The expletives must have been flying when Sean Connery, dressed head to toe in scuba gear, was told to balance a fake seagull on his head for the opening sequence of Goldfinger.
We can only imagine the convincing he took that morning that swimming disguised as a seabird while also wearing an immaculately-pressed dinner jacket and bowtie, is definitely something James Bond would do.
The phrase “You musht be fucking joking,” has probably never sounded so smooth.
Thankfully, Connery agreed to the outfit, and with that – and a pre-credit scene not a million miles away from becoming a classic Monty Python sketch – he cemented the tongue-in-cheek tone of not only what was to quickly become the definitive Bond movie, but its entire filmography here on in.
Revisiting the film over half a century since it made its UK debut, and having grown up with James Bond lore firmly embedded in pop-culture, Goldfinger makes for a cherished snapshot of film history: the moment Bond was truly brought to life.
Connery’s third outing as the quick-witted British agent, also happens to be his finest. So revered by critics is his reprisal of the role that to many, it reaches a pinnacle that was not to be recaptured for another 30 years.
The first of four Bond titles to be directed by Guy Hamilton, Goldfinger establishes much of the dialect now synonymous with the world of 007: the fast cars, the even faster women, the gadgetry and of course the macho chest-puffing and one-upmanship between our hero and his villain.
The film sees MI6 send Bond to investigate the movements of gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobes) as he plots to attack Fort Knox. Our agent manages to rub Goldfinger up the wrong way from the start, by both forcing him to surrender thousands of dollars in his own rigged card game, and then by seducing his escort, Jill Masterson.
Not a man to lick his wounds quietly, Goldfinger exacts his revenge by having his body guard Odd Job (Harold Sakata) deliver a knock-out blow to Bond before giving Masterson a licking of gold paint, leading to one of film history’s most iconic scenes.
Undeterred by the shocking death of his bed fellow, Bond continues to pursue Goldfinger to Switzerland where after an action-packed car chase he is captured by the portly villain and strapped to a solid gold table. With the threat of a laser capable of putting a spot on the moon trained on his nethers, Bond manages to convince Goldfinger to spare his life, persuading him that he is more valuable to him alive than dead.
From here, Bond discovers the details of Goldfinger’s plans to attack Fort Knox, but not before meeting the head of a squadron of golden-haired, female pilots, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).
Despite her name, the frigid Galore proves to be a tough nut for Bond to crack. However, the success of his mission rides on doing so. The persistent 007 finally prevails and Galore succumbs to his charm. With her now firmly on his side, Bond manages to foil Goldfinger’s plot to gas the military using Galore’s Flying Circus of pilots and breach the US bank.
All that remains for him to do is defeat the super-human strength of Odd Job and avoid a right royal Goldfingering in a crescendo fight scene aboard a private jet.
If it all sounds a little camp to you, it’s because it is. It is tremendously and wonderfully so. The relationship between Bond and Goldfinger is outright flirtation, dressed in a macho rivalry façade. 007 is keen to impress Goldfinger with a change of clothes for his arrival at his ranch in the US and even to the extent of teasing him on the golf course, while Goldfinger take no small pleasure in seeing his adversary spread eagled on a table of solid gold.
At this point it’s not even a subtext. Bond’s ability to seduce anything with a pulse isn’t just what keeps him on the right side of demise, it’s exactly what makes a James Bond movie so bloody watchable.
And it all starts with Goldfinger. No more is Bond the bolt out of the blue thrust upon audiences during Dr. No or From Russia with Love, but a self-referential model of man, blessed with a self-parodic charm.
And if there was any doubt about just how watchable Goldfinger was and continues to be, perhaps a look at the numbers will sway you. With a budget of $3million – the combined total of the budget for the film’s two preceding titles – Goldfinger was the first-ever Bond blockbuster movie.
It delivers more explosions, more scenery and more action than all before it, and audiences of 1964 lapped it up by the bucket load. In fact, such was the scale of its success that it recouped its budget in the first two weeks of release, before going on to accumulate nearly $125 million at the global box office.
That’s some impressive profit, even by today’s standards. Yes, it appears that Goldfinger struck a chord with audiences. But it can’t all be owing to its theatrical homoeroticism, can it?
The film itself was of course surrounded by promotional activity at every turn, from alluring posters of Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson, covered in gold paint, to its first blockbuster toy tie in with Corgi’s toy Aston Martin DB5 replica model featuring gadgets seen in the film.
And what an array of gadgets they were, from machine guns hidden in the headlights to the iconic ejector seat that not only catapulted Bond’s would be kidnapper, but the movie and the Bond franchise to the stratosphere.
Here is Bond at his finest, his most flirtatious, and most salacious. And if ever there was an omen for the future of the Bond saga, it would be here, in 1964, surrounded by mountains of gold.
Reviewed by Robert Hutchins.