Page to Screen: Goldfinger (1964)

based on the novel by Ian Fleming


Goldfinger is the only old-school (i.e., pre-Brosnan and therefore pre-Clare) Bond I’d seen before I embarked on the entire James Bond film canon. (I am eternally wary of the actual books themselves.) But it was a while ago, in early high school, so while I remembered some basics—Connery’s Bond electrocuting a man, the golden girl—it was still pretty fresh for me. (But most films predating 1991 are pretty fresh for me, to be totally honest.) We’ve only got two more Connery Bond movies to go, so let’s get started.

After Agent James Bond destroys a heroin operation in Latin America, he enjoys a relaxing vacation in Miami—a brief vacation, as Bond is then assigned to investigate Auric Goldfinger, a gold dealer with nefarious connections to the criminal underworld. What starts out as a routine investigation immediately turns deadly, as Goldfinger is happy to murder his own personnel to send Bond a message. Whatever Goldfinger is up to, Bond is determined to get to the bottom of it—no matter how distracting Tilly Masterson or Pussy Galore is…

Goldfinger’s place in cinematic history is assured by the sheer fact that a character named Pussy Galore exists, showing that Ian Fleming not only had a firm grasp of the double innuendo, but also the single innuendo. But, despite her sensational name (Honor Blackman reportedly took delight in making interviewers feel uncomfortable by saying it as much as humanly possible in interviews), Pussy is the first bad Bond girl who can handle Bond, trading quip for quip and judo throw for judo throw. It certainly helps that Blackman knows exactly what kind of a film she’s in, half-growling all her lines and strutting around in impeccable She’s also the only case where I’m glad someone’s sexual orientation didn’t survive adaptation—as problematic as the scene where she “gives in” to Bond is (they have a fight, he forcefully kisses her as she resists, and then she consents; be more awful, the sixties), adding the gag-worthy narrative of “JAMES BOND CURES A LESBIAN WITH HIS MOJO” would just make me go blind with rage. (And you wonder why I avoid the novels!) The eponymous Goldfinger is a fantastic villain, affable, smart (his plan was recently declared by an economist to be the most financially sound of all the Bond villains), and, above all, utterly pleased with himself and his place in the world. There’s a fantastic moment when, lecturing to his criminal underlings, Goldfinger decries the fact that other fields have astonishing achievements, but not crime. How can you not love that? After all, this is the man who gave the world the line, “I expect you to DIE, Mr. Bond!”. Beautiful.

Goldfinger is the first Bond film that sets the Bond template—sure, we’ve had Q come in and arm him to the teeth, sure, we’ve seen him wine and dine women, and sure, we’ve seen an opening that has nothing to do with the rest of the film. But this is the first film that collects all of these elements and crystallizes them into the Bond template we know and love today, mostly with the introduction of the Aston Martin, a car so beloved it gets its own glory shot in Skyfall. As I watch these films, I’m really astounded by how they were just cranked out—four films in as many years, which is odd for someone whose main experience of Bond is the Craig years. Oh, and can I just mention how much I love Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, by the way? (Sorry, Winshaw. You might be half-giraffe, but you are not an avuncular Welsh fuss-budget. No points for Ravenclaw.)

As with Dr. No and From Russia With Love, I fell asleep about two-thirds of the way through. I’m not proud, although I will tentatively point an accusing finger at my family, who thinks nine o’clock is the best time to start a film. (It is not. It is seven o’clock, because then you have a little time to yourself before you retire for the evening.) Pacing was just different in the sixties; it’s the reason that I’ve gotten to the last five episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series recently despite starting in 2009. (My entire college career! Hooray—wait…) I was riveted any time Goldfinger or Pussy was on the screen, but Bond by himself? I haven’t gotten there yet; even how bad he is at his job is taking its time to endear him to me. (He introduces himself by name to everyone he meets. Smooth, Jimmy, smooth.) But I know it will eventually. The punny quips are already worming their way into my heart. Now that the template’s set, let’s see what Eon and company can do…

Bottom line: Goldfinger is the Bond film that standardizes the formula, with the able help of Pussy Galore and Auric Goldfinger, two fantastic villains. But the pacing is still wonky and the problematic politics (by which I of course mean rampant misogyny) are on full display. An able entry in the early Bond canon.

I rented this DVD from the public library.

3 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Goldfinger (1964)

  1. Goldfinger is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book. In the novel, Pussy is presented as a lesbian by choice rather than conviction (if one can put it that way) due to having been sexually abused as a kid – she comments sardonically to Bond that the definition of a virgin in the South is a girl who can run faster than her brother, except that in her case it was her uncle. But Tilly at least doesn’t succumb to Bond’s charm (though she does get killed, I think).

  2. Pingback: Page to Screen: The World is Not Enough (1999) | The Literary Omnivore

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