Iris Out: The old school charm of Sean Connery and Goldfinger

Peter Boyle

Everyone has their opinion of Daniel Craig as James Bond. His brusque performance is unlike the campy swagger that dominated the film versions of the characters, and worse still, he’s blonde. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes, however, will allegedly bring the franchise back to its jet-setting “Goldfinger” days in “Skyfall,” the Bond film coming this fall.

For traditionalist Bond fans, this is joyful news, despite their feelings about Craig being unable to do a Connery-like take on the character. Mentioning “Goldfinger” offers an instant grin from any 007 lover, as it is consistently ranked highest among the 22 official films featuring the secret agent.

For those few that are unaware of James Bond, a little backstory is in order. Bond, a fictional agent of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service, travels the world in luxury and topples politico-cultural villains with his wits and expensive technology. Though it is a tough job, his comfort lies in keeping old England safe, and in bedding any women that cross his path. He’s been busy in print since 1953, with the publication of Ian Fleming’s novel “Casino Royale,” and the monumental Sean Connery brought him to film in 1962’s “Dr. No.”

The third Bond film in the franchise, “Goldfinger,” cemented the international reputation of the character, and is still widely renowned as the finest Bond picture. Connery brings Bond from an explosive sequence in Latin America to Miami, where he discovers enterprising businessman Auric Goldfinger to be a cheat at cards and seduces his assistant. When Bond wakes, she is dead and covered in gold paint, forming one of the most iconic images in modern cinema.

Goldfinger, as one might suspect, is more than just a card shark; Bond’s superiors inform him that the imposing European is in fact smuggling gold around the world.

As he investigates, 007 finds Goldfinger to be a much more dangerous foe than anyone in Britain expected, and is subsequently captured by the villain. Bond seems to be at the bottom of his luck strapped to a table in Switzerland, a laser about to split him in half, and this iconic scene is only halfway into the film. I won’t give away the ending, though it’s likely most readers have seen it — such is the Bond phenomenon.

The legacy of “Goldfinger” is indisputable, which is one of the reasons it’s worth reconsidering. Holding the film sacred disallows actual examination of its merits, and refuses to admit the possibility that it’s anything other than the golden standard.

While I viewed the film for the umpteenth time in my life this week, I realized that the main reason the film is so legendary is its continuous exposure to movie buffs. Though the surprises of the film are lost on seasoned viewers, there’s still a thrill in waiting for Goldfinger to say “No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!”, or waiting for the one-liners that one has memorized. The beloved aspect of Goldfinger, then, may not be the film itself, but our comfort in its witticisms and set pieces.

There’s no denying that some aspects of the film don’t age well. Bond is never especially kind to the women he encounters, and this film is no exception, with the only strong female character having the ridiculous name of Pussy Galore; she, too, falls prey to Her Majesty’s Finest, underscoring the superficiality of the women in the film. Race issues are treated with similar indifference, as the only non-white cast member is a psychopathic juggernaut who only speaks in grunts. This is only 1964, so it’s not terribly shocking in historical context, but those elements are difficult to ignore after you’ve had a Lawrence education.

It cannot be said that the special effects would impress a 21st century audience. We know planes no longer operate via transparent wire attachments. The filmmakers are audacious enough to think they can throw a rope from beneath Connery and assume it looks like he fired a grappling gun. Blockbuster films like these have budgets now, and the Bond franchise has applied excessive CGI on several occasions, which can make the film laughable.

Still, “Goldfinger” has a charm that overcomes many of its situational flaws. No matter how it’s parsed, watching Sean Connery tell us he is “Bond, James Bond” gives a modern audience the same thrill it did 47 years ago. Nostalgia often distorts true value, but “Goldfinger” is solid, on a first look or a 50th.

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