Our review of James Bond Ultimate Edition (Volume 1), published May 14th, 2007, is also available.
The first meeting is happenstance, the second is coincidence, the third is enemy action.
The movie that truly made James Bond the world-wide phenomena that he is, Goldfinger is a action-adventure cinematic classic that hasn't looked this good in thirty-five years.
As remarked in the wealth of supplementary material, Goldfinger used the success of the previous Bond films (Dr. No and From Russia With Love) to firmly cement the series' success and its place in cinematic history. Sadly, the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, died shortly before the film opened and never saw his creation explode to ever more successful and popular heights. Goldfinger is the first film where all the elements of the Bond film are polished and assembled together into the finely-tuned formula that continues today.
Auric Goldfinger is probably the all-around Best Bond Villain ever to grace the big screen. This is in significant part due to the amazing talents of Gert Frobe, and made more astounding when you discover that 100% of his dialogue is dubbed because he didn't speak a word of English! His physical presence, casual menace, and genial intensity give Goldfinger an appropriately ego-driven, expansive villain, but also one that does not seem insane or a cardboard cut-out. He is human, down to his casual mannerisms, and while he has his flaws, he remains a crafty, intelligent, calculating man.
Oddjob is perhaps the most unique and imposing Bond "Villain Helper," though Jaws would give him a run for his money. Harold Sakata has no lines, but his serenely intimidating persona (and lethal hat!) is simply excellent. Is it any wonder that Mike Myers parodied him with Random Task in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery?
As for the other actors, Sean Connery is in the prime of his Bond career here in Goldfinger. 007 is still the cool professional, but with flashes of genuine emotion and the occasional mistake. Honor Blackman is a very good foil for Connery's extra-strength machismo, as she exudes a sensual yet icy professionalism that is undercut only by the script's final act (see below).
The story is one of the better adaptations of Ian Fleming's work. Gadgets are present, but not to the point where all Bond has to do is flip a switch and he is saved from death (as in some Bond films). They add to the story, which is populated with defined, motivated characters, where James Bond and his opponents are indeed larger than life—but not to the point where they are over the top. I think the weakest point is the sudden conversion of a certain female character at the end of the movie, which would have been even more unbelievable if she had explicitly been a lesbian (as in the book). It's a critical plot point that deserved better.
Speaking of the story…
We begin with the usual mini-adventure that gives 007 the chance to blow up a heroin producing facility, look very suave, sample the local exotic fauna, and kill a couple of thugs, all without rumpling his immaculate white dinner jacket. After the striking titles and powerful song (sung in classic style by Shirley Bassey), the action moves to Miami. Relaxing poolside at the Fountainbleau Hotel, James Bond is called to duty by Felix Leiter (Cec Linder), who carries M's directive to shadow a British businessman by the name of Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). In very short order, Bond discovers that Goldfinger is a card cheat by way of the very delicious Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton). After he forces Goldfinger to abandon his ill-gotten gains, Bond enjoys the (ahem) fruits of victory.
His celebration is short-lived, when a shadowy figure knocks him senseless, and upon his awakening he finds the late Jill Masterson coated from head to toe in gold paint, in a landmark cinematic image. Angry that Goldfinger bested him and killed an innocent, 007 returns to London to get his marching orders from M (Bernard Lee). A meeting with Colonel Smithers (Richard Vernon) educates 007 on the nature of the gold trade and Goldfinger's rumored smuggling operation. With a bar of Nazi gold as bait, 007 sets out to have a social meeting with the esteemed Goldfinger, aiming to divert talk more along business lines.
Bond has to stop for the requisite meeting with Q, who is as prickly as ever about his work. ("An ejector seat? You're joking!" exclaims 007. Q is having none of the humor. "I never joke about my work, 007!") The old Bentley is replaced with the smooth Aston-Martin DB5, fitted with a vast array of toys. Well equipped with wheels, Bond just by "accident" happens to be at Goldfinger's country club when the man himself shows up and is looking for some competitive golf. Though the presence of Goldfinger's caddy, Oddjob (Harold Sakata) is a tad disconcerting, the game progresses nicely. The bar of Nazi gold does indeed gather Goldfinger's interest, and prompts a sizable wager. When matters get tense, Goldfinger resorts to his bag of shameful trickery, but 007 is up to the task of turning the tables. Needless to say, Goldfinger is quite irritated by being bested twice and makes this very plain to 007.
Goldfinger leaves his golf game for a trip to the continent, specifically Switzerland, bringing the faithful Oddjob and his favorite car along. Having secreted a homing device aboard Goldfinger's car, Bond enjoys a leisurely tail through the picturesque Alpine landscape. He is temporarily distracted from his duty by Tilly Soames, who is most impatient and armed, with an agenda kept very well hidden. Proceeding onward, he finds that Goldfinger has come to rest at a small factory labeled Auric Enterprises.
Night-time spying upon the smelting facilities reveals the crafty method used by Goldfinger to smuggle his gold right out from under the noses of the British authorities. As he is making his escape, Bond stumbles across the not-so-sharp shooter Tilly again, whose clumsy efforts have alerted security. Bond drags her into his car, and in a thrilling night-time race, uses all of his driving skill in a futile attempt to elude the pursuing horde. Taken prisoner by the silent Oddjob and his helpers, Bond briefly escapes before being done in by an effective illusion. Now held very firmly, 007 awakens to find that Goldfinger intends to eliminate his foe in a most unpleasant (and unnecessarily slow) fashion after he bandies some barbed witticisms with his prey. Bond thinks quickly, and convinces Goldfinger that the security of Operation Grand Slam warrants his survival.
Knocked unconscious yet again (maybe this is a record?), this time Bond wakes mid-flight to the luminous face of Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), who is Goldfinger's personal pilot. She seems impervious to his charms, so 007 must content himself to wait until the plane lands in the United States and he finds out what the gold tycoon has in store for him. He ends up at Auric Stud, a Kentucky horse farm and Goldfinger's base of operations. After locking Bond away in a small cell, Goldfinger meets with a collection of American gangsters who have all done important business for him. In place of their promised payment, he dangles the lure of ten times that amount if they will help him execute Operation Grand Slam. With impressive visual aids, Goldfinger lays out his plan to pillage the gold depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Bond has duped his jailers into making a fatal mistake, allowing his escape. He prowls around before stumbling into a vantage point from which he can hear Goldfinger outline his plans. 007 hears just enough before the impressive Ms. Galore discovers the errant prisoner. As it turns out, Goldfinger has no intention of inviting his criminal colleagues along, rather his goal is to eliminate any loose ends before Operation Grand Slam is begun. There is a bit of quiet time before things really get rolling, which Goldfinger spends sipping mint juleps and regaling Bond with the ingenuity and audacity of the critical details of Operation Grand Slam. (It's a requirement, actually; all Bond villains must confess the details of their plan to 007. It's a genetic fault, I think.)
The heart of Operation Grand Slam involves the use of a particularly dirty nuclear bomb, and Goldfinger means to leave 007 chained to it so that there will be no doubt of his fate. The plan is properly executed, and Goldfinger successfully breaks into the depository to plant his bomb when disaster in the form of the United States Army strikes. As Goldfinger escapes in the wild melee outside the vault, inside there is a very private battle between 007, who aims to defuse the bomb, and the utterly loyal Oddjob, who is sworn to stop Bond. The action is fast and furious, but Bond prevails by dint of some quick thinking and luck.
Relaxing in the aftermath of his triumph, Bond is surprised by the reappearance of trouble and must stage a desperate mid-air fight for his life and that of Pussy Galore. When friendly forces frantically search for the pair, 007 says that this is no time to be rescued, and devotes himself to a more pleasant pursuit. The End.
Extra content is the usual generous mix that MGM has grafted onto all of its Bond SE discs. There are two commentary tracks, the first with Director Guy Hamilton and various cast members, the second with a large number of the crew members. These are not the typical commentary tracks, instead they are audio comments from various sources edited together to roughly match what is on screen, with added commentary from a moderator of sorts. This works reasonably well, though there are some gaps that drag on a bit long. Quite informative are a pair of documentaries, "The Making of Goldfinger" and "The Goldfinger Phenomenon." The still gallery is quite large ("hundreds of images" according to the box, and no, I didn't have the time to count!) and nicely organized by topic.
Completing the mix are the original theatrical trailer, the original publicity featurette, three TV spots, twenty-two minutes of radio spots, a radio "interview" with Sean Connery, and the ever present PlayStation trailer for the Tomorrow Never Dies game. Menus are slickly animated, using movie images and sound in unique fashion, thanks to the excellent folks at 1K Studios. The usual nice, multi-page color insert is included as well.
This is the best I have ever seen Goldfinger, but the anamorphic transfer is not flawless. Color saturation is excellent for an older movie, with a number of scenes being quite vibrant and pretty and light-years better than I have ever seen them. Blacks are solid, the picture is generally sharp, flesh tones are good, and video noise is kept to a low level. Thankfully, I did not notice any shimmering or aliasing from digital enhancement. My main video complaint is noted below.
It is hard to be too harsh (or the reverse) in considering sound when you are dealing with a thirty five year old movie, as can't exactly expect a state of the art 5.1 mix. Dialogue is clearly understood and the frequency response is good for a mono track, with acceptable highs and lows, though the bass did seem to get a bit buzzy at times.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Alpha keepcase? Yeeeccchh!
I know it would have taken a fair amount of time and money, but MGM should have laid out the dough to clean up the transfer for this "Ultimate Special Edition." If Alien can be made to look like a brand new movie, than so can Goldfinger. As it is, there is a substantial amount of dirt and similar film defects liberally sprinkled throughout the movie. On VHS you might not notice (or care), but with the higher expectations of DVD and the increased resolution of the format the problem stands out here.
Furthermore, while it is understandable given the age in which it was filmed, some of the effects are such painfully obvious opticals that they are distracting, as are some of the composite shots utilizing soundstage foreground and on-location backgrounds. Again, I suspect this increased prominence may be due in part to the excellence of the format. Ah, what price progress!
An absolutely classic Bond film, Goldfinger still holds its own against modern big-budget, special effects blockbusters and even at the special edition price ($35) it deserves a place in any collection.
"Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?"
"No, Mister Bond, I expect you to be acquitted."
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary With Director Guy Hamilton
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