#27 — Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)
In principle, I admire the recent overhaul bestowed upon the James Bond franchise, the clear shucking off of the outer layer of hoary tradition that made it seem increasingly old-fashioned. I have no calcified veneration for the sanctity of the character, caring not a whit if they adhere to traditions like the timely issuance of new murderous gizmos sure to come in handy on the new mission or the casual introduction, last name first. I even remember being excited about the unsolicited suggestion given publicly to the producers several years ago–by Entertainment Weekly, I believe–that they eschew established elements altogether, turning the franchise over to a series of esteemed, artistically bold directors to let them due whatever they want, essentially putting the super-spy in a state of perpetual reboot. And yet I find myself nostalgic for the series as it used to be. As played by Daniel Craig, Bond is ruthless, cold, driven–much closer, it must be noted, to the original conception of the character as presented by creator Ian Fleming–but he is also emblematic of a particularly winning aspect of the franchise that has fallen away almost completely. James Bond films were once fun.
Truth is, all this pining for what Bond films were once is just another way of expressing a dissatisfaction for anything that isn’t Goldfinger, including the other offerings from the same era. The third cinematic spin with agent 007 is a pitch perfect combination of finely calibrated action, inventive flourishes and and a knowing, wisely self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s right in the heart of the Sean Connery era, and the Scottish actor is deeply comfortable in the role, without the hints of boredom that would soon creep into his performance. He makes Bond confident and cunning, while also acknowledging the inherent danger of his chosen profession. And Connery’s Bond clearly enjoys his life, whether slyly outsmarting and adversary or merely lolling in lustful ease upon discovering a comely bird is named Pussy Galore. It’s not just getting there first that makes Connery the actor whose Bond is the intimidating measure held up against all those who followed.
Guy Hamilton, who’d go on to direct three more Bond films, develops the tone of the film beautifully. It is sharp, witty and a grand entertainment, especially when it comes to the more absurd elements, led by a master scheme by the titular villain that is both madly grandiose and shrewdly logical. This is a film that includes a henchman of Japanese descent whose main weapon of choice is a lethally hurled bowler hat, and somehow manages to make the character work like gangbusters. A woman is killed by coating her in gold paint, which apparently causes “epidermal suffocation.” No other Bond film plays with the conceits of the character and his existence of boldly accentuated espionage with such inspired abandon. The filmmakers who currently control the Bond franchise may as well chase after supposedly realistic grittiness instead of trying to emulate the colorful charms of Goldfinger. They’re not likely to match its thrilling highs, so perhaps it’s better to avoid comparisons altogether.