25. Goldfinger

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Goldfinger (PG)
1964
97% Rotten Tomatoes

It’s a Bond movie, but it’s also a HEIST movie! <Stefan voice> This Bond has everything, gambling, body paint murder, a midget who castrates people with lasers, a golden Pussy…

Sean Connery was 34 in this movie. My age. He looks like an adult, in a way I don’t think I ever will. He looks like he has a stock portfolio, a budding wine collection, and maybe a second property on a lake somewhere. Did you know – Sean Connery had a one-year-old at the time this movie came out, and that son ended up being married to Mia Sara for a while, who played Sloane in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? And they have a kid named Dashiell? Which is the coolest name ever? And he’s 21? Which is closer to the age Sean Connery was when he made this movie than Sean Connery is now?

Okay so you know how Bond villains names are either ridiculous or badass? This guy’s name is Auric Goldfinger. Auric being an adjective that describes something as gold. As in: “the dragon’s cave full of hoarded treasure let off an auric glow.” This is also the movie that features Pussy Galore. I think Ian Fleming was just phoning it in on “name the characters” day. Or maybe it was partially a grudge. But first! Some backstory on our intrepid author!

Ian Fleming was a rich kid, and in the early 20th century, as it does today, this meant that he got an excellent education and many opportunities to meet future leaders and captains of industry. Apparently Fleming’s school performance was unremarkable, and he wasn’t overly fond of the experience. After school, he bounced around aimlessly for a while before being recruited as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. He excelled at military administrative work. The man he worked for was not friendly at all, and so Fleming would be sent in as proxy to liaison between different agencies, and he was good at it. I think this is where the eventual James Bond charm began to bloom.

Being a personal assistant in the military was not the same as being a secretary now. Fleming held a naval reserve commission as a commander, and seemed to have some autonomy in planning and scheming, something his imagination no doubt aided. He referenced a book written by a man with a career path similar to his, with a suggestion (from that book) that they essentially borrow a corpse from a field hospital, stick fake messages in its pockets, and then drop it from a plane. No one questions dead bodies in a war zone, right?

At least one operation he was involved in would go on to bestow its name to one of his books: Operation Goldeneye. He’s very inconsistent – Goldeneye is quite lyrical for a military operation, but then there’s Operation Ruthless which seems to be just starkly descriptive, in the more expected military style.

So – using his very exciting military experience (which essentially consisted mostly of sitting in an office and scheming up ways for other people to creatively risk their lives in the field – not to disparage him; he was good at it, and held himself accountable for doing a good job, but it’s interesting that he chose to write the field agent rather than the orchestrator), he decided to finally write the spy novel he’d wanted to for some time. Thus, Casino Royale was born.

Here’s the frustrating thing about the Bond-iverse: you can’t really watch them in chronological book order without a few jarring transitions. The movies tend to be episodic rather than serialized, so it doesn’t really matter what order you watch them in, but the Daniel Craig era changed all that. There have been some off-canon shakeups that I’m not sure I’m 100% behind. It makes everything exciting in a Bourne Identity kind of way, but part of the charm of Bond was that cartoonish circularity, where everything was the same at the end as it was at the beginning, minus some coerced young woman’s virtue, but who cares about that? Hahahahaha!

So here is the order of publication (of the novels Fleming wrote):

  1. Casino Royale
  2. Live and Let Die
  3. Moonraker
  4. Diamond are Forever
  5. From Russia with Love
  6. Doctor No
  7. Goldfinger
  8. For Your Eyes Only
  9. Thunderball
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me
  11. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  12. You Only Live Twice
  13. The Man with the Golden Gun
  14. Octopussy and the Living Daylights

Here is the order of movies:

  1. Dr. No (1962) (Connery)
  2. From Russia with Love (1963) (Connery)
  3. Goldfinger (1964) (Connery)
  4. Thunderball (1965) (Connery)
  5. You Only Live Twice (1967) (Connery)
  6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) (Lazenby)
  7. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) (Connery)
  8. Live and Let Die (1973) (Moore)
  9. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) (Moore)
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) (Moore)
  11. Moonraker (1979) (Moore)
  12. For Your Eyes Only (1981) (Moore)
  13. Octopussy (1983) (Moore)
  14. Never Say Never Again (1983) (Connery)
  15. A View to a Kill (1985) (Moore)
  16. The Living Daylights (1987) (Dalton)
  17. License to Kill (1989) (Dalton)
  18. Goldeneye (1995) (Brosnan)
  19. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) (Brosnan)
  20. The World is Not Enough (1999) (Brosnan)
  21. Die Another Day (2002) (Brosnan)
  22. Casino Royale (2006) (Craig)
  23. …etc

We would get a very modern Craig, and then some Moore, then some Connery, then Moore, then Connery, then Lazenby, then Connery again… very hard to keep track of what spy tools the technology affords Bond. Although, Q aside, some of the lasting charm of Bond is his ability to get by with just about anything.

Let’s talk about funny British names, shall we? We all get the giggles for Percy, and Basil, and Cecil, but our friends across the pond have a true talent for naming things. Here are some names of real people that Fleming drew from for his books:

  • Hoagy Carmichael, who inspired much of Bond’s described looks (actor/singer)
  • Biffy Dunderdale, who inspired some of his style (spy)
  • Scaramanga (man with golden gun villain) was the name of an school enemy
  • Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax had the Moonraker villain named after him (Navy bigwig)
  • Boofy Kidd had one of the bad guys in Diamonds are Forever named after him (a friend of his)
  • Goldfinger was a real architect who Fleming hated (more on that later, also he’s not British)
  • One of the producers was a man named Albert (Cubby) Broccoli.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/jun/03/film.hayfestival2005

Auric Goldfinger was named after and inspired by an architect named Erno Goldfinger. Side note – he has living descendants who reportedly suffer from a lot of prank calls. Fleming despised him. Goldfinger was a communist (the bad kind), and a bully. He got a lot of prank calls himself after the movie came out, and he ended up suing Fleming. But supposedly the real reason Fleming disliked Goldfinger was a matter of aesthetics. He didn’t Goldfinger’s style. Fleming’s publisher paid Goldfinger’s court costs and put a note that all characters were fictitious in future editions. Fleming then wanted to change the name of the character to Goldprick (which Mike Myers essentially did in Goldmember), but the movie production had already advanced too far.

Critics did not care for Fleming’s books, and as we know, critics always have their fingers on the pulse of the people. Fleming’s books never caught on and Hollywood saw no reason to make movies out of them. The end.

Just kidding, critics are jerks who spend their time ripping things apart because they can’t make their own. If you’re in the mood for a historical hissy-fit, look up Paul Johnson’s review of Dr. No. I might have written the same thing if I was in his time, because concerns about Bond are valid, and he makes digs at the fact that Bond and Fleming are both part of the Establishment. Here are some selected excerpts:

“I have just finished what is without a doubt the nastiest book I have ever read.”

“There are three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a school boy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr Fleming has no literary skill, the construction of the book is chaotic, the entire incidents and situations are inserted, and then forgotton[sic], in a haphazard manner.”

“I have summarised the plot, perhaps at some wearisome length, because a bare recital of its details describes, better than I can, how Fleming deliberately and systematically excites, and then satisfies the very worst instincts of his readers.”

“…the social appeal of the dual Bond-Fleming personality has added an additional flavour to his brew of sex and sadism.”

I kind of don’t disagree with Johnson, but I will still watch Bond, even with all its misogyny, rape, and racism. That’s the mirror you have to look in when you want to enjoy entertainment from a bygone era. You have to be able to suspend your disgust, and pretend you’re a resourced white man who’s entitled to whatever he wants, and who could have it too, if it wasn’t for the goddamn feminists. Just make sure you take those goggles off when you’re done.

Ian Fleming died pretty early – he was not yet 56. But he was a very heavy drinker, and a heavy smoker, and had heart disease as a result of that lifestyle. More Bond books came after Ian Fleming’s written by Raymond Benson.

So should we talk about PTSD?

So of course I found myself on a PSA type website for transitioning soldiers that featured short videos of veterans telling the story of how they started recovering, or how they struggled alone, or how they discovered an underlying issue. They’re very good and give faces to this war that we keep churning.

I think that the ‘public we’ has misconceptions about soldiers and consequences of wartime trauma. Most of us have only a framework of understanding, presented to us by the media we consume. Some of us have more experience if we’ve had friends or family deployed to war zones. Some of us have lived it as soldiers. It’s impossible to really understand it unless you live it. That’s why good veteran therapy is run by veterans. One man says that, “Just because you’ve left the combat zone, it doesn’t mean your war is over.”

I gather from this site that the transition out of the combat zone might be harder than the transition in. One man explains it like this: “Getting out of the military is scary. You have this whole life that you learned. I was in an infantry unit and I have to all of a sudden go be a civilian.” He talked about being alienated, and feeling like he had nothing in common with people. He talks about the intensity that he would pour into ordinary situations, because that was an attribute that made him a successful soldier – taking everything as life-or-death serious. This is a man who had nearly been blown up many times, but he was sure he didn’t have PTSD because he couldn’t think of one specific event, something that would give him nightmares, that would signal to him that he had an issue. Recurring nightmares are often depicted as a PTSD symptom in movies and TV. He said he wasn’t turning his house into a bunker and sandbagging it waiting for an air raid. This is also a common media depiction of people with PTSD. PTSD kind of gets all the attention, and that’s the only thing he was assessing as a risk. But what he actually had was a traumatic brain injury from all the nearly-being-blown-up events. Once he was diagnosed, he was able to start recovery through therapies.

Another veteran talked about the difficulty of switching off certain parts of your brain that get activated. Being in a combat zone is so high stakes. One bad decision and your squad is dead or close to it. This mindset carries over when you go home. He talked about how hard it was to drive; how everything he saw in the road immediately presented to him as a potential explosive. Simultaneously, his friends and family just wanted him to be normal, and so he felt very isolated. Instead of his family being a source of comfort, he felt like a burden. I got the feeling this was an especially hard blow, especially after being part of such a tight brotherhood, where everyone was in the same situation.

Now, I don’t know from personal experience, but I think that the experience of a soldier in the combat zone is different from a high level decision maker who stays clear for the most part. I can’t say that one is harder than the other, but I think they’re probably different. It would have to be, right? In one scenario you carry a lot of risk of personal injury, and in one you don’t. On the ground, you’re looking people in the eye on a daily basis, and you’re all responsible for each other’s lives, really. One person fucks up, and you’re all goners. High level muckety mucks may never see the chess pieces they’re moving around, but they are responsible for a whole lot of lives. I’m sure there are some cold robots out there, but I have to assume the majority of these people know that they’re putting humans on the line, humans that have value, and humans with families and friends who love them.

So here’s what I find a little concerning – the Bond movies, and I assume the books, from which the tone of the movies is taken, has a nostalgic sort of soft spot for World War II. Here’s the paradox of good men who find out they’re good at, and enjoy doing, dastardly deeds. This is a theme that comes up often in movies and tv, but usually it’s confronted more directly. Fleming seems to lack any self-awareness of the circumstances he’s glorifying.

Let’s take a look at the facts – Fleming was not an in-the-trenches soldier; he was running ops from headquarters and thinking up clever spy tricks to gain intelligence or plant false intelligence. These are not socially acceptable activities except for very specific situations, and so not many people have the opportunity to discover that it’s a talent of theirs.

I AM NOT SAYING HE SHOULDN’T WRITE ABOUT WHATEVER HE WANTS, I AM DOING A THING CALLED CRITICAL ANALYSIS WHERE WE TRY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT WE’RE CONSUMING BOTH FOR PERSONAL GROWTH AND FOR A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CONTEXT, INFLUENCES, AND MOTIVATIONS OF THE AUTHOR.

As I said, this theme comes up. If you’ve been watching The Punisher, you might remember the scene where Frank Castle tells his frenemy Micro that he was good at being a Marine and sometimes he’d rather be in battle than with his family. That’s a hard truth to reconcile. How do you abhor the necessity of war – the concept of it, but also take pleasure in the execution of it? I don’t think we see enough of this nuance, but I may not be the best judge because I don’t watch a lot of war movies – I have a hard time with them.

We have a lot of depictions of the reluctant soldier, or the honorable military man who dutifully serves with the idealist goal of ending a war, or the sadist who uses the military for opportunities to be cruel. I don’t think we see, or at least I haven’t seen, the soldier who is passionate about his work and loves what he or she does. That is a goldmine of conflict, both internal and external, with really rich contexts. Most of the time though, we get Jason Bourne, who was essentially job-raped. He’s incredibly talented, but he’s trying desperately to get out of the game. I want to see more characters who are incredibly talented and love what they do. So maybe what I’m saying is that this is some of the appeal of James Bond, and he might be how Fleming channeled his zest and talent for war games into something productive after the war was over.

HOWEVER, and this is something that I can’t really speak to with a lot of competence, is that the Bond world seems to be, at least pre-Craig, kind of a low stakes environment. It’s very black and white – the bad guys are bad, and the “love” interest is playing a double-cross 75% of the time. The reality of soldier or government agent activities, I imagine, is a lot murkier. But Bond remains so glib, and so unaffected. And it’s so very popular, which I think does a disservice to people who are routinely given orders that have them hurting or killing other humans. He’s pushed as the pinnacle of manly representation, which sets an expectation, conscious or not, for how a man is supposed to deal with the very natural and real turmoil involved with being a soldier, whether you like or not. It encourages the idea that a “real man” can go to war and come home and be fine, because they don’t have feelings or give it a second thought. That prejudice still keeps people from getting treatment if they need it. Us ladies have got G.I. Jane, which maybe isn’t a ton better, but still. As I said, the Craig era movies have an added depth to them, which is good. But he’s still a horndog.

WHICH BRINGS US TO

The rapey feel of the Bondiverse. Let’s just take this movie, for right now. James Bond straight up sexually assaults Pussy. They’re in a barn, for reasons, I guess, and they exchange some sassy quips. (Sassy quips are part of Bond canon. Can’t have a Bond movie without them flying around.) She tries to leave, and he grabs her and stops her, several times. Then she starts doing spy moves on him, flipping him around, so he reciprocates. This continues for an absurdly long time, likely because it arouses him that she’s strong enough to get the edge on him. So of course the scene ends with him flipping her onto her back and falling on her like a pig, while she tries unsuccessfully to push him off. He puts his face closer to hers, and she turns away. SHE’S NOT INTO IT. Then he forces his mouth onto hers, and she stops struggling and starts kissing him back. Very unrealistic, very engineered for the male fantasy. I don’t want to say sexual fantasy has no place in movies, but… at the very least, she could be consenting. It’s not manly to have to conquer a woman to get her to love you. It’s a good way to get stabbed while you’re sleeping, though.

Now here’s the thing – I totally get the appeal of this world to a man. 100%. I get it. You may think women have an easier time attracting companions than men do, but I think you’re mistaken. Attractive people have an easier time attracting companions. Why do you think Tarzan was such a popular movie? It was terrible. But it was amazing. We allll use movies to see our sexual fantasies played out by more attractive people, but the thing that strikes me about “female” perspective love arcs is that usually in our fantasies, the guy is REALLY into us. Like, slightly TOO into us. Look at Twilight. Very unhealthy. Look at all those romantic comedies from the 80’s and 90’s where the guy would finally come to the realization that he couldn’t live without Meg Ryan, and do some over-the-top gesture to prove how big his love for her was.

But it’s always like Bond is proving a point, right? It would get boring if the women just fell into his lap all the time. Sometimes you have to remind everyone why you’re The Man, I guess. Again, I don’t think there needs to be some regulatory ethics board that judges movies. Leave that to the internet. But these movies are just so POPULAR. And since it’s rated PG, we can assume a lot of younger viewers out there, male and female, watched this exchange between Bond and Pussy and seeing how much the women love Bond, and how much the men want to act like him, and start to develop ideas about appropriate sexual signals. If these kids had good parents who teach them how to be good humans, it’s probably not a problem, but that not a realistic expectation. Especially for the ‘60’s.

In a Refinery29 article, Lauren Le Vine points out that the Bond girls names often “signal their intended utility and utmost purpose. One need not be a Mensa member to discern what Pussy Galore has to offer the world.” She’s right. Other Bond Girl names: Xenia Onatopp, Holly Goodhead, Honey Ryder, Plenty O’Toole, Mary Goodnight, May Day, Molly Warmflash??? She goes on to give Daniel Craig credit for emphasizing in interviews that Bond is fictional, and his attitude toward women is not to be admired. I’m quoting a quote here: ““Many men admire Bond for his way with the ladies,” the interviewer began (gracelessly). “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig replied. “A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.””

The article goes on to say that the interviewer tried to back-pedal and said that Bond has become more chivalrous, to which Craig said that’s because the female roles have been written better, and they push back. You guys should really read this article because it’s great. I can’t really do anything but keep quoting it because I can’t say these things any better than Le Vine has. She also brings up how Craig himself has been harassed and sexualized in interviews. The Bond-iverse is a horny teenager with word vomit, I guess. But I think part of her point is that the media needs to take responsibility (I mean for soooooo many things but let’s keep this limited in scope) for gluttonously feeding off low-hanging fruit that appeals to people’s basest natures. There’s so much opportunity in this universe – this man, and the team around him, are so highly specialized and talented. They have access to incredible technology, they travel everywhere, but he’s usually reduced to a caricature of Inspector Gadget if he was a sex tourist. With guns. I do think the movies since Casino Royale have taken him more seriously, and tried to make a meal out of the movies instead of just giving us junk food.

Though the movies are improving, they’re still very problematic, but that has not stopped us from eating them up.

Matthew Mokhefi-Ashton writes that it’s the formula we love. He says that people are comfortable getting more of what they know, and we know James Bond brings us “a cocktail of girls, gadgets, violence, and exotic locations.” He says the reason that the films have failed to change the Bond girl trope, as they have been promising since the 70’s, is that they haven’t yet been moved from plot device to actual character. They don’t add anything to the movies except exposition, or function as damsels in distress; no matter how competent they are, they need saving by 007, and when he fails, his motivation for getting the bad guy is recharged. Also, Mokhefi-Ashton says, stealing the bad guy’s girl emphasizes his superior sex appeal.

Jumping off from his article, I wonder what Bond movies would look like if he had a female partner over a number of movies. We know what this COULD look like – Mr. and Mrs. Smith had two great spies, who were both great characters, and had a relationship, to boot. The focus of that movie was more relationship based obviously, but it was very popular, and so it’s not a matter of us needing to see such a masculine dominance in spy movies. I think it’s just the industry’s unwillingness to try something new with Bond. It’s easy to just keep churning out more of the same.

Moving on!

Goldfinger is the third Bond movie, but really the first one that enjoyed widespread success. Coincidentally (maybe), it’s also the first one that featured a lot of gadgetry. Apparently the crew had a lot to do with the gadgets in the car itself, an Astin Martin DB5. It took six weeks to trick it out, if you’re interested in a DIY project, which we do not recommend.

Another change was the laser. When the book was written (1959) lasers weren’t a thing, and Goldfinger’s murder attempt involved a circular saw. Lasers were cool and new during filming however, so they switched it out with the help of some Harvard nerds consulting. That’s how new lasers were – they needed smarty pants consultants.

Other production tidbits – Goldfinger surrounds himself with many variations on gold, including women, who are mostly blonde. There’s a lot of yellow and metallic gold in the costumes as well. One woman is even murdered with gold skin paint; supposedly the paint clogged her pores so her skin couldn’t breathe. However, it’s unlikely this would have killed her unless she was in a situation where she could overheat; since she wouldn’t be able to sweat, she wouldn’t be able to regulate her body temperature. So, that would be an appropriately stupid and needlessly theatrical way for a villain to commit murder in the genre! I dig it.

So we said that Goldfinger was the first Bond hit. Accounting for inflation, it grossed around $850 million worldwide. There was a lot of hype and marketing surrounding the release. One of the producers orchestrated pictures of the actress who played Pussy with Prince Philip, so they could get her name out of the way. The film (back when we used real film, kids) was packaged in gold canisters, and delivered by models wearing gold outfits (hey, human trophies! I mean women!). Honor Blackman, who played Pussy, wore a gold finger on her pinkie. People ate that shit up then, just like they do today.

We talked earlier about this film’s relationship to architecture. WELL I HAVE BIG, AND COINCIDENTALLY TIMELY NEWS. A futuristic home designed by the real Goldfinger is up for sale, and The Sun claims that it reeks of Bond villain, due to the nearby golf course (a very common rich asshole hobby), and glass windows, convenient for spying on neighbors and checking your perimeter. It’s duly private as well, with greenery keeping others away. If you check out the pictures of it, it does look very Bond villain-esque – it’s very modern, and has a bunch of extra shit that’s not necessary.

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

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