Wednesday, August 8, 2012

GOLDFINGER (1964)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological*


As I’ve done here with other Bond movies, I’m comparing GOLDFINGER with the Fleming source novel in a number of respects.

I’ll start with the comparison most vital to illustrating the NUM theory.  Most Bond novels fall distinctly into either the “naturalistic” or “uncanny” categories, with the most frequent tropes being those of (1) “freakish flesh”, which manifests in Fleming’s tendency to make his villains extraordinarily ugly, (2) “outrĂ© outfits skills and devices,” which in Fleming applies mostly to the peculiar devices of spycraft, and (3) “bizarre crimes,” crimes which go beyond the boundaries of routine crime.



GOLDFINGER the novel makes some limited use of the “freakish flesh” trope: Goldfinger has a “football-like” head, Oddjob has hands and feet hideously callused over by his karate-practice, and even a minor character—Billy Ring, one of the thugs Goldfinger enlists for his great crime— sports a Dick Tracy-like grotesquerie, in that he’s missing his lower lip due to some gangland surgery.  The film makes no use of this trope; both Goldfinger and Oddjob are (by Hollywood standards) homely but not particularly grotesque men.


In terms of “bizarre crimes,” the GOLDFINGER novel sports not one but two crimes so unique that they deserve to be termed “uncanny,” in part because both spring from the villain’s peculiar fetish for the precious metal gold.  Goldfinger’s plan to rob Fort Knox by gassing the local population is one he himself styles as “the greatest crime in history,” while one of the gangsters calls Goldfinger “the greatest thing in crime since Cain invented murder and used it on Abel.”



The other bizarre crime is the literally “colorful” means by which Goldfinger executes his disloyal henchwoman Jill Masterston: by coating her body with gold paint so that she suffocates.  Both book and film versions have something to recommend them.  In the book, Bond never witnesses Jill’s death, but is told about it by Jill’s vengeful sister Tilly.  The book also roots this murder-method in Goldfinger’s fetishistic habits, as Bond is also informed that Goldfinger so loved gold that he had sex with prostitutes painted gold—albeit not painted so thoroughly that they died.  The movie, aimed at a general audience, necessarily omits this detail.  One might argue that the early scene in which Bond actually encounters the dead, gold-painted body of Jill is a better scene in terms of drama than Tilly’s after-the-fact revelations.



The book also has one “outrĂ© weapon” that appears in the same form in the movie: Oddjob’s metal-brimmed bowler, which one might view as the ancestor to all the uncanny weapons that would later proliferate in kung-fu films.  Bond himself uses one unusual weapon in the book; a pair of knives concealed in his boot-heels—but the film decided to go much farther than this.  GOLDFINGER is the template for all of the more SF-oriented Bond-films, with Bond armed with an Aston-Martin car full of wild gadgets while this version of Goldfinger utilizes a titanic laser to cut through the door of Fort Knox.  The book’s Goldfinger threatens Bond with a messy (and castrating) death with the use of a table-saw, which isn’t quite “bizarre” enough in my book, but the movie alters this in a more eye-opening direction: death by castrating laser-beam.  Between the big laser and the gadget-filled car, the GOLDFINGER film merits inclusion within the phenomenal category of the marvelous.



The central plots of book and movie differ only in minor details.  In the book Bond is is enlisted to investigate Goldfinger by a rich man who has been the victim of the villain cheating him at cards.  In the movie, Bond’s American ally Felix Leiter enlists Bond to investigate Goldfinger, whose involvement in illicit gold-smuggling is already known to both Leiter’s and Bond’s organizations.  The novel develops much more slowly, and with more realistic detail, while the film concentrates on involving Bond in as many high-energy battles as possible—which it does so well that many Bond-enthusiasts rate this as the best of the series. Possibly the most interesting sociological theme here is the degree to which Goldfinger’s fetishes serve the interests of his Communist masters.  In the book, the gold-loving villain really wants to get away with a quantity of Fort Knox’s gold, which will incidentally help destabilize the West.  The movie chooses to be a jot more realistic on this point, as the movie’s Goldfinger plans to contaminate Fort Knox’s gold with radioactive materials, again destabilizing the West’s resources and only indirectly serving the villain’s lust for gold by making his own supply of the metal more valuable.



The other interesting sociological theme relates to the gender relations of both book and film.  Both use the same three females: Jill Masterson, Tilly Masterson, and Pussy Galore, two of whom Ian Fleming used to express his rather conservative opinions on the phenomenon of lesbianism.


Of the three, Jill is largely unchanged.  In both media-versions she sleeps with Bond after he finds out how she’s helping Goldfinger cheat at cards.  As noted above, she isn’t killed as early in the novel as in the film.  Curiously, in addition to being the only “straight” female in the threesome, she, the “golden girl” of the movie’s theme-song, is the only one presented as a blonde (whether a natural one or not).  In the book Tilly and Pussy are both dark-haired, but the movie blonde-izes them all.

Movie-Tilly dies the same way as book-Tilly, killed by Oddjob’s flying bowler, but in the movie Tilly dies almost as soon as Bond prevents her from killing Goldfinger.  In the book Tilly and Bond both manage to convince Goldfinger to take them on as his helpers, and Tilly does not perish until she and Bond escape the villain during the thwarted robbery of Fort Knox.  For several pages Tilly and Bond share adjoining rooms at Goldfinger’s estate, but though Tilly receives the narrative focus of a “Bond girl” she never succumbs to the hero’s charms.  For his part, Bond views her lesbian tendencies as a case of getting her hormones “mixed up.”  Tilly is more interested in Pussy Galore than in James Bond, but never succeeds in making a love connection before she dies.  The movie-version is not identifiably lesbian, though she does treat Bond coldly in their few scenes together.



Pussy Galore doesn’t appear until well over halfway through the novel.  Whereas the film makes her Goldfinger’s henchwoman, the better to make her more central to that story, book-Pussy is one of several gang-leaders summoned to aid Goldfinger’s scheme.  She commands respect from her criminal colleagues as “the only woman who runs a gang in America,” an all-female organization whose name, “the Cement Mixers,” may comprise a very roundabout sexual joke. As in the film Miss Galore is an experienced pilot, and though Fleming’s version does not demonstrate any athleticism, his backstory informs the reader that she was a “trapeze artist.”  This in turn led to her career as a cat-burglar, which may suggest a “clean” origin for her nickname. Pussy displays little chemistry with Bond in the last third of the novel, but she finally chooses to throw in with Bond after the Fort Knox raid has been foiled, implicitly to save herself from a long sentence.  She then allows Bond to seduce her, making her something of a stand-in for Tilly, who successfully resisted Bond’s charms.  In a rather odd coda, Pussy even undermines her own lesbian status by claiming that she turned against men after being molested by her uncle.



In many respects, movie-Pussy, despite being demoted to henchwoman-status, proves a more iconic figure.  A few lines suggest her devotion to Lesbos, though only if one already knows the nature of the original character.  Since Tilly is killed off early in the film, Pussy becomes the central female character of the narrative, appearing almost immediately after Tilly perishes, and interacting far more frequently with Bond than she does in the novel.  I don’t know if scripters Dehn and Maibaum planned to give their version of the character judo-skills prior to the casting of AVENGERS-actress Honor Blackman as Pussy; it’s possible that this aspect of the character was a later addition to take advantage of Blackman’s experience in fake-fighting.  She gets the better of Bond in one judo-attack, and then loses to him in a second encounter.  Apparently she’s more taken with his charms than the book-version is, for she calls in the cavalry prior to the Fort Knox raid, rather than after the raid has failed.  She’s nothing more than a bound victim during Bond’s final combat with the villain, whereas the book-version tries to help Bond by causing the plane to dive.  Naturally final clinch with Bond does not conjure any specters of evil uncles.



The scene in which Bond seduces Galore in a barn after their second match deserves extended comment.  In modern terms Bond’s seduction may look a lot like rape, even though the adult audience in 1964 would not have read it in quite those terms, not least because Blackman’s character is getting into the act just as the shot ends.  To that audience, Bond’s forceful persuasion would just have been one of many such hot-blooded encounters seen throughout decades of cinema.





One other mitigation should be kept in mind.  Prior to the barn-scene, Goldfinger—who knows Bond is an agent in this version—orders Galore to watch over Bond.  One would not ordinarily expect one woman to be put in charge of one man, even if she knows judo.  The script isn’t explicit on this point, but it certainly would have been possible for Pussy, given her authority, to have summoned other guards to help her monitor her charge.  The fact that she allows Bond to steer her into the barn suggests that on some level she’s aware that he may attempt a seduction.  Thus it’s conceivable that she allows it to transpire because on some level she knows that she’s not really playing for what Fleming calls a “separate league.”  It would certainly be appropriate—if not quite true to Fleming’s original theme—if a girl with her unique name swung at least two ways within the domain of the polymorphously perverse.   

ADDENDA:  As a result of my posting this review on the Classic Horror Film Board, I have to address some complications brought up by one of the posters responding to my essay.

The most minor point is, what is the disposition of Pussy Galore during the climactic fight-scene? At the end of the book, Pussy is in no way responsible for the failure of the Fort Knox raid, as she is in the film.  In the book, Bond writes a note that successfully puts the military on the alert; the raid is foiled, and Goldfinger escapes with Pussy, Oddjob and a couple of aides, later cornering Bond aboard his plane in order to get revenge.

In the novel Pussy decides to throw in with Bond, warns him in advance that she plans to dive the plane, which helps Bond beat Goldfinger and his henchmen (in the book it's Oddjob who gets sucked through an open plane window). In the film Pussy helps foil the raid by altering the military, but as it happens only Goldfinger and Pussy get away.  Somehow the villain gets aboard Bond's plane after knocking out the guards, and he has Pussy flying the plane while he re-acquaints himself with Bond.  However, he definitely suspects Pussy's disloyalty, telling Bond that "I shall deal with her later."  Pussy doesn't stand the plane on its end; Bond's struggle with Goldfinger breaks a window and apparently causes the craft to go into a spin.

Above I wrote, "She’s nothing more than a bound victim during Bond’s final combat with the villain."  While I knew that she was the only one left to fly the plane, it looked to me as if she were bound into her seat by Goldfinger.  One of the Board's posters disagreed, so I looked at the scene again. I can't see any ropes holding Honor Blackman's character in her seat, but she's certainly holding her arms close to her sides as she supposedly tries to pull the plane out of its descent, which she's only able to do when Bond helps.  It may not be a coincidence that there's never a full shot of the airplane's instrument panel. I suspect that the actors were working with no more than a few levers and other props in order to suggest the presence of a full pilot's cabin, and that may be why Miss Blackman doesn't do the usual actor's routine of wrestling the steering-controls back and forth.  Anyway, even if Galore's not bound, she's implicitly under Goldfinger's control and doesn't actually help Bond in the end fight.

I also wrote:

"Prior to the barn-scene, Goldfinger—who knows Bond is an agent in this version—orders Galore to watch over Bond. One would not ordinarily expect one woman to be put in charge of one man, even if she knows judo. The script isn’t explicit on this point, but it certainly would have been possible for Pussy, given her authority, to have summoned other guards to help her monitor her charge. The fact that she allows Bond to steer her into the barn suggests that on some level she’s aware that he may attempt a seduction."

On reviewing the scenes prior to the sex-scene, I have to revise this.  The first time we see Goldfinger and Galore relaxing outside Goldfinger's stable, one of the villain's aides tells him that the stable's being watched by two unknown men.  Because Goldfinger doesn't know whether or not these are Bond's fellow agents (which they are), he decides to put on a front for their benefit, so that they'll think Bond is still on friendly terms with the suspect.  Goldfinger instructs Galore to put across this illusion by changing out of her business-suit into a more fetching ensemble, which she does, remarking that it's "business before pleasure" for her.  Moments later, she does make up to Bond and offer to give him a tour of the property-- but she's only friendly when the two of them are outside.  Bond forces her hand by going into the stable, and as soon as she follows him in, she immediately drops the lovey-dovey act, which leads to their fight, and to the sex-scene-- which as I said, Galore is getting into as the scene, uh, climaxes.

So it would seem I was wrong about thinking that the scripters might've meant to give Pussy an ulterior motive; logically, she wouldn't keep guards stationed over Bond because that might have aroused the suspicion of the watchers-who-might-be-agents. (And her nicey-nice act does work: the agents watching the scene are indeed lulled by Galore's play-acting, even if the "act" goes further than she means it to.)

The poster on the Board also brought up one question about Pussy's character: was she complicit in the potential murder of several thousand people in the raid?

In the book, Goldfinger tells all of the gang-leaders-- including Galore-- that he intends to knock out the population of Fort Knox.  In private, Bond tells the villain that he Bond knows that the gas will be fatal; implicitly Goldfinger sells the gang-leaders a bill of goods just in case they might be squeamish over mass murder.  So the Galore of the book never knows that she's complicit in mass murder when she co-operates with the raid, and Bond never has a chance to so inform her.

The movie uses pretty much the same arrangement, with some minor staging-differences.  Pussy is not present when Bond tells Goldfinger that he knows about the effects of the gas; however, he's certainly alone with her later.  Does he tell her?  There's no dialogue to suggest that he does, but it would make a good motivation for her to turn on Goldfinger prior to the raid, so maybe the scripters had the idea in mind but dropped it for time-constraints. I suspect that the scripters had some notion of keeping Galore clear of guilt in Goldfinger's evil scheme, since there's a quick line where Bond tells Pussy "I hope you're not in all of this"-- which I take to mean, not aware of the plan to poison thousands of people.  It's good to keep in mind that the Bond films, however racy, were still aimed at a general audience, and a lot of audience-members might have been distressed at the notion that the hero would end up-- even temporarily-- with a woman capable of committing the same heartless massacre contemplated by the title villain.


     

       

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