Monday, 24 December 2012

Movie Review: Goldfinger (1964)

The first sharp turn towards overkill, Goldfinger is one of the most influential entries in the James Bond series. Introducing many of the over-the-top elements that would create fertile ground for parody lasting generations, the movie for the most part still finds the right balance between fun and danger, but there are unmistakable errors towards bloat, and sloppy plotting at the service of hyperbolic showcases.

Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) is an international businessman obsessed with gold. He uses his legitimate businesses as cover to illegally smuggle gold, increase his wealth and distort the metal's value, bringing him to the attention of MI6. Assigned to investigate, agent James Bond (Sean Connery) succeeds in antagonizing Goldfinger first by seducing his assistant Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) in Miami, and 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.

Tailing Goldfinger to Switzerland, Bond uncovers one of the methods by which gold is being illegally transported, and then stumbles onto a major new plot being hatched under the codename Operation Grand Slam. Goldfinger and his stunning private pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) capture Bond and transport him to Goldfinger's stud farm in Kentucky, where an audacious assault involving the release of nerve gas to storm and contaminate the US gold reserves at Fort Knox is in the final planning stages.

Despite its global success, Goldfinger suffers from several weaknesses which undermine the second half of the movie. Bond is reduced to an imprisoned observer for much of the latter part of the film, an inexcusable dis-empowerment of the hero that leaves a disorienting emptiness. Sean Connery is 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.

Director Guy Hamilton, in his first of four outing in charge of Bond, mishandles several scenes and leaves behind gaping logic holes. The attack on Fort Knox is poorly staged, the soldiers at the base melodramatically dropping quicker than the proverbial flies before the nerve gas even has a chance to travel near ground level. And the plot hinges on Pussy Galore doing the right thing once seduced by Bond, but in retrospect, rather than the theatrical climax allowing Goldfinger to get near the gold, decidedly simpler if less cinematic solutions were available to the CIA once alerted to the plot.

The strength of the movie resides in the personality of Goldfinger, the first non-SPECTRE evil mastermind and a Bond villain finally provided with 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 if only Bond wasn't mostly in shackles.

Harold Sakata's Oddjob becomes the first of many colourful and near-indestructible ruthless killers doing the dirty work for the principle depraved plotter, and Sakata establishes a high standard for sidekicks to follow. Oddjob with his lethal hat is silent, powerful, intimidating, merciless and funny.

Pussy Galore wins the award for the best worst Bond girl name, and she also becomes the first lesbian conquered by Bond, a status which only slightly delays him. But otherwise Honor Blackman's role is limited and unremarkable, while Shirley Eaton and Tania Mallet as Jill and Tilly Masterson are consigned to even shorter careers in Bond's presence.

However, Eaton does get the privilege of being the victim of one of Bond's most iconic images, Jill Masterson laying nude and dead on Bond's bed, killed by skin suffocation after being painted gold for betraying Goldfinger. The movie also boasts another of the series' most memorable and much parodied scenes, Bond tied down on a table, legs apart with a steel-cutting laser beam burning its way slowly towards his sensitive parts.

Goldfinger also introduces the legendary Aston Martin DB5, all tricked out with defensive and offensive weaponry. But typical of the unevenness of the movie, for all the car's flash, it can't rescue Bond from capture.

Goldfinger should be both celebrated and blamed. It pointed the franchise in a direction of exaggerated fun, but while Goldfinger itself largely holds the line with reasonable quality, future entries would struggle to find the same balance.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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