Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Review: Goldfinger

"Goldfinger"  *** (out of ****)

"Goldfinger" (1964) was the third Ian Fleming novel to be made into a motion picture after "Dr. No" (1962) and "From Russia With Love" (1963) and is considered by many to be the standard of excellence all other Bond films must be compared to.

"From Russia With Love" established the Bond formula as we knew it pre-Daniel Craig but "Goldfinger" may have perfected it.

As with the two previous Bond films this one stars Sean Connery as secret agent 007, who is widely believed to have been the best James Bond.

Watching "Goldfinger" again I noticed something that first caught my eye when I re-watched "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977) with Roger Moore (my favorite Bond). The public's general perception of James Bond is that he is basically an adolescent, always chasing after pretty girls. That simply is not true. Pay attention to a moment  early on in "Goldfinger". We see Bond (Connery) on a mission. He is in a hotel room with a pretty girl. He can see a man approaching him from behind with a gun. He notices this in a reflection of the girl's eye. Without thinking twice about it Bond uses the girl as a shield and she takes a hit on the head as the man strikes her instead. Then Bond throws an electric fan in a bathtub and electrocutes the man stating that the situation is "shocking".

In this moment we notice two things. One is Bond is always focused on his mission. Women aren't a distraction to him. They are a tool to be used to gather information. Bond flirts with women the way a femme fatale lures men into committing murder. It's not personal, its business. Bond would never allow a women to interfere with his mission. His assignment is always his main goal. Remember, Bond usually can't charm the male villains the way he does the female characters.

The second thing you notice is the humor of Connery's Bond. People used to (and some still do) complain about Roger Moore's interpretation of Bond as being "too comical". The late Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel used to say Moore looked like a guy who didn't want to get his tuxedo messed up. His clothes were always perfectly in place. But, that is not fair. Pay attention to Connery. After every fight Connery's hair never moves. His clothes are always in place. It rarely looks like anything phases him. He is cool, calm and collected. It is comical and Connery seems to be more of an action star compared to Moore.

When the plot demands it though Connery takes it all very serious. The best example would be the famous scene where Bond is tied down to a table as a gold laser is about to cut him in half. "Do you expect me to talk?" Bond asks Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). "No Mr. Bond. I expect you to die." is his reply. In that moment there is genuine suspense. Will Bond die? Is this the end of the Bond franchise? Audiences in 1964 may not have been sure of the answer to those questions. And Connery plays it for all its worth.

"Goldfinger" really has a rather simple plot. A man named Goldfinger wants to break into Fort Knox and make the world's gold supply radio-active, thus increasing the value of his gold supply and causing economic chaos world wide. And that is only revealed to us an hour into the movie. But, plot isn't what makes "Goldfinger" fun to watch or memorable. You could argue the same is true for a number of Bond films.

What makes "Goldfinger" fun to watch is the beautiful women, the gadgets, the cars, the villains and the wise-cracks. It is style over substance. It is all atmosphere. It enjoys the conventions of the Bond formula.

"Goldfinger" has a lot of "first". It was the first time Guy Hamilton directed a Bond film. He would go on to direct "Live and Let Die" (1973), which marked Roger Moore's debut as Bond, "The Man With the Golden Gun" (1974), another Roger Moore Bond movie and "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) again with Sean Connery.

It was also the first time Shirley Bassey would sing a Bond song. "Goldfinger" may be the most memorable of all the Bond songs. Perhaps only "Nobody Does It Better", from "The Spy Who Loved Me", is as popular. Bassey would go on to sing the title song for "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker" (1979), which is better than most people give it credit for.

And, most importantly it was the first time we see Bond drive an Aston Martin. The only other time would be in "Skyfall" (2012). I remember seeing "Skyfall" in a movie theatre and the crowd cheered when they saw the car.

"Goldfinger" probably has the greatest name of all time for a Bond girl, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) who works as a pilot for Goldfinger. But, she is not the greatest Bond girl of all time. She is not given much to do in the film. She is not really an active participant in a large majority of the plot. The name is what makes her memorable. Not her acting.

I used to think "Goldfinger" was the greatest of all the James Bond movies. But, watching it again prior to this review, my feelings changed. I don't see it as a great piece of cinematic art. I see it as a good action movie. Connery is fun to watch. The Bond girls are pretty. I like the Goldfinger character and his henchman, Oddjob (Harold Sakata). There are things that are fun to watch. There are moments of enjoyment. But, a great movie? I'm not so sure of that anymore.

As I say, plot isn't the driving factor in this movie. It is style over substance. And, that hurts the movie for me a bit. I'm not actively involved myself. Oh, there is a scene or two that I have mentioned when Connery creates suspense as to the faith of the character but overall you aren't rooting for much.

There will be those that my say I am being too harsh. I am expecting too much from the movie. I should enjoy it for what it is. I do enjoy it for what it is. A decent action movie. I like the movie. I recommend seeing it. The movie was even nominated for an Academy Award in the best sound effects category. Of all the categories this movie could have been nominated in, the Academy chose best sound effects. Not even best song at least.

"Goldfinger" has a lot that makes it memorable. Good villains, beautiful women, a great car and a terrific song.