’s plenty of action scenes but it’s Bond’s intellect that gets him out of his biggest jam; when Goldfinger has Bond strapped to a golden table and a laser slowly advancing on him, ready to cut him in half, Bond doesn’t break out of the trap, but talks his way out, convincing Goldfinger that he needs to keep him alive as insurance.

It’s a wonderful scene, highlighting the best part of GOLDFINGER – the relationship between Goldfinger and Bond.

While the above scene contains their most famous exchange – “Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” – what grounds this scene is the way the film builds up to this moment. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) and Bond are both supremely confident men willing to pay the high price need to score their goals. That they are so completely different physically works to the film’s advantage, because as frumpy as Goldfinger might look, he’s the most confident man in the world, making him a worthy foe for Bond.

They meet early in the film in Miami. Bond has been told to watch Goldfinger and he sees him playing cards with a rube at a hotel. Bond can see Auric is cheating and makes his way to the man’s hotel room, where he seduces Goldfinger’s beautiful accomplice, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), is feeding her boss information. Bond gets on the microphone and orders Goldfinger to start losing or he’ll rat him out to the Miami Police Department. It’s a magnificent scene as Bond seduces Masterson at the same time he’s playing fly in Goldfinger’s ointment. Bond suggest dinner with Masterson and tells her, “I know the best place in town.”

Cut to Bond’s bedroom.

Getting out of bed, Bond is attacked and taken out by Oddjob (Harold Sakata). When he awakens Jill has been killed, and her body painted from top to bottom in gold paint. It’s a great bit of revenge from Goldfinger, and a great visual that serves to knock Bond back down to business. A golf match follows in which Bond gets the best of Goldfinger by cheating, and then later Goldfinger’s men capture Bond, leading to the laser beam scene. Back and forth, back and forth … there is a real struggle here between these two men that make each of their confrontations arrive with deeper expectations than the previous encounters.

There’s so many great moments in GOLDFINGER that it would take all night to go through them, but here’s a few that really stand out for me:

1. The dinner scene with Bond, M (Bernard Lee), and the dude from the Bank of England is a masterpiece of conversation and one-upmanship between Bond and M. Until Judi Dench comes along, this is probably the best scene featuring M in the franchise as he’s completely flummoxed by Bond’s superior knowledge of brandy and ability to pick up the gold trade. It’s a perfect example of how to make an infodump conversation interesting through sub-text and a secondary conversation that occurs in the midst of the primary conversation that delivers us plot information.

2. The opening sequence. Not only does it give us the classic moment where Bond peels off a wetsuit to reveal a tuxedo, but it shows Bond’s resourcefulness when he kills an attacker by knocking a fan into the bathtub, electrocuting him. “Shocking,” he says dryly, then looks to the woman who’d set him up and adds, “Simply shocking.”

3. The look on Tilly’s (Jill’s sister) face during the car chase away from Goldfinger’s factory. She’s speeding away in Bond’s Aston Martin and it’s a big crapstorm of danger and when Bond lets loose the car’s smokescreen, her face radiates this amazing smile that says she can’t believe it but loves it, anyway.

4. The one liners in the film manage to be both funny and natural. When Goldfinger has Bond on that gold table, he tells him, “Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr. Bond. It might be your last.” How awesome is that? And back in Bond’s apartment in Miami, when he gets out of bed to get more ice, he tells the protesting Jill, “Some things just aren’t done. Like drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above 38 degrees Farenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

5. Bond awaking on Goldfinger’s jet with the beautiful Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) looking down on him, smiling boyishly that, “I must be dreaming.” Between Pussy Galore and Jill and Tilly Masterson, GOLDFINGER has beautiful women walking through nearly every scene.

GOLDFINGER is one of the finest paced movies you’ll find, even with the final action sequence going on a bit too long. There was a moment early in the film when I looked at the time counter to see how deep we were into the film and I was shocked to find out that we were barely twenty minutes in and already the film had delivered a movie’s worth of charm and action. Toss in one of the best theme songs in the franchise (sung by Shirley Bassey), and GOLDFINGER is an unquestioned masterpiece.