If From Russia With Love was big, Goldfinger is the Bond movie that nearly everyone sees as the greatest success in the series.
With the court case between Kevin McClory and Fleming surrounding Thunderball still in the High Court — more on that this week — producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman picked this story as the third film. They enjoyed a budget that was pretty much the same as both Dr. No and From Russia With Love combined.
However, Terence Young was out after a pay dispute and Guy Hamilton, who had turned down Dr. No, came on board. His idea changed the series — no longer was Bond nearly superhuman; instead his villains would be stronger than him. Hamilton would make three more Bond pictures: Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.
It also saw the return of stunt coordinator Bob Simmons and production designer Ken Adam, whose presence can be felt in every frame. Before Goldfinger, Bond had a few gadgets. After, gadgets would be one of the reasons to show up for his movies.
After destroying a drug dealer’s operation in Latin America, Bond (Sean Connery, coming back for his third film) goes to Miami Beach on what should be a vacation. Instead, CIA agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder, taking over the role from Jack Lord) asks him to observer Auric Goldfinger (German actor Gert Fröbe, whose dialogue was dubbed by Michael Collins; he also dubbed him in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, another movie made from an Ian Fleming book), a rich man obsessed with gold.
Orson Welles was going to play the role, but he asked for too large of a salary. Oh, what could have been.
Goldfinger is cheating at a game of gin rummy — a simple illustration that he corrupts even the most idle of pursuits — with the help of his employee Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton, who is also in The Million Eyes of Sumuru and The Girl From Rio; she was already a sex symbol but the imagery of her from this film took her to another level). Bond, of course, seduces her and wins the game. Goldfinger wins the whole war by having his henchman Oddjob (former pro wrestler Harold Sakata) knock out 007 and then paints Jill gold, killing her from skin suffocation.
Seriously — we’re a few minutes in to this movie and it already blows away everything that came before.
Here’s a strange story: Fleming had based the villain on Modernist architect Erno Goldfinger, who threatened to sue when he found out he was to be a spy villain. Fleming’s publisher begged him to change the character’s name, to which Bond’s creator offered to change it to Goldprock. The case was settled out of court.
This sets off several stories — Bond trying to determine how Goldfinger is stealing gold and getting richer; Oddjob determined to kill Bond with his steel-rimmed hat; Tilly Masterson’s vendetta against Goldfinger to get revenge for her sister’s death, only to be killed by Oddjob; Goldfinger attempting to rob Fort Knox and his henchwoman Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman, who was Mrs. Gale on The Avengers before this).
Galore was based on Fleming’s friend, mistress and muse Blanche Blackwell. As his wife disapproved of the Bond novels, Fleming grew closer to Blackwell. She inspired not just Galore, but also Dr. No‘s Honeychile Rider. Her son Chris Blackwell would go on to form Island Records.
In the book, Galore runs an all-lesbian Harlem gang known as the Cememnt Mixers. Well, in the movie, she’s the leader of a Flying Circus of acrobatic, judo fighting and plane flying women. Yes, only in the world of Bond.
You also have to adore that the movie ends with a battle where Goldfinger is pulled out the window of a jet. As the plane crashes, Bond and Galore hide under a parachute. Despire her being a criminal, Bond seems like the one who doesn’t want to be found — a theme that will continue as the series goes forward.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” song is astounding. To hit the note at the end of the song, she had to take her bustier off in the studio. And you know who is playing guitar on it? Jimmy Page.
The Aston Martin. The laser scene. “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” Oddjob. Suggestively named ladies. The playful fighting between Q and Bond.
If you’re going to watch one Bond movie, this should be it. Me? I’m watching hundreds of spy movies all month long.