Thursday, February 17, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Goldfinger

Goldfinger as a movie, is something of a paradox. It is the highest regarded of the Bond movies, and not without reason. It's easily the best of the series, setting the writing and directing bar as high as it could be, with the best Bond of the lot at the helm. It set down most of the standards and styles that most of the other Bond film adhered to. But it's also the film that created the problems that would eventually drag the series down and necessitate the reboot of the series. Of course, one must eventually learn to separate out the baggage and expectations of the series and view Goldfinger as a stand alone product.

The setup is fairly simple, as it always is. One of the advantages of the Bond films is that you never have to setup his motivations. It amounts to 'Go deal with this Bond.' 'Right away M.' (This is why they always start with an action scene that doesn't add anything to the plot). In this case, the titular Goldfinger, an incredibly wealthy jeweler, is making a fortune in smuggling gold and Bond is dispatched to find out how he's doing it. Along the way he'll discover a complicated plan to make Goldfinger even wealthier, involving Fort Knox, a female run flight circus and every mafia outfit in the continental US.

Despite being technically an action movie, the movie is relatively quiet. Except some action near the middle and some more near the end, almost everything is dialogue based. So I guess that means, while the action is well made (for the time, which we must remember, included some of the Star Trek fights), most of the movie is more reliant on the script.

It's fortunate then that the script is excellent, easily the best of the series until Casino Royale came along. Bond is less the gadget based superhero that the later films would make him, and more a smooth talker, at one point talking the villain into sparing him (although, in true Bond villain fashion, the villain remains completely unwilling to shoot him when he could strap him into a slow ticking death trap).

The action sequences are enjoyable, if more than a little dated. But I suppose when you sit down to watch a 40 year old movie, things like poor stunts, shitty fight choreography and terrible green screen are par for the course. The highlight is an action sequence involving Bond's gadget car, which seems to be in there mostly to show it off, but you won't hear me complaining.

The cinematography is generally nice, if occasionally a little bland in a few sequences near the middle. All the actors are doing their jobs nicely, with a great lead by Sean Connery who remains, to this day, the best Bond of all time. The music is well written and well used, if all variations on the same basic music. And while the idea of a movie (or villain) like this having a sung theme song might seem a little dated, it's actually a fun little tune. And besides, without it we wouldn't have the Scorpio theme song from You Only Move Twice.

One of the things I like about it, is the character of Goldfinger. Far from the nonsensical plotting of Dr. No, or the idiotic plans that would come later, Goldfinger's motivations are clear, his plan possible (if not entirely plausible) and himself well acted and believable while staying...well villainous.

Even accounting for it's age, it's not a movie without it's problems. The sexism in the movie in general and from Bond in particular, is so bad it's nearly palpable (my viewing companion likes to comment that in most of his films, and in this one in particular, Bond is essentially a date rapist). Like it's predecessor, Dr. No it hits a stumbling block in the 3rd act when the villains plans are foiled with very little effort or input from Bond. The villainous henchmen, Oddjob's, superhuman strength and durability are never actually explained. And no movie coming out in today's world could have a character named Pussy Galore and expect to be taken seriously.

One could make the argument that the Bond films were doomed from the start. The things that set them apart from other action movies (the absurd gadgets, the silly female names, the weird villain plots, etc.) would eventually grow tired and dated, making the movies impossible to take seriously. But when you strip all that stuff out, all you have is a nuts and bolts spy thriller with a charismatic leading man, which would have to rely on it's writing and direction to hold it up (which they did to great success with Casino Royale and less success with Quantum of Solace).

The Bond films would eventually begin to sputter when Connery left the franchise for good, finally descending into unintentional comedy and self-parody around the late 70's. Whether this was always going to happen, or the result of laziness on the part of the directors and writers, is up to the academics to debate. But, when viewed on it's own merits, Goldfinger is a cracking good time at the movies, one which everyone who has any sort of affection for 007 should see. So you do that, and I'll see you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Destroy All Monsters

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he still hasn't forgiven Bond for that crack about the Beatles.

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