James Bond Retrospective: Goldfinger (1964)
We take a retrospective look at the most famous 007 movie of all time…
As James Bond prepares for his 23rd official outing in Skyfall and to mark next year’s 50th Anniversary of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time I have been tasked to take a retrospective look at the films that turned author Ian Fleming’s creation into one of the most recognised and iconic characters in film history.
When the second James Bond film From Russia With Love managed to top the box-office receipts of Dr. No, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew they had struck gold with the character. Looking to expand the appeal of the next film to a more worldwide audience, in particular the American market, they chose Fleming’s seventh Bond novel Goldfinger as the third film in their series. With much of the story taking place in the American states of Kentucky and Florida as well as Switzerland and the UK it was felt that the film would have a suitably international feel as well as an all-important appeal to US audiences.
Director Terence Young, who had successfully set the style and tone of the first two Bond films, had expected to return to the director’s chair for Goldfinger but after a pay dispute which saw him denied a percentage of the film’s profits he decided to pursue alternative projects instead. In his place the producers hired Guy Hamilton, an old Royal Navy friend of Ian Fleming who had worked as an assistant director on classic films such as The African Queen and The Third Man before becoming a director in his own right in the early 1950s.
Filming began in January 1964 working from a script by Paul Dehn and Richard Maibaum, writer of both previous films. Hamilton assembled a crew of Bond regulars including returning production designer Ken Adam, who had provided Dr. No with its most distinctive look. With a budget equal to that of both previous films combined ($3million), Broccoli and Saltzman hoped they could repeat their successes with Bond’s biggest, most ambitious adventure to date.
With two Bond films under his belt and fresh from starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s latest film Marnie, Sean Connery returned to the role of James Bond with even more charm and charisma than ever before. He inhabits the character with a suave sense of cool and for the first time really seems to be completely comfortable in the role. He does however reveal Bond to be slightly out of touch with the zeitgeist by declaring that The Beatles should only be listened to with earmuffs.
Bond remains the tough guy not afraid to use a woman as a shield to block an incoming assailant but still manages to show a tender side that makes his constant success with women all the more believable. The one-liners are also a lot sharper than in previous outings, where before most missed the mark, the hit rate here is much more on the money with many classic lines of dialogue.
Pre-Credits & Theme Song
Writer Paul Dehn proposed an idea that the film should open with an action scene that holds little or no relevance to the rest of the film almost as if we are thrown back into Bond’s world as he completes a mission. The resulting pre-credits scene sets a formula that would continue throughout the series. Beginning with Bond emerging from the sea wearing a wetsuit and a fake seagull on his head, only Connery could pull this look off. Bond goes on to set a series of explosives before removing his wetsuit to reveal he is wearing a pristine white tuxedo underneath. The scene is pure Bond and is played very much with a tongue in cheek attitude without crossing the line into parody.
(After knocking a lamp into a bathtub to electrocute a bad guy)
James Bond: Shocking! Positively shocking.
The opening theme song performed by Shirley Bassey was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse with music provided by Bond stalwart John Barry. Barry’s musical backing proved to be so powerful that Bassey signed on to record the theme song before even reading the lyrics. Only reaching number 21 in the UK charts the song has gone on to be one of the most famous of all Bond themes and Bassey would return to provide a further two Bond themes, an achievement unequalled in the series.
British secret agent James Bond is assigned to Miami along with his opposite number in the CIA, Felix Leiter (Cec Linder, replacing Dr. No’s Jack Lord), to investigate a potential multi-million dollar gold smuggling ring. Bond learns that European millionaire Auric Goldfinger is masterminding a scheme to stockpile gold before revealing an elaborate plan, entitled Operation Grand Slam that will see America’s gold reserve held at Fort Knox irradiated by an atomic bomb exploded in the depository thus inflating the value of Goldfinger’s own supplies.
The series really hits its stride with Goldfinger. It is the first James Bond film to really forge its own identity as something different to others in the spy genre. It sets the formula for a basic structure that can be applied to nearly all the Bond films that follow. This formula has been analysed many times but I think the most succinct interpretation of the formula can be found in Italian author Umberto Eco’s 1981 book The Role Of The Reader. Here Eco presents the Bond formula as a nine stage structure, each step occurs in every film, not necessarily in the same order but all nine will always be present. Eco’s Bond formula is as follows:
A- M gives a task to Bond
B- The villain appears to Bond
C- Bond gives the first check to the villain or vice versa
D- ‘The girl’ shows herself to Bond
E- Bond possesses the girl or begins her seduction
F- Villain captures Bond then the girl or at the same time
G- The villain tortures Bond and sometimes the girl
H- Bond beats the villain, killing him or his representatives
I- Bond possesses the girl whom he then loses, she either leaves him or she is killed
Eco’s formula is a variant on the classic idea of the hero’s journey and when applied to Bond, the familiarity of the formula can most likely be attributed to the franchise’s continued international success.
With the return of Ken Adam as production designer the film is graced with larger than life sets and intricately considered details. Working in collaboration with art designer Peter Murton, yellow and gold were used throughout the film in the design of props and sets; from items of clothing to Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce the colours are dominant in almost every scene. The sets raise the bar on Adam’s previous work on Dr. No, they are more subtle but no less fantastical, from Goldfinger’s billiard room with revolving table to reveal an elaborate model of Fort Knox to illustrate his plan to the interior of the Fort Knox set, designed completely from Adam’s imagination at Pinewood Studios after officials refused any of the film’s production crew access to the real Fort Knox vaults.
During the film’s post-production Saltzman took the decision to slightly alter the ending of the film’s large scale battle at Fort Knox. As Bond locates and attempts to defuse the atomic bomb, the originally shot sequence saw him deactivate the bomb with the timer reading 003, leading to the line; “Three more clicks and Mr Goldfinger would’ve hit the jackpot”. The sequence was changed so that the number on the dial read 007, Bond’s ID number, but the line of dialogue remained the same resulting in one of the series’ most well known goofs.
Goldfinger is the quintessential Bond film. It takes all the elements used to establish the character in the first two films and embellishes the details to provide the prototype for all interpretations of the character that follow. The film literally has everything we have now come to expect from a Bond film, a memorable villain, beautiful women, exotic locations, gadgets aplenty, imaginative action sequences, quotable dialogue and a fast paced plotline.
The Bond Villain
The producers initially wanted to hire Orson Welles for the role of Auric Goldfinger but much like the character his motivation was purely for financial gain with demands much higher than they were willing to pay. They eventually settled on lesser known German actor Gert Frobe who the producers had recently seen play a child molester in It Happened In Broad Daylight (German title: Es Geschah Am Hellichten Tag). Coincidentally Frobe had also appeared in the 1962 World War II film The Longest Day which also included Sean Connery among the huge international cast.
James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.
Frobe is superb as the archetypal Bond villain. Where Connery sets the standard for all Bond’s to follow, Frobe does the same for Bond’s foes. His Goldfinger is a multi-faceted character, charming yet menacing, with a plausible plan that is ruthless and ultimately selfish, as any world domination plan should be.
Frobe has many of the film’s best lines and even though his dialogue was actually overdubbed to hide the fact he was struggling with the English language you can hardly tell. Broccoli and Saltzman were so taken by the actor that he was offered the role of Baron Bomburst in the pair’s film adaptation of another Ian Fleming novel, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968.
From Russia With Love set another Bond standard by featuring several memorable henchmen acting on behalf of the main villain Blofeld. Goldfinger follows this trend by introducing another right-hand man in the shape of Oddjob, Goldfinger’s man-servant played by Harold Sakata, an Olympic silver medal winning weightlifter. The larger than life, heavyweight mute with a lethal bowler hat is one of the Bond series’ most recognisable and unforgettable henchmen.
The Bond Girl
Despite only appearing in the film for around five minutes, the most iconic and enduring image of the classic Bond girl has to be that of Shirley Eaton lying dead in a hotel bedroom having been painted from head to toe in suffocating gold paint. Having previously appeared in a number of British films including several Carry On films, Eaton actually managed to overshadow the main leading lady of the film by appearing in the majority of the publicity material for the film as well as having the honour of being the first Bond girl to grace the cover of Life magazine.
Pussy Galore: My name is Pussy Galore.
James Bond: I must be dreaming.
Beginning another Bond trend of women having names infused with sexual innuendo and double entendre, the main Bond girl in Goldfinger goes by the name Pussy Galore. The film’s producers contemplated changing the name to Kitty Galore after fears that the censors might be offended but director Hamilton fought to keep the name Pussy in tact. However any mention of the name was removed from all promotional material and the character was only referred to as Miss Galore in trailers.
To fill the decidedly “kinky boots” of Pussy Galore the producers looked to an already well established star of British TV, Honor Blackman, who had spent the past two years as Cathy Gale alongside Patrick Macnee’s John Steed in cult favourite The Avengers. As Goldfinger’s personal pilot and leader of his all-female flying circus, Blackman brings a steely edge and strength of character to the role making her the perfect foil to Bond. Able to resist his charms for the most part before Bond practically forces himself on her in a rather dubious scene in a hay loft.
Even though her name is actually better suited to a Carry On film, Pussy Galore is probably the best remembered Bond girl with the possible exception of Ursula Andress’ Honey Rider from Dr. No. This recognition is well deserved as Blackman clearly has a ball building on her fame from The Avengers and increasing her notoriety by becoming one of the most interesting and unforgettable Bond girls in the series.
Goldfinger marks the beginning of Bond’s association with gadget-laden vehicles. The silver Aston Martin DB5 that features in the film is probably one of the most recognisable film cars of all time and Bond’s relationship with the British car manufacturer has endured to this day.
James Bond: Ejector seat? You’re joking!
Q: I never joke about my work 007.
Production designer Ken Adam and engineer John Stears set to work transforming a standard DB5 adding revolving number plates, Browning machine guns behind the indicators, smoke and oil dispensers from the back lights, a rear bullet proof shield, wheel-destroying scythes from the centre of the wheel hubs and of course, the ejector seat. While most of the gadgets were operational to some extent the wheel hub spikes and ejector seat were actually a clever combination of practical and special effect shots. Made for around $45,000, Saltzman balked at the idea of the car being used for the high-speed driving and stunt sequences so an identical car without the additional features was provided.
As one of the most famous and iconic cars ever to grace the silver screen, the car went on to be forever immortalised by diecast toy car maker Corgi with one of the first of many pieces of film merchandise to be inspired by the James Bond series.
James Bond Will Return…..
Goldfinger proved to be a critical and commercial success, recouping its $3million budget in just two weeks. One of the first true blockbusters it went on to take over $124million worldwide breaking a number of records including the fastest grossing film of all time. In addition to the merchandising deal with Corgi, the film spawned a huge range of film tie-ins including clothes, action figures, board games and lunch boxes all increasing the popularity of the James Bond brand. The only problem now facing Broccoli and Saltzman was how do you follow this level of success…..