Friday, May 21, 2010

Review – Goldfinger

May 21, 2010

Goldfinger – U.K., 1964

To fully appreciate Goldfinger, I recommend the following. Go into the film cold. Don’t read the synopsis on the back cover of the DVD, avoid spoilers on IMDB, and don’t read a review of the film from any reviewer who you don’t trust to keep essential plot points a secret. If you do these things, you will begin the film in exactly the same position that we find James Bond in at the beginning of Goldfinger - completely in the dark. And that is how it should be. After all, it’s not much fun to watch someone unravel clues to a case that has already been solved for us, which was unfortunately the case with the second Bond film, From Russia With Love. Throughout Goldfinger, we know as much or as little as Bond himself does. There is no secret meeting at the beginning of the film at which the villains openly discuss the details of their dastardly plot, and the film does not switch points of view haphazardly. Instead, we learn things as Bond learns them, and this has the effect of completely engrossing the audience, of making us feel as if we too are an integral part of Bond’s adventure. Of the first three films in the James Bond series, Goldfinger is the first to demonstrate just how great a James Bond film can be.

After an action-packed opening scene, during which we see Bond (again played by the legendary Sean Connery) wrap up a case involving heroine-flavored bananas, Goldfinger takes Bond from his usual European surroundings and transports him to sunny Miami Beach, where he is spending a much needed vacation in the presence of – you guessed it - a beautiful young woman who just can’t seem to resist his good looks and charm. Of course, a Bond vacation is never just a vacation, and soon Bond is assigned to keep an eye on Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frob). In no time at all, Bond has caused Goldfinger to lose $50,000 and slept with the rather stunning woman who moments earlier had been helping Goldfinger cheat at cards. So much for observing him from a safe distance. At this point in the film, Bond does not know who Goldfinger is or for that matter exactly why he is being asked to watch him, and this is important, for it casts Bond as being rather reckless. He seems to think that there are no repercussions to his actions, a perception that is shattered upon seeing the gold-painted body of Goldfinger’s former employee lying dead on the bed in Bond’s hotel room.

In another film, the manner in which this character was killed would become a rather significant detail. There would be more killings, and viewers would know who did it because each death would occur in the same fashion. Thankfully, Goldfinger avoids this cliché, and by doing so, it avoids a trap that so many other films about international or criminal investigations fall into. It also casts Goldfinger, if that is indeed who was behind the murder, as a rather intelligent foe, one certainly capable of matching wits with the world’s most famous secret agent.

One of the great things about Goldfinger is just how complete a character Bond is in the film. We see evidence of not only his athletic skills but also the kind of intelligence and cleverness that would indeed make someone an effective spy. At the same time, however, at no point in the film does Bond come across as having all the answers. In addition, the fact that he is a great spy doesn’t prevent him from accidentally setting off alarms or being caught off guard. In one scene, Bond displays such impressive driving skills that it’s rather surprising to see his escape attempt be unsuccessful. In fact, it’s interesting to note that for most of the film, Bond’s life is in real danger, and there is no easy escape for him. Those expecting M to have magically anticipated every situation Bond finds himself in will be surprised, for M’s quirky inventions are dispensed of rather quickly, and for much of Goldfinger, Bond is very much on his own.

There is a degree of predictability to the end of the film. In truth, how can there not be? However, even though we feel we know how it will all end, the end of the film still contains a plethora of surprises. I will not say much more about Goldfinger except that the scenario depicted in the film seems entirely realistic for its time. There are no secret plans for global domination, just a series of events that if successful would have actually created utter chaos in the 1960’s. This, in addition to such interesting characters as Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), her fellow aerial pilots, M (Bernard Lee), and Oddjob (Harold Sakata) – perhaps the first of Bond’s many “super villains” – helps make Goldfinger one of – if not the – best films of its kind. I’m actually now looking forward to watching Thunderball. (on DVD)

4 and a half stars

No comments: