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It took until the third installment of the Ian Fleming-based James Bond spy movie franchise for its identity to crystallize.
Following on the successful heels of “Dr. No” (1962) and “From Russia with Love” (1963) — both directed by Terence Young, Sean Connery’s early mentor for the urbane leading role — “Goldfinger” marked a significant upgrade in production values that would make everything about the franchise iconic. Female characters would be sexier and more dangerous, yet also more likely to die.
“Goldfinger’s” introduction of Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman) sent a powerful signal. Exotic set pieces would be epic in scale. The series’ signature nuanced tone, straddling dualities such as dry humor and outrageous danger, would be more pronounced.
John Barry’s unforgettable theme, sung by the incomparable Shirley Bassey, created a longstanding tradition of James Bond theme songs becoming chart-topping hits.
Budgeted at more than the cost of the first two films combined, “Goldfinger” launched the ritual of beginning each subsequent Bond film with a stand-alone mission sequence for the fictional British MI6 agent, known by his code number 007, to show off his stuff.
Other customs followed. An assignment meeting with British Secret Service head M allows for the otherwise autonomous Mr. Bond to have his feathers clipped while being informed of his latest mission. A little office flirtation with M’s secretary Ms. Moneypenny segues into a meeting with resident gadget master Q, who gets Bond up to speed on the state-of-the-art devices that the audience can expect to see employed throughout the movie.
It’s not every spy that can arrive on an island in a wet suit, blow up a South American drug lab, strip down to a white tux, and seduce a villainess who must be sacrificed to save his own skin — all without breaking a sweat, as Bond does in “Goldfinger.”
Yet every man wants to be James Bond, and every woman wants to be with a guy as capable, confident, and handsome as Sean Connery. The Scottish actor made such an indelible impression in the role that most audiences still consider Connery’s portrayal to be the truest filmic embodiment of the James Bond character to command the big screen.
A pay dispute between Terrence Young and the franchise’s notoriously selfish producers (Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) opened the door for French-born English director Guy Hamilton to helm “Goldfinger,” a story based on Ian Flemming’s seventh novel in his 16-story James Bond series.
007’s mission is to foil international gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). The treacherous villain uses a trafficking technique later employed by the real-life heroin smugglers represented in William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” (whereby illicit goods are stashed in the body of a large car).
Goldfinger’s plan to rob the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox arrives at Bond’s eavesdropping ear in an outrageous set piece of exposition wherein the German mastermind enlightens the heads of America’s regional Mafias before killing them via poison gas. The not-so-subtle nod to Hitler was not lost on audiences at the time.
“Goldfinger” set in stone the formula for what would become cinema’s longest running and most reliably entertaining franchise. Regardless of how many installments have come since, “Goldfinger” retains its reputation as the best of the bunch.
Rated PG. 110 mins.