The gold standard for Bond films kicks off your 007-themed screening party in style with a golden girl, a weaponized bowler hat, a giant laser and the most daring bank robbery of all time.
By Michael O’Connor // Welcome back to Bond Night! If you’ve been following along so far, you and your friends have seen two of the best Bond films, dined on some exotic ethnic cuisines, and imbibed a couple of classic cocktails. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, along comes the best Bond film yet! Goldfinger (1964) stars Sean Connery in his third appearance as James Bond and introduces Gert Fröbe as the titular villain and Honor Blackman as henchwoman, pilot, and all-around brassy dame, Pussy Galore.
Goldfinger represents a crucial turning point in the Bond franchise. Up to this point, you could expect a particular kind of tone from a Bond film– serious, grounded, methodical. Sure, there were occasional flights of fancy, some very dry humor and some larger-than-life villains, lairs, and devices. But everything was delivered with a straight-faced earnestness; this was a world of killers, spies, traitors, and conspiracies. And murder for hire was a messy business.
Goldfinger is the first Bond film to wink at its audience, to put tongue into cheek and to lean–just slightly–into camp. That’s partly reflective of the times–keep in mind that the pop culture of the mid-60s revolved around the Adam West Batman television show, Andy Warhol, and Liberace–and partly a stylistic choice on the part of director Guy Hamilton, who took over for Terrence Young from the previous two films.
Hamilton and editor Peter Hunt imbued Goldfinger with energy, rigorous pacing, and an amiable sense of humor that the novels, even at their most fanciful and pulpy, never really embodied. The emphasis here is on enviable gadgets, badass one-liners, suggestive double entendres, and long, lingering gazes at scantily clad women, which would guide the franchise away from its more conservative, sober roots and into far deeper thickets of farce.
But for now at least, Goldfinger expertly avoids its sequels’ figurative pitfalls and literal pratfalls. The humor is subtle and plays as a welcome respite from the high stakes and palpable tensions. Whether it’s the threat of being cut in half with a laser or caught in a nuclear explosion, Bond is always in peril and never superhumanly invulnerable. In fact, he’s often at a disadvantage, whether it’s in a one-on-one fight with the far more powerful bodyguard Oddjob or surrounded by gun-toting guards in his prison cell on Goldfinger’s Kentucky ranch.
It’s worth pointing out that thanks to Hamilton’s skilled direction, Bond’s perils actually feel personal to the audience. Even an amiable golf game, surely the most difficult sport to get anyone’s blood racing, manages to be performed and edited in just such a way as to make you squirm in your seat with tension and excitement.
In fact, that golf game may be the quintessential scene of the film. On the surface, it’s light and frivolous; two competitors trash-talking beneath their forced smiles and put-upon politeness. But simmering just beneath is the threat of violence. It’s in these scenes where Connery is especially effective. His oafish, dim-witted act is so obviously a cover-up for the primal killer beneath; he knows it, the bad guy knows it, but they carry on anyway. It’s delightful to watch him and Fröbe’s far more petulant, pompous Goldfinger dance around the elephant in the room.
Unlike both Dr. No and From Russia With Love, where the main villains appear sparsely and don’t actually meet Bond until the final minutes of the film, our hero spends the majority of the movie in close proximity with Goldfinger, and it is an absolute delight watching the two of them trade verbal barbs, poking and prodding, bluffing and subtly threatening one another. And then, you know, actually trying to kill each other.
Ultimately, it’s the film’s contrasting of the glittering, ostentatious shell of Bond’s world– the beautiful women, the romantic fancy of “robbing” Fort Knox, the visceral thrill of a cool gadget expertly executed, the stunning visual glamour of Bond’s surroundings– against the ugly underbelly of death, cruelty, pettiness, and greed that Auric Goldfinger perpetrates on those around him that gives this film its tonal balance. It’s still a fun, over-the-top Bond film, but there’s just enough edge and menace here to keep you invested in the stakes and on the edge of your seat.
In a modern film, seeing a Kentucky Fried Chicken building in the background of a scene is likely to elicit a few groans for the obvious product placement. But there’s something charming about seeing that old-timey design here. Given the film’s setting in Kentucky, it doesn’t feel entirely out of place.
To that end, indulging in some Southern cooking during your screening of Goldfinger should also fit right in. Although you might consider looking for a slightly higher quality option than KFC. I’m pretty sure that even though Bond was a prisoner, he was still getting authentic Southern cooking and not some greasy paper bag covered in corporate branding.
Southern cuisine takes a lot of different routes, and we’ll be returning to another version of it in the near future when we cover Live and Let Die. So to prevent any crossover, consider focusing on what’s commonly referred to as “soul food.”
A heaping helping of fried chicken can be paired with any number of savory, heart-attack inducing side dishes including macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and fried okra. We recommend both cornbread and biscuits to soak up any juices, gravies, or grease that might have missed your tastebuds. Salty, savory and buttery may not be good for your health, but it’s damn good for your soul.
Perfectly paired with your southern dining experience is the famous Kentucky cocktail, the Mint Julep. Rich bourbon and tingling, herbal mint are both balm and bite for your tongue and taste buds. If you time it just right, you should be well into your second (or third) glass of the refreshing ambrosia when Bond orders his julep in the film and specifies “sour mash” (bourbon whiskey) and “not too sweet” (light on the sugar or simple syrup).
Earlier in the film, Bond also expresses some enthusiasm about being in Kentucky for the bourbon and branch water, a likely reference to the novel Diamonds are Forever, in which he’s constantly knocking back B&Bs.
We’ll be seeing plenty more bourbon cocktails throughout our Bond Night series, as it’s a stable of 007’s drinking diet. Whenever his adventures bring him to an American locale, he never misses the opportunity to knock back a few bourbons. He loves the stuff!
You probably will too, especially when you experience it in a delicious cocktail like the Mint Julep. Here’s how to prepare one that Bond would gladly guzzle alongside you.
- 3 ounces of Buffalo Trace bourbon
- 0.5 ounces or less of simple syrup
- 7 fresh mint leaves
- Plenty of ice
Directions: Add 5 mint leaves and the simple syrup to the bottom of a 12 oz glass or Julep cup. If you’d prefer to keep your Julep dry like Bond’s, add a little less simple syrup to the mix. Muddle or crush the mint leaves with a pestle or muddler, but be careful not to overdo it. You don’t need to completely rip apart the mint to expose the fragrant oils.
Fill the glass with ice all the way to the rim and then top with bourbon. I use Buffalo Trace for my mint juleps, because it’s rich, sweet, and smooth with hints of caramel and vanilla that provide a solid contrast to the sharp mint. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s bargain-priced and available just about everywhere. But if you have a favorite alternative, feel free to use that instead.
Stir gently and garnish with your remaining two mint leaves.
Pause the film at 54:09 to make time for another round of juleps and a half-time pow-wow with your screening party. It’s the end of the scene in which Bond almost loses his testicles to a giant laser!
My friends enjoyed both Dr. No and From Russia With Love, but Goldfinger was the first Bond film they LOVED. Let’s face it: the first two films are terrific, but they are a bit slowly paced. Goldfinger, on the other hand, is a genuine mainstream crowdpleaser. It’s everything you ever wanted in a Bond film: it’s slick, confident, humorous, suspenseful and even titillating. There are some great action sequences, some awesome gadgets and a couple of surprising twists and turns your group may not see coming.
My friends had a lot to say about the film, starting with the main villain himself — Mr. Auric Goldfinger. One friend of mine, of shall we say a stockier, larger build, appreciated that Goldfinger was a plus-sized villain, flabby and physically unthreatening, especially contrasted against Connery, who is once again a perfect human specimen in this film.
Another friend appreciated the way the film built suspense and tension — whether in a golf game, the laser scene, or when the nuclear device’s timer ticked down the seconds — and called out Connery’s acting as really conveying the magnitude of the risks and danger. To that end, there was a general consensus that the end battle in Fort Knox paid off on every count: from the fight between Bond and Oddjob to the set design of the gold depository to the incredible sound mix. Sans music, that scene is riveting, with just the ticking clock of the atomic device and the amazing naturalistic sounds of feet clanging on catwalks or the squeaking wheels on the dolly holding the bomb.
James Bond’s Aston Martin was another highlight with its sleek design and bevy of spectacular gadgets. Unlike tricked-out cars we’ve seen in other films, it was noted that Bond’s Aston Martin has practical weaponry that would actually make a lot of sense if engaged in a car chase. A smoke screen, for instance, would be a pretty effective deterrent for pursuing enemies and far easier to implement in the real world than, say, an invisible cloaking device.
And on top of all that, Goldfinger also features one of the most controversial scenes in the series. Eyebrows got raised when James Bond and Pussy Galore walk into a barn together. I won’t ruin the scene for you if you haven’t watched it yet, but suffice it to say that scene wouldn’t fly in a 2016 film. We had a great time discussing the implications and weighing the moral quandaries Bond’s actions raise.
A friend had an interesting question for me the other day. He asked, “How many film franchises can you name where the third installment is the best film?”
I could think of only one: James Bond.
It really comes down to this. There’s the Bond franchise before Goldfinger and the Bond franchise after Goldfinger. For my money, I appreciate the tone and sensibility of the first two films and wish the franchise had continued in that model. Instead, just about every Bond film to follow will attempt to up the stakes in every possible way — from humor to gadgets to fight sequences and stunts — while mostly losing sight of the true gifts and brilliance of this film.
It’s a double-edged sword. Goldfinger essentially ruined the opportunity for more serious Bond fare for over forty years until the success of Casino Royale in 2006. Sure, there are occasional dips into more grounded territory here and there– On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, License to Kill— but for the most part, the camp sensibility introduced in Goldfinger would be the de facto direction for the series moving forward and the template for practically all future Bond films.
But on the other hand, would James Bond even still endure if not for this film? It was an enormous success and it cemented Bond into the pop culture in a way the previous two films and the novels couldn’t. Goldfinger builds one hell of a formula for future films to follow (or ripoff, depending on your perspective), and even if most of them aren’t half as good as this film, here’s some basic math for you: Goldfinger Good divided by two equals S.P.D.G., or “Still Pretty Damn Good.”
Depending on my mood, the weather and the time of day, I might say that From Russia With Love is the best Bond film of all time, but the rest of the time, there can only be one real answer: Goldfinger.
There would be more amazing stunts, better Bond girls, more interesting villains and more sinister plots. But there’s never been a combination this perfect, this well-crafted, entertaining and smart. There’s never been a Bond film more influential or more resonant in the pop culture, and never one as creative or imaginative as this one. Goldfinger is truly the gold standard of the James Bond franchise.
Bond Night Will Return with Thunderball…
About Bond Night
Bond Night is a tradition started between myself, a bonafide Bondian, and friends whose exposure to the James Bond film franchise was limited. One film a month is paired with a region-appropriate cuisine and cocktail and spirited discourse about each film’s merits and shortcomings. The goal of this column is to translate that experience here, walking newbies and Bond-experts alike through fifty years of the British super-spy’s cinematic history (from Dr. No through today) and declassifying all the secret intel necessary for you to host your own Bond Night with friends and family.