As with our previous 007 article, The Bits celebrates the occasion with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of James Bond authorities. The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
Okay, let’s (alphabetically) meet the participants…
Jon Burlingame is the author of The Music of James Bond (Oxford University Press, 2012; and recently issued in paperback with an updated Skyfall chapter). He also authored Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks (Watson-Guptill, 2000) and TV’s Biggest Hits: The Story of Television Themes from Dragnet to Friends (Schirmer, 1996). He writes regularly for the entertainment industry trade Variety and has also been published in The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He started writing about spy music for the 1970s fanzine File Forty and has since produced seven CDs of original music from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for the Film Score Monthly label.
Robert A. Caplen is an attorney and the author of Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (Xlibris, 2010). Based in Washington, DC, he practices antitrust and commercial litigation and has published numerous law review articles in leading academic journals. Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (which was quoted in Sir Roger Moore’s memoir, Bond on Bond) is his first book. He is working on a follow-up book and can be reached via Facebook (www.Facebook.com/bondgirlbook) and Twitter (@bondgirlbook).
James Chapman is a Professor of Film Studies at the University of Leicester and is the author of Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films (Tauris, 2007). His other books include Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who—A Cultural History (Tauris, 2006), Saints and Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s (Tauris, 2002), and (with Nicholas J. Cull) Projecting Empire: Imperialism and Popular Cinema (Tauris, 2009). Chapman is also a Council member of the International Association for Media and History and is Editor of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.
John Cork is the author (with Bruce Scivally) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He also wrote (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003) and (with Collin Stutz) James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and supplemental material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, and many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He recently wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman); the film is now touring festivals.
Bill Desowitz is the author of James Bond Unmasked (Spies, 2012); and updated for Kindle which includes a chapter on Skyfall and exclusive interview with Sam Mendes). He is the owner of Immersed in Movies, a contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and contributing editor of Animation Scoop at Indiewire. He has also contributed to the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Charles Helfenstein is the author of The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Spies, 2009) and The Making of The Living Daylights (Spies, 2012).
Mark O’Connell is a punditeer (his word) and the grandson of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli’s chauffeur. With a Prelude by Barbara Broccoli and Foreword by Mark Gatiss, his book Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Splendid Books, 2012) is a gilded, unique account of growing up as a Bond fan. He is working on his second book and can be found online here.
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992) and The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001), and (with Dave Worrall) The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999). He also wrote (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002) and (with Dave Worrall) The Great Fox War Movies (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
Steven Jay Rubin is the author of The James Bond Films: A Behind-the-Scenes History (Random House, 1981) and The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia (McGraw-Hill, 2002). He also wrote Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010 (McFarland, 2011) and has written for Cinefantastique magazine.
Bruce Scivally is the author (with John Cork) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He has also written Superman on Film, Television, Radio & Broadway (McFarland, 2006), Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television from 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon (Henry Gray, 2011), and the forthcoming Dracula FAQ. As well, he has written and produced numerous documentaries and featurettes that have appeared as supplemental material on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, including several of the Charlie Chan, James Bond, and Pink Panther releases. He teaches screenwriting, film production and cinema history and theory at The Illinois Institute of Art–Chicago and Columbia College.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest cueing up the Goldfinger soundtrack album and preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course), and then enjoy this conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Goldfinger worthy of celebration on its 50th anniversary?
Jon Burlingame: I have always agreed with composer John Barry that Goldfinger is the Bond film “where it all came together”: the style, the song, the score. I think From Russia with Love and Goldfinger mark the high points of 60s Bond, with Goldfinger lightening the mood just a bit, finding the right balance between suspense, danger, fascinating characters and humor. Gert Frobe and Honor Blackman played worthy adversaries for Sean Connery’s 007, and John Barry’s bold, brassy score tied it all together. It’s hard to imagine a more entertaining, satisfying 007 adventure.
Robert A. Caplen: The third film in Eon Productions’ franchise, Goldfinger marked a conscious effort by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to tailor James Bond to American audiences. The first James Bond film to be classified as a box office blockbuster, Goldfinger is noteworthy for redefining cinematic success: it became the fastest-grossing film for its time. It also was groundbreaking for its special effects. Goldfinger became the first film to showcase a laser as part of the plot. And no other image has become as recognizable as Shirley Eaton’s “golden girl,” which offered audiences a new aesthetic for fetishizes sex objects.
There is no question that Goldfinger is deserving of celebration fifty years after its release. The film is equally entertaining today as it was in 1964, and the commentary it offers of social mores—and the portrayals of women—remains highly relevant.
James Chapman: While Goldfinger wasn’t the first James Bond movie, it was the one that really marked the breakthrough for Bond as a cultural phenomenon and ensured the longevity of the series. The first two films, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, had been big hits in Britain and Europe, but Goldfinger was the first really to score big at the US box office as well. This might be attributed to the film’s predominantly US setting (though a lot of the locations, including the attack on Fort Knox, were shot at Pinewood Studios in England) and the fact that the conspiracy is directed against the United States.
It was also the success of Goldfinger that kick-started the spy craze of the 1960s. There hadn’t been many Bond imitations following the first two movies—the only one I can think of is the spoof Carry On Spying—but after Goldfinger the floodgates opened with the Derek Flint and Matt Helm films and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, I Spy and Mission: Impossible on television, not to mention the revamp of The Avengers (which began in 1961 and had starred a pre-Pussy Galore Honor Blackman) which became more fantasy-oriented with its fourth series. So it was Goldfinger that really got the whole Sixties spy/secret agent cycle under way.
John Cork: Goldfinger is always worth celebrating! It doesn’t matter if it is the 3rd anniversary or the 150th. The film rocks. There are many great villains, but I would argue that there is no greater criminal villain in film than Goldfinger. Henchmen? Would anyone even want to claim that there is a better henchman than Oddjob? Nah. And it is not too much to say that no female character in cinema history had ever confounded more teachers and parents than Pussy Galore. Best car in a movie? The Aston Martin DB5, hands down. It is a brilliant, funny, sexy, clever and satisfying film on every level.
Bill Desowitz: Goldfinger was the game-changer for Bond and the first modern tent-pole. It was an instant blockbuster and influenced pop culture, spawning Bond mania and then spy mania. Everything was grander, more lavish and elevated, from the action to the humor to the greater physicality of Bond to the pacing to the self-reverential attitude of Bond. Plus there was Ken Adam’s fantastical design, the greedy super villain and his deadly henchman, Oddjob; the sexy and powerful Bond girl, Pussy Galore; the stunning John Barry score and Shirley Bassey’s wild title song; and the introduction of the best gadget of them all, the tricked out Aston Martin DB5. The new director, Guy Hamilton, made it more a Bond movie than a spy movie, in which we follow his POV with one obstacle course after another for Bond to get out of. This became the Bond template.
Charles Helfenstein: It is the perfect encapsulation of what makes James Bond so great. The film has everything you can want in a Bond film: a great teaser sequence, iconic imagery with girls painted in gold, an ambitious villain, an indestructible henchman, a tricked out car, an incredible soundtrack, and in the middle of all this is Sean Connery, playing Bond with a casual, bemused cool that personifies the old Etonian ethos of “Effortless Superiority.”
Mark O’Connell: Goldfinger is most worthy of a golden celebration. It is the film that changed the Bond series and marked the point when Bond changed mainstream cinema. It is not just Sean Connery who emerges from the shadows at the beginning of the film. The modern blockbuster does too. Goldfinger marks the serendipitous moment when the 1960s finally aligned with Bond to create a cultural fusion that the series is still dominated by to this day (check out the deliberate classicism and nods to the Bond of old in Skyfall). Dr. No and From Russia with Love were still part of the tail-end of the 1950s—with a certain degree of stiff upper Britishness and hemlines. They are part of that small window I call the “Kennedy Sixties” where it looked like America would continue dominating popular culture in the way it did throughout the 1950s. But things were to change. Suddenly Britain, the Beatles, Biba and Bond were to take center stage. Goldfinger is the stylish overture to that where all these creatives suddenly conspired together (accidentally more than anything) to craft a sharp thriller of a 007 blockbuster. And after the male dominated shenanigans of the first two Bond films, Goldfinger marks a possible entry point for the women in the audience. It certainly is the moment when Bond allows the kids of the audience into its world. From Russia with Love and Dr. No are great, but arguably very cerebral cat and mouse thrillers. Goldfinger has great movement—its camerawork, music, direction, editing and story. It inhabits a very visual world (Bond on a laser table, Bond and the car, Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, the fake duck on the diving cap). These are all great for kids…and global audiences not immediately savvy with the Cold War politics.
Lee Pfeiffer: Goldfinger, more than any other Bond film, influenced the trends in pop culture during the 1960s. The previous two films, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, were sizable hits but it was with Goldfinger that the series found the formula that would define the series for decades to come. Director Guy Hamilton emphasized the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the humor moreso than the first two films had done, yet he was careful not to go “over-the-top” into slapstick. (Ironically, Hamilton would be guilty of doing just that on his three later Bond films: Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun.) It was Goldfinger that primarily launched the spy craze of the mid-to-late 1960s and the introduction of the gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 was largely responsible for this. The vehicle proved to be such a hit that Bond was still driving the car fifty years later in Skyfall. Goldfinger influenced pop culture on an international level and proved that Bond was not a provincial hero but, rather, a character that people in vastly different cultures could relate to.
Steven Jay Rubin: Goldfinger was the film that catapulted 007 from a first rate action series to a true international film phenomenon. It was so successful that it was the first movie screened in a movie theater 24 hours a day (in New York City) and probably made money faster than any film since Gone with the Wind. Creatively, it was the film that perfectly balanced Sean Connery’s coolness, throwaway humor and pure sexiness with some terrifically dramatic action scenes. Although there are, arguably, better James Bond movies, Goldfinger is still the launching vehicle for the series, a film that never loses its freshness and remains the 007 adventure that is the most pure fun, without getting silly or stupid. It also features the best prop in the series—the truly ultimate driving machine—the Aston Martin DB5 with modifications.
Bruce Scivally: Goldfinger is the Bond film that really set the formula the films would follow over the next five decades: a megalomaniacal villain, exotic locations, beautiful women (usually three, including the villainess, the sacrificial lamb and the one Bond ends up with), and cutting-edge gadgetry. Dr. No didn’t have any gadgets to speak of (unless you include the Geiger counter) and From Russia with Love had only the trick briefcase, but Goldfinger had the tricked-out Aston Martin, which raised the bar considerably. From this film onward, outrageous gadgetry would become an integral part of the Bond films. Goldfinger is also the film where the tone of the film was perfected, with just the right blend of humor, action and suspense; the first two Bond films leaned more towards straight-ahead spy thrillers. And for me, Goldfinger is the film where Sean Connery really came into his own and took ownership of the role, with a relaxed confidence and swagger only hinted at in the first two films.
Coate: When did you first see Goldfinger and what was your reaction?
Burlingame: It was a long time ago, so I’m not certain. I didn’t see it in its initial run; I suspect it was on a double bill with another Bond film at a drive-in in the late 1960s. Everyone was talking about Bond movies and I finally got the chance to catch up with the early films in second-run exhibition.
Caplen: I first watched Goldfinger on VHS at a young age, perhaps too young to appreciate, let alone understand, the film’s innuendos. I believe Goldfinger was the first James Bond film I viewed, and it piqued my interest in the franchise. I could never image then that I would be writing about Goldfinger and James Bond many years later.
Chapman: I saw it on ITV in Britain in the late 1970s. It was on a Sunday evening, I was about eight, I think, and it was a school day the next day, so I was on my best behavior all weekend to be allowed to stay up and watch it. Everyone was talking about it the next day. As kids I think we particularly liked Oddjob and his hat, and Bond’s Aston Martin with his gadgets and ejector seat. A few years later when it was shown again on Christmas Day, I would have noticed the girls too!
Cork: I first saw Goldfinger on ABC on September 17, 1972. At the time, I liked James Bond, but I wasn’t any kind of serious fan. I was only ten years old. While I was loving the film (despite it being cropped, cut and filled with commercials), it was a typical Sunday night. We had dinner and then most of my family went to bed as the movie ran. My uncle (who was fresh out of college) came over with a friend and made fun of the film as I was watching it. Then, just as Bond was handcuffed to the bomb in Fort Knox, the local ABC station went off the air. It was 1972, and this kind of thing happened regularly. I begged my uncle to tell me how the film ended. Very convincingly, he told me that the bomb went off in Fort Knox, and that it killed Oddjob, but turned James Bond into “a pulsating blue superhuman.” I have to tell you that at age ten, it seemed like a really cool ending for the movie! When the local station came back on, Bond was on the plane flying to meet the president, and my uncle informed me that I was an idiot for believing him. The first time I saw Goldfinger uncut was when HBO played the Bonds in May/June of 1980. In the fall of 1980, I finally saw Goldfinger on the big screen at the Nuart in Los Angeles. The audience was filled with Bond fans, and it was a great experience. Robert Short, the effects man who worked on many great films, had his DB5 parked out front, and the theater put out a display of Bond memorabilia. It couldn’t have been more fun.
Desowitz: I remember it well. It my introduction to Bond in ‘65 and I was about eight and my parents took me to the La Reina Theater in Sherman Oaks in L.A. on Ventura Blvd., and afterward we had ice cream at Wil Wright’s. I remember asking if that was Bond in the scuba suit in the opening scene and when he fought Oddjob, I whispered that he should grab the electrical wire. It was a distinctive moviegoing thrill and set me on my path to becoming a lifelong fan.
Helfenstein: Unfortunately my first viewing of Goldfinger didn’t quite do it justice—I first saw a butchered, pan-and-scan version of it on ABC in the late 70s. Despite those drawbacks, the film greatly impressed me—especially the tuxedo under the wetsuit, the car, Bond’s fight with Oddjob…and the cornucopia of blondes.
O’Connell: I first saw Goldfinger in January 1987. It was on ITV midweek. It was not the first or even the third Bond movie I had seen but already its mark and stature in the Bond canon was known to me. Like a Greatest Hits album its key beats—the car, the song, the artwork, the gold, the music, and the henchman—were familiar way before I saw it for the first time. It is one of the Bond movies whose reputation precedes itself at every turn.
Pfeiffer: I first saw the film at age eight at the Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey. It’s a peculiarity of “Baby Boomer Generation” males that we seem to have such trivia as where we saw a movie and with whom emblazoned in our minds. Nevertheless, my dad, who had taken me to see the previous Bond film, escorted me to this one. I was blown away by it. I don’t think today’s movies ever have that kind of impact on audiences, who are now rather blasé about special effects and action sequences. But seeing that DB5 in action, the audience howling at the use of the gadgets and finally the “innovative” introduction of a laser beam proved to be unforgettable elements in my mind. On a more crass level, when we returned home, my dad was raving about the film to my mom and I remember him saying, “There’s a woman in it named Pussy Galore!” I didn’t understand why they thought this was so amusing because I equated the name with the benign Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. Nevertheless, we all trotted back to the theater to see the film again the next night because my mom had to see it for herself. I later went again on my own—the first time I had seen a movie unaccompanied. Mr. Bond has provided many such pleasant memories to countless millions of movie fans around the globe.
Rubin: I saw Goldfinger at Christmas 1964 at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It was wonderful. As a junior high school student in Los Angeles, I had read the book before I saw the movie, which was only the second time I had done that (the first was Paul Brickhill’s book that became The Great Escape). Bond was a big event that year—like a Harry Potter or a Star Wars film today.
Scivally: I believe I first saw Goldfinger on television in 1972, when it first aired on ABC. I know it was the first 007 film I saw, and at that young age (I was 11), I was most impressed by the Aston Martin. I continued watching the Bond films whenever they came on television (there was no home video in those days, at least not in rural north Alabama), and when puberty kicked in I began to appreciate them for more than just the spy thrills and gadgets. Coming of age in a very remote, agrarian region, the sophisticated, world-traveling, authority-defying, sexually potent James Bond was a powerful fantasy figure. I was hooked.
Coate: Where do you think Goldfinger ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Burlingame: Certainly near, or at, the very top. If I had to choose the five best Bonds, I think Goldfinger would be either #1 or #2.
Caplen: It is very difficult to rank the James Bond films, and it depends upon what criteria are utilized. In terms of story line, success, and cinematography, Goldfinger should rank among the top films in the franchise. [In my book] I have focused upon the presentation of women in the franchise, and in that regard, Goldfinger would not receive a high rating from feminists. Regardless, and as I have written, the manner in which the Bond Girls are presented in Goldfinger reinforced an archetype that defined the cinematic franchise. In that regard, Goldfinger cannot be underestimated.
Chapman: It tends to be seen as the one that really established the Bond formula: megalomaniac criminal mastermind with a grand conspiracy; a strong, silent henchman; and the gadgets that Bond uses. The previous film, From Russia with Love, had been a more realistic spy thriller, quite old-fashioned in some ways, with its Orient Express scenes and a plot revolving around a stolen cypher machine. With Goldfinger the Bond series moved, decisively as it happens, towards techno-hardware and fantasy (e.g. the laser and Bond’s car).
Looked at today the film still seems fresh and hasn’t dated. Sean Connery is relaxed and commanding in the role (though there are tense moments such as the scene where he is spread-eagled before the laser beam) and the casting of the supporting parts such as Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson and Harold Sakata as Oddjob is spot-on.
Cork: For years, I’ve always said you could just take the first four Bond films and put them on a loop for me. I love them, and like a true fan, I even love them for their faults. I can amuse myself by enjoying the anti-logic of Goldfinger explaining his plan to a bunch of guys he plans to kill, or even having gone to the trouble to have strange flashing lights that go on and off for no reason when poison gas is spraying the hoods’ convention. One can argue that Casino Royale and Skyfall are more engaging to someone who is only now being introduced to Bond, but, I’ll tell you, only Sean Connery in 1964 could pull off wearing a baby-blue terrycloth onesie and still make every woman in the audience breathe a little more deeply and every man want to be him. Goldfinger isn’t only one of the most entertaining Bond films, it is one of the most important films of the Sixties, one of the most essential films ever made. Everyone with a pulse sees that movie and understands the appeal of James Bond.
Desowitz: I think it’s in the top three, still the best for many. I won’t argue with Connery about From Russia with Love being the best.
Helfenstein: If we are ranking the films in the series by how influential they are, then Goldfinger occupies the #1 spot without question. If one were to pick a single film to represent what is great about the James Bond series and what makes it popular, then Goldfinger would be the obvious choice. But if we are choosing a film that is artistically the best film, I would have to edge out Goldfinger just slightly and give that award to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
O’Connell: It is not the best Bond movie (007 spends a lot of the film passively overhearing and not actively investigating) but it is the one where as I say in Catching Bullets the designer alloys of Ken Adam, John Barry, Peter Hunt, Guy Hamilton, Eon Productions and Sean Connery all come together to gilded effect. I wonder if Goldfinger had not happened in the way it did we would be privy to a continued 007 franchise now. Possibly not. The Bond phenomenon was obviously growing on the success of the first two films and the explosion of interest via Fleming’s books. But it was not a phenomenon at all until Goldfinger gave enough creative and financial confidence to Eon Productions, Cubby and Harry to really go for it with the real box office game-changer: Thunderball.
Pfeiffer: Most people consider Goldfinger the best of the series, though I would argue that valid cases can be made for From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale and Skyfall, the latter two because they so drastically and successfully reinvented the series.
Rubin: I rank Goldfinger just below the Daniel Craig Casino Royale. So that would be #2. Casino Royale is so good and Craig is such a revelation as Bond, I have to place it #1. However, since Goldfinger was the first 007 adventure I ever say, it remains my favorite. It’s also my favorite script with the best lines of dialogue in the series. It also gets the biggest laugh in the series—not because it’s stupid or inane, but because it’s just funny. And that’s the introduction to Pussy Galore.
Scivally: In my estimation, Goldfinger is still hands-down the most entertaining of all the Bond films. If I wanted to introduce someone who’d never seen a 007 film to Bond, but could only show them one film, I’d choose Goldfinger. To me, it’s simply the distilled essence of Bond. However, that said, it ranks #2 on my list of personal favorite; From Russia with Love is #1, because I enjoy the cat-and-mouse game between SPECTRE and Bond, and 007 operating with almost no gadgets.
Coate: In what way was Auric Goldfinger a memorable villain?
Burlingame: He was among the best ever: truly mad, yet insane in a thoughtful, calculating way! The plot of the movie has one of the greatest twists in Bond: Goldfinger doesn’t need to own the gold in Fort Knox; he just wants to blow it up so that his own stash will be worth even more! How great is that? And Gert Frobe is completely believable in this mad role.
Caplen: Goldfinger, the mastermind of Operation Grand Slam, is, in some respects, more plausible than other over-the-top villains in the franchise, namely Dr. No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Stromberg, and Hugo Drax. Goldfinger is, in essence, a crooked businessman: a gold smuggler whose obsession leads to him scheme a way of penetrating Fort Knox in order to radiate the American gold supply and increase the value of his own holdings. Thus, his motives are intriguing and extend beyond the prototypical lust for world domination. Goldfinger is memorable because he is essentially the first James Bond villain to out-maneuver the Americans, requiring James Bond’s services to spare Fort Knox and restore order. As one scholar argued, Ian Fleming created James Bond as a vehicle through which to capture some nostalgia for the pre-World War Two supremacy of the British Empire. Defeating Goldfinger on American soil comports with that theory.
Chapman: Goldfinger has some of the best lines (e.g. “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” in response to Bond’s “Do you expect me to talk?”) and Gert Frobe has a commanding presence on screen. The scene where he explains how he intends to “knock off” Fort Knox works because he seems to believe it. For my money Dr. No and Goldfinger were the most memorable of the early villains. Several of the early Bonds revolved around the villain Blofeld, who became a bit of a stooge with his pet cat, but Goldfinger just seems a slightly better-realized character—by the standards of diabolical master criminals that is.
Cork: A great villain needs to get more powerful, seemingly smarter during the course of a story. The film starts with Bond busting Goldfinger as he cheats at cards, then Bond steals Goldfinger’s paid companion. But Goldfinger exacts a brutal price for this. Bond then beats Goldfinger at golf, but all-too-soon Bond finds himself strapped down with a laser pointed between his legs, his car destroyed. This is the halfway point of the film. Hero and villain have traded blows almost as equals. But when we enter the laser room, it is like we have passed through the looking glass. Goldfinger isn’t a rich gold smuggler, but an obsessed man who is on the verge of destabilizing the global economy. Even late in the film, when Bond points out the absurdity of trying to tote the gold out of Fort Knox, Goldfinger is one step ahead. When he discovers that Bond has been able to foil much of the plan, he whips off that overcoat and no one in the audience ever saw his escape coming. Most actors who have played Bond villains gradually allow 007 to get under their skin, to unnerve them as the story progresses. Not Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger. He snaps that pencil early on, and that’s it. He gets calmer and smarter as the film progresses. I love that. He is, for me, the perfect villain.
Desowitz: Goldfinger was the first freelance villain not associated with SPECTRE and is even more larger than life than Dr. No. His obsession with gold and winning at all costs is very personal.
Helfenstein: Goldfinger sticks out as a memorable villain for so many reasons. Compared to Dr. No and Grant, the two previous villains, his personality is so much bigger. While his predecessors were almost robotic, Goldfinger is having a good time because he enjoys being a villain. He toys with Bond and laughs at him. Frobe hit the sweet spot of what makes a villain great.
When I was researching my first book, I was stunned to uncover the fact that screenwriter Richard Maibaum kept trying to bring Gert Frobe back to the series so many times—not just for Thunderball, but also for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, and even as late as Octopussy!
O’Connell: He is pitched as this nearly gauche Toad of Toad Hall figure, the first societal duel Bond has with a villain. He is also the first Bond villain to hold that certain quality that all the great Bond villains (Scaramanga, Silva, Kananga and Largo) have and that is that he is just a bad Bond, or 007 gone wrong.
Pfeiffer: Auric Goldfinger is one of cinema’s most enduring and classic villains, thanks in no small part to the brilliance of casting Gert Frobe in what would become his signature role. Frobe not only fit the bill physically, he was an accomplished actor, as well. What many people don’t know is that he barely spoke a word of English. He spoke his dialogue phonetically and British actor Michael Collins dubbed him in the final cut.
Rubin: Auric Goldfinger is still the best villain in the series because he’s simultaneously larger than life, but still a real believable person. Like Bond, he never becomes a caricature and he has some truly chilling moments—particularly when he’s about to fry 007’s privates with a laser beam, or lecture a bunch of doomed henchmen on his scheme, or getting 007 to understand the true nature of his plan. He also plays a wicked game of golf, cheating as usual.
Scivally: As embodied by Gert Frobe and voiced by Michael Collins, Goldfinger was the quintessence of Bond villainy: physically imposing, charming, calculating, ruthless and quite mad. And he had some of the best dialogue of any Bond villain, including his priceless response to Bond’s “Do you expect me to talk?”—”No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to DIE!”
Coate: In what way was Pussy Galore a memorable Bond Girl?
Burlingame: Honor Blackman could not improve on this performance. Tough yet tender, beautiful, resourceful, yet vulnerable at the right moments. Maybe one of the two or three best Bond women.
Caplen: I have written extensively about Pussy Galore in my book, Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond. Honor Blackman’s portrayal of this unique character is exceptional. I believe that Pussy Galore is one of the most important Bond Girl characters in what I have termed the Golden Era of the Bond Girl. On the surface, Pussy Galore seems imbued with attributes that would brand her a modern-day feminist. But all that glitters is not gold. I argue that Pussy Galore represents something very different: she actually reinforces a much more traditional archetype addressing women’s appropriate role in society. Pussy Galore is therefore both groundbreaking and reactionary, and no discussion of the Bond Girl evolution can be complete without considering her contributions to the development of the Bond Girl archetype I believe the James Bond franchise developed and continues to refine today.
Chapman: Well, there’s her name for one thing! She was the first of the girls—at least the first of the main girls—who was more than just eye candy but could give Bond as good as she got in return. In the book she’s a lesbian, and her conversion to heterosexuality to help Bond out isn’t very plausible. In the film, though, the lesbianism is downplayed—it’s hinted at but not overtly. And, of course, the characterization was influenced by the casting of Honor Blackman, who brought the association of her role as Cathy Gale in The Avengers. The scene where Pussy shows off her judo prowess seems to have been written specifically for Honor Blackman.
Cork: Two words: “pussy galore.” I mean, come on. That’s a name that makes the right people smile and everyone else’s mouths go dry. But Pussy Galore is also the right character at just the right moment in history. Homosexuality was just wiggling its toe into popular culture. Some Like It Hot was five years earlier, and The Children’s Hour came out in 1961, but both those films play only with the existence of homosexuality without really indulging in it as anything attractive. In Britain, there were a slew of films dealing with male homosexuality: The Victim (a very good, but depressing film with Dirk Bogarde), and, of course, the two Oscar Wilde films (that both played such strange roles in Bond history). From Russia with Love had a very unattractive lesbian with Rosa Klebb, which was more of the standard portrayal in popular culture.
Pussy Galore in Goldfinger was different. Her lesbianism (never explicitly mentioned, but clear to adult viewers) is accompanied by confidence, not self-loathing. It is not portrayed so much as a perversion, but rather a sexually legitimate lifestyle. Viewers are attracted to Pussy Galore, even before she comes over to Bond’s side. She is strong, attractive, alluring and such a refreshing change from the way women were often portrayed in escapist films of the day. Of course, we can wince now at the rather distasteful “rape conversion therapy” that Bond employs to win her over. And younger audiences do roll their eyes, shake their heads and groan when the forced kiss turns into a warm embrace. But the same thing can be said of Rhett Butler carrying Scarlet O’Hara up the stairs in Gone with the Wind, and John Wayne’s Sean Thornton in The Quiet Man pulling Mary Kate into the doorway, twisting her arm up behind her and kissing her. But Pussy Galore in so many ways is a remarkable character. She is a sexually liberated, confident lesbian and audiences loved her. That just didn’t happen in mainstream movies before 1964.
Part of the great success of the character came from a brilliant idea that the filmmakers had (and I can’t tell you if it was one of the screenwriters or Guy Hamilton or someone else), but they took their cue for Pussy Galore from a real person: Barbara “Joe” Carstairs. Carstairs used her family fortune to race boats and later bought a private island in the Bahamas and went “back to nature.” Because the filmmakers had a model they could use beyond the character in the novel, and because there was a great actress in the role (Honor Blackman), the character came to life in ways that might have otherwise been squandered. In her own way, Pussy Galore feels real on some level. Blackman had strength and a swagger in the role that convinced us that she could be the leader of a real flying circus. She was just butch enough and just sexy enough to be something that moviegoers had never encountered.
Desowitz: Pussy Galore is memorable because of the name and getting it by the censors, the fact that she’s a lesbian and resists Bond at first, and is able to share Judo flips with him, and because Bond has to work so hard to seduce her.
Helfenstein: Besides her suggestive name, Pussy Galore is memorable for her homosexuality, greatly toned down in the film compared to the book. Bond’s “conversion” of her would probably not play well with today’s audiences. That scene aside, what makes her so memorable is that she is Bond’s equal. While the two previous girls, Honey and Tanya, were essentially innocents caught up in Bond’s world, Pussy is an operator in the criminal underworld and even has her own team. Her decision to switch sides saves the day.
Actress wise, Blackman shows off her physical skills learned during her time during The Avengers, and was different in the fact that she was older than Connery. That older female to younger male casting age difference has only happened one other time in the series, when they chose Rigg, also an Avengers veteran, for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
O’Connell: Honor Blackman’s Galore is memorable for being the first Bond girl that stands up to Bond. And she was doing it way before the series felt it had to appease any naïve notions of sexism.
Pfeiffer: Although the character of Pussy Galore was watered down for the film version (she’s an overt lesbian in the novel), the character still broke new ground in terms of female empowerment—even if she does fall under Bond’s spell after one kiss. Here was a tough, kick-ass woman who was adept at defending herself and who is every bit as resourceful as Bond or Goldfinger. There are veiled hints about her sexuality (all of her pilots are gorgeous females and she initially tells Bond she is “immune” to his charm), but in retrospect, this was a rather unique female hero to bring to cinema screens in 1964. As with Gert Frobe, so much of the credit must go to the actor, in this case Honor Blackman, who was letter-perfect in the role.
Rubin: Pussy Galore is memorable because she’s so sexy and cool and has the greatest name ever invented for a fictional character in the history of writing. Honor Blackman has made her a true legend in the series.
Scivally: Pussy Galore was the first “Bond woman” who seemed to be almost his equal: intelligent, self-assured, capable, an ace at judo and “a damned good pilot.” She wasn’t just a wilting damsel waiting to be rescued; she gave as good as she got.
Burlingame: I am especially fond of the Goldfinger score as quintessential, top-of-the-line John Barry. After making a hit of the James Bond Theme on Dr. No and crafting a suspenseful, effective score for From Russia with Love, Broccoli and Saltzman gave Barry the opportunity to write both song and score on Goldfinger and Barry didn’t disappoint. From the thrilling opening song (with those diabolical Bricusse & Newley lyrics) belted by Shirley Bassey to the intricacies of his orchestral score, including the brilliant Dawn Raid on Fort Knox variations on the theme, John Barry helped to define the sound of Bond—and indeed, create a new subgenre of film music in his combination of pop, jazz and symphonic music—for all time with this score. I hope that, in all the celebrations of Goldfinger, that accomplishment is not forgotten.
Caplen: Goldfinger opened the American market to James Bond. That fact, by itself, is perhaps Goldfinger’s true legacy. The James Bond franchise would not be as successful today had Goldfinger not had such an important impact upon American audiences. Goldfinger also presented to the world one of Ian Fleming’s greatest “name as sex” jokes, beginning a long legacy that will always be associated with the James Bond franchise and has been parodied by others (such as the Austin Powers trilogy) ever since.
Chapman: It’s still a classic Bond movie—classic both in the sense of being a favorite with fans and being a representative example of the style and format of the films. I think that when most boys (and men!) fantasize about being Bond, it’s the Bond of Goldfinger—whether for the Aston Martin, the Anthony Sinclair three-piece suit, or simply the opportunity to dally with girls called Pussy.
Cork: I think the biggest legacy of Goldfinger is very different than most folks would imagine. If you look at the top-grossing films of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, there are very few that one could categorize as part of a franchise. There were franchises, but they were Tarzan, Frankenstein, Francis the Talking Mule and Ma and Pa Kettle films. These films made lots of money, but the following entries were generally B-movie fare—filler for the masses that were not nearly as important to a studio as an “event film” based on an “important” best-selling novel. Bond changed that. The Bond films became the first “tent-pole” films—movies that could virtually be guaranteed blockbuster status just because of the presence of the main character. The folks who grew up on Bond are running studios now. Look at the films the studios bank on in recent years: Harry Potter, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, Transformers (and, yes, Star Wars and Indiana Jones). Huge budgets…no expense spared…but they are selling an endless stream of films, not just one film. Even the failures of recent years like The Lone Ranger and John Carter were attempts to create a franchise. And franchises are where the money comes from. The studios know that they can sell Transformers packages on iTunes or to Netflix or Amazon or in endless rotation on cable networks for decades to come, just as has happened with the Bond packages. And Goldfinger, more than any other single film, is the movie that proved a series could be made like A-films and do the box office of A-films, even out-grossing the films that came before in the series. Every time another big-budget tent-pole franchise film comes out and makes a fortune, I think that those filmmakers should give a tip of the hat to Goldfinger.
Desowitz: The legacy is clear enough with the audience cheering at the DB5’s appearance in Skyfall for the 50th anniversary and then how its destruction elicited the biggest emotional response from Bond in the entire film. Goldfinger made Bond and the franchise a pop culture phenomenon and it was a fitting tribute.
Helfenstein: I think the legacy of Goldfinger is that it moved the series from the smaller-scale, cold war thriller to the wide open grander scale of agent vs super villain. While Terence Young’s two films set the template for Bond’s elegance and panache, Guy Hamilton updated that recipe with a stronger dose of the fantastic, and a larger dose of humor.
When Alfred Hitchcock saw the film, he only had one comment to the director. It wasn’t about the glorious Ken Adam sets, the incredible car, or the blaring soundtrack—he complemented Hamilton on the little old lady that waddles out of the checkpoint with a machine gun.
Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz stated that the instant Connery pressed the red eject button on the Aston Martin, the series changed forever. Anything was possible from then on. Years later the producers would try to transfer some of Goldfinger’s cool to Brosnan and Craig by giving them the Goldfinger Aston Martin, and in Skyfall Craig’s Bond even threatens to deploy the ejector seat with that famous red button, 48 years after the gadget debuted.
Half a century later, Goldfinger’s influence still resonates both in and outside the James Bond series.
O’Connell: The fact that a film known only as Bond 24 is in pre-production. That is its legacy. Goldfinger sealed the deal. It raised Bond onscreen from just being a literary adaptation of a successful run of books to being a franchise at the pinnacle of contemporary music and film scoring, film editing, production design, and marketing. I don’t think the Bond series was a franchise until Goldfinger fired up the enthusiasm of Eon Productions and the world and melted the box office norms by creating a delicious, sexy, dangerous, sadistically sketched narrative and production template for 007. It is not the only template for Bond, but it is the one that the series has been guided by ever since.
Pfeiffer: The legacy of Goldfinger is illustrated by the fact you are still writing about the film fifty years later. It has a timeless quality and presents a moment in time when the Sixties were still kind of fun, at least in more privileged parts of the world. The dissention of the protest movements, high profile assassinations and the heightening of Cold War tensions would all threaten to make Bond look like a relic at least for a period of years. However, Goldfinger represents master filmmaking craftsmanship, from the performances to every aspect of the production. It’s also the last time Sean Connery appeared to be having a genuinely good time playing 007.
Rubin: One hundred years from now, film aficionados will still admire the film for its pure adrenaline rush, its colorful locations and set pieces, witty script, wonderful performances by a great cast and a perfect musical score by John Barry. I believe Goldfinger defined movie cool in the 60s, on a par with the Steve McQueen film Bullitt. Put those two films together and you see all that was cool in the era. Interestingly, Connery and McQueen, born the same year, had similar career trajectories—at least initially, although Sean has had the far more lengthy career.
Scivally: The success of Goldfinger propelled 007 into the popular consciousness, making Bond one of the three most memorable B’s of the 1960s (the other two being the Beatles and Batman). Its success also set off a slew of imitators both in cinemas and on television, sparking the mid-1960s spy craze, and set the style for a series that continues to evolve and attract a massive audience five decades later. It truly was a film with a Midas touch.
Coate: Thank you, everyone, for participating and for sharing your thoughts on Goldfinger.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering Thunderball on its 50th Anniversary.
- Michael Coate