Movie Review: Goldfinger : fifty years later

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I was a young boy living for one year in a suburb of Chicago–Arlington Heights. I don’t remember much of that year: a monstrous ice-storm that shut everything down and men ice-skating to work; an enormous and popular race-track that burned down after we left; a candy store and a record shop. I don’t remember much else.

I do remember however that my parents did not give me permission to go see Goldfinger. Secret Agents were all the rage–that Christmas my little brother had even received a toy briefcase that fired missiles–and here was the ultimate secret agent of them all: 007… Bond, James Bond.

My buddies were all going, I argued–but still I was not allowed. (At the time, the Catholic Church still had a large influence on the “rating” of films, and Goldfinger surely must have been on some list singled out by the Legion of Decency. A list my parents believed in.)

And so now, several decades later, I saw Goldfinger for the first time. I watched it this weekend.

Boy, have times changed.

Let’s consider the reasons that one would not let their children see a movie (and in America there is only ONE reason, followed by a simpering second.) First there is SEX and then there is Violence (which Americans find preferable to viewing sex.) The violence in Goldfinger is cartoonish. There is a car chase scene where Bond is able to test the extras on his Aston Martin: smoke screen fogger, oil slick sprayer, ejector seat, bullet proof armor and machine guns. There is a later “fight scene” where the American military (which was “pretending” to be knock out by nerve gas) take back Fort Knox. The violence is much less than what appears in a saturday morning cartoon today.

And of course there is the first of the great Bond villains–OddJob.

Harold Sakata as Oddjob

Harold Sakata as Oddjob

As for the sex. Well, there is none. In the beginning of the film, Bond charms and disarms one of Goldfinger’s sexy “henchmen” who is helping him cheat poolside at a game of gin. (Egads, what criminality!) We assume there has been sex, because there is some post-coital conversation–she lying wrapped in sheets and Bond standing in some sort of sleep wear. When he goes to his fridge for another bottle of Dom Perignon, he is attacked and knocked out. When he regains consciousness, his lady friend is naked, painted in gold, and dead from suffocation.

The next “sex scene” is a jiu-jitsu struggle in a barn with Pussy Galore. Bond is thrown a few times, she is thrown a few times and the two end up in the hay (literally),  kissing–fully clothed. That is it.

And my parents wouldn’t let me see it.

Excepting for the sophomoric double entendre on Pussy Galore’s name, the film is squeaky clean–at least by current standards.

And still today, the coolest part of the film is the car. Certainly not the girls and hardly the “action.”

And yet, in hindsight, the film is intriguing: we are witnessing the birth of a franchise. There are those who argue that no other Bond can match Sean Connery and they may be right. He is suave and stylish, resourceful  and droll. From this vantage point, he seems to understand that he is already a parody of himself. And yet, he is always a gentleman. And like any secret agent worth his salt he is extremely cool under pressure. Truly, he invented the type.

Sean Connery as James Bond

Sean Connery as James Bond

So much so, that the Ian Fleming Publishing Ltd. recently commissioned the British novelist, William Boyd, to write a new Bond novel. Boyd, a critically and commercially successful novelist, took the commission gladly–he loved the Bond novels and figured his plots would be better than Fleming’s.  (And when you examine the plot of Goldfinger, you’re pretty likely to agree.) Boyd’s novel Solo will be released on September 26 in Britain and on October 8th in the States. It is not like Bond ever went away…except now he is newer and fresher.

William Boyd's novel Solo

William Boyd’s novel Solo

I wonder if my parents would let me read it.

Sunday Book Review: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

For ninety-percent of the novel Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, I was enthralled.

Vienna before the first World War, London on the eve of war, the no-man’s land between the trenches, neutral Geneva at the height of hostilities, London during zeppelin bombing raids. The settings are dramatic and richly drawn.

As was the plot: A young actor, following his famous father’s footsteps (if that’s not Oedipal enough for him, his mother catches him at his first experience at masturbation to boot), goes to Vienna to find a cure for a sexual condition–to Vienna, the center of the burgeoning new concept of psychoanalysis. Although he meets Freud himself, it is Freud’s English speaking neighbor who takes Lysander Rief on–and who successfully cures him.  And we know he is cured because his four month affair with the English bohemian Hettie Bull ends in a pregnancy and his arrest for rape by the Viennese authorities.

When two British diplomats arrange for Rief’s escape, they also arrange for his indenture to British intelligence.

Soon after Rief returns to London, his rescuers called in his debt and he is asked to enter Geneva via  the front lines. He is successful at his mission, survives seven bullet wounds, and completes the assignment that he had been ordered to finish.  And then he is given a second mission.

The action–of both the military and intelligence escapades and Rief’s romantic life–is riveting, fast paced and cleverly intertwined. Each character seems to be connected to another and no one is entirely innocent. And Rief’s inner-life is subtly and intelligently revealed. One learns much about military ordinance, psychoanalytic practices, the British class system and the early 20th-century British world of theater. And the information is never pedantic or overwhelming but richly woven into the plot.

Yet the solution of Rief’s intelligence mission and the resolution of his own personal quests seems to be lacking.  As the Novel wraps up and the various strands are pulled together, the story begins to limp rather than gain strength.  By the end, I felt I was reading a Hardy Boys’ Adventure. The solution was pat and somewhat anti-climactic.

I had been look forward to Waiting for Sunrise for several months and to be quite honest I enjoyed reading it very, very much. Until the end that is.  I was disappointed. It seemed that Boyd had simply decided to quit.

William Boyd

I like William Boyd very much. I feel he is greatly underrated among his contemporaries and is a wonderful stylist with a perfect ear for the nuances of an age.

I had previously read several Boyd novels and do not remember this falling off, this disappointment before. The novels all successfully re-create historic eras, describing its people, its culture, its ethos, its fears, all braced by an intelligent understanding and description of the scientific theories and advancements that are at that moment being born. For instance, Brazzaville Beach deals with mathematical chaos theory and the sociology of chimpanzees.  The New Confessions (modeled on Rousseau’s Confessions) also deals with World War I–as with Waiting for Sunrise–moves through Hollywood and Berlin, treats the horrors of World War II and then ends with the Hollywood Communist  trials, the whole while treating  us to the internal workings of the Hollywood film industry.  The Blue Afternoon (my personal favorite) is centered on the United States invasion of Manilla and its ultimate acquisition of the Philippines through the Treaty of Versaille and travels from Lisbon, Manilla and Los Angeles, from 1902 through the 1930s, while leading the reader through advancements in surgery and trends in architecture.

All of Boyd’s novels are rich with fascinating information, realistic period details, and memorable human stories. And all are vastly enjoyable and worthwhile.  Waiting for Sunrise, however, for me, ends a little too quickly and a little too weakly.