Monday 24 December 2012

Movie Review: Goldfinger (1964)

The first sharp turn towards the dangers of overkill, Goldfinger is one of the most influential entries in the James Bond series. Introducing many franchise-defining elements, the movie aligns glib fun with mortal danger. Hyperbolic showcases justify a drift towards bloat and sloppy plotting.

Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) is an international businessman obsessed with gold. He uses his legitimate businesses as cover to illegally smuggle the precious metal, increasing his personal wealth and distorting global markets. MI6 assigns agent James Bond (Sean Connery) to investigate, and he succeeds in antagonizing Goldfinger first by seducing his assistant Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) in Miami, then by beating him in a game of golf. Goldfinger's murderous Korean assistant Oddjob (Harold Sakata) takes revenge on Jill and places Bond in his sights.

In Switzerland Bond uncovers a gold smuggling operation then stumbles onto a major new plot codenamed Operation Grand Slam. Goldfinger and his private pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) capture Bond and transport him to a stud farm in Kentucky, where an audacious assault involving the release of nerve gas at Fort Knox is in the final planning stages.

Delivered with glossy pizzazz and brimming with glitz, glamour, and confidence, Goldfinger is a blast. The 007 adventures move from cold war spy games to tackling world-threatening megalomaniacs, Bond's assignment now involving no less than saving the world's economic stability. To elevate the threat level, Auric Goldfinger is the first non-SPECTRE evil mastermind in the series, and a Bond villain provided considerable latitude to express himself and establish a presence. Gert Frobe fills the screen with his hefty physique and confident financial power, a worthy adversary for the suave secret agent.

He is surrounded by equally memorable support characters. Harold Sakata's Oddjob creates the template for the near-indestructible ruthless killer doing the dirty work for the depraved plotter. With his lethal hat Sakata is silent, powerful, intimidating, merciless and funny, establishing a high standard for murderous sidekicks.  

Pussy Galore wins the award for the best worst Bond girl name, and she also becomes the first lesbian conquered by Bond, Honor Blackman owning the role in a display of formidable fortitude. Meanwhile Shirley Eaton gets the privilege of playing the victim in an all-time iconic images, Jill Masterson mostly nude and fully dead, killed by golden skin suffocation for betraying Goldfinger. 

The hardware is also stunning. The legendary Aston Martin DB5, all tricked out with defensive and offensive weaponry, makes a dramatic cinematic bow. And tied down on a table, legs apart, Bond experiences the downsides of modern technology as a steel-cutting laser beam slowly burns its way towards his sensitive parts.

Goldfinger does suffer from a few weaknesses. Bond is reduced to an imprisoned observer for much of the final act, stranded in helpless confinement, shuttled back and forth from his cell, suffering the ignominy of getting in the way of the plot instead of driving events. His dis-empowerment leaves a disorienting emptiness. And in a rush to large-scale set-pieces, director Guy Hamilton trips on logic holes and mishandles some scenes, with the attack on Fort Knox particularly poorly staged. 

Goldfinger points the franchise in a direction of bombastic fun walking a tightrope between audacious crime and outlandish buffoonery.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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