James Bond: The Evolution of an Icon
With James Bond’s latest outing ‘Skyfall’ available on DVD and Blu-Ray now, and the British spy celebrating over fifty years...
With James Bond’s latest outing ‘Skyfall’ available on DVD and Blu-Ray now, and the British spy celebrating over fifty years as a cinematic icon, what better time to look back over the previous films and recount some of 007’s greatest outings?
As a character which has represented the epitome of sophistication, violence and humour (occasionally all at once) Bond has been portrayed by six actors across twenty three films and has firmly stood the test of time, despite the emergence of the contenders like who have sought to take his mantle. But how has he retained his appeal? And which films have contributed the most to his success?
Over the course of this article I’ve outlined my own thoughts on the answers, but I’m sure many of you will have differing opinions. If you do, don’t forget to leave a comment and let us know!
By the time ‘Goldfinger’ was released in 1964, readers and audiences alike were already familiar with the character of James Bond. However, what this latest instalment did for the franchise was transform it into one of the most famous of its time – ‘Goldfinger’ alone was the fastest grossing film on record, recouping its budget of approximately three million USD in less than a fortnight. It obviously captured the public’s imagination in a way that the previous two films didn’t, but why exactly was it so appealing?
Perhaps before anything else the most striking part of the film is Sean Connery’s performance. By the third film Connery had really settled into the role of Bond (although in my opinion neither of his previous turns as Bond could be described as weak) and he demonstrates a certain confidence and charm throughout the film which really shines through. Best remembered while dressed in the now famous grey three piece suit, he personifies everything that makes the cinematic Bond great; the razor sharp humour; the use of gadgets; the composure under pressure; the reserved anger; the calculating and inquisitive mindset; it’s all there on display throughout the movie. Some critics have cited this as Connery’s greatest performance as 007 and I must say that I’m inclined to agree.
Further credit for the film’s success and lasting appeal must go to the women who Bond meets (and seduces) throughout. Jill Masterson, one of Auric Goldfinger’s aides, helps her boss to cheat at cards by spying on his opponents and giving him tips through a hidden earpiece. She doesn’t appear on screen for any real length of time – and for the majority of it she is preoccupied with Bond – however she has since become one of cinema’s most enduring images. When 007 finds her in his room at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, she has been murdered and painted from head to toe in gold paint. A scene with certain similarities to the shower scene in ‘Psycho’, what makes Jill’s death in ‘Goldfinger’ so much more unsettling is the fact that there are no weapons, nor blood, nor screams. There are only the shrill notes of John Barry’s score as Bond looks on in horror and anguish at the sight before him. It’s a truly unforgettable cinema moment and one which has been well documented in popular culture ever since.
Although the girl in the gold paint is the most instantly identifiable of all Bond women from this era, ‘Goldfinger’ also features another; one who is just as notorious, in addition to holding the honour of being one of the most imaginatively – named of all Bond heroines. To paraphrase the script, her name is Pussy Galore. The leader of an all-female flying troupe, Bond first meets Miss Galore when on Goldfinger’s private jet to Kentucky. The two instantly hit it off despite their allegiances and needless to say that despite her tough exterior she eventually falls for Bond’s charms. Honor Blackman, who had starred in the TV show ‘The Avengers’ prior to working on ‘Goldfinger’, turns in a great performance in the role which ensured that she will always, for many people, be one of the definitive Bond girls of all time.
It would be remiss of me to talk about the virtues of ‘Goldfinger’ without mentioning Gert Frobe as the title character or Harold Sakata as his henchman Oddjob. Although Frobe spoke little English when cast to play Goldfinger (he actually had the majority of his parts dubbed), he puts in an unforgettable performance as the self – assured tycoon with unlimited resources and an insatiable love of girls, cards and – most importantly – gold. He has several great scenes throughout the movie, although I do have three favourites; in the first he lectures, berates and ultimately murders those who oppose his plan to irradiate Fort Knox; in the second he switches his outfit half way through the intense shootout between the Army and his henchmen near the end of the film to cover his tracks (as if nobody would notice it was him!); and in the third (which occurs first chronologically but is my absolute favourite) he gives a speech to Bond while attempting to chop him in half with a laser . Now a legendary piece of cinema, who can forget the line, “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” Imitated, parodied, but never outclassed, Auric Goldfinger will forever be an excellent example of a Bond villain.
Goldfinger is assisted in his endeavours by his silent assistant Oddjob, a stout, muscular man who says nothing but whose appearance speaks volumes. Always dressed immaculately in a suit, he sports a bowler hat with a razor sharp rim which he uses to kill any who displease his employer. His character sums up everything that is good about a Bond villain as he combines threat with humour to both terrorise and amuse the audience through the film. One example; at the Stoke Park Golf Club he uses his hat to behead a statue before crushing a golf ball with his bare hand, depositing the remnants into Bond’s palm and driving off. It’s Tanaka’s wide grin as he does all this that makes it so amusing, with the sinister implication that he will do the same thing to Bond when the time is right.
One last reason that ‘Goldfinger’ is deserving of recognition as a defining point in the franchise is that this film gives the first extended insight into ‘Q’ branch and its associated gadgets. It’s fair to say that Ben Wishaw puts in a fitting twenty-first century turn as the character in ‘Skyfall’, but I’m afraid he will never equal the inimitable Desmond Llewellyn. In some ways ‘Q’ is an even more sacred character than ‘M’ or even Bond himself, as for the majority of the films he has been played by just one man. There has not until recently (unless you count John Cleese in the completely miscast role of ‘R’) been a different take on the character, such is the link with Llewellyn, so his first appearance in ‘Goldfinger’ is a scene that carries more and more resonance as the years go by. Telling Bond to keep away from buttons and to pay attention is a motif that has become a core part of the Bond universe – as too have the gadgets that ‘Q’ works so hard to produce. ‘Goldfinger’ uses technology sparingly when compared to the modern titles (it is the sixties, after all) but in addition to a radar concealable in the heel of his shoe Bond also takes delivery of a brand new 1964 Aston Martin DB5. Fitted with radar and a bulletproof rear window shield, the car also boasts machine guns, oil sprayers, tyre shredding wheel hubs and an ejector seat. To audiences watching the film for the first time this must have been a real thrill, especially for those younger fans; it’s a fact attested to by the sales of Corgi Aston Martin’s after the film’s release! Undeniably a favourite among both children and adults, ‘Goldfinger’ is surely a film which will forever more be counted among Bond’s greatest, no matter how many more are made in the future.