|My Mother watching me open a Bond Attache Case on my Birthday in 1966|
My favorite Bond novel has always been "From Russia with Love". I read it dozens of times and I loved the movie version. So how is it that a great movie made from my favorite Bond novel falls to second place behind this particular film? It is simple, "Goldfinger" defined what James Bond would be for most of the world. This was the movie that exploded into the public consciousness, this was the story that took Bond from being a secret agent to being an icon. This was one of the most audacious acts of film making to ever become a mainstream hit. For it's time, (and in my opinion for all time), it invented the modern action film. Sure there had been other movies that featured spectacular action sequences, but none had the personality of James Bond. While at times the movie has it's tongue planted firmly in it's cheek, it also keeps us in suspense and creates a realistic scenario for the most outrageous storyline imaginable, a robbery of the gold depository at Ft. Knox. Mainstream films had not seen the amount of sexuality on the screen that Bond made standard for most films that have come after. When your hero manages to turn a lesbian criminal into a hot blooded last minute hero, you know you are approaching epic chutzpa.
There are a couple of additional elements to mention that make Goldfinger the top Bond film of all time. The image of Shirley Eaton, splayed out on the bed, naked but covered in shiny gold paint, will certainly leave a deep impression. It is sexual and deadly at the same time. That is what Bond has always been about.This became another iconic image from the movie series and perhaps next to the gun-barrel title view of Bond, the most recognizable visual image from almost any movie. It was featured on the film's poster, on magazine covers, and in parodies ever since. It is a backdrop for the titles of the film as well. And since I have just mentioned Miss Eaton, I'll share an image with you that should make you all a little jealous. The image here is of a custom printed poster painted for a group that sold these types of Bond memorabilia. It is hanging on the wall in my family room right now with about eight other posters from the Bond movies, but if you enlarge it a little you will see that in addition to the artist signature on the print, it has the signature of the golden girl herself.
The other element that so defines Bond, one that was created with this movie, is the Title song and the score by John Barry. Shirley Bassey belts out a smoky, power ballad with enough imagery and force that the world of 007 would never be the same. Every Bond film since has chased the magic of this title tune. Some have come close, but none can match the lasting impact that this song had. John Barry was previously responsible for music in the Bond films, and he largely created the sound of the Bond theme although the writing credit goes to Monte Norman. This song, and the score of the movie prove that Barry was the real creative genius behind the music of James Bond. He scored many more of the Bond films and his contribution to the movie series cannot be overstated.
Goldfinger was also the start of the marketing of the James Bond image. His character is used in TV commercials, radio ads, magazine layouts, newspaper stories and a variety of tie ins that are hard to imagine. There were Bond toys, collector cards, dolls, books galore. Long before I saw the movie (I did not see it in it's initial release), I knew the story and the characters because I collected the bubble gum cards and read about the movie in fan magazines. Some of you will hate this, but if you ever get a Movie tie in cup at a fast food franchise, or a toy in a kids meal, or an adult collectible from the movies, you probably can blame Goldfinger, this is the movie that started all of that.
The story of the Bond explosion as a cultural phenomena equal to Beatlemania, is explored in a couple of the Laser disc versions of the movie. There is a rare Criterion Laser disc that I don't have, which covered the subject in detail, and then there was the MGM disc that came out (and may have been the reason the Criterion Version was pulled from shelves). It was an elaborate multi-disc set, and the documentaries on it may be found on the DVDs but I have not double checked. Just as an addition to the marketing of James Bond through Goldfinger, take a look at this photo:
That is the beach towel that covers my office chair and that I sit on every time I am posting to this blog. Those of you who are purists about movies will probably hate this, but to me the movies are not just about the film but the Zeitgeist of the event and my own personal memories. They are hard to separate from one another. I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, and if any of you wish to dispute that Sean Connery is the best James Bond, go buy another lottery ticket, because you clearly live in a fantasy world.