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Sunday, June 11, 2006

GOLDFINGER – THE MOVIE 

In WHICH JAMES BOND IS STAGGERINGLY INCOMPETENT

Goldfinger – the movie – is often cited as the best James Bond film, or one of the best, by many Bond fans, especially to those of us who know that Sean Connery IS James Bond.

I used to be one of those fans. When I was a kid, I taped Goldfinger off of network television and I watched it over and over. At first I really loved it. Goldfinger is a great Bond villain, especially as played by Gert Frobe, a large, kinda scary man, with enough buffoonery to be interesting. And a European accent.

He cheats at cards! He cheats at golf! He has a very sinister Korean valet named Odd Job who wears a magic, steel-plated bowler hat! He kills inefficient employees by painting them gold!

His master plan? He is going to kill 60,000 people with nerve gas in order to set off a nuclear device (supplied by the Red Chinese) in Fort Knox, which will increase the value of his own gold ten-fold and cause economic chaos in the West.

Along with Bond, Goldfinger and Odd Job, we have gangsters, a fleet of female pilots, great cars (one has an ejector seat), heroin dealers, a sweet old lady with a machine gun, and Pussy Galore! (It's a good thing I remembered to capitalize that last item.)

Goldfinger has all the ingredients for a great movie – except the movie.

The big problem with Goldfinger is that Bond is staggeringly incompetent. Through the whole movie. He doesn't make one or two mistakes, he bumbles along, disobeys orders and the Free World is saved, not because Bond is a brilliant escape artist or a great secret agent, but because he is a good kisser.

The screenwriters changed the opening card game just enough that it makes no sense. Bond is just supposed to keep an eye on Goldfinger. He goes a bit further, exposes Goldfinger for cheating at gin rummy, then he picks up Jill Masterson, who had been helping Goldfinger to cheat. Bond completely loses track of Goldfinger, whiles away the day with Jill, is taken by surprise by Odd Job, knocked unconscious, and wakes up to find Jill covered with gold paint, dead of skin suffocation.

Incompetent. (In the book, Jill doesn't get covered with gold until much later. Bond hears about it from her sister, who is seeking revenge on Goldfinger.)

Apparently, the Miami police don't think Goldfinger is a suspect as there seems to be no repercussions for him. He appears a few scenes later, when he plays golf with Bond. (This is a great scene. It's better in the book.)

The golf game brings up another huge plot problem. Goldfinger and Bond meet seemingly by chance at the club and decide to play golf together. They don't seem to know each other. Which makes no sense. Bond, of course is just pretending, but how could Goldfinger have arranged for the death of Jill without knowing Bond's identity? Jill was killed in Bond's hotel room. Goldfinger had to know who queered his card-cheating scam and took off with his employee. (As a matter of fact, Goldfinger does know. But Bond continues the presence that their paths have never crossed and that Goldfinger can't know who he is, despite how ludicrous that is.)

Later, Bond meets with Tilly Masterson, who is stalking Goldfinger with a rifle to get revenge for her sister's death. Bond interferes with her plan, and then is unable to protect her when Odd Job and Goldfinger's henchmen show up. Odd Job whacks her in the head with his magic bowler and she dies. Bond couldn't even protect her long enough so she could get into a bikini or his pajama top.

Bond is captured and talks Goldfinger into not killing him. It makes no sense. He strapped him to a table and was just about to cut him in half with a laser. So why should he suddenly stop just because Bond might know something? If he was really concerned about what Bond might know, he would torture him to get the information. (Which is what he does in the book. But in the book, Goldfinger spares Bond (and Tilly) to help with paperwork. Which makes even less sense than the movie explanation.)

So he takes Bond along with him to Kentucky, and Bond does a whole lot of nothing. Except for flirt with Pussy Galore and kiss her.

Which is what saves the day because Pussy turns on Goldfinger and betrays the whole plot, informing the authorities. (The way they handle it is pretty dumb, but I won’t go into that.)

So Bond saves the Free World not because of any general competence, but because he is a good kisser.

Wow!

Yes, I know. All James Bond movies have bits that don't make any sense, ridiculously self-destructive behavior by the villain, grandiose plots and devices that can't work, over-the-top action sequences that would strain the credulity of a three-year-old child, and various demeaning stereotypes of women and minorities. (They're not as bad as the books, thank you, God.)

The thing is, the really egregious later Bond films get ridiculed for this stuff. (See review for Die Another Day. And Moonraker.) So why does Goldfinger get a pass? Yes, it's fun, and has a lot of great stuff in it. But it is really silly in a way that the other early Bonds seem to avoid pretty well.

A few weeks ago, I said I was going to have a little contest to pick the Official Mushtown Media Corp. Best Bond film ever. And Goldfinger was one of the finalists.

It isn't one of the finalists any more. The list is down to four: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

We can't have a best Bond film where he looks like an idiot and his only talents are detecting cheaters and kissing.

(I'm a little disappointed that Goldfinger doesn't stand up so well. This reminds me of when I saw Omega Man a few years ago and realized that it's kind of stupid, very probably not the best science fiction film of all time. Bummer. What did I think I was seeing when I was ten?)

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