Sean Connery as James Bond 007 in Ian Flemings’s Goldfinger

gold-1-e1382673180738
This is the big one, the most beloved of the James Bond movies, the one that is universally referenced as the quintessence of James Bond. This one has a lot to live up to.  On the other hand I watched it as a teenage, and thought it was just completely boring, so I don’t know what to expect, going in.

The film starts with a famous cold open wherein Bond sneaks into a compound by snorkeling in, then removing his wet suit to reveal a tuxedo. What always seems left out in the many cultural references to this scene, is the part where Bond has a fake duck strapped to his head as he surfaces.

gold-2-e1382673276689

Tuxedoed and de-ducked, Bond sets some explosives to a timer before entering a cabaret. As the explosives go off, he makes small talk with his contact, unfazed by the destruction on the outside. He is cool as can be.

He then returns to his hotel for some “unfinished business.” There is a beautiful woman waiting for him. They embrace and she asks him about his holstered gun. He comments that he wears it due to his inferiority complex. Before they can explore this psychoanalysis in more depth, an attacker that the woman has let in comes at Bond. He uses the lady as a human shield, then kills the dude. He makes a dumb quip as he exits.

Aside from the duck, it is a great opening.

Okay, let’s talk about the credits. These movies all have very stylized opening credits featuring faceless undulating women and guns. This was pretty dull in the last two films, but in Goldfinger, the design is quite striking. The women-as-set-dressing are gold against black with footage of the film projected onto their bodies. It is weird but striking, paired with an absolutely amazing theme song. The titular “Goldfinger”, composed by John Barry and performed by Shirley Bassey is a bold, vaguely menacing,  sexyish, very weird song, perfect for a James Bond film.

After the credits, Bond is chillin’ in Miami Beach with a girl named Dink when he is met by Felix Leiter, a minor character from the first film who is now played by a totally different actor. Bond dismisses Dink with a slap of her ass because there is “man talk” to be had. Bond is a creep.

gold-3-e1382673336479

During the man talk they reminisce about that time they investigated Dr. No before Leiter gets down to business.  Leiter tells Bond that M back in London wants Bond to Investigate a man named Auric Goldfinger, a rich guy who is currently at Bond’s hotel, hustling gin rummy, poolside.  I think this is a coincidence?

Rather than merely investigating, Bond gets proactive and fucks with Goldfinger’s con. Bond effortlessly seduces Goldfinger’s accomplice, Jill Masterson away from Goldfinger and via radio blackmails the hustler into throwing his rummy game. Goldfinger complies, but he breaks his scorekeeping pencil in outrage!

Later, Bond and Jill banter and diss the Beatles. “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!” In the midst of this, Bond is suckerchopped by a shadowy brute with a bowler hat.

When he wakes, he discovers that Jill has been murdered by being painted gold. A death that is horrific as it is weird as it is nonsensical.

gold-4-e1382673465930

Returning to the office with a signature hat toss, Bond and Moneypenny flirt and unlike the previous two films, it seems a little unbalanced, as if Moneypenny is chasing Bond.  Before it had seemed like banter between equals. Lame.

After the Moneypenny stuff, M briefs Bond. MI6 has tasked Bond with investigating Goldfinger because… er, he has a lot of gold bullion? It’s a dull, exposition-laden scene, but not much is actually made clear about what makes this guy worthy of an investigation. I’m left very confused about how gold trading actually works.

Having seen Moneypenny and M, Bond now visits Q, no longer just a guy handing Bond a Briefcase, but now the head of big fun R&D gadget center, full of cute visual gags. Bond is begrudgingly given an Aston Martin that is as tricked out as it is iconic.  As Q shows bond the car’s features, along with some other gadgets, he bitches about how Bond always breaks his equipment. All in all, it has been quite the evolution from a less-womanly in Dr. No to ejector seats a mere two films later.

Now that he is flirted, briefed and equipped, Bond is ready to begin his investigation.  To start with,, Bond arranges to have a chance meeting with Goldfinger on a golf course. Goldfinger’s caddy is named Oddjob, a mute Korean brute wearing a bowler hat.

gold-5-e1382673573829

Bond tries to lure Goldfinger into some sort of gold deal but when Goldfinger starts cheating at golf, the espionage stuff takes a backseat as Bond has to outcheat the cheater. The film spends several minutes on these golfing antics. First rummy, now golf. It is all so weirdly petty and low stakes.

As Bond and Goldfinger settle their bets, Goldfinger menaces Bond by having Oddjob decapitate a statue with a flung hat. It’s a perplexing gimmick.   Was this as goofy to 60′s audiences as it seems today?  Was it scary?  Oddjob is right on the knife’s edge, balanced between cool and stupid.

After golf, Bond tails Goldfinger for a dull stretch, but eventually we get to have one of my favorite kinds of scenes. Were we see a character spying on another character, only to zoom back to reveal a third party watching the watchers. The third party in this case is Tilly Masterson, sister of Jill, the painted girl.

Bond and Tilly team up and they get swept up in a decent chase, letting Bond show off all his car’s new tricks.   The scene is ultimately disappointing however, as all the tricks avail to nothing. Bond still gets caught and Tilly gets hatted to death.

When Bond comes to, he is in a gorgeous Ken Adam set, tied to a table with a laser pointed at him. This is 1964, so lasers were cutting edge and exotic. Everyone knows this scene, right?

gold-lazer-e1382673702379

“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” Gert Frobe, the guy who plays Goldfinger gives a great line reading.  There’s a reason it is famous.

But immediately after that great moment, it all falls apart. Bond talks Goldfinger out of killing him using the thinnest of all possible bluffs.

Bond has overheard the phrase “Operation Grand Slam” used by Goldfinger. He tells Goldfinger that he knows all about Grand Slam, without giving any evidence that this is true. He further tells Goldfinger that if he were to die, another agent, 008 would be assigned to take over the investigation and that furthermore, 008 knows all about Grand Slam.  This is dumb.  His argument wouldn’t make sense even if it was factually accurate.  Nonetheless, instead of killing Bond or interrogating him, Goldfinger decides to keep him prisoner and knocks him unconscious.

Bond wakes up in a plane. He is now in the custody of a woman pilot named Pussy Galore, a name so childishly dumb, even Bond smirks when he hears it.

gold-pussy-e1382673783802

Galore rebuffs Bond’s attempts at charm, something no woman has ever done before in these films.  She rightfully gets angry at his suggestion that she was hired for her looks. Galore is the captain of Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, a company of lady pilots. Bond, who is used to solving all of his problems by sleeping with beautiful women, keeps trying to find an in with Galore, but she is confident and under no illusions about the company that she keeps.  She is cooler than Bond and she’s a hell of a lot more likeable than him.   I want to watch a spy movie starring her.

When they land, Goldfinger takes Bond to his compound in Kentucky, where he will be kept prisoner, nevermind why. Bond is thrown in a dungeon, and then Goldfinger assembles a large conference of gangsters into a giant transforming supervillain lair.  Goldfinger explains to these criminals his plan to rob Ft. Knox.

Meanwhile, Bond escapes from his cell by winning a game of peekaboo. He hides underneath Goldfinger’s scale model of Fort Knox and eavesdrops on the plan before immediately being recaptured by Galore.

gold-8-e1382673886649

After Goldfinger explains his master plan, he gasses all the mobsters to death. In his giant super complex room created for the sole purpose of illustrating the details of a plan to people who don’t need to know them because they will be murdered. Also, the plan was a lie. No part of that sequence actually makes any sense at all.

Before being tossed back in a cell, Bond slips a message to Leiter and also a tracker into the pocket of the one gangster not being murdered in the murder room.  He doesn’t want in on Goldfinger’s phony plan, so he’s taking his gold and going home.  This threatens to actually forward the story, but instead Oddjob smashes uses a car crusher to crush the car that contains the note, the tracker, the gangster, and a million dollars worth of gold.

Now that all that murder is out of the way, Goldfinger and Bond have a chat over mint juleps while Bond works out Goldfinger’s real plan, which is to use an atom bomb to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox, thus skyrocketing the value of his own gold. Bond seems pretty impressed by Goldfinger’s ingenuity.

Shortly afterward, Bond forcibly rapes Pussy Galore.

gold-9-e1382673980990

Really, he does. Bond is used to every woman he meets wanting to sleep with him. He meets one that doesn’t, and so he forces himself upon her first chance he gets. It is abhorrent, but the film plays it as if it is sexy.

The next day Goldfinger executes his plan. The Flying Circus gasses all the stationed troops around Knox and Goldfinger’s men break in. Goldfinger brings Bond along for some vague framejob reason. They open the vault, handcuff Bond to the bomb, and set the timer. It is at this point that all the gassed troops reveal that they had only been playing possum because they had been tipped off by Galore, who has switched sides after succumbing to the power of Bond’s sexing.

There is a big gun battle that Bond misses, because he is handcuffed to a bomb.

Bond gets free, ducks a bowler hat and hurls a gold bar at Oddjob’s chest. Smiling, dude just shrugs it off, judo chops an iron bar in half, tosses Bond around, but is tricked into being fatally electrocuted. Bond makes a dumb joke to nobody.

After killing Oddjob, Bond does not disable the bomb, but he does open the bomb casing, allowing an actual expert to disarm it.

Bond gets on a plane to visit the White House, only to discover that Goldfinger is on board, along with Galore. Goldfinger dies in the ensuing scuffle, the plane crashes, and Bond and Galore parachute to safety, where they fuck in the woods, this time apparently consensually. The end.

gold-10-e1382674089584

I can’t believe I just watched what I watched. This is a movie that is resolved by having the hero rape a villain so that she becomes a good guy so that she tips off other good guys who save the day. If this is supposed to be the best of the James Bond movies, what the hell will future installments have to offer?

Ian Fleming’s “From Russia With Love” Starring Sean Connery as James Bond 007

russia-1-e1382063948947

This film starts with James Bond being hunted and killed by a scary Robert Shaw. Of course, it is not actually James Bond that dies but a double wearing a mask. It appears that Shaw is learning how to hunt and kill the great white natural killing machine that is 007. This opening is little more than a fun way to disorient the audience, but when you think about it, it is one crazy-ass sequence. The notion that SPECTRE not only forces people to be live bait in their training exercises, but that they make these poor bastards wear absurdly realistic masks to create that touch of verisimilitude is dumb in a way that I kind of love.

After the credits, two SPECTRE bigwigs and their unseen cat-stroking leader hatch a scheme to kill James Bond while furthering their own goals. They want revenge for his killing Dr. No in the previous film and they also want a Russian cryptographic device. Their two-birded, low-stakes scheme hinges on the not-unreasonable supposition that all you need to do in order to catch a James Bond is to dangle a beautiful woman in front of him.

One of these three villains, Rosa Klebb, former SMERSH spymaster, current SPECTRE #3, and implied lesbian, has been helicoptered to SPECTRE Island, a henchmen training camp. She is escorted through the island past an array of absurdly evil training exercises, involving more live-dude targets. Eventually, she is presented with Robert Shaw’s character, named Grant. She looks him over, and then punches him once in the gut with brass knuckles. He does not flinch. Satisfied, she gives her approval, and promptly leaves the island, he business concluded. This is one of the greatest scenes of supervillainy I have ever seen.

russia-2-e1382064013431

Klebb then goes to Russia, where she, pretending to still be a high ranking SMERSH agent, commands Tatiana Romanova , a beautiful cipher clerk, to pretend to defect to the west so that she can feed Bond false information. So, we have a Russian defector pretending to have not defected who is forcing a woman to pretend to defect but not to the terrorists that the real defector has defected to but rather to the West, ostensibly to help Russia but in actuality to steal from Russia. This is some Cold-ass War right here. Also, Klebb explicityl orders Romanova to sleep with Bond.

18 minutes into the film, we finally get to see James Bond Actual and he is on a picnic date with  Sylvia Trench, the baccarat woman from the previous film. First, the bad guys were mad at Bond for what he did in the previous film, now Bond is seen romancing the same woman twice. This movie has a lot of explicit continuity, something that runs counter to my expectations of what a Bond film is. I guess this is still a real movie, not yet a full-blown “Bond Movie”. It is kind of strange.

At any rate, we don’t spend much time with Miss Trench before Bond gets called into the office from his car phone. In the office, Bond gets to flirt with Moneypenny after tossing his hat onto a coat rack, and he gets an exposition dump which is totally redundant, since the SPECTRE schemers have already exposited all this stuff already.

russia-3-e1382064120129

After the exposition, we meet Q, a series mainstay, although in this film, he is just the guy from Q Branch. He shows Bond a suitcase with hidden compartments and booby traps.  Bond is visibly impressed with all these gimmicks.  All this trick stuff seems totally novel and cool to him.

Bond flies off to Istanbul, where everything is so very very Cold War. Everywhere Bond goes it is all tails and mistrust and searching for bugs and dummy cars and code phrases. The good guys have installed a goddamned periscope in the Russian consulate for spying because that’s the sort of things good guys do during a Cold War. The movie is drenching us in paranoia, but it is all espionage travelogue. Nothing is actually forwarding the story, let alone the plot.

Eventually, the local station chief takes Bond to a gypsy camp to provide some local color. Bond is super-bored until two women have a vicious, ritual sexyfight over a man. For the first time in the movie, Bond perks up. Murderous sexytime hits his sweet spot.

russia-4-e1382064363653

Before the sexyfight can conclude, a gun battle erupts for reasons that are not particularly clear. During the gun battle, Robert Shaw, lurking in the background, secretly shoots someone about to kill Bond from behind. After the dust has cleared, Bond, with the wisdom of King Solomon solves the sexyfight by sleeping with both women.

After the gypsy episode, there is more murdering and counter-murdering, which is a lot duller than it sounds. Eventually, Bond actually furthers his mission and meets Romanova. Within 60 seconds from their meeting, Bond transitions from having his gun drawn on her to making out with her. It’s super creepy, made creepier by the knowledge that she has been ordered to let Bond sleep with her on pain of death.

russia-5-e1382064430921

Meanwhile, Shaw keeps killing people who want to kill Bond because while ultimately, he wants to kill Bond himself, he first needs the fake defector to finish her fake defection so that he can steal the cryptographic device that she is going to help Bond steal.

In a surprisingly brief scene, Bond and Romanova bomb a consulate and steal the device. This seems disappointingly easy and pretty morally questionable. In fact, nothing Bond has done so far this film has seemed at all heroic. From my post-Cold War, post-Women’s Lib vantage point, Bond seems decidedly a villain. Thus far, it has been nothing but murder, terrorism, theft, and quasi-rape.

Once Bond and Romanova have the device, they board a train and dick around with more espionage stuff and more sexytimes. This movie is so slow. The entire film could be edited down to about half an hour without losing anything of import, but in some weird way I enjoy soaking up this strange bygone Cold War flavor.  Or maybe I just like trains.

russia-6-e1382064712784

Ninety minutes in, the movie shifts tone pretty hard when  Shaw presents himself as Bond’s contact on the train, having killed the real contact.  And with that, the movie actually become very tense and very cool. Shaw has proven himself to the audience to be a ruthless and capable killer, and Bond and Romanova are completely unaware of the danger he presents. It makes for great film, waiting to see how it plays out.

The charade is maintained for several scenes. Bond gets suspicious when Shaw orders red wine with fish, but not suspicious enough. Shaw eventually pulls a gun on Bond and gives a fun, contemptuous bad guy speech.

Shaw’s character is cool, cold and cruel. There are are very few differences between this man and James Bond. One of them is private sector and one is public, and one of them knows what wine to order with fish. I guess that’s supposed to be enough to make us root for Bond.

russia-7-e1382064900326

Things look bad for Bond, but he tricks Shaw into setting off the booby trap on his brief case. It’s an old gag in an old movie but the way that Connery sells the deception makes for a fantastic little moment, one that leads directly into a delightfully savage brawl. Two beasts of men in tight quarters desperately try to kill the other with whatever they can get their hands on. Eventually Bond garrottes Shaw to death in a shockingly violent fashion.  It’s a great fight.

Unfathomably, there is then fifteen more minutes of Cold War stuff as Bond and Romanova finish their journey to the West. Bond fights a helicopter and engages in a high speed boat chase, both of which should be exciting and cool, but all this stuff seems a let down after the amazing train fight. Doesn’t the movie know it should be over?

It’s almost over.  After it appears that the danger has finally passed, Rosa Klebb, the newly promoted #2 villain in the world nearly defeats Bond by sneaking into his hotel room disguised as a maid and swiping the Lektor without a fight. It is hilarious.

But at the last minute Romanova spots her and chooses Bond over Russia, turning the fake defector into a real defector. Klebb tries to stab Bond with her shoe and Romanova shoots her. This should be a heroic act, but to me, she just comes off as a traitor to her people.

Afterward, Bond and Romanova fuck on a boat. The end.

russia-boat-e1382065064529

This is a weird movie. Neither Bond and Romanova show any signs of having morals or values of any sort. Bond likes killing and sex and Savile Row suits and Romanova likes James Bond.  The tone veers from dull to goofy to brutal and back with no sense of pace. The whole film is a big mess.

Yet for all of its flaws, there is some really interesting stuff in here.   I like the goofy villain stuff with Shaw at the beginning.  The sliver of the film where Bond and Shaw actually interact with each other is great.  And I can’t decided if the amorality of the protagonist is a strength or a weakness.  Hell, I can’t tell if the amorality is deliberate or not.  It is compelling and repellant at once.   Maybe this is the appeal of Bond.

Ian Flemings “Dr. No” Starring Sean Connery as James Bond 007

no-1-e1381259094661

I don’t really get James Bond.  The character is our culture’s exemplar of male cool but although I’ve seen a handful of Bond movies over the years I’ve always felt that there was something larger and weirder going on with this character, and I’ve never quite got it.  So I am going to watch all 23 James Bond movies and hopefully emerge from the process with a better understanding of this most iconic of characters.  First on the slate is Dr. No.

This is how Bond begins. The first time, out this isn’t a “Bond Movie”, it is a spy movie featuring a character named James Bond. When we first meet James Bond – and what an odd thing to do, meet James Bond for the first time – he is playing baccarat for high stakes and flirting with a beautiful woman with a suggestive name. He is then called away on urgent business. This scene does nothing to further the plot but shows us what this Bond fella does when he isn’t on the clock.

no-2-e1381259258747

We move on to the office, where he flirts with his boss’s secretary Miss Moneypenny before being briefed by M, his boss. Some spy dude was murdered in Jamaica and Bond is being sent to investigate. But before he leaves, M makes fun of his favorite gun and tells him he has to use a different one because the one he likes is for pussies. Bond is heartbroken. He really liked his Beretta.

Bond arrives in Jamaica where he proceeds to do generic spy stuff: putting hairs over doors, fighting enemy agents, conducting interrogations, that sort of thing. It is all a bit dull.

Eventually, he hooks up with CIA agent Felix Leiter and local ally Quarrel. They do more spy stuff. Not Super Spy stuff. It is all very procedural. Bond is exceedingly confident and cultured and every woman he meets is pointedly attracted to him, except for a black freelance spy that he and his new friends lightly torture for information.

The bad guys try to kill him by putting a tarantula in his bed, which is a bit silly.

Fifty minutes into what has been a fairly dull film, and I finally get a scene that provides a glimmering of understanding as to the appeal of James Bond. Some assassins try to run Bond off the road. When he realizes what is going on, he starts grinning evilly as he outmaneuvers them before running them off of the road leading to a fireball of death. He then cracks a dumb joke. This is something I can latch onto. This is a man who is only happy when he is killing. Is that who Bond is supposed to be? It isn’t heroic or likeable but it is potentially interesting.

no-3-e1381259329986

The next scene is also interesting. He visits a lady spy who after discovering that he isn’t dead, tries to seduce him in order to stall him until more assassins can arrive. Bond knows this is her plan but he sleeps with her anyways because he’s got time to kill while he waits for the next assassin. The scene is tense, cruel and a little gross.

When the assassin arrives, Bond disarms him and ultimately shoots him in cold blood. In three scenes, this film has become defined by sadism and it is pretty great.

Bond and Quarrel finally head out to the island where the bad guy lives. Quarrel doesn’t want to come to the island because he is an ignorant islander who believes that there is a dragon on the island. Upon arriving, Bond meets Honey Ryder, a beachcomber in an iconic bikini who has come to the villain’s island looking for shells.

This island portion of the film has shifted gears from a spy procedural to a Jonny Quest-lite adventure with plodding pacing. Along the way, for no real reason, Ryder tells the story of her being raped and the revenge she got on her rapist. Oh and also, she suspects that Dr. No killed her father. At no point in the film is there any follow up on this point.

no-4-e1381259439104

Eventually, they find the so-called dragon. It is revealed to be an armored tractor painted to look like a dragon. Quarrel is killed by it while Bond and Ryder are captured and taken to a crazy supervillain bunker where they are to be “guests”.

The villain invites them to dinner. As they head to meet their captor, Bond reassures Ryder by telling her “Of course I’m scared too.” This is, of course, a perfectly sane thing to say, but it flies in the face of everything I had believed James Bond to be. Also, the movie has been boooring since they came to the island.

They finally meet the eponymous Dr. No. A deadly calm madman with robot arms, a hilarious aquarium, and famous stolen art. As they talk, his backstory unfurls. He is a half-German, half-Chinese former treasurer of the Chinese Tongs and an expert in radiation.

no-5-e1381259509376

At this point Bond suggests that No let the girl go. No agrees, sending her away to be raped. “I’m sure the guards will amuse her.” No quips.

No goes on to reveal that the existence of a cabal of supercriminals, SPECTRE (The SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.), of which he is a member. It is on their behalf that he plans to disrupt American rocket missions with his atomic-powered radio beam, which will in some way further SPECTRE’s plans of global conquest.

No thinks he sees a common spirit in Bond (Probably because he loves to murder people?) but Bond is unimpressed. “World Domination. Same old dream,” Bond murmurs. A brilliant line in an a movie that has been utterly uninteresting for the past 40 minutes.

No realizes that his misread Bond, but doesn’t kill him for some reason, instead putting him in a prison cell with a giant ventilation shaft. Bond escapes his cell, stops No’s plans, kills No, and sets up a chain reaction that will eventually blow up the base, all without creating an ounce of drama or suspense.

Bond finds Ryder chained in rising water with her pants removed. They escape and fuck in a boat. Credits roll.

no-boat-e1381259177887

So that was the first film in the most enduring film franchise of all time. A slightly weird, mostly dull cold war spy movie starring a very sophisticated Scotsman with sadistic tendencies. There are a few moments of brilliance but all in all, it is hard to see 50 years on what it is about this movie that would make it one of the largest cultural phenomenons of all time.