Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Goldfinger Works

About five seconds prior to writing these words, I had literally no idea what I wanted to write. I knew I had to write something, because this blog entry is already a day late and while I sometimes nudge the goodwill of my select readership ("select" sounds better than "tiny"), I have no wish to actually push it and no excuses not to blog. But seriously, I had nothing. I cast my eyes around frantically, looking for inspiration...

And decided to write about James Bond, on account of the empty DVD cases in my room. I'm watching the whole series from the beginning, up through "Die Another Day", and in some cases, it's my first coherent viewing of the movie (I watched them as a kid, but when you're six, all James Bond movies blur together into "sexy woman, explosion, fight scene, chase scene, sexy woman.") And in the case of "Goldfinger", what struck me is how curiously unimportant the plot actually is next to the clash of personalities between Auric Goldfinger and James Bond.

They do say that the perfect recipe for a story is two people who don't like each other stuck in the same room, and "Goldfinger" is basically nothing more than an epic pissing match between two people who have taken an instant and inexplicable dislike to each other. Bond's first action, when assigned to watch Goldfinger unobtrusively, is to steal his girlfriend and make him lose at gin rummy. Goldfinger's response? Have his manservant kill the girl with Bond in the same room, just to prove he can.

At that point, it's on. The actual plot, a scheme to irradiate Fort Knox's gold supply, doesn't even turn up until more than three-quarters of the way through the movie. Most of it is just Bond and Goldfinger, getting in each others' way and stepping on each others' toes, like a Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck cartoon with more slinky babes. And it all works for the same reason that a good Bugs and Daffy cartoon works--Sean Connery has that same mischievous smile of someone who knows he's probably going just a little too far in ticking the other person off, but just can't help himself, while Gert Frobe has a wonderfully pop-eyed, frustrated expression on his face every time Bond outwits him. Bizarrely, I think this is the only Bond movie that could be made into a series.

There's a lot not to like about the film as well, of course; like all Bond movies from this era, it's eye-blisteringly sexist and misogynist when viewed through modern eyes (the big climactic plot twist seems to be that after he rapes Pussy Galore, she suddenly decides that she likes him so much she betrays Goldfinger for him.) But that central personality clash that powers the movie is so strong that it became the template for the series--Bond, and a villain just as larger-than-life, locked in a hatred so epic that it transcends whatever schemes the villain has planned and becomes a force all its own. When it works, that's a pretty marvelous way to make a movie.


Grazzt said...

You probably could have turned this into a storytelling engine analysis for James Bond. Or would you consider this another case where they're just telling the same story over and over?

Anonymous said...

i've tried to convince my parents multiple times that License to Kill was the same story as Goldfinger, just turned up to 11 in most respects. now i see why i thought that. good analysis