Even though the United Artist-produced 007 movies were already making waves in the box office of cinemas the world over, with only two movies out at the time; Dr No and From Russia with Love, it was certainly Goldfinger that would establish itself, not only as a cinematic landmark, in terms of artistic and box office success, but also as the James Bond movie that would forever etch the name of Bond, James Bond into the public consciousness, and would definitely lay out the blue print from which all other James Bond movies would be molded after.
Given the success that producer Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had had with director Terence Young, they tried to recruit him, once again, to take over filming of the next installment of the saga. Young would end up abandoning the proyect due to creative differences, but was quickly replaced by Guy Hamilton, with whom Broccoli had worked before, and already knew Sean Connery socially before he became famous for playing 007.
Guy Hamilton’s style was quite different from that of Terence Young’s in that he wanted to play the tongue-in-cheek elements of both the character and story more strongly, and do away with the more down-to-earth and realistic approach used by Young on the two previous entries. He also pushed for the use of more comedic elements and one-liners, that would become one of the hallmarks of the series. One example of this was the pre-credit sequence, in which Bond, after blowing up an opium factory, slips out of a wet suit to reveal an impeccable white tuxedo underneath, with no creases to speak of, and a red rose to pin on his jacket lapel. That immediately informs the audience of what type of movie they’re in for, and that the tone of it is going to be a drastic departure from what had be seen on the previous two movies.
Most of the recurring cast members; like Bermard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and Desmond Llewellyn as Q were back, once again. It was now only a matter of finding the right actors and actresses to portray the role of the main villains and Bond girls.
For the role of the main villain of the piece, Auric Goldfinger, German actor Gert Fröbe was chosen after the filmmaker and producers had seen Fröbe playing the role of a child molester in a German film. His menacing physical presence would prove to be an asset when it came to showing the devious nature of the character, but there was one major drawback that would drive the producers over the edge when they learned of it; Fröbe couldn’t speak a word of English. Guy Hamilton got around this by having the actor learn to speak the words phonetically as fast as he could, so it would be easier later on to dubb him over. The end result was perfect and if I hadn’t found out about it, I would be none the wiser.
Shirley Eaton would land one of the most iconic Bond girl roles of the entire saga, and would be the protagonist of one of the most beautifully eerie moments of the series; the sequence in which Bond after having been knocked out cold by Goldfinger’s henchman; Oddjob, awakens to discover the naked body of Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson covered entirely in gold paint. It’s one of the most eye-catching, and instantly recognizable scenes of the whole saga. It was a role that would also give further legs to her aspirations of becoming an actress in Hollywood as, up until then, she’d been relegated to play roles in some small produced British comedies, like the “Carry On” movies. For the role of her vengeful sister Till Masterson, model Tania Mallet was chosen. Clearly a very inexperienced actress, her role in the film was very minor and reduced to begin with, ending abruptly with her death at the hands of Oddjob, halfway through the movie.
But the one actress who would end up playing the main Bond girl role of the movie and a very controversial one at that, from a censorship point of view, was British actress Honor Blackman. She had been a mainstay of the famous 60s spy thriller The Avengers, which run from 1961 to 1969. The origin of this controversy was because of the apparent lurid nature of the name chosen for her character, a name that was already present in Ian Fleming’s book; Pussy Galore. Despite the numerous attempts by censors at the time to stop the producers from using the name, or even trying to convince them to pick another one ( reference to the character’s name were even removed from the promotional material used to market the movie worldwide), the producers, and especially Blackman were adamant in using the name whenever they could, as she thought it to be just another tongue-in-cheek element inseparable from the funny and over-the-top tone of the movie. Her time in The Avengers, and experience practising Judo for the action sequences on that show, would also prove to be a major asset when playing her character. The sassy, irreverent and highly independent nature of her character, would transform her into one of the most memorable and beautiful Bond girls to grace the big screen.
For the role of Goldfinger’s henchman, the Korean bodyguard Oddjob, the producers went with Hawaiian Wrestler from Japanese descent, Harold Sakata. The producers were impressed by the sheer size, and physique of the wrestler turned actor, who with his lethal steel-pointed bowler hat, would become one of the most memorable villains/henchman of the series.
Other actors would be Cec Linder as CIA agent Felix Leiter and Michael Mellinger as Kisch, another one of Golfinger’s henchmen.
With the cast pretty much in place, most of the technical and artistic crew like editor Peter Hunt, Cinematographer Ted Moore, Production Designer Ken Adam, Film Composer John Barry and writer Richard Maibaum with the collaboration of writer Peter Dehn this time, would return to familiar territory, but with a much increased budget of $3 million, that would help Adam come up with some of the most lavishly constructed sets for the series, like Goldfinger’s Swiss hideout, the Laser-Beam room, his briefing room that also serves as gassing chamber for those Goldfinger wants to get rid of, and especially, his highly inventive recreation of the interior of Fort Knox, access to which was impossible for the producers, who had to make do with Adam’s imagination. John Barry would also come up with one of his most energetic and inventive scores for the series, for which he was in total control this time around, delivering at the same time one of the most iconic and memorable title songs for the saga, sang by the inimitable Shirley Bassey with lyrics by Barry, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
Filming took place in location in Miami, Switzerland and Kentucky, US, with the bulk of the production being filmed, once again in the UK, in Pinewood Studios. As Sean Connery was still busy filming the movie Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964), at the time main unit started filming Goldfinger, the filmmakers had to be very clever in the way they shot in some of the locations ( The Fontainebleu Hilton Resort in Miami, or a Car Factory that doubled up as Auric Goldfinger’s Swiss smelting factory), using some of these scenes as background plates that would later on be used as background proyection for the same sets recreated in Pinewood Studios. It was the clever melding of both of these elements in the editing room by Peter Hunt, that would help the production team keep up the shooting schedule without a hitch. One of the most remarkable elements of the movie was the extensive use of gadgets, that would become one of the mainstays and sources of popularity for the series. None was more popular than the use of the Aston Martin DB5, a car model that would replace the Bentley that Bond drove in the novels, and which offered the Art Department the chance to let their imaginations run wild, and load the car with all sorts of gadgetry that would help Bond get out of any sticky situation. Among the most famous gadgets implemented were; machine guns behind the headlights, revolving plate numbers, smoke screen, slick oil that came out of the car’s tail lights, a bulletproof shield that sprung up from behind the car, and an ejector seat. More gadgets were supposed to be implemented, like a hidden compartment for guns under the passenger seat and a car phone, to name just a few. But the Art Department didn’t, unfortunately, have the time to fit all of them into the car in time for filming. One of the main hurdles into which filmmaker and producers run, when wrapping up filming in the States, was the impossibility of filming around and inside the Gold depository of Fort Knox. As it was a highly restrictive area, into which not even the President of the United States was allowed, Broccoli resorted to a military friend of his to get around this by taking pictures of the outside and getting away with some guerrilla filmmaking when it came to shooting the air raid around Fort Knox by Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus. The planes were piloted by expert crop dusters outfitted with blonde wigs to make them look like Pussy Galore’s flying squad. For the sequence in which hundreds of soldiers camped around Fort Knox fall to the ground as Pussy’s flying squad fly over them, they convinced the different soldier units to do it on command on the promise of some money and beer. It was a monumental logistical task that paid off. As for the rest of the sequence taking place both outside and inside Fort Knox, the Art Department under the direction of Ken Adam recreated both sets on the back lot and inside some of the biggest stages of Pinewood. It was a great achievement in Production Design, and stretched the imagination of those working in the Art Department to the limit.
Goldfinger was an inmediate success. It was the fastest grossing movie of its time, and one of the most successful of the entire series. It also inspired a spy craze that would spawn an unlimited amount of movies that would directly benefit from the success of the Bond movies, some with more fortune than others, but none would come even close to what Goldfinger had achieved. It would even prove to be a difficult task, years down the line, for the producers to top their own product with successive movies. It is a hallmark entry in the series, and one of the most entertaining and tightly edited movies of the saga. A movie that broke molds and set the standard for what was to come.
Goldfinger is a brilliant example of what a Bond movie is supposed to be like. It’s got it all; a compelling and charismatic villain, kick-ass henchman, beautiful but, at the same time, resourceful Bond girls, an outlandish, but very well put together plot, great gadgets, brilliant action set-pieces, and a great score. There’s not a dull moment during the whole movie, it’s tightly edited, even though the blend of in location and on-set footage is not always seamless, and some of the continuity errors are quite glaring. So is the end of the movie. The scene in which Bond fights off Goldfinger in the depresurized cabin of a plane, and ends up with Goldfinger being sucked out of the window, is laughable at best. If you can overlook these technical and writing issues, you should be in for a treat. Bond movies were never supposed to be grounded in reality to begin with. The world of Bond is one of fantasy, and the elements and characters surrounding him are supposed to be outlandish and over-the-top. Sean Connery is clearly at his most comfortable as James Bond in this movie. His performance is flawless, and his blend of hard-edge attitude, and tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, would forever define the main character traits of any Bond. If you’ve never seen a Bond movie, this would be the one to go for first.
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