Tue 22 Mar 2016
IAN FLEMING – Goldfinger. Jonathan Cape, UK, hardcover, 1959. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1959. Signet S1822, US, paperback, June 1960. Reprinted many many times.
GOLDFINGER. United Artists, 1964. Sean Connery, Gert Frobe, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell. Screenplay by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn, based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Directed by Guy Hamilton.
These days it’s hard to convey to younger people just how big this movie was back in 1964. Of course, these days it’s hard to convey much of anything to younger people, but I digress…
Back in the 1960s, Doctor No was a success, and From Russia with Love was a hit, but Goldfinger was a Blockbuster that played for months in the first-run houses and for weeks at the nabes. It led to imitations, spoofs, television rip-offs (some quite good), magazines, paperbacks, merchandising that ran all the way from kiddie toys to after shave, and a lot of teenage boys spending hours before the mirror practicing how to raise one eyebrow.
Looking back almost sixty years after it was written, Ian Fleming’s novel seems closer to the pulps of the 1920s and ‘30s than to the 1960s of my childhood and young adultery, what with the diabolical plot, fiendish villain and ethnic minions, not to mention a dauntless hero daring death and danger daily. Fleming merely adds a bit of Esquire-style snobbery and a dollop of sex — tame by today’s standards, but then just about everything is tame by today’s standards.
I have to say that Fleming’s prose is smooth and seductive, his action scenes terse and exciting, and his characters well-observed and colorful — not a bit believable, but suited to this pulp-story sort of thing quite nicely. I should add though that Fleming/Bond’s views on homosexuality seem not so much offensive as laughable; Bond attributes it to women getting the vote, and lesbian Pussy Galore falls into his arms sighing “I never met a real man before!” One has to wonder if Fleming was writing this with a straight face.
In terms of plot, Goldfinger follows the path Fleming had been treading since Dr. No: As soon as Bond and the villain become aware of each other, a certain uneasy tension arises. There are some initial skirmishes, Bond gets captured and taken to the heart of the villain’s operation where he blows everything up and gets the girl. The metaphor of foreplay, penetration and explosion is so clear that again I have to wonder about the look on Fleming’s face as he pounded this out.
The movie version stays fairly close to the book (they did that with the early ones) jazzing up the action scenes just a bit and injecting cinematic razz-ma- tazz wherever Fleming strayed into understatement. Of course, the Bond films have always made a point of perching on the cutting edge of fashion, and for this reason they look quite dated now, and the suits, cars and furniture seem to cry out “Howard Johnson’s!”
Amid the frumpiness of all this, young Sean Connery somehow still radiates the kind of sex appeal one used to see in Gable, Flynn and Walter Albert; I don’t know if I’d turn for him, but I can see where Pussy Galore might. And I have to say the Ken Adam sets still pack a dazzle. Watching Bond battle Odd-Job in the glittering innards of Fort Knox took me right back to what are commonly known as Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.
In the wisdom of my advancing years, however, I had trouble with one scene in particular. It’s not a major plot element but I’ll throw in a SPOILER ALERT!! In case anyone out there hasn’t seen it:
Goldfinger summons all the big-wig crime bosses to his lair, explains his plot to them (while a hidden Bond takes copious notes) lures one to an early end, then kills them all. So if he was going to kill them, why did he do the lecture-and-side-show first? Was it all for Bond’s benefit? Or for the viewer? And could you even get away with naming a woman character “Pussy” these days?
What are your thoughts?