How Goldfinger Changed Bond Films Forever

On the 50th anniversary of the release of ‘Goldfinger’, we look back at how the seminal movie changed and defined the 007 franchise.

Third time lucky

“It’s not just James Bond that emerges from the shadows at the beginning of the film, the modern day blockbuster does,” says Mark O’Connell, 007 aficionado and author of ‘Catching Bullets: Memoirs Of A Bond Fan’.

Certainly ‘Goldfinger’ represented a noticeable shift in the way the films were shot. The director was Guy Hamilton, a man known to do good action. And with the knowledge that audiences were on board with the character thanks to the success of the first two movies, the filmmakers were able to push the boat out.

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“They spent more money on [it],” remembers actress Shirley Eaton, famously painted gold in one of the series’ most iconic moments. “Sean and I look so young – it’s super.”

“The first two Bond films are brilliant films, but they’re visually and narratively very static,” says O’Connell. “As soon as we get to ‘Goldfinger’, the whole film’s about movement. We’ve got the Aston Martin DB5 and the film opens with a diver at a Miami hotel falling down into the water and the camera goes with it. ‘Goldfinger’ is one of the first really visual films. The first two are still quite tied to that cerebral, dialogue-based spy world. We’re often told a lot of the story through dialogue. But in ‘Goldfinger’ we’re not told a woman’s going to be killed, we see it, painted in gold and dumped on a bed. It’s visual, visceral.”

Cars, Fort Knox and more…

The film also saw the introduction of many of the elements we now consider intrinsic to the Bond franchise.  Cool cars, learning about the gadgets from Q branch, the pre-credits sequence which has nothing to do with the main plot.

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There’s also the lavish sets, created by the legendary production designer Ken Adam. “I remember going onto the set and they were all just in awe,” recalls Eaton. It was the perfect mix of imagination and research. For example, the outside of Fort Knox at the finale was an exact recreation of the famous gold reserve, while Adam made up the interior.

“On ‘Goldfinger’ I had a completely free hand and hardly any comment on my designs,” he told author Adrian Turner in his book on the film. “The Bond films are the spectacles of the twentieth century. They present things slightly larger than life and this concept was important in designing the sets.”

It also provided the first truly memorable theme song, a tune which continues to permeate popular culture. Composer John Barry was inspired by Hamilton’s suggestion the song should be like ‘Mack The Knife’. “Goldfinger was the weirdest song ever,” said Barry. “Shirley Bassey didn’t know what the song was about but she sang it with such extraordinary conviction that she convinced the rest of the world that it meant something.”

Sex appeal

Released in September 1964, ‘Goldfinger’ inevitably tapped into what was happening in Swinging London. Bond famously criticizes the Fab Four, but the sexual revolution played its part in the film’s DNA. “It’s the first sexy Bond film,” explains O’Connell. “There’s a lot of pointy chests and the hemlines are disappearing.”

Eaton remembers paparazzi taking photos of the production, while Hamilton admitted they had trouble in America with “the sex and the name Pussy”.

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Of course, in the book Galore (Honor Blackman) was clearly painted as a lesbian, something the filmmakers avoided. In the UK, “the censor at the time went bananas when he saw the rough cut and the sound effects of the violence,” said Hamilton.

The name’s Connery, Sean Connery

“Sean has got his feet under the table by then,” says Eaton. And it’s true that Connery – who one has to remember  was in his comparative infancy as an actor when he started as Bond – is at the peak of his powers in ‘Goldfinger’. Director Hamilton, with trademark Brit understatement, said, “he’s pretty solid and confident with dialogue.”

“There’s this unspoken notion that it’s a Bond actor’s third film where it all just falls into place,” says O’Connell. “The first one is the brave new experiment, the second one is hopefully we won’t get it wrong and then [in] the third one, the actor’s eased into the role.”

“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!”

It helps if the actor playing 007 has a strong villain to push against. Almost all the best films feature a compelling nemesis. Few are quite as magnetic as Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). Famously cast after producer Cubby Broccoli saw him playing a child molester in a German film, Frobe could barely speak English (his lines were dubbed by Michael Collins), but entertained the crew by recreating his musical stage act in which he was a one-man band.

“’Goldfinger’ is the first film that pitches Bond and the villain in a moral and social duel,” suggest O’Connell. “It’s also the first time we have a villain that’s a bit like Bond gone wrong. As well as that, it’s the first time we’ve got a one-upmanship duel between Bond and the villain.”

In other words, they complemented each perfectly. So much so in fact, that when the screenwriter of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ thought the baddie in that installment was too weak, he considered bringing Goldfinger back – kind of. The first draft of that script featured Auric’s twin brother (again to have been played by Frobe) who loved gems as much as his sibling loved a certain precious metal. Though briefly entertained, the producers ultimately nixed the idea.

The legacy

“All these years later, I’ve never stopped getting fan mail,” reveals Eaton, who now spends her time as an artist and writes books, such as ‘Shirley Eaton’s Golden Girl: Her Reflections’. “It’s the classic Bond – and it’s timeless.”

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O’Connell thinks you can trace today’s big action movies like ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ all the way back to ‘Goldfinger’.

“The punctuation points of visual excess and story excess, set pieces, the music, all these ingredients come into play,” he says. “And a lot of the visual tics of ‘Goldfinger’ are part of the lexicon of Sixties cinema. Bond waking up with Pussy Galore putting a gun to his face, Bond on the laser table.”

Fifty years on, Bond 24 is gearing up to shoot under the aegis of Sam Mendes, with Daniel Craig essaying his fourth go-round as 007 (the success of ‘Skyfall’ echoes that maxim about the rule of three). The franchise has recalibrated to re-introduce Q and the Aston Martin – “James’s vehicular extension of himself,” says O’Connell. Whether this kind of article will be written about it in 2064, only time will tell.

Photos: Everett/Rex/Snap/GTV Archive