Ian Fleming

November 17, 2012

Double-ovember: Goldfinger

ICONIC

If you looked in the spy movie encyclopedia and searched for James Bond, the first film it would reference would be Goldfinger.  It is an ICONIC example of the world Ian Fleming created all those years ago on the beaches of Jamaica.  It is the starting point for all the other spy movies in this encyclopedia I just made up.  It stars the most ICONIC Bond in Sean Connery.  It has one of the most ICONIC villains in Goldfinger.  It has one of the most ICONIC henchmen in Odd Job.  It has the most ICONIC Bond girl in Pussy Galore.  The car, the kills, the gadgets, the catchphrases, the song…all ICONIC.  There have been many great Bond films since, but in my eyes, none have surpassed the notability of Goldfinger.
I have stressed before my belief that the best kinds of Bond girls are not just beautiful.  They are not just a pawn for which Bond can casually move around for his own benefit.  They are women who can hold their own with Bond physically or mentally or both.  The larger the challenge they give James, the brighter he shines.  Bond girls in the beginning were victims of the time.  Female empowerment was rarely seen in cinema in the 60s.  Goldfinger, however, manages to have two girls that bucked that trend.  Jill Masterson, who has probably the most ICONIC fate in Bond history, does fall into the pawn category.  However, her vengeful sister Tilly does not.  She makes it her life’s mission to find and kill the man responsible for her sister’s demise.  Even if that means shooting through 007 to do it.  She still  pales in comparison to Pussy Galore.  Pussy is beautiful, a pilot, proficient with firearms, and a judo master.  The first time Bond meets her, she pushes him around at gunpoint.  The next time they meet, Pussy knocks Bond on his ass and recaptures him.  The next time, they both have a Judo showdown in a barn.  Pussy Galore is the opposite of a pushover.  Even her relationship with Goldfinger seems more like one of competitive equals than employee/employer.  Pussy Galore was the benchmark Bond girl for me until Vesper Lynd came along.  But that is a conversation for another day.
Goldfinger and Odd Job shouldn’t work as villains on paper.  A British born, Dutch sounding, gold obsessed, spoiled sport teamed with an Asian chauffeur who likes playing ring toss on people’s heads with a lethal, metal brimmed bowler.  However, they are two of the Bond franchise’s most referenced villains.  You’ve never seen a Bond retrospective without seeing THIS…or THIS.  But other than ICONOGRAPHY, how do they stack up as villains?  Goldfinger’s plan is surprisingly sound, even for today’s standard.  Hell, a version of it was used in Die Hard With A Vengeance.  He should also get props for making Sean Connery’s Bond appear actually desperate.  That laser scene always reminds me of this amazing scene in Mission Impossible 3.  Goldfinger’s obsession with gold falls short only to his obsession with winning.  If Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure grew up to be a Bond villain he’d be Auric Goldfinger.  
A henchman’s scariness and effectiveness usually depends on their commitment to their boss’s cause.  Suffice to say, Odd Job is committed.  So much so, when the authorities begin to close in to stop a bomb he’s transporting, Odd Job locks himself inside a vault with the bomb and kills a nearby henchman to make sure he won’t diffuse it.  He’s more than a match for Bond physically and uses a weapon so implausible that it would make Q scoff.  That is a great henchman.
Goldfinger is literally James Bond 101.  If you ever need a refresher course on what exactly a Bond film should feel like, I advise you to …sing along with Dame Shirley Bassey…buy back all your gold from this guy…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 

November 2, 2012

Double-ovember: The Man With The Golden Gun

STYLISH

The first Bond film I’m reviewing this month was the first Bond movie I ever saw.  So, it might explain my love for Roger Moore.  Yes, Sean Connery is the best Bond.  Yes, Moore was more punchline than punch.  But as a kid, he was my introduction into the world of Bond.  And the world of The Man With The Golden Gun was a world that shattered any preconceived notions I had for a good guy versus bad guy film.

James Bond isn’t some “golly-gee” farm-boy from Smallville who does whats right no matter what.  James Bond isn’t some selfless trust fund baby who strikes fear in the hearts of criminals when night falls.  James Bond isn’t some nerdy photographer with superpowers who is entirely hung up on responsibility.  James Bond is actually…well…an asshole.  Hell!  He’s somewhat of a misogynistic asshole.  Double Hell!  He’s somewhat of a cold blooded murdering misogynistic asshole.   James Bond doesn’t wear a mask to protect the people he cares about.  He doesn’t use an alias to protect the government he works for.  He doesn’t fight fair.  He doesn’t follow orders.  He might technically be the worst spy on paper ever.  And we love him for it.   He’s the longest running antihero in cinema history.  Bond does things that we want to do, but our better natures won’t allow us to.  And he does them with STYLE

The Man With The Golden Gun, or Bond IX, is about 007 tracking down and killing the world’s  deadliest assassin before he returns the favor in kind.  An assassin that uses a golden gun.  Um…that’s it.  Sure, there is a solar energy subplot tossed in there, but its more sub than plot.   The film can be summed up in caveman terms.  Bond hunt bad guy.  Bond find bad guy.  Bond kill bad guy.  It is such a simple and badass premise, its a wonder why Hollywood action films nowadays, other than Dredd 3D & The Raid, overcomplicate themselves.  The Man With The Golden Gun sets up a fight between two pitbulls and lets them duke it out in the final act.    
A Bond film is usually measured by three primary factors.  The Bond girls, the Bond gadgets, and the Bond villains.  Let me start with the girls.  Unlike our misogynistic hero, I like it when Bond’s femme fatales have equal footing with him.  Sadly, in The Man With The Golden Gun, the Bond girls are lacking in any type of equality.  They fall into archetypes used many times before and after this film.  The reluctant mistress of the villain and the admiring rookie agent.  However, they serve as little else than a subservient pawn piece for Bond to move around.  Maud Adams’s character of Andrea Anders pales in comparison to the character of Octopussy, who she played years later.   Mary Goodnight is literally described as the “astoundingly dumb blonde British agent”.  So you know what you’re getting there.  You can attribute the minimized Bond girl personality to either the era or the fact they wanted to focus more on the villain.   However, it becomes a glaring weakness of the film.  
As far as the gadgets go,  they are few and far between in this film.  The only one of any real importance is the infamous golden gun.  Again, when I was a kid, nothing was cooler than Christopher Lee assembling his golden gun and blowing someone away.  Being older now, I can see how people can see it as goofy.  However, you have to respect the elegance and simplicity of the idea.
    
The Man With The Golden Gun has arguably the greatest Bond villain of all time in Francisco Scaramanga.  He is played superbly by the always devious Christopher Lee.  A cousin of Bond scribe Ian Fleming.  Allow me to put his awesomeness in the proper perspective.  For recreation…RECREATION MIND YOU…Scaramanga practices killing people by…KILLING PEOPLE!  He makes arrangements for their arrival to his home, disarms himself, pays them…TO TRY AND KILL HIM…then beats them to the punch.  He’s so cool, the cold open of the film is entirely dedicated to him.  He has skill.  He has STYLE.  He has a third nipple.  Uh…yeah…he has a third nipple…but who cares?!  He more than holds his own with Bond.  To this day, I measure all Bond villains to him.  And Nick Nack.  Ohhhhhh Nick Nack.  It takes balls to have a henchman in a Bond film be a dwarf.  Herve Villechaize’s great performance propelled Nick Nack into becoming one of the most iconic Bond characters of all time.  There wouldn’t be a Mini-Me without a Nick Nack.   
In the lexicon of Bond, The Man With The Golden Gun always stands out near the top.  Not because it is the best film.  Its not.  It stands out because it possesses so many of the STYLISH elements of the James Bond franchise.  Put on a tux…order a martini(You know how)…sing along with Lulu…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  
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