Photo: Terry O'Neill, from an exhibition of unseen photographs at the Chris Beetles gallery, London, March 2011
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess. (Oscar Wilde)Right, no *ahem* pussyfooting around this month on BlogalongaBond. It had the combined budget of the previous two films. It's preposterous. Most people love it. It's Goldfinger.
Out in the real world, Armageddon, in the form of the Cuban missile crisis, had just been averted. Coincidentally a tsunami of baby-boomer pubescence arrived in the form of Beatlemania (referred to in the film). All that was needed to really coin it was an escapist fantasy sublimating this socio-political frenzy of near-catastrophe and sex. The Bond movie's time had come.
It's a producer's film. Broccoli and Saltzman clearly feel they have the formula. They just needed more of the same, but different - variations on the theme. So, in the tradition of the weak second sequel, the ambition in the film is no longer aesthetic. The variation, the ambition is in the scale. It helped that Terence Young wasn't available to direct this film, so Guy Hamilton could be issued simply with the now-established franchise blueprint and sufficient cash to outdo the previous instalments.
Even Bond himself gasps at the fantasy. 'You're joking!' he says when faced with a car ejector seat. 'I must be dreaming!' he says again, faced with a beautiful woman whose name is also a pimp's advertisment - and, conveniently, the challenge of bedding her is compounded by her lesbianism (although the market-hostile explicitness of this fact in the novel is underplayed in the film). Murders featuring a killer hat, gold paint or (potentially) a laser-saw are science-fictionally opulent and culminate in the baroque crushing of a man in a Lincoln Continental - a superfluous flourish of disposable wealth as he is already dead.
Even the basic plan to irradiate the US gold cache in order to inflate the value of the baddie's personal hoard is an exotic expansion of the novel's comparatively prosaic theft. Either way it's a MacGuffin, of course, just like the Lektor machine in From Russia With Love (for which, see this excellent BlogalongaBond analysis). But Goldfinger itself is really a parody of From Russia With Love, the former trying to engorge the spectacle it thinks the audience enjoyed in the latter. Indeed 1964 marks the start of the Bond/spy parody glut beginning with films such as 008¾ and Carry On Spying.
And so we arrive at the great, Faustian irony of Bond movies, the reason why Goldfinger is considered to be such fun and arguably the Bond movie proper. It is the first of the films that, inwardly looking for that variation on its own theme, successfully introduces its own self-parody. The thematics of the Bond movie are more than adventure and sex-appeal. Each film also has an integrated, self-deprecating humour which one associates with the British agent. In Goldfinger the formula finally matures: as the infectious megalomania has producers and their baddies reaching - along with contemporaneous President Kennedy - for the moon*, so the plucky islander, Bond-the-Brit, still contrives to beat them at their own game.
But of course this embryonic postmodernism makes its own problems, even for the film in which it is conceived. So begins the long decline.
* No, really, all the plutocrats of the early 1960s wanted the moon. Even in this episode from Mad Men.