Tuesday, September 11, 2012

James Bond 007: Goldfinger - Dir. Guy Hamilton

James Bond 007: Goldfinger (1964)
Bond Goes Blockbuster
by Jay Maronde

The third cinema installment of the 007 franchise takes Bond to a fantastic new level, a level which manages to raise the bar for the films of the franchise in so many new ways that its initial release not only changed the world of Bond, but the whole world’s perception on not only the secret agent film genre but the entire concept of James Bond. That’s right, I said it, Goldfinger redefines not only the world of “Bond” but redefines and elucidates the essence of Bond to the world. Pray tell how one film could do so much?..... Well that’s what this article is about! 
First and Foremost let us start with the “firsts.” Goldfinger is the first film in which Commander Bond steps foot in America. It’s also the first film with a completely tangential opening scene, in which Bond uses a fantastic duck snorkel to perform some unplanned demolition of a drug lab.  Now, obviously after your favorite secret agent blows up a South American cartel headquarters, he’s going to need to get out of town, pretty quickly, and obviously he’ll need to go to Fontainebleau* in Miami Beach for some well-deserved R&R.  Before Bond gets to MIA however, the movies cuts away to its fantastic opening sequence complete with the first Shirley Bassey theme song of the series. Bassey would go on to record several more uber-classic theme songs for the franchise, but “Goldfinger” (the song) was the first, and I’ve had its classic hook stuck in my head for more than a few days now.  While the music plays, the title credits roll and scenes from the film are shown projected on gold painted body parts of a beautiful woman.
 This is where the story really begins after the opening credits: Here we find our AMERICAN friend Felix Leiter, tracking down Bond to give him a new assignment, and as Bond and Leiter meet for the first time, the fantastic misogyny begins to ooze, and the metamorphosis of  Bond’s pop cultural definition as the ultimate ladies’ man begins.  Don’t get me wrong, the first two movies contain numerous references to Bond’s proclivities as a lush, but here in this first Miami scene he quickly dispatches his (second (in the film)) lady friend with a smack on the ass and the comment that he and his friend need to have “man talk.” Now personally I love misogynistic Bond. He’s the man, and he’s acting like it in a way that would make a Barnard girl’s skin crawl.  This attitude/swagger/charisma/skew is what makes Bond EPIC, but it does come with its pitfalls: if Bond is more extreme in his character then certainly much more extreme things must happen. And they do. As such the now long-standing Bond tradition of “Sex for dinner, death for breakfast” begins in earnest. Bond’s first move in Miami Beach (after donning an enviable post swimming baby blue terry-cloth onesie) is to not only steal the main villain’s “girlfriend” but to cause Mr. Auric Goldfinger to lose a $15,000 game of cards. (That’s 1960’s money remember, gold is roughly $30/oz in the film, and current prices are well over $1500/oz, you can do the math if you are stickler type**.) Clearly the Villain is displeased, and Jill Masterson (who bears a striking resemblance to one of my favorite bartenders) has to die. Her death scene is not only one of the most referenced Bond lady deaths, but also has inspired its own “Mythbusters” episode, was highlighted with a huge spread in LIFE magazine, and was even referenced in JB007:#22 Quantum Of Solace by way of Strawberry Fields's death. Sadly for the fictional Masterson parents, Jill’s sister also dies in a 007 exploit later in the film.
Another area of "firsts" comes from Q branch. Having realized the popularity of the Quartermaster Corps and the average film-goers fascination with Bond’s gadgets, the producers chose to include a full scene where Bond travels to the Q-branch offices. Herein Bond gets his now standard tour of the new “tools” in development, and is assigned his new car: The Aston Martin DB5. Bond’s car might be the only thing more famous than himself (possibly because its non-fictional) and in an ironic footnote of history, the Aston Martin Company almost didn’t go for it. I’m certainly sure that now they are quite glad they did as Bond’s Classic DB5 is one of the most recognizable cars in global popular culture, and now as they are currently in production as of BOND23, Bond is once again driving an Aston. Further, the producers licensed an “official” JB:DB5 toy car, which later became the bestselling toy of 1964. All these "firsts" are dwarfed in comparison to the big first: THE MONEY.
The Guinness Book Of World Records lists Goldfinger as the fastest grossing movie EVER. In fact, Goldfinger was produced with a budget of the two other Bond films combined. That three milllion dollars of 1964 money (approx. $22M in 2012) yielded a movie that would become the first blockbuster in the franchise. Goldfinger’s producers’ recouped their money in roughly a week, the movie then went on  to gross over $124 million dollars (again, 1964 money, inflation calculators figure that amount would be roughly equal to $850 million in today dollars) in fact the movie was so popular that some cinemas were compelled to stay open 24 hours a day and continuously show Goldfinger just to keep up with popular demand.     
Shockingly, the box office figures only comprised a fraction of the film franchise's profits in other arenas. The producers also “struck Gold,” as it were, by licensing everything they could think of--from lunch boxes, to menswear, to albums. This remarkable amount of money directly correlates to how Goldfinger changed the game even for Bond. Director Guy Hamilton’s new "Uber-Bond" was such a smashing success that spy movies became so popular that in 1965 came the release of no less than 20 other Spy Genre films. The whole world had gone Bonkers for Bond.
The new James Bond of Goldfinger is amazing, in no small part due to the man playing him. This film was Sean Connery’s third appearance as Bond, and the actor seems to fill out the role like never before. Maybe it was just the standard cultural misogyny of the 1960’s or what have you, (I couldn’t tell you, I’m too young to remember) but Connery seems even more perfect as Bond as soon as the first well-gaffed ass smack comes during the scene in Miami. He then proceeds to evoke even more Bond perfection as the movie goes on. During the course of this film, James Bond not only talks his way out of a laser death machine (and by the way, lasers weren’t even invented yet, making that another Bond First), but winks his way out of jail cell, and literally saves the world with his “Mojo.” In all of these scenarios Sean Connery’s gratuitous personal swag comes across the silver screen as clear as an azure summer afternoon and completely “sells” each scene. Only an actor reprising a role which he has already worked extensively on could possibly exude such confidence of character***. Connery and Bond merge forever into the pop culture collective. Connery was great and he knew it; but this led to some very interesting complications, most of which had to do with money. 
As the movie was being filmed and the popularity was growing, Connery realized he should get more money. As such, and due to an injury he suffered during filming, Connery negotiated a 5% cut from the take of all the Bond Films he would star in. (Again, in case math isn’t your forte: 5% of $850 million, is $42.5 Million.) Connery had redefined Bond and movie stardom as a whole.               
All these fantastic gizmos, and lasers, and Gold would be for naught if Connery had been cast beside losers, or nobodies, or even just plain crap actors, so I personally feel that one of Director Guy Hamilton’s most outstanding contributions to whole world of Bond, was to be able to cast wonderful, memorable, important actors to the other roles. The real standout in history is the casting of Honor Blackman as “Pussy Galore,” Goldfinger’s personal pilot, and boss of her very own “Flying Circus.”  First off let us note that this is another Bond Film "first": the blatant hyper-sexualizing of a female name. This (one of my favorite) Bond traditions, has been “flirted” with many times throughout the course of the rest of the franchise, but I really don’t think anything can come close to “Pussy Galore.” Blackman was already famous from “The Avengers” and this played no small part in her being cast. In fact, part of the script was re-written to highlight her judo skills. Further, Pussy’s role as the leader of an all-female cadre of pilots has served to highlight the middle century views of women’s empowerment, and establish Pussy as a feminist foil to Bond’s rampant misogyny. Without the yin there can be no yang, so inasmuch as Bond needed a feminist to offset his sexism, Connery also needed exquisite actors to star as his villains, and here Hamilton shines again.
Many, Many actors were considered and auditioned for the role of Auric Goldfinger. It was the title character of the next film in an already incredibly successful cinematic franchise. Eventually, with Orson Welles demanding an outrageous amount of money, the producers chose the German actor Gert Fröbe. The title character is wonderful. He acts exactly like one would imagine a super villain would: he cheats at everything, pays beautiful women to stay in his company, and always seems to have yet another killing machine for disposing of his enemies. He even has a golden gun! The super-secret about Fröbe was that (much like Ursula Andress in Dr. No) his English was atrocious. Hamilton had him phonetically deliver all his lines (at double speed, so his face looks right in the film) and then dubbed him using the voice of American actor Michael Collins.  Fröbe does such a fantastic job with the acting, and Hamilton with the editing that I never even would have guessed, had I not read it in Wikipedia.
If you were the world’s biggest super villain, clearly you are much too cool and important and busy to do your own bidding, plus you obviously need security. In Auric Goldfinger’s case, you already have a small army of Asian goonies at your beck and call, so your number one assistant obviously should be a Korean Manservant. And here, for our viewing pleasure, we come upon one of most famous cinematic villains ever in Oddjob. Hamilton’s casting skills were beyond reproach again as he cast the Olympic silver medal winning weight lifter Harold Sakata. Previous to GoldFinger Mr. Sakata had been a television wrestler. Hamilton saw him and immediately knew he had his villain. The fact that Mr. Sakata could also barely speak English was also no problem as the role had no words, merely a few well-placed grunts. It’s a tribute to both Sakata and Hamilton that the character of Oddjob still shines throughout all this, and to this day is referenced in many different areas of popular culture.
When the viewer considers the multiplicity of Bond "firsts," it is apparent that Goldfinger, like Dr. No and From Russia, With Love before it, made great strides**** in honing the "Bond formula" that has allowed it to stand the test of time and remain a viable franchise for 50 years.  No other character can lay claim to such a feat.  

 *The Fontainebleau Hotel was embroiled in litigation before Goldfinger was made.  This case (decided in 1959) has not been referenced on Flying Houses before, but was one of the more memorable topics in Property.  The Fontainebleau's owner did not like the neighboring hotel's owner, so he decided to construct an addition which would block the sunlight from the other hotel's pool and tanning area.  The court referenced the "ancient lights" doctrine and noted that it had been universally repudiated in the United States, even though it had been recognized in England (perhaps the producers of Goldfinger were enraged by such a notion, and used the location as a political statement--but it is highly doubtful).  The court ruled that the addition could be constructed, even though it was quite clear that the idea arose out of a personal dispute.  I could not stop writing about this case on my Property exam because I felt it had been so badly decided.  Of course, the neighboring hotel will suffer economic loss because people are not going to Miami Beach to tan in the shade.  -JK

**By my math, Goldfinger would have lost $750,000 in 2012 dollars.-JK

***Which leads me to wonder what Batman Forever would have been like had Michael Keaton retained the role.-JK

****One hopes that the writer of these reviews will be able to deliver a ranking of all Bond films after Skyfall is released.  It is difficult to tell whether he prefers Goldfinger to From Russia, With Love, though it seems clear that while he has great admiration for Dr. No, he does not consider it as strong a film as its two immediate sequels.-JK

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