RETRO REVIEW: Goldfinger (1964)

Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson in GOLDFINGER — Photo: United Artists / Eon Productions.

Directed by Guy Hamilton — Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn.

Here we go. Goldfinger is the first major James Bond-film. This is arguably the most iconic film in the franchise. Following the commercial success of Terence Young’s Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the producers handed Guy Hamilton, who had turned down the directing duties on Dr. No, the reins to the film series and provided the production a sizable budget of $3 million (the previous two films’ budgets combined). This was the movie that changed everything for the franchise, and, looking at it today, it is easy to see why.

In Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger, James Bond (played by Sean Connery), agent 007, is tasked with investigating the suspicious gold smuggling activities of Auric Goldfinger (played by Gert Fröbe). The wealthy Goldfinger is often seen cheating at games to get his way, and he is often paired with his Korean henchman Oddjob (played by Harold Sakata), whose bowler hat is razor-sharp and is often thrown like a frisbee. This mission becomes especially personal for Bond when he is knocked out by Oddjob in his hotel room and wakes up to find Jill Masterson (played by Shirley Eaton) covered in gold and dead from skin suffocation.

Just like with the previous two films, there are some noteworthy firsts in Hamilton’s Goldfinger. This film marked the first appearance of an Aston Martin as James Bond’s vehicle, and this was also the first time that the film’s individual theme song would play over the opening title sequence. And what a brilliant theme song it was. Though many have tried, only a select few have managed to make as memorable Bond-theme songs as Shirley Bassey did with the iconic “Goldfinger.” Also, with its win for Best Sound Effects, Goldfinger became the first James Bond-film to win an Oscar. This film is bigger and better than the previous two entries, and it features elaborate, memorable, and well-presented set designs. Now James Bond was here to stay as a full-fledged film franchise.

The first hour of Goldfinger is, for the most part, fantastic spy film fun. The film doesn’t waste time to kick into high gear. Though it is very convenient that Bond and the titular villain just happen to be at the same hotel, it is nice that we meet Goldfinger already in the film’s first ten minutes, and that Bond messes with him almost instantly. Goldfinger is, of course, one of the franchise’s most entertaining and memorable villains, and his henchman Oddjob was then and is now my favorite henchman in the entire franchise. I think Oddjob’s introduction, which precedes the incredible and iconic gold-painted Jill Masterson-scene, is underrated. I love that the henchman is silhouetted like he is. They build up the villains quite well in this film. Goldfinger is essentially a film about how James Bond slips up, becomes overconfident, and eventually takes on his most personal mission to date. As M (played by Bernard Lee) suggests, it becomes a personal vendetta for 007.

This, I think, is also probably Sean Connery’s best performance as James Bond. Though he looks noticeably older, Sean Connery clearly has a lot of fun with many of the scenes in Goldfinger. The Q-branch scene, in which we are introduced to Bond’s now-iconic Aston Martin vehicle, is outstanding. I thought his exchange with Q (played by Desmond Llewelyn) was very funny. Connery has a lot of lines in the first half of the film that are still very funny today. Sometimes he has too much fun, though, and the wrong kind of it. Some of the scenes in the first half of the film sees Bond exhibit behavior that is deeply problematic and difficult to watch today, and I’m not just talking about his dislike of the Beatles. I really didn’t like seeing Bond dismiss a woman by saying: “man-talk.” I really, really don’t like to watch the scene with Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman) where they throw each other around in the hay. It, frankly, almost looks like Bond is forcing himself on Ms. Galore.

Other than with how some of Bond’s advances now seem very dated and problematic, my biggest problem with the film is a recurring issue with the franchise at this early stage. Like with both Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Goldfinger has pacing issues. Guy Hamilton’s film loses momentum right around the halfway mark when James Bond is a captive of the titular villain. When James Bond becomes a passive main character, the film becomes slightly lethargic. Granted, this problem with pace is not nearly as bad as it was with the previous two films. Eventually, Goldfinger finds its way with its pretty entertaining ending action scenes. With that having been said, the very best scenes in Goldfinger almost all happen in the first hour of the film.

On a personal note, when I was younger, Goldfinger was one of my favorite James Bond-films. But, to be perfectly honest with you, it wasn’t because I particularly liked Bond in it, or the villain, henchman, or the Bond-girl. I took a liking to Goldfinger because my dad was always so excited when he talked about it. When I least expected it, my dad would often quote one of its iconic lines. Failing to hide a cheeky smile, he would try to do his best Auric Goldfinger impression and say: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” It has never failed to put a smile on my face, for some reason. I still like to see him hide his smile as he repeats the line.

Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger is remembered fondly for a reason. In this franchise, it doesn’t get a lot better than this (though I do think there are better James Bond-films down the line). Goldfinger features Sean Connery at his best, the most iconic Bond theme song, arguably some of the most iconic supporting characters and scenes. Frankly, this film is classic James Bond at its best.

8.7 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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