Sunday, April 20, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Goldfinger

The Story:  It was a circular saw in Ian Fleming's novel.  In it, Bond and Tilly Masterson are prisoners of Auric Goldfinger's and to dispose of their bodies, he has arranged to have them cut apart and destroyed using the same process that he uses to manipulate gold metal.  It's a grisly chapter ("The Pressure Room"), as Bond tries to talk himself out of his fate as the massive spinning saw-blade advances on his body, then gives up and attempts to stop his breathing so he can be unconscious when he is eviscerated. The chapter ends with the line: "A scream tried to force its way through the clamped teeth.  Die damn you die die damn you die damn you die damn you die damn you die..."

Not the most elegant writing on Fleming's part, and he was very capable of it. That line about the "divine heaviness" of gold is Fleming's, also from the novel, a unique perspective on the devotion of the modern Midas.

But, it was originally a saw-blade, and although the Bond movies had already borrowed and updated some of their ideas from other movies, the saw thing cut a little too close to "The Perils of Pauline," where the dastardly villain would tie the heroine to the railroad tracks, or, as here, place them on a tree trunk due for bisection.  Yes, it was luridly humorous, but not the kind of humor we'd come to expect from Bond.  

Someone in the production staff had read about the recently developed laser light beam and decided the "saw-thing" just wasn't enough, and with that decision James Bond stepped out of the World War II era of radar and cyphers, atom power and missiles and into a new world of sci-fi gee-wizardry that could be weaponized in all sorts of nasty ways for our side or theirs.  And James Bond became the first candidate for lasik neutering.

It's one way that the early Bonds—and especially Goldfinger—found a way to "out-Fleming" Fleming, by ratcheting up the elements of outrageousness with a whiz-kid enthusiasm.  Even as it raised the bar for ingenuity, it also lowered the (one hesitates to say) maturity level of the films, so the next ones—Thunderball and You Only Live Twice—exploded with jet-packs for air and sea, crazy 'copters, volcano HQ's and rocket-dart cigarettes.  The gadgetry would overwhelm the series at points, causing the producers to do a sobering course-shift every few films (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale) to put Bond back on dramatis firma.  By the 21st Century, the hi-tech lifestyle of Bond would become commonplace and available at the local Sharper Image store, and would be virtually eliminated—the customary visit to "Q" branch would be skipped (although Skyfall brought it—and him—back into a world of hacking and cell-phones).

Beyond the laser gadget, the scene is a fine example of all departments firing on all cylinders:  the writing is clever, with a villain's casual indifference to the hero's plight, turning the "ve haff vays of making you talk" cliché on a deaf ear, culminating in the best line of the series (debatably), the perfectly reasonable response to Bond's question of motive: "No, Mr. Bond I expect you to die."  That raises the stakes of the scene; the villain has much bigger fish than "Our Hero" and this is just another elaborate way of his to throw out the garbage.  Guy Hamilton's direction and Peter Hunt's editing are solidly in the Hitchcock field of "see/saw/react" and John Barry's tension-building snake-like music—starting softly and simply, then adding complicating, louder elements every few bars—coalesce to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, with the added element of the males keeping their legs crossed...tightly.

The Set-Up: While investigating suspected gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), a reconnaissance of the millionaire's Swiss factory goes wrong leaving the avenging sister (Tania Mallet) of one of Goldfinger's earlier victims (Shirley Eaton) dead, Agent 007's Swiss Army knife of a vehicle wrecked, and James Bond (Sean Connery) unconscious.  He is about to get another of this adventure's many rude awakenings.

Action! (Lights!)

Bond awakens after the crash, finding himself bound and in darkness.
With an alarming buzz, the lights blaze on and Bond can see his predicament—tied hand and foot, spread-eagled on a table-conveyor. 
AURIC GOLDFINGER: Good evening, 007.  
JAMES BOND: My name is James Bond. 
GOLDFINGER: And members of your curious profession are few in number. 
GOLDFINGER: You have been recognized. 
GOLDFINGER: Let's say by one of your opposite numbers, who is also licensed to kill. 
GOLDFINGER: (chuckles) What an interesting car of yours!
GOLDFINGER: I, too, have a new toy, but considerably more practical. 
GOLDFINGER: You are looking at an industrial laser...
GOLDFINGER: ...which emits an extraordinary light, not to be found in nature. 
GOLDFINGER: It can project a spot on the moon. 
GOLDFINGER: Or at closer range, cut through solid metal. 
GOLDFINGER: I will show you. 
Goldfinger snaps his fingers at his technicians. 
The laser mechanism moves down Bond's body and hovers, glowing and humming dangerously.
A scarlet blade of light shoots from the device as it begins to move inexorably towards the metal platform.
As the laser moves to the metal sheet Bond is lying on, it flashes and melts as it's cleaved in half. 
GOLDFINGER:  This is gold, Mr Bond. 
GOLDFINGER: All my life, I've been in love with its colour... 
GOLDFINGER: ...its brilliance, its divine heaviness. 
GOLDFINGER: I welcome any enterprise that will increase my stock... 
GOLDFINGER: ...which is considerable. 
BOND:  I think you've made your point, Goldfinger. 
BOND: Thank you for the demonstration. 
GOLDFINGER: Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Bond. It may be your last. 
GOLDFINGER:  The purpose...
GOLDFINGER:  ...of our two previous encounters is now very clear to me. I do not intend to be distracted by another. 
GOLDFINGER: Good night, Mr Bond. 
BOND:  Do you expect me to talk? 
GOLDFINGER: No, Mr Bond! I expect you to die! 
 GOLDFINGER: There is nothing you can talk to me about that I don't already know. 
BOND:  You're forgetting one thing. 
BOND: If I fail to report, 008 replaces me.
GOLDFINGER:  I trust he will be more successful. 
BOND: He knows what I know. 
 GOLDFINGER: You know nothing, Mr Bond. 
BOND: Operation "Grand Slam," for instance.
GOLDFINGER: Two words you may have overheard... 
GOLDFINGER:  ...which cannot have... 
GOLDFINGER:  ...any significance...
GOLDFINGER: you or anyone in your organisation.
BOND:  Can you afford to take that chance? 
The laser shuts off and Kitsch approaches with a pistol.
GOLDFINGER:  You are quite right, Mr Bond. 
GOLDFINGER: You are worth more to me alive.


Words by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn (and Ian Fleming)

Pictures by Ted Moore and Guy Hamilton

Goldfinger is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from M-G-M and Fox Home Video.

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