GOLDFINGER (1964, Dir. Guy Hamilton)

© 2019, by M. Keith Booker


The sequence of films featuring debonair British secret agent James Bond will soon be extended to a total of twenty-five films in the main series, produced by Eon Productions, as well as two films by other companies outside the main sequence. With the release of No Time to Die in 2020, the Bond film franchise will move into its seventh different decade. The longevity and popularity of the franchise have made Bond one of the most recognizable characters in global popular culture, while the films themselves have become an important marker of trends in Western popular culture since the early 1960s. Bond has also exercised a wide-ranging influence on other characters, including characters in American spy films[1]; even such characters as Don Draper in television’s Mad Men (2007–2015) have been influenced by Bond as an icon of 1960s-style male swagger. Indeed, with British popular culture clearly receding in importance relative to American popular culture since the 1950s, one could argue that the Bond franchise has become the single most important phenomenon in British popular culture since that time—though it should also be pointed out that No Time to Die is being directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who will become the first American to direct a Bond film.

The Bond franchise is, of course, a multimedia empire that encompasses television, comic books, and even radio plays, even though the films have been its most prominent component. But the franchise has its roots in written fiction, in particular in the spy novels of Ian Fleming, himself a former British naval intelligence officer. Beginning with Casino Royale in 1953, Fleming wrote a series of twelve novels and two collections of short stories featuring Bond. The final four novels were written and published after the beginning of the Bond film franchise with Dr. No in 1962, so that Fleming’s fiction and the novels overlap in time. The final two novels were published in 1965 and 1966, after Fleming’s 1964 death.

Describing his novels as “thrillers designed to be read as literature,” Fleming was influenced by the American hard-boiled novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, as well as the British novelists Graham Greene and Eric Ambler, among others. On the other hand, many critics have judged Fleming’s novels to be of questionable literary merit. If nothing else, though, they do embody some important trends in recent culture. For one thing, the novels are commercial products, designed to entertain readers and generate profits for Fleming and his publishers more than to achieve artistic heights. For another, they represent a key example of cultural branding and commodification, as evidenced not only by the fact that Bond has succeeded in different media but also by the fact that Bond novels have continued to be written by others after Fleming’s death. It is also clear that Fleming’s novels became more important and more successful as a result of the success of the Bond films based on them, making him one of the first novelists to become known more for the film adaptations of his novels than for the novels themselves, a tendency that has only become stronger over the past half century.

It is clear that the entire Bond phenomenon, as a British cultural product, is driven in large part by a sort of colonial nostalgia. Faced with an unraveling empire and a diminishing role in global politics, Bond represents a sort of fantasy version of British swagger and capability, looking back to the days from the defeat of Napoleon to the beginning of World War II, during which time the British tended to feel confident in their status as the world’s leading military, political, cultural, and economic power. Produced by a British company founded by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and featuring a series of British actors as Bond, the Bond films have maintained their British flavor to this day, though they have consistently been quite popular in the United States as well.


Fleming’s Bond showed clear tendencies toward racism, sexism, and an excessive reliance on violence to achieve his ends. The movie Bond has struggled with some similar tendencies, though the films have gradually tended to try to moderate at least the first two of these tendencies over the years. The first two Bond films, Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963), were relatively low-budget efforts aimed primarily at a British audience, though they did well in America. They also established Scottish actor Sean Connery as Bond (though Fleming’s Bond is English). With Goldfinger (1964), Broccoli and Saltzman upped the ante considerably, raising the budget substantially and clearly aiming at a bigger American audience. It is probably no coincidence, for example, that they chose for this project a film based on a Fleming novel whose most important events are set in the United States.

Fleming’s novels had already provided an extensive basis for Bond and his adventures, so that the Bond “formula” was fairly well developed, even in Dr. No, where the dapper-but-deadly Bond was sophisticated, debonair, and irresistible to women, but also good in a fight and excellent at thinking on his feet. And he was quite willing to put the “license to kill” implied by the first two digits of his “007” code number to good use when necessary. It was, however, only with Goldfinger that the Bond formula emerged in the full form that would exercise a lasting impact on subsequent films. Many aspects of this formula are among the most iconic components of global popular culture of the past sixty years. Bond’s personal theme music is instantly recognizable, for example, and the Bond films in general have become almost legendary for their music, especially the songs that play over the opening titles, which have been performed by some of the greatest performers in global popular music. Some of the particularly well-known title songs include Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”, Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only,” and Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill.” Two songs from Bond films have won Academy Awards for Best Original Song: “Skyfall,” by Adele, and “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith. In the case of Goldfinger, the title song is performed by Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, who would also supply the title songs for Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Moonraker (1979). Bassey’s performance of the title song for Goldfinger, in fact, can be considered the song that established the notion that Bond title songs were such important elements of the films.

Goldfinger was also the film that established the opening format that has been used so frequently in subsequent Bond films. It begins in the same way as the earlier films, with the famous brief opening sequence in which Bond, seen through a gun barrel (presumably from the point of view of a potential assassin), turns and fires his gun directly into the camera (and toward the assassin, causing blood red to gradually stain the screen, presumably signaling the death of Bond’s would-be assailant. The famous James Bond theme music plays in the background. But then Goldfinger adds an additional iconic element to the opening by beginning with a pre-titles vignette in which Bond executes a mini-adventure that is not really related to the main plot. These pre-titles mini-adventures, which would become standard in Bond films, help to remind viewers of Bond’s abilities and characteristics, which are encapsulated in a few moments of screen time. In Goldfinger’s opening vignettehe already functions, in a few minutes of screen time, both as a swashbuckling adventurer, skilled at action and combat, and as a suave seducer of women, as confidently skilled at sex as he is with violence. He begins (without breaking a sweat) by blowing up a plant in Latin America that is engaged in the manufacture of drugs, then immediately discards his action clothing to reveal formal attire underneath, smoothly shifting to seduction mode. When the woman involved asks why he always wears his gun, he claims he has a “slight inferiority complex,” but we know he really has just the opposite. This sequence also introduces what might be considered a cavalier attitude toward both sex and violence. The woman Bond “seduces” actually betrays him and tries to lead him to his doom, reminding us of how perfidious women can be: Bond is often betrayed by women in his films, while the women who become allied with him are often betraying someone else. In either case, he seldom seems to have real feelings for them. In the case of Goldfinger, he calmly escapes the betrayal, coldly leaving the woman dazed and bleeding on the floor and leaving her male accomplice dead through electrocution in a bathtub. “Shocking,” quips Bond, in what is clearly meant to be a comic moment. Then the film morphs into the opening titles, accompanied by Bassey’s title song.

After this opening sequence, Goldfinger moves into Bond’s real assignment in the film, which is to engage with the unscrupulous gold trader Auric Goldfinger (played by German actor Gert Fröbe[2]) and determine how Goldfinger is manipulating the international gold market to maximize his profits. Fröbe’s Goldfinger has a strong German accent, even though the character is supposed to be English, a situation made even more peculiar by the fact that the voice of Goldfinger was actually dubbed by English actor Michael Collins, using a fake German accent, making it clear that investing the character with such an accent was very much a conscious choice. Bond villains always tend to be invested with a certain foreignness that presumably makes them seem more sinister, and (especially in the early films) this foreignness is often of a Germanic sort. After all, at the time, memories of World War II and the German Nazis were still relatively fresh, and Germans made perfect villains in the British mind.[3] Even Dr. No was half-German (and half-Chinese), while Ernst Blofeld, the greatest of the Bond movie villains (and Bond’s antagonist in a number of films) has certain vaguely Germanic characteristics—and has perhaps been played most effectively by the Austrian-German actor Christoph Waltz.

This sort of xenophobic othering of Bond villains is one of the more problematic aspects of the franchise, though the fact that the villains can be virtually any nationality could be taken to mitigate the effect. Blofeld, for example, seems to be of varying nationality in different films, though he was part Polish and part Greek in Fleming’s novels. He has been played by German, British, American, and Swedish actors at various times. One of the interesting aspects of the Bond villains is that they are not generally Russian or aligned with the Soviet Union. Indeed, Bond sometimes cooperates with the Soviets in an attempt to defeat his enemies, who are often also enemies of the Soviets. Thus, while the popularity of the Bond franchise clearly owes much to its origins in the Cold War years, Bond is not a typical Cold Warrior whose enemies are primarily communists. Goldfinger, for example, is in many ways the ultimate capitalist, motivated almost entirely by a quest for profit, though he does clearly have a sadistic streak as well. His plan to contaminate the American gold supply at Fort Knox, though, is not meant to undermine the U.S. or disrupt its economy. It is simply meant to reduce the world’s supply of gold substantially, thus making Goldfinger’s own considerable hoard immediately more valuable. Blofeld, meanwhile, is important largely because he is the head of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), an evil organization bent on independent world domination (and thus an enemy of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union). SPECTRE was introduced in the 1961 Fleming novel Thunderball; in the films it completely supplants SMERSH, the Soviet intelligence organization (a fictionalized version of a real World War II–era Soviet spy agency) that was Bond’s main antagonist in the early Fleming novels.

Figures such as Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Blofeld indicate the crucial importance of Bond villains to the franchise. They can typically be categorized as supervillains, which helps to give the Bond franchise a comic-book-like feel, while helping to make Bond himself a sort of superhero. Meanwhile, they also provide effective antagonists for Bond, so evil that his various foibles pale in comparison to theirs. Their “superpowers,” it should be noted, are typically of a purely intellectual variety. Dr. No and Blofeld can both be considered to be mad scientists; Goldfinger is more of a mad entrepreneur, but still develops a variety of high-tech devices to further his ends, aided in this case by a nuclear physicist (Chinese, of course) in his employ. Meanwhile, Goldfinger depends for muscle on his Korean bodyguard Oddjob (Harold Sakata), one of several characters in the franchise who tend to carry with them an array of negative Orientalist stereotypes with regard to Asians. More than a physical match for Bond, the powerful Oddjob carries with him a particularly deadly bowler hat, though he is, of course, ultimately defeated by Bond, using an electrocution technique foreshadowed in the pre-credits sequence of the film.

In this case, brains win out over brawn, and Bond himself is certainly intelligent. He also employs his own array of high-tech devices. Indeed, one of the reasons why Goldfinger is such a landmark Bond film is that it foregrounds for the first time the high-tech gadgetry for which the films would become famous—especially the tricked-out Aston Martin DB5 he is given by “Q” (Desmond Llewelyn) for use on his mission. Q, generally played by Llewelyn, would become a fixture in the Bond films, and part of the fun in each film was to see just what sort of wacky high-tech spy gear Bond would be given by Q for each mission. This gear (along with the various high-tech destructive devices deployed by the various villains) often takes the Bond films into science fiction territory. Indeed, one Bond film, Moonraker (1979), is almost pure science fiction, clearly designed to cash in on the science fiction craze initiated by the tremendous success of Star Wars two years earlier. One of the reasons for the longevity of the Bond franchise is its ability to draw upon a variety of different genres, adding flexibility and helping to keep the franchise fresh.

Q, by the way, heads the group responsible for developing Bond’s high-tech gadgetry, and thus might be considered an intellectual. However, while he is a charming figure, there is also a certain amount of anti-intellectualism embedded in his representation, which might account for the seeming animosity (however good-natured) between himself and Bond. Q, after all, seems so devoted to his work that he is a bit out of touch with reality, and his devices are often just a bit over-the-top, making him a sort of mad genius, even if his intentions are good. For his part, despite the fact that he is able to match up intellectually with Q (and with the supervillain of the moment), Bond’s abilities are not primarily of an intellectual nature, and the Bond films as a whole have a nasty tendency toward anti-intellectualism in the depiction of their villains, whose abilities generally are primarily of an intellectual nature. Indeed, the intellectualism of the Bond villains is such that the films tend to feed directly into the common notion that intellectuals in general have a tendency toward evil and toward an inability to empathize with ordinary people.

One could argue, of course, that the more serious stereotyping in the Bond films comes in their portrayal of women, who are consistently depicted as sexual objects whose principal function in the text is to provide Bond with an opportunity to demonstrate his sexual prowess. They can, of course, represent something of a challenge, as in the opening vignette of Goldfinger. Indeed, the two principal “Bond girls” of Goldfinger are both actually employed by the title character, which means that Bond must overcome their initial loyalties before he can seduce them. With the first of them, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), he succeeds quickly and easily, leading to her immediate murder at the hands of Oddjob. Hers is a small role, really, but the image of her nude body painted gold so that she will die of “skin suffocation” became one of the most iconic images of the entire franchise—and of 1960s popular culture as a whole.[4] It is also, of course, a blatant case of the objectification of the female body, her gold-painted nude body essentially being converted into an inanimate display piece.

The central Bond girl of Goldfinger (played by Honor Blackman) is actually one of the more interesting in the series, partly because she at least resists Bond’s advances through most of the film and partly because, as a gifted pilot, she displays abilities that, in 1964, were typically coded as masculine. Unfortunately, she is probably remembered more than anything for her name, which is taken straight from Fleming’s novel. Indeed, the most extensive difficulties the film had in getting past the U.S. censors and winning the stamp of approval of the Hollywood Production Code was the fact that she is named “Pussy Galore,” much to the delight of Bond. And even she, of course, ultimately defects to Bond’s side and ends the film (in another comic moment) in his embrace as they avoid rescue after ejecting from a crashing plane just so they can continue to explore their newfound connection together.

Blackman was just completing a run (1962–1964) on the British television series The Avengers, a spy drama with a strong sense of style—and humor—very much in line with overall tone of the Bond films. Blackman was thus well prepared to be a Bond girl, and her performance helped to solidify the tradition of sexy, but often formidable Bond girls, who would subsequently be played by some of Western pop culture’s leading sex symbols, including Diana Rigg, who succeeded Blackman as the female lead of The Avengers, subsequently becoming one of the major heart throbs of 1960s television. She also played the Bond girl Tracy Draco in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), with George Lazenby (who played the role only once) in a rather unremarkable turn as Bond. Luckily, Rigg is terrific as Draco, a woman so charming and impressive that Bond actually marries her—only to have the nefarious Blofeld murder her at the end of the film.

Goldfinger, at least, ends on a happy note, with Bond and Pussy frolicking together under a parachute, hidden from the eyes of their potential rescuers. Meanwhile, the U.S. gold reserve has been saved, thanks to the fact that Bond and his allies in the CIA managed to disable Goldfinger’s dirty bomb just as its three-digit count-down timer reached “007” seconds. Those sorts of touches indicate what a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek effort Goldfinger really is, establishing a tone that would be maintained through most of the subsequent Bond films, though the recent films (with Daniel Craig as Bond) have taken on a somewhat more serious tone. Goldfinger remains, though, the quintessential Bond film and is widely regarded as the best Bond film. It’s racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, and all sorts of problematic things. It’s also great fun and relatively harmless because it’s so ridiculous that it’s almost a parodic swipe at racism and sexism and anti-intellectualism.


Field, Mathew, and Ajay Chowdhury. Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films. The History Press, 2018.


[1] Some such films have overtly attempted to imitate the Bond formula, as in the case of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a popular 1960s television series (1964–1968) that also inspired a series of films.However, some films drew on the Bond phenomenon essentially in a mode of parody as in the four films featuring American secret agent Matt Helm, played with tongue in cheek by American singer and comedian Dean Martin. The most commercially successful comic take on the Bond franchise, however, was the series of American films featuring comedian Mike Myers as time-traveling secret agent Austin Powers.

[2] The producers had originally hoped to cast the legendary American actor Orson Welles as Goldfinger but were unwilling to meet his financial demands.

[3] In an interesting twist, Goldfinger was initially banned in Israel when it was learned that Fröbe had been a member of the Nazi party before the war. However, the ban was lifted when it was discovered that Fröbe, having left the party, was instrumental in saving the lives of at least two Jews.

[4] A gold-painted nude female body was prominently displayed in advertisements though the body featured in the ads was actually supplied by actress Margaret Nolan, who also supplied the gold-painted body shown during the film’s opening credits. Nolan has a small role in the film as Dink, Bond’s masseuse in his Miami hotel early in the film. Dink does not get painted gold in the film, but Bond’s ass-slapping dismissal of Dink when he needs to talk about business with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) is one of the more overtly sexist moments in the film.