So, I have always been lukewarm on the James Bond film franchise. Several of the Roger Moore-era Bond films turned up on TV when I was a kid, and they always seemed a little formulaic and corny; there was always a scene where Bond was getting some fancy spy gadget, there were always scenes where he bedded various women within mere minutes of meeting them, the bad guy always had some kind of Byzantine scheme and was always backed up by some henchman who used brute force. I chalked the corniness up to Moore; people were already talking about Sean Connery’s superiority in the role even then, and in the early 80s Connery even returned to the role one last time and caused a huge fuss. So I thought that with Connery I’d be seeing more of a “proper” Bond film.
But no. Roommate Russ tried to warn me before I watched, and he was right – Connery wasn’t the “superior” Bond, he was the ur-Bond. And all the tropes I rolled my eyes at? They all began here.
Ironically, one of the Bond tropes I’d been used to wasn’t here – the bad guys weren’t Russians, and the big plot wasn’t about international politics. Rather, it was about international banking. Connery/Bond is asked to check up on the wealthy and eccentric Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), a dealer in antiques and gold bullion. Bond catches him cheating at a game of cards – an assistant, Jill (Shirley Eaton), spies on the game and gives him tips through an earpiece – and puts a stop to things by seducing Jill away from her duties. Well, that was easy, and pleasant. But Goldfinger makes it clear he’s got bigger plans – and issues Bond an equally big warning, killing Jill by covering her in gold paint so she dies of “skin suffocation.” (Incidentally, this is one of five plot points the old science show Mythbusters investigated – they proved this isn’t real.) Bond stays on the case, however, ultimately discovering how Goldfinger smuggles his gold out of the UK (disguising it as other things), who he’s allied with (everyone from the Mafia to a circus troupe to the Chinese Communists), and what his ultimate goal is (blow up a tactical nuke inside the Fort Knox gold reserve, irradiating the United States’ coffers for 50 years and making his own stash of gold even more valuable).
It’s…ridiculous. I mean, it hangs together plotwise, and there’s enough action to distract you, but if you think about the plot for about two minutes it’s pretty ridiculous. And that is precisely why they throw so many gadgets into the mix, like a car fitted with an ejection seat (this was the one thing Mythbusters proved actually does work); and it’s why they throw in a creepy henchman named “Odd Job” (Harold Sakata) for a one-on-one fight with Bond; and it’s why they throw three women in to distract Bond, most notably Goldfinger’s pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). It’s a riot of color and flashy scenery and pretty women and cool toys and explosions and action sequences, the more far-fetched the better; and it was always meant to be that way, regardless who played James Bond.
Some of the Bond tropes have been scaled back in recent years – especially the casual womanizing, with the director of the most recent Bond film dismissing Connery’s Bond as “basically a rapist“. But seeing them as they were, it was hard to take them too seriously anyway – simply because they were so ridiculous.
Incidentally: other tropes the Mythbusters investigated from this film include airplane depressurization, OddJob’s weaponized bowler hat, and Bond wearing a tuxedo under a wetsuit and having it stay impeccably dry. All of them were “busted.”