NICK LOOKS IN DEPTH AT “GOLDFINGER”.
At this point in my analysis of what makes James Bond movies so great, I want you to hold a thought…not just for this article but for the remainder of the series. OK? The thought is this:
James Bond does not need no stinking exposition.
Got that? We’ll return to that later on.
Now, in our last instalment in this series, I considered the opinion that From Russia With Love is the best James Bond movie and came to the conclusion it wasn’t. No matter which way I slice it, that honour goes to the next movie in the series: Goldfinger. Right now, I can picture certain contrarians I have known and met who are frantically trying to figure out a Bond movie that’s better than Goldfinger but all I have to do is list the things that trumps everything else.
Best villain: Goldfinger. I know you’re trying to think of a better one. Alec Trevelyan? He was using a plan borrowed off Max Zorin. Blofeld? Which one: The twitchy eyed shrimpkin, Kojak or the camp classic? Or the one that got dropped down a chimney? Silva? The guy has mummy issues. No, Goldfinger sets the bar, even Blofeld borrows his overblown grandstanding and décor.
Best henchman: Oddjob. You may say Jaws but look how he ended up in Moonraker. Oddjob all the way.
Best car: Aston Martin DB5. Don’t even try to make a case for the Lotus Esprit. That car hasn’t been brought back in modern times.
Best song: Shirley Bassey all the way. Next.
Best Bond girl: You may have your favourite but the name Pussy Galore has resonated throughout the years and she’s the *ahem* “Gold” standard. Thank you, I’m here all week.
Oh, and it’s a Connery movie.
Goldfinger is the definitive Bond movie and even though individual scenes and stunts in the others have been more impressive than anything in Goldfinger, no other entry hangs together so well and none have had all the constituent parts fit better. Goldfinger and Oddjob fit each other so well as villain and henchman; your collection of big, blonde Germans and dental metallurgists haven’t had the same sense of conjoined purpose with their masters. The Bond movie that we’re familiar with over 50 years was defined in this one picture.
Not only that, it actually improves on the novel. In the novel, Goldfinger really does want to rob Fort Knox and is in cahoots with the Mafia; Bond’s mental arithmetic in the movie shows how problematic that plan is. Also, Pussy Galore is openly a lesbian who is “turned” purely by Bond’s virility. In the movie, her sexuality is a little more ambiguous and what turns her to Bond’s side is something far more sophisticated. Hold that thought as well for now, it’s the crux for this entire piece.
In life, I often find that you gain insight by defending something you believe in against someone who’s out to bring it down. For me, I truly understood how great Goldfinger was when someone (online, naturally, no one in my real circle would be this contentious) said they could never enjoy it because Bond rapes Pussy Galore. Yes, the tussle between Bond and Pussy in the barn at Auric Stud. I have heard this argument over the years by some, but by no means most, people who have seen Goldfinger: Did Bond rape her? What we see is that she leads him to the barn to keep him out of Goldfinger’s way, Bond says that her boss is mad, she doesn’t care, they judo flip each other a few times before Bond pins her and kisses her forcefully. She initially resists but eventually caves in and kisses him back as passionately. OK, is that rape? The answer is….we’re not looking at the scene properly if that’s foremost in our minds. It’s in the context of that scene in the barn where our answers lay and if you remember from my series introduction, there are times where Bond’s actions seem to distance himself from the audience; where we’re for him but he’s not wholly likeable or enviable (“Say goodbye, Dink, man talk”….slap).
OK, so do we still have our two held thoughts? 1. James Bond needs no stinking exposition and 2. Pussy’s conversion is far more sophisticated than the power of a virile man and un-consensual intercourse. OK, here’s the theory bit…
Goldfinger contains a missing scene. It’s not a scene that was filmed and left on the cutting room floor. As far as I can tell, it was never even filmed nor was it in an earlier draft of the script. It exists only in the space between our imaginations and the overall story but it most definitely is there. It’s a continuation of the scene in the barn, after Bond kisses Pussy Galore and before Operation Grand Slam takes place. It’s the scene where Bond convinces Pussy ‘switch sides’ and yes I’m speaking both literally and figuratively….as he puts it “appealing to her maternal instinct”. The clues to what is in the scene are littered all through the earlier part of the story, approximately between Bond in Switzerland and right up to his imprisonment at Auric Stud.
The starting point for discovering why Pussy changes allegiance is a summary of Bond’s situation up to that point. He’s a prisoner of Goldfinger; he knows what the actual plan is but he’s cut off from making contact with the outside world and in particular Felix. His attempt to smuggle a message out on Mr Solo’s person failed and all the other mobsters are dead. The only people on Auric Stud are Goldfinger, Oddjob, all the Korean henchmen (and they’re not going to help Bond) and a couple of Chinese nuclear scientists who are Goldfinger’s paymasters. The ethnicity of Goldfinger’s staff is important here; the language barrier, the divide between the Westerner and the East, the exoticness of them are shorthand for Bond being unable to bribe or convince them to join with him. So he needs someone he can corrupt, to turn, within Goldfinger’s organisation. And the only other person present is Pussy Galore.
But how can Bond be sure she can help him? Again, the clues are all there. “You may know a lot about flying but you know little about guns”. Bond can deduce that Pussy isn’t a killer from that moment. The gun is a prop for her. Later on, she twirls a pistol about nonchalantly, as if the purpose of it is inconsequential. Yes, she could have shot Bond when she catches him snooping about under the meeting room, but once he gives up, she treats the gun with indifference.
Also, Pussy is never present when Goldfinger has someone killed. She’s leading Bond back to captivity when Goldfinger gasses the mobsters and she goes to slip into something more comfortable when Solo’s crushed body is returned. Bond knows what Gamma Gas can do (it’s hardly the harmless sleep spray Goldfinger claims) but Pussy’s called her part of the plan “Operation Rock-A-Bye Baby” as if she still believes the plan is to put the guards at Fort Knox to sleep. Pussy shows a distinctly mercenary streak and seems in it for the money: “He’s quite mad, you know” “yes, but he pays well” as Bond and Pussy say in the barn. Bond, as the audience will know, is a quick thinker and adaptor so he can work out that Pussy isn’t a killer and that she thinks Operation Grand Slam is to rob Fort Knox, not irradiate it.
The problem is he’s backed into a corner: He’s alone, he’s out of contact with Felix and MI6. Felix doesn’t know anything about Goldfinger’s plans and thinks Bond is cruising. The gas will wipe out Fort Knox’s garrison and the bomb will cripple America and lead to war with China. Now Pussy has led him to a barn at gunpoint but he’s going to have to risk trusting her and convince her to switch sides based on an assumption that she isn’t a killer at heart and that she doesn’t know the truth about Operation Grand Slam. So he does something direct and physical; he marks his dominance over her because at that point he is at his most powerless, Goldfinger has seen to that. He has to break her from Goldfinger’s control so after some judo flips, he pins her and kisses her. Now I would argue that he doesn’t rape her, given that after their initial kiss and her struggle she gives in and goes with it but also it’s hard to win her trust if he had raped her. The kissing is an, admittedly, rather extreme way of taking her mind off being Goldfinger’s loyal employee but Bond can’t reason with her unless she drops her guard and up until then he’s had very little chance to get her to: “you can drop the routine, I’m immune”.
Now what happens next is the great unwritten and unfilmed scene. The bit where Bond explains what is really going on and if Pussy needs proof, why not snoop around a bit? For example, where did all those “businessmen” get to? Who are the two mysterious Chinese gentlemen who command Goldfinger’s attention? What’s locked up in the heavily guarded room? Oh, and here’s what Gamma gas ACTUALLY does. We can never be shown this scene because it would undermine the tension of the following scenes; Operation Rock-A-Bye-Baby in particular. We’re meant to see all those soldiers fall down, apparently dead, and go “oh no, they’ve gone and killed Fort Knox’s garrison! OMG! That’s Felix, and he’s dead!” Of course most audience member’s minds are already guessing that somehow Bond has fixed things and that they’re not dead…but in reality it’s Pussy who has done this. If you’re still in doubt about her motives, check out her expression when she lands Goldfinger’s helicopter outside of Fort Knox. She looks worried and concerned and so she should: Bond’s just turned her world view upside down. She now knows that this is not the biggest robbery of all time, she’s a pawn in a diabolical scheme to destroy America and slaughter thousands of people. She also knows that she’ll probably end up like Mr Solo and his chums once the job is done. All now hinges on Felix and the garrison getting their act together and Bond being able to stop the bomb.
So now we all know how this pans out in what is probably the strongest climactic scene in any Bond movie. Ken Adam’s Fort Knox set, the fight with Oddjob and the counting down ticking atom bomb. It’s wonderfully executed, tense and hones Bond’s improvisational ability in a fight. It all still looks wonderful even today.
As I said at the beginning, Bond needs no stinking exposition. He needs a briefing, he needs to be shown his gadgets and he needs only one or two bits of hints along the way from contacts before he gets the big speech from the villain, which is just there to tie the loose ends up in case you’ve not been paying attention. The really clever part of a James Bond script are the subtle, unspoken or alluded to moments. We can’t have Bond expositioning or hearing his internal monologues. We don’t need him to pour out his thoughts and feelings to others. A Bond movie makes sense when it moves along, not stopping to analyse itself. You will see moments which are often acted without dialogue, or with the minimum of it. You’ll see Bond’s attitude to death in Thunderball, his moment of falling in love in OHMSS, his regrets in The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, his awkwardness about his past in any Daniel Craig movie but at no point will Bond stop to brood; his only direction is forwards. The scriptwriters know this and they don’t load their character down with navel gazing. Nor do they feel obliged to highlight every key moment or how scene A links to scene B with massive underlining and arrows. Save that stuff for other action franchises. It’s in the unwritten scenes that exist where we find real depth of the James Bond story and our minds should look out for those moments which, to others, may seem like gaps or narrative jumps.
It was this first gap which took Bond from his early incarnations through to the saga it’s become, and Goldfinger was the movie that did it. This is the cap that goes along with all the other ingredients that make Goldfinger the greatest James Bond movie of them all.
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