I may owe Terence Young a small apology. When I reviewed From Russia With Love a couple months back (I really must get to these more often than every other month), I concluded by saying that if he improved as he did from Dr. No to “FRWL”, then the next film would be terrific. I did not realize at the time that Goldfinger was directed by someone new, Guy Hamilton. Thus the comment winds up looking a little bit like a back-handed insult… especially as Goldfinger does indeed show a great deal of improvement over its predecessors. Where those films were merely good, the third canonical out of James Bond is indeed… golden.
And thankfully not filled with puns as bad as that one.
It starts off with a strong note — literally, as Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” theme is not just the best opening theme so far in the series, it ranks among the best movie themes, period. From there we get a brief and violent opening scene with Bond finishing up one mission, only to be brought in on another soon after. His mission in this case is to observe Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), an international magnate suspected of money laundering gold. Bond being Bond, he can’t keep his hands out of things — or off of Goldfinger’s lovely assistant — and soon he learns that Goldfinger is no man to be trifled with. Worse, he then discovers that Goldfinger has a diabolical plan in place to establish himself as one of the richest men in the world, by attacking Fort Knox itself. With the British economy being just as dependent on the current value of gold, Bond finds himself as the man on the spot trying to stop Goldfinger.
It isn’t easy for Bond, as he’s a little short on allies in this film. Despite the assistance of Q division, Felix Leiter, et al, he’s on his own for most of the picture. His allies are off screen for the most part. Meanwhile, Goldfinger is not alone. He has Pussy Galore — a name even Bond scoffs at — a bitter female pilot who handles transportation for him. Played by Honor Blackman, who receives co-star billing, it’s perhaps inevitable that she eventually warms up to the Bond charm (in fact, no fewer than three women succumb to it in this film). The abruptness of her turn is one of the few laughable moments in the film (another being the synchronized passing out of several guards). However, it manages to avoid being too egregious by virtue of Pussy resisting his advances for the bulk of the film.
Still, she isn’t the main villain, nor the main villainous sidekick. That role is filled by former wrestler Harold Sakata as the mute butler Oddjob. Short and stocky, but incredibly strong, Oddjob is easily recognized as inspiring any number of similar characters in action films to come. He has a quiet dignity that is much more intimidating than a shouting villain, and his razor-brimmed hat coupled with his great strength ensure that he can deliver on that intimidation when it comes time to fight. Without having a single line of dialogue, he’s still one of the great movie characters.
Museums hate him.
But then there’s Auric Goldfinger himself. At first glance, he’s radically different from the expected Bond villains. Unlike Dr. No, his appearance is not intimidating at all. He looks rather like a marginally higher class Rodney Dangerfield. But then you hear Fröbe speak, and any illusions about him being a pushover vanish. It’s not in the depth of the voice or its tone; it’s in his control. When Auric Goldfinger speaks, you can hear the presence of mind he has. When he explains his plan, it is with the certainty of inevitability. There’s an absolute surety in his demeanor that makes it entirely believable that this man who looks like a shabby golfer could completely outmaneuver a smooth super-spy. It’s the reason why he’s able to be utterly believable when Bond asks if he expects him to talk, and Goldfinger gives the famous reply, “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die.”
Starting with the apparent source of your power.
Then there’s the plot. Espionage films rely heavily on a good scheme, and the one in Goldfinger is brilliant in its audacity. It’s a scheme truly worthy of a great villain. Plus there’s plenty of action in the film, from some good action driving sequences to some great fights. Really, there’s very little not to like about Goldfinger. It’s exactly what a spy movie — and a James Bond movie — ought to be. It’s no wonder it’s the one the fans keep referring back to.