Goldfinger is not the first James Bond movie, but it is the prototype for all future ones. It has been ripped off and borrowed from endlessly, and virtually every other film in the Bond series has at least one element dating back to Goldfinger. It stumbles across a formula for entertainment that is as durable as any since the invention of the romantic comedy, yet it still feels fresh and spontaneous because it isn’t following that formula, it’s coming across it organically. At the same time, it has a wily spirit that is unimitable.
Goldfinger is an excellently made movie, but also the product of perfect timing. Only with the artistic (and financial) success of its two predecessors could it have such a well-developed hero while still making room for all sorts of new tricks, like the fantastical gadgets, the globe-trotting locales, the varied supporting characters, and a villain more front-and-center than ever before. In terms of the character of Bond, Dr. No and From Russia With Love did most of the heavy lifting, leaving Goldfinger to reap the benefits.
When it does make time for Bond, the film is most interested in establishing his aristocratic credentials (recall his famous crack about the Beatles, and his lecture to M on the deficiencies of his bourbon) and demonstrating his range when it comes to seducing women. After his more complex performance in From Russia With Love, Connery is free to spend Goldfinger simply turning on the charm.
Complementing James’ new charm is an assortment of exciting but practical gadgets, a classic car, and a wardrobe classy enough to still look good 50 years later (well, except for the bizarre terry-cloth jumpsuit he wears by the pool). James Bond is no longer a plucky spy, he is now a pop-culture icon. Just as Sean Connery is no longer an actor, but a movie star.
With a number of successful missions under his belt, Bond has a new-found confidence which arrives just in time, as he faces one of the greatest challenges of his career. For the first and arguably only time, he’s faced with a villain he can’t out-wit, and a henchman he can’t out-muscle. After a few early but shallow victories, Bond spends much of the movie in captivity, praying for a miracle until the very end.
Out-smarted by Goldfinger at every turn, Bond seduces his pilot (Pussy Galore) who, in turn, decides to sabotage her employer’s plan. What many people forget is that immediately preceding their tryst, Goldfinger makes a pass at Galore himself, and is politely but definitively rejected. That’s what makes this perhaps the most poignant James Bond moment in the whole series: outwitted by Goldfinger, out-muscled by Oddjob, he finds himself in a one-on-one showdown with Goldfinger in a battle of seduction, and comes out on top. And that, in the James Bond universe, is just what it takes to save the day.
This is foreshadowed earlier, when Bond seduces Goldfinger’s assistant, Jill Masterson. Masterson reveals that she and Goldfinger were strictly platonic, despite his best efforts. When he discovers Bond has had what we could not, he responds with muscle and morbid wit: he paints her gold, killing her, and leaves her in Bond’s bed for him to discover. And when Goldfinger has James captive, in one of the movie’s most famous scenes, towards which part of Bond’s anatomy does Goldfinger’s laser slowly creep?
Goldfinger is mostly remembered for its iconic, individual moments — the girl painted gold, the thrilling car chase, the laser, the epic gun-fight at the end. But, strong as those parts are, Goldfinger is somehow better than the sum of them.
VerdictGoldfinger is as smart and diabolical as its villain, and as charming and witty as its hero.