Thursday, March 19, 2009
This is the film where it all came together. James Bond, Ian Fleming's Agent 007 on of the British Secret Service, had already become cinema's first action hero, appearing in two earlier films. But Goldfinger was the film that launched the film icon into the stratosphere. What were the elements that finally gelled to rocket the movie into blockbuster classic status? Sean Connery - The athletic grace that the handsome actor brought to Bond's stride served as a perfect counterpoint to Connery's own working-class background, the roughness of which seemed to spring out in the Bond film's fight scenes. As I've said before, this quality of a "gorilla in a tuxedo" - an animal harnessed by the Secret Service, educated in the social skills necessary to pass unnoticed in upper-class circles - seemed to produce the most popular incarnation of the character. Connery had himself been taken under the wing of director Terence Young (Dr. No), who even sent him to his personal tailor when preparing the first film in the series. Current Bond actor, Daniel Craig, has no doubt achieved a measure of his popularity by emulating Connery's performance, shadings of which had all but disappeared in the actors portraying the character in the interim. In Goldfinger, Connery has finally relaxed into the character's skin and quite devilishly starts letting more of the humor shine through in his sarcastic quips, such as his retort to a villain he has just electrocuted, "Shocking! Positively shocking!" Teaser and Opening Credit Sequence - What has now become a Bond tradition began here. This is the first film where the film opens with Bond on a short unrelated mission before launching into the credits and the story proper. Here, the mission involves Connery snorkeling into an unnamed Latin country, stripping out of his wet suit down to the white-jacket tuxedo (first appearance) underneath, a scene to which James Cameron paid homage in True Lies (1994). After completing his task, the film launches into John Barry's theme (lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) as sung by pop star Shirley Bassey. This would be the first of many times that a singer of Bassey's stature would be recruited to sing the theme song. It would also be the first time that the central image in the titles would be a scantily clad woman abstracted in some artistic way, here painted gold and having images from the film projected onto her body. The Perfect Villains - Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) and his henchman, Oddjob (Harold Sakata) are the quintessential Bond villains. Goldfinger would be the first in a long line of blond Aryans that would scheme to somehow take over the world, in this case by sinking the global economy, a once make-believe threat that now seems more timely with each passing day. And the mysterious mute Oddjob represents Bond through a funhouse mirror - a gargantuan ape in a tux of his own with a propensity for using a secret weapon 007 would feel right at home with, a bowler hat with a razor-edged brim. These two would serve as the template for future Bond villains like Mr. Big and Tee-Hee (Live and Let Die), or Karl Stromberg and Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me). The Beautiful Women - Despite Shirley Eaton's short appearance as Jill Masterson, she is arguably one of the most famous Bond women. This because of her iconic death scene in which Bond finds her suffocated from being covered completely in gold paint. Honor Blackman is a bit more problematic as Pussy Galore. First, there is the condescending name given to her because of her (subtly implied) lesbian orientation. Then there is the fact that Bond is able to seduce her (some would say by force) into falling in love with him, leaving her preference for women behind. It is to Blackman's credit that the role is elevated by her both her physical and intellectual strengths. Blackman was already quite adept in judo, and known to fans from her time on The Avengers (1962-1964). Her dignity in the role makes some of the more lascivious aspects of the character a little more palatable. Gadgets - Aston Martin DB5 anyone? With an ejector seat, no less? The ultimate Bond gadget makes its debut here, for better - providing some nice over-the-top action in the short term - or for worse - laying the foundation for increasingly preposterous gadgets in the longer term of the franchise. The good news is that gadget scenes mean we get to see some of the interesting banter between the cranky Q (Desmond Llewelyn) - who resents the mistreatment his weapons are subjected to - and Bond, some of the most amusing scenes in all of the movies. Locations - Fort Knox, London, Miami Beach, Switzerland. This is the first of the Bond films to include such extensive globe-trotting, and the visuals associated with that are all the more exciting. Can you believe that Connery never set foot poolside at the Fontainebleau Hotel, featured so prominently at the start of the film? You'd never know it from director Guy Hamilton's effective use of background plates shot by him and a skeleton crew. The Bond Dream Team: Ken Adam, John Barry, Peter Hunt, Ted Moore and Richard Maibaum - It wasn't the first time all of them had worked on the same Bond film, but it was the best time, each achieving the peak of their craft in the Bond series. Production Designer Adam gave us a fantastic but not unimaginable extrapolation of what the inside of Fort Knox looked like. Composer Barry finally found the brassy, swing style of music that characterized Connery's swaggering take on Bond. Editor Hunt tightly edited the action setpieces designed for the 110-minute film, avoiding the self-important bloat that would begin to creep into subsequent films in the series. Cinematographer Moore bestowed a shimmering golden luminosity (like gold reflecting on water in Jill's death scene) on the film as a constant reminder of the megalomaniac that lay behind the evil plot at the heart of the movie. And screenwriter Maibaum (along with Paul Dehn in this outing) enlivened Fleming's original story by contrasting the very British secret agent against the rough-and-tumble American setting of much of the film, Kentucky. Guy Hamilton - One of the prime directors behind Bond's most successful outings, Hamilton contributes a cheeky brand of Brit humor in clever setpieces such as the one where Goldfinger trains a laser on Bond, all tied up, as the beam heads toward his nether regions. Hamilton humanizes the superhero, and may be the forerunner of the modern action film director: efficient, stylish, and not above slipping a trademark witticism into the mouth of his protagonist now and then. Goldfinger is the opening night film at the 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival. It screens tonight at 8:30 p.m. where Mr. Osborne and co-host Fred Willard will discuss the film prior to the screening with their guest, director Guy Hamilton. All films screen at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601, (706) 208-0900 or (800) 918-6393. This article was written with the invaluable assistance of the Bloomsbury Movie Guide 2: Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.