For a lot of James Bond aficionados, Sean Connery remains to this day the one and only true James Bond. I decided to see if that was true, not by going back to the first film Dr. No (1962) (as many would expect), but by checking out another one of his Bond roles – Goldfinger.
With lines (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”), images (Bond threatened by a laser aimed at his crotch), and characters (mute henchman Oddjob, as well as the infamous Pussy Galore) that have now become classics, would Goldfinger still showcase the Best Bond in arguably the Best Bond film ever?
While Sean Connery definitely has the look – and especially the accent – of James Bond down, his actions in Goldfinger really don’t allow him to showcase the true Bond heroism. True, he’s still popular with the ladies (which is in itself a staple in Bond films), but he really doesn’t display any of that suave, polished hero that viewers have come to expect. Instead, after being easily outwitted by Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob early on, he quickly goes after them with a head of steam, only to be quickly captured and imprisoned once more, and that’s where he stays for most of the rest of the film.
Going up against this much meeker bond is arch villain Auric Goldfinger, who himself doesn’t seem to pose much threat for James Bond. And yet, despite Bond’s best attempts to outwit him, he seems to be ahead of the game, as if his blubbery persona is supposed to hide the mind of a genius. Unfortunately, he’s presented more as a quick-tempered oaf who seems to get the better of Bond more by accident than on purpose.
Oddjob (Harold Sakata) seems like a sinister villain at first, and his deadly hat-throwing is a nice change of pace. But, after brushing over the character’s inability to speak so quickly many viewers might not have caught it, his grunting noises later on in the film seem out-of-place with the tough henchman character, making him seem silly rather than threatening. Thankfully, he makes up for it later on as he fights one-on-one with Bond.
Then there’s the woman in Bond’s life this time around. Jill Masterson (aka “golden girl”) seems to be nothing more than an airhead, Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) manages to get in another quick bit of flirting, but is gone way too quickly, and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) seems so stoic and cold her eventual melting comes as a complete – and utterly fabricated – ridiculous fantasy.
For most of the character problems, however, the fault seems to lie with the director rather than the script itself. The lines are decent enough, but the director seems to have told the actors to play them as deadpan and unfeeling as possible, making for a supposedly character-driven story that doesn’t really impress viewers with it’s characters. Aside from her risque name, for instance, Pussy Galore is nothing but a supermodel in tight clothing, more for the ogling rather than the listening. While this is a characteristic of many of the women in Bond films, some – including Michelle Yeoh – have been able to show they have a brain in their head as well. Blackman’s portrayal, however, is decimated by the director, who totally misuses the character, jumping her from uncaring and cold-hearted to infatuated in the blink of an eye, and without any real sense of reasoning. Apparently, Connery is just that darn irresistible.
That’s not to say Goldfinger doesn’t have it’s moments. Bond’s car (this time an Aston Martin DB5) manages to get in a couple of decent sequences, and the fight sequences (aside from some very bad editing cuts), are exciting enough, and Connery’s Bond is still fun to watch, even if he spends most of his time in a ridiculously drawn-out talking head situation while the villain takes his time explaining his nefarious doings to whomever will listen to him pat himself on the back.
Goldfinger, then, isn’t really Bond’s best film, even with Sean Connery’s James Bond strutting through it. Some may argue that Bond allowed himself to be so easily captured (not once, but twice) by Goldfinger in order to learn about his nefarious plans. This may be true, but then, when he’s discovered all he can, why doesn’t he escape to warn the US what’s coming? He sends out a signal, but when that doesn’t get through, he seems resigned to sit it out and hope for a chance to escape, despite knowing he might be able to prevent thousands of deaths. Instead, he waits for an ending that seems to have been slapped on, before unleashing his Bond fighting prowess once more.
Does this sounds like Bond to you? It doesn’t to me, and so Goldfinger, despite Connery, doesn’t seem like the most appropriate – or best – film in the Bond series…even if it is one of the most quoted.