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By the time Sean Connery started work on Goldfinger in early 1964, he was already growing weary of playing James Bond. The huge success of Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963) had made Connery realize that everything he did would now be compared to his work as 007 -- not a situation any actor wants to be in. At the same time, Connery felt he was not being paid enough relative to the films' successes, and he successfully negotiated a contract for three more Bond films that gave him a share of the profits and allowed him the freedom to continue making other movies.
As it turned out, Goldfinger, with a budget equal to that of the first two Bond films combined ($3 million), would become an even bigger hit than either -- a true sensation at the worldwide box office ($125 million), a major pop-cultural phenomenon, and a key influence on action films forever after. In fact, it's probably fair to say that Goldfinger is one of the most influential movies ever made, spawning imitators that persist up to the present day.
The picture is often cited as the best of the Bonds and the one that set the mold for every Bond film to follow. The first point is debatable. Some fans do prefer Goldfinger, while others find it silly and absurd and favor the grit of From Russia with Love or the breathtaking action and romance of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and Casino Royale (2006).
The second point, that it set the mold for future Bond films, is undeniable. While Goldfinger isn't hugely different from the first two entries, it does cement into place elements that would remain with the series. For the first time, a pre-credits scene involves Bond, and it involves him in an action sequence that has nothing to do with the story to follow. For the first time, a theme song is sung over the credits. For the first time, Q is referred to as Q and is allowed to interact with Bond in a comic manner. More importantly, Bond and the film as a whole are given much more humor to work with. Bond has some light moments in Dr. No and From Russia with Love, but nothing like anything in Goldfinger. This was seen by producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman as key to keeping the series going strongly.
The opening sequence of Goldfinger establishes the new tone right off the bat. As Bond swims up to a Caribbean island, knocks out a guard, blows up a heroin plant, removes his black outfit to reveal a tuxedo underneath, romances a sultry flamenco dancer, and then viciously fights a bad guy before killing him in an equal-parts brutal and comic manner, the movie efficiently shows us that what is to come will be an effortless blend of tension, humor, romance, superb action and dry wit. The opening sequence moves back and forth between playfulness and deadly seriousness several times, perfectly establishing a balance that will be deliciously maintained most of the time.
Sean Connery offered this take on the evolution of 007: "In Dr. No, the character was established. By the end of the second film the audience had thoroughly got hold of him. After that, the interesting thing was to surprise people who thought they knew how he was going to react to a situation. You'd play the reality, play the humor, have a bit of playful repartee with the audience and do something unexpected." (Michael Freedland, Sean Connery: A Biography)
Goldfinger also features the most charismatic villain up to that point, and he fittingly has an outrageous scheme in mind. Code-named "Operation Grand Slam," Auric Goldfinger's plan is to blow up an atomic bomb inside Fort Knox, thereby contaminating all the gold therein for 58 years and driving up the value of Goldfinger's own holdings tenfold. Along the way, Goldfinger and Bond engage in a memorable game of golf, and in even more memorable wars of words as they confront each other several times -- most famously in a sequence where Bond has been captured and is strapped spread-eagle to a gold table as an industrial laser slowly moves its beam toward Bond's privates. "Do you expect me to talk?" asks 007. "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" is Goldfinger's reply, perhaps the best-known dialogue exchange of any Bond movie.
Aside from the first-rate dialogue, Goldfinger also contains more iconic "Bond" moments than any other entry: the Aston-Martin with its ejector seat and other gadgets, the laser beam sequence, the Bond girls Pussy Galore and Jill Masterson, the henchman Oddjob with his razor-lined bowler, the death-by-gold-paint scene, and the climax inside Fort Knox are all on anyone's list of enduring images from the franchise. If one had to select a single Bond film to show someone what the series and the character were all about, Goldfinger would be the one.
Published in 1959, Goldfinger was Ian Fleming's seventh James Bond novel. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had been the primary writing force behind Dr. No and From Russia with Love, was again retained to adapt the novel into a screenplay. He would remain with the Bond series off and on for another 25 years, writing most of the entries culminating with Licence to Kill (1989). While Maibaum had already proven that he could retain the essence of Fleming's Bond for the screen, it was both fitting and somewhat ironic that he should also be the one to start slowly moving the screen Bond away from Fleming's conception, primarily by the addition of so much humor, although again it should be noted that this was a decision ordered mainly by Broccoli and Saltzman.
The director of the first two films, Terence Young, performed some pre-production work on Goldfinger but was replaced with Guy Hamilton after asking for what the producers deemed too much money. Shooting began in Miami without Connery, who was still finishing up Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964), which in turn he had done immediately following another film, Woman of Straw (1964). By the time Goldfinger wrapped, Connery had been working 14 months without a break.
Connery joined the Goldfinger unit once it moved back to Pinewood Studios, where the Miami hotel was recreated on a soundstage for scenes involving Connery, Gert Frobe and Shirley Eaton. It was during this early Pinewood shoot that author Ian Fleming visited the set. Unfortunately he would not live to see the finished movie, as he died about a month before Goldfinger opened.
Incidentally, the characters of Bond and Goldfinger do appear in some actual Miami location shots, but with the use of body doubles. Doubles were used elsewhere in the film, including the golf sequence. Gert Frobe was not a golfer and so a double was used for the shots of him actually hitting the balls. More notably, Frobe's voice was entirely dubbed by an actor named Michael Collins. Apparently few people knew until he arrived on set that Frobe could not speak English very well.
Actress Shirley Eaton's voice was dubbed, too, which was hardly unusual for a Bond girl. The same thing had happened to Ursula Andress, Daniela Bianchi and Eunice Gayson in the first two films, and it would happen again to Claudine Auger in Thunderball (1965). Doubles were even used for long shots of the pilots of Pussy Galore's Flying Circus, made up of several attractive blondes. For the flying scenes, male pilots wore blonde wigs!
At least Honor Blackman got to use her own voice. The blonde beauty came to the part of Pussy Galore direct from the huge television hit The Avengers, in which she was replaced by Diana Rigg -- soon to become a memorable Bond girl herself. Pussy Galore was written by Fleming as a clear lesbian, a trait presented more subtly, though still unmistakably, in the film.
Gert Frobe had enjoyed a long career as a character actor in German films, though he also appeared in some American productions such as Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin (1955) and the WWII epic The Longest Day (1962), in which Sean Connery also had a role, though the two did not share the screen.
Jack Lord was asked to reprise the character of CIA agent Felix Leiter, which he had played so well in Dr. No, but he declined. This started a pattern of different actors playing the character, none ever as charismatically as Lord. In Goldfinger, Leiter is blandly portrayed by Cec Linder. Two actors have played Leiter twice: David Hedison in Live and Let Die (1973) and Licence to Kill, and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008).
Harold Sakata, who plays Oddjob, was a Hawaiian wrestler and an Olympic silver medalist weightlifter (in the 1948 Olympics) whom director Hamilton discovered while watching a wrestling match on TV. In his stunning Goldfinger death scene, Sakata burned his hand somewhat severely while holding it in place for the shot. Ever the trouper, he didn't let go until Hamilton yelled "cut."
Two tiny Bond-girl roles here are notable for fans: Margaret Nolan, who plays Dink the masseuse in the Miami hotel scene, was also the model used for the opening-credits sequence. And Nadja Regin, appearing as the flamenco dancer in the pre-credits scene, had previously played Kerim's girl in From Russia with Love.
Shirley Eaton, who amazingly enough is in Goldfinger for less than five minutes, leaves an indelible impression due to her amazingly sexy chemistry with Connery and also to her character's spectacular death. Her death pose, with her body covered in gold paint as she lies facedown on a bed, remains one of the signature images from the entire series. The scene was taken from the novel, but Fleming himself may well have lifted the idea from the 1946 Val Lewton horror film Bedlam, in which a character played by Glenn Vernon dies of asphyxiation from being covered in gold paint. Bedlam was shot in black-and-white, so it lacks the striking color visual of a gold-covered body, but the death itself is much more vividly and horrifyingly depicted in that earlier film.
Guy Hamilton later said it was tricky to shoot and edit Eaton's gold-covered body in Goldfinger because he had to please two different censors -- in the U.S. and the U.K. "The American censor was absolutely constipated about sex," recalled Hamilton. "The British censor couldn't have cared less about that [but was] panic-stricken about violence. So one was doing a fairly fine juggling act."
Overall, Hamilton had enormous resources at his disposal, and he smartly shot production designer Ken Adam's creations in such a way as to let the amazing sets do a lot of the talking. The opening storage tank, the laser room, and the interior of Fort Knox are all feathers in the career cap of Adam, who designed several other Bond films as well. Even the opening cantina set is evocatively designed, in that case with a minimum of fuss.
The filmmakers were not allowed to even see the inside of the real Fort Knox, much less film there, and it's a good thing because there was no way the real thing could look anything as dazzling as the set Ken Adam imagined and constructed. In reality, gold can't be piled higher than 2.5 feet due to its weight; here we see it piled 40 feet in row upon row of gleaming brilliance.
For Fort Knox's exterior, Adam built a full-scale exact replica after he and other crew members flew over the real thing. Location work was done at an Army base near the actual Fort Knox, with U.S. soldiers playing themselves, falling over "dead" as Goldfinger's poison gas is released by Pussy Galore's pilots. Though several groups of soldiers are seen falling, it's always the same few dozen people who were simply moved to different locations for the different shots. These scenes were shot less than a month before Goldfinger opened in the fall of 1964. As is still common today with movie blockbusters, Goldfinger had a release date set long in advance, and the filmmakers had no choice but to rush to meet it. John Barry's score is especially impressive when one realizes he had such little time to write it.
A final note about Bond's gadgets in this film: Hamilton said that the iconic scene in which Q explains the Aston Martin's gadgets to 007 was originally not in the script, and that it was producer Cubby Broccoli who insisted on including it. Broccoli rightly claimed that it would create great audience anticipation and pay off handsomely when the gadgets were deployed. Hamilton, meanwhile, was the one who suggested that Bond should act bored by Q's explanations and that Q should get annoyed with Bond's treatment of the gadgets. Their comic back-and-forth would become a highlight of almost every ensuing Bond film. The best Bond gadgets are the ones that are plausible, such as the ones here. By the time of Die Another Day's (2002) "invisible" car, things had gone too far over the top.
Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Director: Guy Hamilton
Screenplay: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn; Ian Fleming (novel, uncredited)
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Art Direction: Peter Murton
Music: John Barry
Film Editing: Peter Hunt
Cast: Sean Connery (James Bond), Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore), Gert Frobe (Auric Goldfinger), Shirley Eaton (Jill Masterson), Tania Mallet (Tilly Masterson), Harold Sakata (Oddjob), Bernard Lee ('M'), Martin Benson (Solo), Cec Linder (Felix Leiter), Austin Willis (Simmons), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Bill Nagy (Midnight), Michael Mellinger (Kisch), Peter Cranwell (Johnny), Nadja Regin (Bonita), Richard Vernon (Smithers), Burt Kwouk (Mr. Ling), Desmond Llewelyn ('Q').
by Jeremy Arnold