Friday, September 28, 2007

Goldfinger (1964)

A few reviews back I heaped praise on the latest Bond film, “Casino Royale,” and I reviewed the first two films in the series, “Dr. No” and “From Russia with Love.” I finally got around to watching the third film, “Goldfinger,” and while it is, in some ways, the best of the series, it also features some of the flaws that annoy me about the Bond films.

This time around, 007 is sent to investigate Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), a gold merchant who is suspected of illegally smuggling gold out of England in order to trade it more profitably on the world market. After a couple of run-ins with Goldfinger and his burly bodyguard Oddjob (Harold Sakata), Bond learns that there is more involved than gold smuggling. Goldfinger has an elaborate scheme cooking (of course!) involving Fort Knox and a powerful laser, which he uses to almost give 007 a belated briss. Goldfinger has a lovely partner-in-crime named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), cementing the tradition of gimmicky Bond-girl names and bringing it to an all-time, suggestive low. The character, fortunately, is a refreshingly strong, intelligent female foil for Bond, which is a departure from damsels-in-distress Honey Ryder (Dr. No) and Tatiana (From Russia with Love).

In addition to institutionalizing the Bond-girl name-gimmick thing, “Goldfinger” also establishes, even more than “From Russia with Love,” the fetishism of spy gadgetry in Bond films. This is the film where 007’s Aston-Martin, with the machine guns, smoke screen, and passenger-eject button is lovingly introduced. This would be loads of fun if Bond actually deployed these weapons to any effect. The plot didn’t seem to have room for that, so instead there is one long chase scene in which Bond dutifully fires off all the features of the car only to be rather stupidly captured anyway. This film also features Bond, who is supposedly a weapons expert, misidentifying a .44 magnum revolver, calling it a “Smith and Wesson .45.” (For the uninitiated, .45 caliber is a semi-automatic pistol caliber, unless Pussy Galore was carrying a pistol chambered in the venerable cowboy caliber of .45 Long-Colt, which I highly doubt.) What else negative can I say about “Goldfinger”? In general, this film has less of a hard edge than its predecessors, with more of the 14-year-old-boy esthetic that undermines most Bond films.

On the other hand, Auric Goldfinger is clearly the best Bond villain ever. Gert Frobe forgoes gimmicky “evilness” in favor of genuine menace, playing Goldfinger with an overfed zest and humor that makes him the only real human I have seen in the Bond rogue’s gallery. He truly enjoys jousting with 007, but obviously won’t mind killing him either. In response to Bond’s question “You don’t expect me to talk, do you?” Goldfinger tosses out the classic, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” with a hearty nonchalance that makes the screen crackle. I cannot get enough of this guy!

Going back to watch the old Bond movies in order has been enjoyable so far, but it is a bit frustrating because I can see where they could have been so much better. Sean Connery is the perfect Bond. It wastes his talent to have him tossing off those obligatory one-liners and wasting so much time on spy gadgetry. I know, people will say that the one-liners and gadgets are the point of a Bond movie and what makes it fun. Maybe I shouldn’t hate so much on these movies; they are intended for a teenage audience, anyway. I just can’t let Bond off that easily though, partly because the Ian Fleming novels are so good, and partly because this character still has the potential to be really cool (as demonstrated by Daniel Craig in the latest film.) For future films, Mr. Bond, I expect you to be dark and dangerous. As for “Goldfinger,” despite my negative comments, it’s still must-watch material.