18 March 2011

BlogalongaBond- GOLDFINGER Review

In many ways, this is the biggie. The really, properly iconic film of the Bond series, which has garnered the most intertextual hat-tippings in popular culture and marks a pivotal turning point for the entire franchise. It's a move away from the political intrigue and relatively grounded approach of the previous films, and it's called Goldfinger.

Auric Goldfinger is an unscrupulous gold magnate obsessed with both the precious metal for which he's named, and winning in his every pursuit. Somehow, he has difficulty with killing James Bond, the most obstinate obstacle to his success, when our hero is assigned to observe him and eventually, to stop his audacious plans for Fort Knox, the home of the largest US gold supply in the world.

I've already declared that during BlogalongaBond, I'm coming to most of these films pretty much fresh. The major exception, of the films released before 2000 anyway, is this one. Because this is such a seminal Bond film, so famous for its fixing of the series' tropes, it's the one that I've seen more than any of the other 21 films to date. The familiarity of it all makes it quite jarring after the recent double bill of Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

You can't watch more than five minutes of Goldfinger without hitting a famous first for the series. Gert Fröbe's performance in the title role, dubbed by Michael Collins, gives us the first full-on supervillain of the series. Goldfinger has absolutely nothing to do with SPECTRE, which increases the distance between this and the first two films, and he's a villain who is arguably more interesting than Bond. What makes him super is the definition of supervillain as we have it in The Incredibles- he just won't shut up and kill Bond.

You can argue that's because Bond intrigues him, despite getting under his feet for literally the entire duration of the film, but it's difficult to see why. As you'd suspect from Sean Connery, after playing him for two movies, he's settled into a groove as Bond. He's not really as interesting to watch, and even the most tentative pursuit of a broader family audience turns him into something entirely different from the man who shot Professor Dent in Dr. No. Even the very first stagey skirmish in the film compares unfavourably to the masterfully executed brawl at the back end of From Russia With Love, so fresh in my memory.

Bond's not an unflappable super-spy just yet. He's still more cheeky to M than he is insubordinate, having to give up his Bentley at the behest of his employer. Yeah, instead M demands that he drives a really uncool Aston Martin with ejector seat and revolving number plates, which would go on to become the series' most iconic vehicle. Damn you, M, you unfeeling bastard! Also on the good guys' side of things, I noticed that Felix Leiter has regenerated from being Jack Lord into Cec Linder. Changing actors at the drop of a hat can be jarring- hope that doesn't happen again.

On a technical level, the ante is upped considerably. This film apparently cost more than the combined budget of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and it looks rather good on it. I don't happen to think that Guy Hamilton is as good at directing fight scenes as his immediate predecessor at the helm, Terence Fisher, but I can't deny it's a handsome film. Gold figures in the colour palette just as much as you would expect, but what really brings it all to life is John Barry's score, a vast improvement on the overuse of the theme tune in the previous instalment.

We also get one of the series' most interesting Bond girls in Honor Blackman. She's tough, sexy and has the acting chops to boot... and she plays a character called Pussy Galore. I know I'm in trouble later on if I'm even cringing at this, but everytime Connery called her "Pussy", it was painful to watch. The Masterson sisters are as underserved as any of Bond's temporary fillies (think of Bernard Black's "summer girls", but with a higher mortality rate), but then this is adapted from a novel in which Pussy Galore is a lesbian and Bond seems to "cure" this with his cock. Sigh.

But what is Goldfinger without Oddjob? The best of all the myriad henchmen we'll see in this series, Harold Sakata plays the hat-flinging Korean giant with an almost gleeful presence. It's not that he's not scary just by the sheer size and power that he possesses, but the bastard keeps giving it a cheeky smile, whether he's hatting people to death or doing other nasty things to them until they expire, in agony. He's unerringly loyal to Goldfinger, and Sakata makes the most of a performance in which he doesn't get to utter a single word.

Goldfinger is a treasure trove of what you'd call golden moments in the Bond series, but although it's a turning point for the series, that doesn't necessarily mean it turned in the right direction. If I'm complaining about a Bond movie being misogynistic, maybe this isn't for me, but I think Blackman's doing the best job here by far, Oddjob excepted, and she's called Pussy fucking Galore. I could never call it bad, but while it might be a contrarian position, the familiarity of it all lessens the impact for me.

#3- Sometimes the adventure that plays out pre-credits is more interesting than the film itself. Heroin-flavoured bananas! Imagine how the monkeys would react!

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Thunderball... in April.

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