Horizon – Goldfinger – tape 272

This tape opens with the end of a short programme called Brief Encounters,

First on this tape, from Horizon, I’d like to take you back to a time when Richard Dawkins wasn’t that embarrassing old bloke on Twitter, but was, instead, a fresh new voice in science.

Here’s The Blind Watchmaker, based on Dawkins’ book, which explains how the blind, undirected processes of natural selection can bring about the vast diversity of life on this planet.

At one point, he talks about a brand new technology inspired by the eye of an insect – CD-ROM. “Absolutely up to date, only just been released”

Absolutely up to date

One of the ways Dawkins illustrates evolution and selection is with his Biomorphs, designs controlled by a small number of parameters (like genes) which can be bred from to show how characteristics can change over time.

The animated biomorphs for this programme were done by Jeremy Ruston, who I worked with a bit at Computer Concepts in the 80s.

Biomorphs

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 23rd January 1987 – 17:10

After this, recording switches to ITV for some classic Bond action and Goldfinger.

Goldfinger is perennially rated one of the best Bond films, and I’m not going to disagree. It’s got a great villain (two, really) and plenty of memorable scenes. I do have some niggles, which I’ll probably get to.

The opening is textbook Bond. He appears in a wetsuit of some kind, wearing a fake duck on his head, to infiltrate some kind of refinery. Only the big tanks have a hidden door in them, with some kind of, I don’t know, it looks like a pool house or something. A classic Ken Adam design, with the big circle in the roof being a huge giveaway.

Ken Adam pool house

But it’s also storing high explosive, so Bond can plant some explosive of his own and set a timer, then there’s just time to nip over the wall and ditch the wetsuit for the dinner jacket he’s got underneath – it’s these playful moments that we really love about Bond.

Dinner Jacket

Back in the local village, the refinery goes up, and Bond has a fight with a random thug, and some causal sexism.

Cue titles, and perhaps the Bondiest theme song in the series, by the magnificent Shirley Bassey.

After the titles, Bond is on holiday in Miami Beach, although judging by the amount of bluescreen I suspect it was only the second unit who went.

Bond gets a visit from one of the many Felix Leiters the Bond series has employed. He dismisses the girl who was giving him a massage with a friendly bottom slap. The kind of stuff we don’t really love Bond for, and this movie has rather a lot of it.

Auric Goldfinger is also staying at the hotel, and is cheating at cards with another guest. Bond messes up his game by finding the woman who’s feeding him his opponent’s cards, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), and as revenge, Goldfinger kills her by painting her gold, but leaves Bond alone. Because what better way to punish a man than to kill ‘his’ woman.

Shirley Eaton

Then Bond is briefed about Goldfinger – he’s smuggling gold, but they don’t know how so Bond has to find out how. There’s a Q briefing, which introduces the most famous Bond car of all, the Aston Martin DB5.

Aston Martin

To find out more about Goldfinger, Bond does what every spy would do and plays a round of golf with him. We’re properly introduced to Goldfinger’s manservant, Oddjob, played by Harold Sakata, a professional wrestler, with a razor-sharp hat brim.

Harold Sakata

Bond and his caddie trick Goldfinger into losing the game (after Goldfinger himself cheated, so It’s OK) and plants a tracker on his car, something he could have done without all the bother of golf.

Over to Switzerland, where he’s tracking Goldfinger on the 1964 equivalent of Google Maps.

1964 Google Maps

But there’s someone else following him – a woman who tries to shoot Goldfinger (and almost hits Bond) so when she’s driving behind him, and trying to pass him, he uses one of the many gadgets on the car to force her off the road, a rather risky manoeuvre on such narrow, high roads.

Wheel trimmer

She’s the sister of Jill Masterson, Tilly, seeking revenge for her sister’s murder, and Bond meets her again when he’s spying on Goldfinger’s factory, where he learns that he smuggles gold by having his Rolls Royce made out of 18 carat gold. Tilly is there again, wanting to shoot Goldfinger, but she ends up with Bond in the Aston Martin, although not for long, as Oddjob manages to kill her with his hat. and there’s a big chase around Goldfinger’s factory, which is rather noticeably filmed around the studio buildings of Pinewood, if you’ve ever visited there.

Pinewood Chase

But Bond is recaptured, with an hour left of the movie, and would it surprise you to know that he spends all but the last five minutes of the movie as Goldfinger’s prisoner? It’s the central riddle of Goldfinger – why is it so popular when Bond is basically Goldfinger’s houseguest for an hour?

It’s probably because of things like the next big scene, with Bond strapped to a table with a giant laser threatening to perform drastic gender reassignment surgery. Plus one of the great lines: “Do you expect me to talk?” “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”

I expect you to die

Next, flying back to the states, Bond meets Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, ace pilot, who is almost entirely uninterested in Bond’s charms. Every time Bond meets a woman who works for Goldfinger, he effectively asks her whether she’s also sleeping with Goldfinger, which might possibly have been meant to be chivalrous, but just comes across as creepy.

Honor Blackman

It looks like Felix Leiter’s office is across the lawn from the White House.

Felix Leiter's Office

Bond is taken to Goldfinger’s base in Kentucky and locked up. Goldfinger then explains his whole plan, but to his associates, mob bosses from all over the country. He appears to have had his entire living space engineered for this one presentation, which must have been a massive amount of work. I’d have just pulled up Powerpoint on a bog screen.

Goldfinger's plan

The plan is to break into Fort Knox and steal the gold. Bond manages to escape from his cell to overhear part of the planning, but he doesn’t make it out of the building before he’s apprehended (by Pussy).

Now, I know Bond movies don’t always make a lot of sense, plot-wise, but I was just commenting on how much work Goldfinger’s Fort Knox presentation must have been to construct. And what does Goldfinger do after concluding his presentation? One of the mobsters decides to leave with his promised $1m in gold, while the others agree to wait for $10m. But they’ve all already contributed whatever it was that Goldfinger needed from them. He doesn’t need them any more, so why offer them more money?

Not that it really matters, because in the event, he just gasses them all to death.

So what was the point of the presentation? Who was it for?

The one mobster who decided to leave is driven away by OddJob, and Bond slips his tracker with a note about the plan in his pocket before he goes.

But Oddjob shoots the man. Then he drives the car to a breaker’s yard, has the car crushed into a cube, and takes the remains back to Goldfinger’s ranch.

Car crusher

Now what is the point of all that? To the audience, it’s because the CIA are following the car, because Bond’s put his tracker there, but Oddjob doesn’t know about that. If they intended to kill the mobster, surely they could have just shot him then driven the car back to the ranch? Or not even bother driving him away, just kill him right there.

This is all nonsensical.

Goldfinger talks to Bond, in order to show the watching CIA agents that he’s unharmed and doesn’t need their help. Goldfinger reveals his true plan – to detonate a nuclear device in the gold repository to irradiate the US’s gold supply, raising the value of his own stock tenfold.

Then Bond and Pussy Galore get to know each other a bit more, by trying a few judo throws on each other, and Bond forcing himself on her – but it’s OK, because she does want it in the end. Ironically, this turns out to be the only truly effective thing Bond does in the whole last half of the movie.

The next day comes, and Pussy’s team of pilots spray the fatal nerve gas over the area, so that everyone aroubnd Fort Knox is dead, and Goldfinger’s men can move in. It’s nice to see them using Goldfinger’s giant laser to get into the vault – so it wasn’t just for slicing up British agents.

There’s another magnificent vault door – I love these things, they’re always so shiny.

Vault Door

Also, while planning the raid, we learn that Fort Knox has roads called “Bullion Boulevard” and “Gold Vault Road”.

The inside of Fort Knox is entirely the work of designer Ken Adam – nobody really knew what the actual place looked like, and the exterior was too boring for Cubby Broccoli.

Inside Fort Knox

The plan is compromised when all the supposedly dead US soldiers wake up – Pussy had switched the nerve gas and warned the CIA (although that should probably be the FBI). So we get the obligatory big battle.

But Bond is handcuffed to the nuclear bomb, and the countdown’s running. When the battle starts, Goldfinger locks the vault door, trapping Bond inside with Oddjob, so we get a fight between them that Bond can only win by electrocuting him when he goes to retrieve his razor hat.

Oddjob Electrocuted

Bond tries to stop the bomb, but he has no idea how, so it’s left to an expert who comes in just in the nick of time to disable it – again, Bond does nothing here.

007

All that’s left is a coda where Goldfinger appears on the plane that’s supposed to take Bond to Washington, they have a fight, and Goldfinger is sucked out of the plane like a beach ball.

Goldfinger sucks

Leaving Bond and Pussy to parachute to safety, and the obligatory final smooch.

I have a theory as to why Goldfinger is so well loved. A lot of it has to do with the gadgets – this was the first Bond that really went all in with the gadgets, particularly the car, and many people of my age remember the wonderful Dinky Toys model of it. (I never had one, but I played with a neighbour’s)

But I think the reason this one is so well loved and remembered is simpler than that. It has an entirely coherent brand. It starts with the title, Goldfinger, not only the name of the villain, but also descriptive. The movie is almost entirely about gold in some way or other, from Goldfinger’s murder of Jill Masterson, to the Rolls Royce made of gold, to the ultimate plan to attack the gold depository. The main spine of the plot hangs together in a way that Bond plots rarely do, so that it doesn’t matter if half the scenes in the film make no logical sense when you think about them. The film works as a whole, and people remember it.

I still like this film, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that almost the single active thing Bond does in the movie is to persuade someone else to foil the grand plan. A weirdly passive plot.

The tape ends after the movie.

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2 comments

  1. I think you’re onto something with the brand observation, Goldfinger, more than its two predecessors, set out a template for Bond that it follows to this day. Oddly reassuring. Mind you, a spy who gets others to do his dirty work for him is a successful spy, I’d say.

  2. It’s been pointed out that there were only three seconds left on the bomb instead of seven (thank you United Artists). Also, not a fan of the gender politics.

    John Barry wasn’t happy when played his theme for Leslie Bricusse and pal, and after the first bar they burst into “Wider than a mile..”

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