James Bond is the worst secret agent in the world.
No, really. In Goldfinger, he spends the entire film being rendered unconscious and getting carted between the villains’ various headquarters – where they obligingly tell him a bit more of the plot before knocking him out again and shipping him off somewhere else.
Notwithstanding that small fact, 1964’s Goldfinger was the point at which James Bond went blockbuster – the budget for the third Bond film was more than those of its predecessors Dr No and From Russia With Love combined.
It’s also the point at which the Bond films settled into their groove – the briefing from M, Q’s gadget-laden cars, the brassy Shirley Bassey theme, the good Bond girl and the bad Bond girl, the villain’s henchman with a gimmicky coup de grace – every cliché from the series can be traced back to Goldfinger.
And it was worth its weight in gold. Goldfinger was the fastest grossing film ever, granting it a place in the Guiness Book of World Records. And that’s despite the budget having to accommodate such luxuries as the pair of brand new Aston Martin DB5 sports cars the producer had to shell out for, since Aston Martin didn’t trust them not to ruin the beauties. Jaguar, the original first choice, outright turned them down for the E-Type. Ford, on the other hand, eagerly gave them a Lincoln Continental for the crushing scene in exchange for the Ford Mustang’s starring role in the Swiss mountain driving sequence.
The novel saw gold-obsessed villain Auric Goldfinger threatening Bond’s crown jewels with a buzz saw. But this was seen as a cliché so the blade was swapped out for a laser – the first time one had ever been used on film. And that wasn’t the only change to the novel. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum fixed a key plot hole from the book, in which Goldfinger’s ‘Operation Grand Slam’ plot to rob Fort Knox of its bullion – which would have taken several days – is swapped out for his plan to irradiate it instead.
Sadly Ian Fleming didn’t live to see the improvements, as he died shortly before the film’s release. And where did he get the villain’s unusual name from? A modernist architect who threatened to sue – when asked by his publisher to change the name Fleming agreed to do so, but only to Goldprick.
The villain’s henchwoman Pussy Galore was played by Honor Blackman – the oldest Bond girl at 37 years old. The producers were so keen to get her they even changed the script to make her character a judo specialist just so she’d be suited to the role. They didn’t change the character’s name, though – a fit of prudishness nearly saw Pussy renamed Kitty Galore, before wiser heads prevailed.
Blackman left her role as Cathy Gale on The Avengers to appear in Goldfinger. A 1965 episode of The Avengers made sly reference to this by having John Steed receive a Christmas card from Cathy Gale – sent from Fort Knox.
Although the producers created an accurate scale model of Fort Knox for inclusion in the film – and even filmed the exterior of the building – the interior is wholly the product of designer Ken Adam’s imagination. Sadly, real bullion vaults don’t have stacks of gold on pallets behind bars.
Still, a little bit of Goldfinger’s cinematic magic made it into the real Fort Knox – the scale model used by Goldfinger to plan Operation Grand Slam now sits inside Fort Knox as a permanent exhibition.
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