Goldfinger

It’s now time for not only one of the most famous Bond adventures, but probably one of the most famous films period. No pressure then…

Goldfinger (1964)

Let’s revisit the ’60s for a moment. The early 1960s to be precise. After the successful novels and two films, Bond was doing pretty well at the box office and Sean Connery was becoming well known. However, when Goldfinger came out in 1964 everything changed. The film was a gigantic hit, smashing records like a Hulk in a china shop. As a result, Bond became massive and Connery became a household name. Whilst the quality of the film was certainly a factor in terms of repeat viewings and hugely popular double-bill showings with Dr.No, there’s another possible reason. Goldfinger was the first Bond film to directly appeal to American audiences. Bond travelled to the States in this one, C.I.A. agent Felix Leiter had a bigger part and the villain’s dastardly scheme revolved around Fort Knox and crippling the American economy. The film also feels glitzier and more brazen than its two predecessors too. I think this element is key to understanding how the films took off from this point, both in terms of popularity and scale.

“Auric Goldfinger. Sounds like a French nail varnish.”

James Bond (Sean Connery) is drafted in to keep an eye on Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe, dubbed by Michael Collins). In doing so, Bond uncovers not only Goldfinger’s huge smuggling operation, but his plan concerning Fort Knox, America’s biggest gold depository. Along the way, Bond is introduced to Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata), a mute, brick shithouse of a man with a razor brimmed hat and his personal pilot, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). The story’s awesome and became the cheatsheet for many Bond films after this one. Again, Connery is great, this time giving 007 more of a humourous streak than seen before and a propensity for dry witticisms (something which was taken to the nth degree by Roger Moore). Gert Frobe is the fucking bomb in this film. His performance is so good, many people still don’t know he was dubbed. Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is the first of Bond’s women to have a real independent character and even manages to resist Bond’s apparently irresistible charms.

Goldfinger contains so many iconic moments it’s ridiculous. There’s the fatal painting of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), Oddjob cutting off a statue’s head with his hat, Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 with all its gadgets and not forgetting that laser scene. All the aforementioned moments are timeless too. Whilst not as shocking as it was, the sight of a lifeless Shirley Eaton covered head to toe in gold paint is still very striking. It’s also a fantastic way to make Bond’s beef with Goldfinger personal, rather than just professional. The laser scene is still fantastic too. I forgot how well the character of Goldfinger was written. With the laser inching its way to an increasingly worried looking Bond’s groin. His response to Bond’s “Do you expect me to talk?” is one of my favourite Bond moments ever: “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”. He also gets an amazing speech later about the progress of man surging forward in every area apart from crime.

Goldfinger was the film that set the formula that was to be followed for decades to come. Firstly, the title sequence actually has the title song, famously performed by Shirley “Lungs” Bassey. Whilst taking its cue from From Russia with Love‘s fun with projecting stuff on other stuff, it’s still visually interesting. Also, for the first time in the series we have Q (Desmond “Thug Life” Llewelyn) grumpily showing 007 his new toys and his fully loaded Aston Martin. The action’s more accomplished too. There’s a decent car chase where Bond gets to try out his gadgets like the in-built smokescreen and oil slick. The climactic smackdown between Bond and Oddjob is great too, if a bit tame by today’s ultra-violent standards.

Despite what the tiresome old farts in pubs tell you, Goldfinger is not a perfect film. Plot wise, the addition of Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet) doesn’t really add anything. She’s only in the film for about ten minutes before her neck loses a fight with Oddjob’s hat anyway. Yeah, she may be included to give 007 another reason for taking down Goldfinger, but it’s superfluous. He’s already emotionally involved. There’s also a bit where Goldfinger is outlining his plan to knock over Fort Knox using very elaborate means like scale models, retractable floors and furniture that whirs into place at the flick of a switch. Thing is, Goldfinger gasses every last motherfucker in the room. I understand this scene was to explain the plan to Bond (who is hidden underneath the model Fort Knox) and therefore us as the audience, but it still makes no logical sense.

I hate to say it, but Bond comes across like a bit of a wanker in this one. First he attacks my iPod by saying that drinking improperly chilled Dom Perignon is “just as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs!” Secondly, and more importantly, his treatment of women is questionable. I’m not going to make a thing of this as there are plenty of other angry corners of the ‘Net calling Bond a sexist pig. It’s quite noticeable in Goldfinger though. He dismisses Dink, a bikini wearing masseuse, when Felix comes along for reasons of “man talk” but not before slapping her arse. He also forces himself on “Pooshy” Galore. Luckily, Miss Galore is fine with it, but it’s still sexually aggressive. Also (and this is really nit-picky) but the film has a strange tendency to speed the film up. It’s especially obvious in the opening scene where Bond has a decoy seagull on his head whilst infiltrating a depot from the water. We see Bond take off the fake bird in fast-forward. It’s really odd. I can understand using it in the car sequence though. It can be forgiven for that.

“Choose your next witticism carefully Mr. Bond, it may be your last.”

Anyway, enough of the post-modern deconstruction stuff that I hate. Goldfinger is a fantastic film. There’s a very good reason why it was used as a template again and again. It gets the balance of humour, action, gadgets and all that fun spy stuff just right. Damn good.

From Russia with Love

Brace yourselves, it’s going to get all sequel-flavoured up in this bitch.

From Russia with Love (1963)

I think From Russia with Love is my favourite Connery Bond. In terms of the public consciousness,  it tends to get lost in the shuffle between the more iconic early Bonds like Dr.No and Goldfinger. I feel that the Bond films are in a slightly different league than most films when it comes to reviewing them. What I may think is a good Bond flick may not be your idea of one. However, being as objective as I can, From Russia with Love is probably the best straight-up spy thriller of the 22. Some people have argued that it’s the best of the series and while I can definitely see where they’re coming from, I can’t agree. It’s damn good, but lacking a few key elements for me to be the ultimate Bond.

“Ah, the old game: give a wolf a taste and then leave him hungry. My friend, she’s got you dangling.”

After Dr.No’s climactic boiling in the previous film, global terrorist organisation SPECTRE step up their game with a plan to end 007 (Sean Connery). SPECTRE head, the mysterious cat-stroking Blofeld (?*) orders Number Three, Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) to trap Bond using the two things he’s susceptible to, a much sought-after decoding machine called the Lektor and a beautiful Russian named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi). All the while, Bond is being stalked by SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert “Quint off Jaws” Shaw). The film is pretty solid, giving more of what we were given before but bigger. Connery has settled into the role by this point and gives us a more assured, less self-satisfied 007. Daniela Bianchi is good but pretty forgettable as Romanova and as such isn’t the first name that comes to mind when discussing 007’s women. It’s a damn shame too as I think Bianchi in this film may be one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Bond gets a loyal ally in the form of Kerim Bay (Pedro Armendariz), the head of the Turkish station. Armendariz is instantly likeable as Kerim Bay and it’s both a shame and a blessing this was his last role.

I think the film belongs to the villains though, with Lotte Lenya’s stern and psychotic Rosa Klebb and Shaw’s equally psychotic but more debonair Red Grant. In fact, Klebb gets my favourite little bit in the whole film where she’s barking orders and threats at Romanov and she pauses to put on the thickest fucking comedy glasses. Grant is an interesting one as he’s kind of a dark reflection of Bond. Often Grant will be seen mirroring Bond’s moves or stalking him like a shadow. After the great fake-out intro in which “Bond” gets garroted by Grant, it’s really cool to see their storylines slowly move towards crossing paths for realsies. The culmination of this is the oft-lauded train fight where Bond and Grant duke it out in the claustrophobic confines of a train carriage. The whole sequence from Grant’s deception to him being hoisted by his own petard (or more accurately: “garroted by his own watch”) is a joy and right up there when I list my greatest Bond moments.

From Russia with Love also adds a few more elements to the ever-growing list of Bond hallmarks. This film introduces fan-favourite gadgetmaster Q (Desmond Llewelyn) in an understated way, having him show off a standard-issue briefcase with all sorts of fancy tricks. This is the series’ first Bond gadget too, so hey, that’s something. Blofeld has his first appearance too, although we don’t see his face for a few more films yet. From Russia with Love also ushered in the famous Bond title track, sung by Matt Munro, although it scores the end credits, not the opening ones. Speaking of the titles, the film really kicks off a formula with the cast’s names being projected onto the various jiggling parts of some bellydancers. Again, the use of the Bond theme still seems a little off, now playing when 007 is being driven around. That’s not to discredit John Barry, who takes up the musical mantle for the first time with this film, lending a charm and dynamic that many other Bond films after this one would also benefit from.

“Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.”

A lot of the action is quite dated (with the possible exception of the Grant/Bond scrap) but there’s still some fun to be had. There’s a big sequence where a gypsy camp is torched and attacked that’s still a fairly decent bit. It’s hard to imagine how the tame gypsy catfight that precedes the raid was considered shocking. There’s also a very well done helicopter sequence, which was no doubt heavily influenced by North By Northwest. If I had to criticise it (and I do), I’d say the pacing’s slightly off, with a lot of scenes taking a lot longer than they need to and killing the pace dead. It’s a minor quibble though. This is Bond before the silliness started to creep in and it works very well. It’s easily one of the best Bond films, despite it not being my personal favourite.

*The film actually credits Blofeld with a question mark, but he was actually played by Anthony Dawson, Dr.No‘s Professor Dent

Dr. No

Most of my urges are dark, solemn secrets between me and my internet service provider. However, I had an urge the other day that I felt safe to expose to the light of day. I’ve decided to review every Bond film in chronological order, one a day, for 22 days. Why? Well, I recently got the complete set on Blu-ray and it’s the 50th anniversary of Bond this year, which is as good as an excuse as any. Let me address two things: 1) Yes, I probably do need a girlfriend or at least a night out with people once in a while and 2) I’m not going to do the two “unofficial” Bonds, namely 1967’s Bond parody Casino Royale and Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again because, above all other things, they’re shite. Let’s start at the beginning with Dr.No, shall we?

Dr. No (1962)

It’s tough to imagine what a cultural phenomenon James Bond was back in 1962. The books were already pretty famous, but the Dr.No film introduced him to the masses. In many ways, Bond was seen as an anti-hero, what with all the drinking, gambling, fighting and such. Still, this ain’t a history lesson. It’s hard to factor in ’60s popular culture when present popular culture has put the entire decade on a pedestal. This is a film review and I’m going to review it using my 2012 eyes (I’ve pre-ordered my 2013 eyes).

“I admire your luck Mr…?”
“Bond. James Bond.”

After being sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of fellow agent, Commander Strangways, James Bond (Sean Connery) discovers there’s a lot more than just a simple vanishing afoot, all of it having to do with the mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). Along the way Bond also recruits local fisherman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), CIA man Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and bikini-clad diver Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). Many would argue that Connery is the quintessential Bond and it’s difficult to argue otherwise with his portrayal in Dr.No. He’s suave, sophisticated and slick. I always thought he played Bond a bit too self-satisfied for his own good. There are moments in the film that seem like he’s gliding through scenes on a cloud of pure smug. These are fleeting though and I personally love Connery’s take. Ursula Andress manages to do well with what she’s given. She somehow injects her role with a believable toughness and vulnerability in what is basically an eye candy part. I love Joseph Wiseman as the nefarious Doctor. He’s really quite cold and creepy. Some of my favourite bits of the entire film are when No and Bond are verbally squaring off against each other, especially when it becomes apparent that No is disappointed in Bond as an adversary and calls him “just a stupid policeman.”.

As a spy film it still works well. It’s a taut ’60s thriller with double-crosses and backstabs par for the course. There are some amazing moments, including Bond waking up in his bed to find a massive tarantula crawling up his body and the super famous Honey Ryder introduction where she emerges from the ocean in a bikini and hunting knife on her hip. Apparently, her intro alone struck so much of a chord with audiences that bikini sales massively increased after the film released. There’s a surprisingly dark moment as well, where Bond is lying in wait for Professor Dent, before confronting him and shooting the guy down in cold blood.

It’s crazy to see just how many of the classic Bond hallmarks started here at square one. We have the gunbarrel intro, exotic locations, the iconic theme, a kaleidoscopic title sequence as well as M, Moneypenny and Felix Leiter. There’s also a megalomaniacal villain with some sort of gimmick (in this case, motherfucking robot hands) and a big, science-y looking lair. There’s even a Bond quip or two. No title song though, just the Bond theme playing over some charmingly lo-fi titles with colourful dots, then some multi-coloured dancing woman silhouettes before finally and surreally morphing into a Calypso version of “Three Blind Mice”. Actually talking of music, having come to expect the famous theme to appear when Bond is doing something cool and Bondian, it’s strange to see its use here, usually popping up when Bond is doing something utterly mundane, like reading a document or simply walking across a room.

“That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.

So is it still good? Yeah. It’s entertaining and fun. If you can forgive the slightly hokey ’60s espionage stuff with the overdramatic judo moves and a vague understanding of science. That’s not to mention the casual racism.Quarrel is portrayed as rather simple, coming across as a superstitious native and a dogsbody, with Bond ordering Quarrel at one point to fetch his shoes. That aside, it’s a decent film with some genuine intrigue (if you haven’t seen it thousands of times on ITV over the years), action beats and a satisfying conclusion. It’s not difficult to see how this film started off one of the most popular and profitable film series ever.