Bond at 50: A critical reappraisal of Goldfinger

I love Goldfinger.

Not the character Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger, the movie. It is, by popular decree, the Best. Bond. Ever. It features the Most Famous Car in the World (the Aston Martin DB 5) Sean Connery at his hairy testosterone-filled peak, the best henchman in Odd Job, and the most awesome Bond girl name ever: Pussy Galore. As a Bond fan, I can’t help but love it… it’s the movie that most of the films in the series emulates.

But… while I do love it… I love it like I love my sons, and my wife, focusing on their good qualities while I minimize or ignore their imperfections. It’s what people do when they care about something. I see that happening, on a scale writ large, in our current Presidential election – we root for Our Guy, and boo and slam the Other Guy.

Well, I just rewatched Goldfinger a week after the world celebrated the first ever James Bond Day (a holiday created by the producers of the soon-to-be released 22nd Bond film Skyfall, naturally). And after that rewatch… well, ladies and gentleman of the jury, I have some verbal arguments to make.

Goldfinger… has some problems. Lots of them.

Allow me to make my case, and the bulk of my evidence rests with item #1:

The plot

I love that Goldfinger that takes the whole three-act classical structure Robert McKee so popularly documented in his book on screenwriting Story and throws that stuff right out, presumably using the ejector seat of Bond’s Aston Martin. Bond, as the Protagonist, is passive a huge chunk of the movie… basically, he’s captured halfway through and then doesn’t do much.

“Wait!” You may cry, “He escapes and hides out in the giant Fort Knox model and learns about Goldfinger’s plan!” Yes, he does… he learns about Goldfinger’s FAKE plan to rob Fort Knox that Goldfinger tells all the gangsters he owes money to. A great scene, one where Goldfinger reveals not one but TWO gigantic maps/models of Fort Knox that he had built… why, exactly? Because it looks good on the movie screen, that’s why.

And why tell them any plan, if he was going to kill them anyway? The real reason is not to tell them, but to tell the audience, so when Bond learns the real plan later there will be a moment of surprise. “Bond figured it out!” No.

And the whole segment with Goldfinger sending the gangster Solo out with his payment, then killing him and crushing his car in a junk yard? Why didn’t Odd Job take the gold OUT before crushing the car? And why such a dramatic method of disposing of the body? Again, because it looks great on the big screen.

You apply an ounce of critical thinking to the events that occur and… Well, it’s a house of cards on a windy day.

Yes, yes, I know, “it’s a Bond movie, turn off your brain and enjoy it.” I’ve always rebelled against those type of defenses that people use for movies. I expect movies to MAKE SENSE… at least, maintain some form of internal logic in the world created in the film. Goldfinger’s plot often doesn’t make one lick of sense, especially the middle of the film as detailed above.

The acting

The leads (Sean Connery, Gert Frobe, and Harold Sakata) do good work but when you look at the rest of the cast there are some weak performances. Both actresses who play the Masterson sisters, while beautiful, are one-dimensional and flat, and the actor playing Felix Leiter is not only too old but is as wooden as Goldfinger’s rotating pool table.

Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore is… well, she’s also wooden. She plays the “icy lesbian” part fairly well, but to be fair to her she’s not really given much to work with. There is no real emotional “arc” for her to play… and the change that her character DID have… Jeez. More on this later.

Add in some bad dubbing in some scenes, and the results ain’t pretty.

It hasn’t aged well

I love John Barry’s score, it’s one of his best, but there are moments… Yikes. The worse offender is when the pilots in Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus land. The score goes into “WAH-WAH! Sexy Chicks!” mode for several moments and it’s so dated and cheesy it’s embarrassing.

In an early scene Bond very famously states that drinking Dom Perignon at room temperature was “like listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.” That puts Bond clearly on the wrong side of the culture war that took place in the sixties… the one the Beatles won. Which is ironic, when you think about who later writes and performs the theme to the Bond film Live and Let Die.

Finally… Pussy Galore. In the orignal book, she’s openly a lesbian – a bold story point for a “respectable” mainstream book written in the 1950s. In the book, as in the movie, she “turns” after Bond shows her the awesomeness that was/is heterosexual lovemaking.

Baloney.

I’m sorry, but the whole idea of Bond winning Pussy over to his side that way is ridiculous, and the notion that a lesbian can be “converted” that way was very much a sign of the times. It was incredulous in the book, and equally incredulous in the movie.

(Full disclosure: I am a married heterosexual man who likes the ladies… especially Bond Girls.)

In closing

Goldfinger is, above all else, the prototypical Bond film… it is what we have come to expect when we buy our tickets and sit down. It is the “patient zero” that infected the moviemakers, an infection that almost proved fatal when it was contracted by Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan.

Too many people, myself included, has put it on a pedestal for decades, and there’s still plenty of praiseworthy elements here. But as Q would say, “Can we please be serious?” Taking Goldfinger seriously, one can see plenty of things that don’t quite work. But as everyone can admit, it has now become a classic, and it’s… well, it’s Goldfinger.

Flaws and all, I do love it so.