This article has been taken from the Autumn 2014 issue of Aston Martin's official AM Magazine. Available now in Print and App format.
As Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary, Paul Duncan picks the film’s key ingredients that established James Bond’s winning mixture of glamour, gadgets and globe-trotting action on the big screen.
Before Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings were turned into successful film franchises, it was understood in Hollywood that sequels could never be as good as the original, and that the law of diminishing returns would apply with the release of each subsequent movie. The exception that proved the rule was James Bond. Somehow the series, based on the superspy novels of Ian Fleming, had the golden touch and only producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew the magic formula that turned hot lead into pure gold. They discovered it 50 years ago, when they made Goldfinger .
They had enjoyed box-office success with Dr No(1962) and From Russia with Love (1963), both of which had stuck faithfully to Fleming's original novels. But in choosing Goldfinger as their next film, with Sean Connery back as Bond, they had a problem: 007's investigation of gold-smuggling Auric Goldfinger ends in the novel with the villains arrested before they can break into Fort Knox to steal the US gold reserves. "You can't do that in a movie," says the film's director, Guy Hamilton. "You can't say, 'We're doing a heist on Fort Knox,' and then say, 'Sorry, kids, we haven't got in.' "
The film-makers had no option but to rewrite Fleming's story. Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn restructured the plot, added new situations and wrapped it in the sophisticated dialogue that makes Goldfinger so memorable. Consolidating elements from the novels and the first two movies, they created the template for all future Bonds.
German actor Gert Fröbe was cast as Goldfinger. Unfortunately, he could not speak English. Hamilton had the solution: "I said to Gert, 'Just speak quick, quick, quick.' When Cubby and Harry saw the first rushes, they went bananas. They said: 'You can't understand a thing.' I said: 'Don't worry, we're going to dub him later. The lips are moving fast enough to get a rhythm.' " So when Bond is about to be sliced in half by a laser beam, and Fröbe's Goldfinger tells him, "Choose your next witticism carefully. It may be your last," it is the actor Michael Collins who speaks the line.
Whereas Goldfinger provides a duel of wits for Bond, the villain's henchman, Oddjob (played by the Hawaiian-born wrestler Harold Sakata), represents a purely physical challenge. Gold bars bounce off him. He is impervious to Bond's karate chops. Lengths of wood fall to pieces when smashed against him. In such situations, Bond systematically goes through the physical options; when they fail, he thinks his way out of the situation. As Oddjob reaches for his steel-rimmed hat stuck in a grille, Bond uses a live wire to electrify the grille, the hat and Oddjob with it.
During the shooting of this sequence, Sakata was as tough as his character. Holding on to his hat as all the pyrotechnics were going off, he found his clothes and hair were being singed. "The effects were rather fun," recalls Hamilton, "so I didn't say anything for quite a time." Eventually, Hamilton said "Harold" and Sakata made a spectacular fall. When later asked why he hadn't let go, Sakata replied: "Because Guy didn't say, 'Cut.' "
Roald Dahl, who later wrote for the Bond series, was told by the producers that "there had to be three women in Bond's life. The first two get killed and the third one he goes off with." In Goldfinger, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) is killed by being smothered in gold paint by Oddjob, who later disposes of her sister in Switzerland. The third woman is Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman. "In the book, Pussy Galore was a lesbian," remembers Blackman. "The idea that she is going to take one look at Sean Connery and suddenly change, it's absolutely ludicrous." The character was rewritten. "It wasn't difficult to play sexy scenes with Sean. Let's face it, he is without doubt the sexiest man I've ever met."
Production designer Ken Adam strove for authenticity in every aspect of the sets for the film. For the celebrated scene where James Bond is strapped to a "solid gold" table and faced with a gradually advancing laser beam, Adam sourced a real laser. But to achieve the effect, a man with an oxyacetylene torch was positioned under the table, heating the metal to 3,500°C, then slowly cutting a path towards the nether regions of Connery's Bond. The star was not very happy. "He could see the torch getting closer," says Hamilton, "and as the people underneath couldn't, he was wondering who was going to give them the cue to stop."
Ken Adam had also taken pictures of Fort Knox so that he could reproduce it exactly on the back lot of Pinewood studios. "Once the audience accepts the exterior and knows there's no cheating, they will automatically accept my interior," he says. His spectacular gold vault set established a style of heightened reality for the Bond series. "I think the studio received over 300 letters after the film was released saying, 'How were you allowed to film inside Fort Knox when even the President of the United States is not allowed inside the place?'"
Ian Fleming's novel specified a gadget-laden Aston Martin DB Mark III for the story's chase across Europe. Special-effects man John Stears remembers visiting Aston Martin Lagonda with Adam: "We saw this beautiful red DB5, registration BMT 216A, which was the prototype. I fell in love with this car. It was absolutely gorgeous." He eventually charmed Aston Martin's general manager, Steve Heggie, and picked up the prototype. Stuntman Bob Simmons had use of a standard DB5 for a weekend to get a feel of it before filming began on the Monday.
Although the car is full of gadgets on screen, the prototype DB5 only had enough space for one gadget at a time; once scenes with the bulletproof shield had been shot, it was taken out to make room for an oil-spray tank. A prop man was put in the boot to deploy smoke during the car chase. "He let it off much earlier because there was a leak in the canister," says Hamilton. "He was dying in the back with all the smoke in the boot."
The sales of Aston Martin went up after the release of the film. "After that, we never had any problems getting cars from manufacturers," says Adam.
With its recurring characters, memorable pre-titles sequence, innovative opening credits and the powerfully evocative music and theme tune, it is no wonder that when Goldfinger was released in the US on December 25, 1964, it recouped its $3 million budget in only two weeks. It went on to make almost $125 million worldwide.
This winning formula was not arrived at by one person, but by the whole production team working with a common vision. But how do you repeat that success? "There was always the temptation to believe that it had a kind of built-in momentum of its own. It didn't," producer Cubby Broccoli once explained. "Each James Bond film was as demanding creatively as the first."
That brings us to the real secret of the franchise: the audience knows the characters, and the template, and the most successful films of the series create tension by playing with our expectations. But let us not forget that Goldfinger was the first with the golden touch.
Paul Duncan is editor of The James Bond Archives, published by Taschen (www.taschen.com)