Each month, I’m considering the lasting legacy that the Bond films have left us, whether it be the effect they’ve had on the other Bond films or just films in general. Surely, though, there is no greater legacy left for us in Bond’s back catalogue than Goldfinger’s effect, for its legacy might just be Bond films themselves.
Undoubtedly popular as they were, and with plenty of source material still left to mine, the series was on its third entry, and could easily have begun to run out of steam. Even today, with the benefit of nearly fifty years of hindsight, the number of top quality third entries in a film franchise is not likely you to require more than your fingers when counting them up, so the chances of the Bond franchise continuing for as long as it has had to be pretty remote. Those chances would have surely gotten longer when considering what Goldfinger did, which was to take all of the groundwork so carefully laid around SPECTRE, and then proceed to completely ignore it, instead fashioning a standalone bad guy. But somehow they hit on the magic formula, the absolute jackpot of the complete male fantasy. (Yes, Zack Snyder, this is how to film a male fantasy – if anyone’s still even talking about Sucker Punch in fifty years, I’ll eat my hearing aid.)
So thanks to Goldfinger we’ve seen not only over forty years of more Bond films, but this is the template to which they most often refer, seemingly as if the digital alchemy achieved here cannot ever be repeated without a sprinkling of the same gold dust. In that respect it’s been both a blessing and a curse, responsible for as many of the later films’ too far over the top moments as it is the moments of genuine quality both here and later in the series. But for better or for worse, Goldfinger has become the definitive Bond movie, and here’s the key reasons why.
1. The opening sequence harked back to the days of the short film
The opening sequence is just four minutes and forty eight seconds, but packs in more wit, invention, costume changes, casual misogyny, slightly camp fighting and cold-blooded quips than many modern films manage in their own bloated running time. This mini film, which From Russia With Love had as a teaser for the plot but Goldfinger took to another level, gave this film a cracking start and in the process created classic moment after classic moment. There’s a mini-legacy tucked away here as well; for anyone who’s not Rory Bremner, the exact starting place when attempting an impression of the silver-tongued Scotsman has to be “Shocking. Positively shocking.”
2. The title sequence had words in the song, and they were sung by Shirley Bassey
Sensible decisions all round, here. The Welsh warbler was so good she’s been invited back twice since for this series, which is a unique achievement and a reflection of her distinctive tones, and even performed the song for Cats and Dogs 2: We Make Pussy Jokes For Kids. There are a lot of things wrong with Madonna, but quite near the top of that list is that she’s no Shirley Bassey. But marrying the words to the images up front creates such an iconic image that anything less now feels like a disappointment. Also, we are now naturally attuned to expect that any Bond theme must feature at least one instance of brass instruments going “Waaah-WAAAH-wah”, otherwise it’s not a proper Bond theme.
3. Characters recur regularly throughout the series, but actors are pretty much interchangeable
We all know that Bond has had a number of different faces over the years, but the Bond films pulled this trick much earlier, here with the swap-out of Dr. No’s Jack Lord for Cec Linder. Bond doesn’t even bat an eyelid when an entirely different Felix turns up, or indeed when Cec is replaced by the fantastically monikered Rik Van Nutter in Thunderball, then Norman Burton in Diamonds Are Forever, David Hedison in Live and Let Die and again in Licence to Kill, in between that John Terry (of course, not that one) in The Living Daylights and the current choice of Jeffrey Wright in the Daniel Craig Bonds. It’s amazing that our secret agent knew who to trust when everyone kept turning up with a different face.
4. It’s a man’s duty, if he can, to shag his way around the world as fast as possible
Girl in the pre-credits sequence? Check. Girl who’s working for the boss who then gets offed about ten minutes later? Check. Girl whose car you rip the side out of, just so you can get her into yours? Check. Woman who’s supposed to be a lesbian, but obviously isn’t really serious about it? Check. Although one of the many legacies for this kind of philandering may be Peter Stringfellow; let’s not go there.
5. Instilling the mistaken belief in people that you can suffocate someone by painting all over them
Well, I believed it when I was younger. Why would a Bond film make something up? You’ll be telling me next that Aston Martins don’t have ejector seats.
6. Everyone in Q Branch is two bullets short of a full chamber – except possibly Q himself
Desmond Llewellyn made his first appearance in From Russia With Love, but just turned up in Q’s office. This time, we get our first insight into Q branch, and this helped to set the scene for four decades worth of light relief scenes where men in the background throw exploding toasters and radioactive paperweights at each other in the name of science, and think of nothing about firing a machine gun in an unprotected environment. Men who don’t wear lounge suits while flouting any sense of health and safely while inventing dangerously unpredictable gadgets need not apply.
7. The car. That mother funstering car.
When I was a kid, I had two small cars that I played with most often from my giant toy box under the stairs; a large yellow Lotus that I’d converted into an approximation of Knight Rider’s Pontiac Trans-Am using Tipp-Ex and marker pens, and the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me, because it went underwater and fired missiles out of where the passengers would be sat, which was quite clever. I had an Aston Martin DB5, but it seemed almost too beautiful to play with, and this seems to be Bond’s view in later films, never quite able to put the ol’ DB5 behind him, using it to nip down to his latest love next or get some coffee from the corner shop, while more modern cars get the rear mounted missiles and giant machine guns. But this was the one that made men (and women) across the world fall in love with Aston Martins. Sorry, I might need a moment to stare at this a little longer.
8. If you’re going to be a proper supervillain, then you need a ridiculous henchman with an unlikely name
I live in a world where people are called things like Geoff and Katie, but apparently if you move in the circles that Bond moves in, everyone has either astonshingly convenient names like Auric Goldfinger, or completely random names such as Odd Job. This was a Fleming trait, let’s not forget, but one that future Bond movies are now compelled to follow. Sam Mendes is already considering bad guy names including Rex Thunderstorm and Dan Geroustoknow. (Trivia fact: Odd Job’s real name is actually Geoff.)
9. Bad guys who behave in a way that defies all rational explanation
“Wait, aren’t you even gonna watch them? They could get away!”
“No no no, I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan, what?”
“I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM, I’ll blow their brains out.”
“Scott, you just don’t get it, do you?”
10. Bond movies need to keep the British end up (oo-er)
It was also Flemming who was fond of innuendo, but the use of names such as Pussy Galore, and the conversations that such names led to (the original line that Bond had, apparently, was “I know you are, but what’s your name?” in response to Pussy’s introduction), that started Bond down the slippery slope of innuendo into pure filth, reaching the low point when forcing Pierce Brosnan to make groan-inducing quips about stuffing Denise Richards in a foreign country. Casino Royale was actually refreshing in that it remembered adults can flirt and be subtle without the need for complete loss of dignity; let’s all hope that this is one legacy that’s now firmly behind us. (Ahem.)
Next month: Bond plays the lottery. Will his number come up? It’s Thunderball.