Gold, only Gold: Goldfinger at 50

Sean Connery and Gert Frobe

Sean Connery and Gert Frobe

By Nicolás Suszczyk, guest writer

It doesn’t have to be your favorite film. You might be in the minority of those who don’t like it, and, of course, you might not find it as serious as From Russia with Love, Skyfall, Casino Royale or The Living Daylights.

But you can’t deny Goldfinger is the James Bond film which set the standards to “what a James Bond film is” to the eyes of the worldwide public.

The third Bond film has all the ingredients that made us Bond fans: three (main) beautiful girls, an imposing villain with world domination dreams, a dangerous henchman and larger-than-life sets, the thrilling John Barry score and the still-memorable Shirley Bassey song, an icon of the Bond culture.

Over the years Auric Goldfinger evolved into Max Zorin and Elliott Carver; Jill Masterson’s golden body was re-adapted in the 21st century as Strawberry Field’s unwanted oil bath for Quantum of Solace; and Oddjob was the “father” of all the powerful and unbeatable henchmen.

The Aston Martin DB5 was the Bondmobile that the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig eras resurrected and all its accessories inspired Maxwell Smart’s red Sunbeam Alpine. Goldfinger wasn’t just important as a template for the following James Bond films, but for all the 1960s spy series and spoofs like Get Smart and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., with agents and their gadgets, girls and extravagant villains.

Let me share a personal story between the facts many of us know –- I found Goldfinger terribly boring the first time I saw it, when my grandmother rented it and I was 9 or 10. I was carried away by the spectacle of the Pierce Brosnan films and the funny treats of the Roger Moore era after watching -–in that order– The Man with the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die and Moonraker.

By the late 1990s I was mad for GoldenEye and its 1997 videogame version that, as we all knew, featured villains like Jaws, Baron Samedi and Oddjob in the multiplayer modes. I’ve seen Jaws and Baron Samedi and then I wanted to watch Oddjob, hence, I asked my grandmother to rent me Goldfinger. I heard a very good review of it from the father of a schoolmate then who told me “it was great,” but as I started watching it… it was strange. I found Sean Connery’s performance extremely dull, and I barely watched some scenes of it. It’s a hard thing to confess, don’t you think?

But, well, luckily I grew up and by the second time I watched it (it was the last Bond film I bought to complete my VHS collection) I enjoyed it very much.

Even when It hadn’t had the thrilling action scenes of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough or the emotionally deep plots of Casino Royale and Licence to Kill, and the idea of James Bond questioning himself for killing somebody –- present in the 1959 Ian Fleming novel and resurfaced in the latest Bond films — was completely wiped out as in the first scene Connery’s Bond electrocutes a thug and leaves an unconscious girl dropped in the floor by claiming the situation was “positively shocking.”

Goldfinger broke new ground. Ted Moore’s cinematography became more colorful, John Barry’s soundtrack had a funnier approach in contrast with the previous film’s percussion sound bites, the action scenes were more spectacular and the humor in the dialogue grew up. The women, that in the first two films followed the hero, became more self-reliant: Pussy Galore was “immune” to Bond’s charms for a long time.

This film also set the starting point for the classic love-hate relationship between Bond and Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, even when this was the second film where Llewelyn appeared as the character. It was director Guy Hamilton who convinced Llewelyn to show disdain toward Bond for the way he mistreats his gadgets, a formula that worked for many years.

Every day closer to the 50th anniversary, Goldfinger is the first 007 film that will come to the mind of every moviegoer. Since Sept. 17, 1964, Sean Connery, Gert Frobe, Honor Blackman, Guy Hamilton and John Barry literally told us how a spy film should be made.

New questions about Bond 24

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig

There’s still a few months before Bond 24 is scheduled to start filming. So here’s some new questions about the project.

How extensively was the script reworked to get Sam Mendes back? The director confirmed earlier media reports that the original intention was to make Bond 24 and Bond 25 a two-part story arc. But Mendes didn’t want any part of that.

So to entice the Skyfall director back, the two-part arc plan was scrapped. But that’s about all the public knows. Did screenwriter John Logan merely rework things a bit to make Bond 24′s story self-contained? Or was the story thrown out entirely?

Something like the latter happened with Quantum of Solace, where two scripts were junked along the way. Director Marc Forster didn’t like the story done before he came aboard while producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli rejected another involving Bond looking for the child of Vesper Lynd. Scribe Paul Haggis started over and submitted a draft just ahead of a 2007 writer’s Guild strike.

In March, Logan was quoted by Empire magazine as saying he was almost done with the first draft of Bond 24′s script.

How many Skyfall crew members will return for Bond 24? When Mendes signed on last year to direct Bond 24, many fans assumed a lot of the main Skyfall crew would return.

That may still be the case. However, Skyfall director of photography Roger Deakins made it known he wouldn’t be back for a 007 encore.

Deakins was one of the people Mendes had insisted on for Skyfall. So was composer Thomas Newman. It’s not known if he’ll be back. Throughout the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions, only John Barry and David Arnold scored multiple Bond movies. So Newman will join an exclusive club if he scores Bond 24.

Will Bond 24 (figuratively at least) be Skyfall Part II? Logan told Empire that the Bond 24 script “continues the themes of Skyfall. Some of the characters and themes that we began to introduce in Skyfall will play out.”

In April, Mendes told television interview Charlie Rose that with Skyfall, “I started a number of stories that were incomplete…There was a missing piece now. I felt there was a way to create the second part of a two-part story.”

At the end of Skyfall, the villain (Javier Bardem’s Silva) and M (Judi Dench) were dead. But “themes” could cover a lot of ground, including more depiction of a now-aging Daniel Craig Bond trying to cope with the modern spy world. Also, it sounds like there could be more fleshing out of Ralph Fiennes’ new M and Naomie Harris’ new Moneypenny.

Who knows? Perhaps Judi Dench could even return via flashbacks.

Moonraker’s 35th: when outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

June marks the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer. Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967′s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit. This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981′s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary: 007′s sacrificial lamb

goldengunposter

Normally, we’d have waited to do a post about The Man With The Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary. But with this week’s passing of co-director of photography Oswald Morris, this is as good a time to examine the ninth James Bond film.

Let’s face it: Golden Gun doesn’t get a lot of love among James Bond fans or even professionals. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.” The 1974 film is a way for the makers of 007 films to establish they’re really talking candidly, that not every Bond film has been an unqualified success.

The latter point is true enough. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

This is not to argue that Golden Gun is the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that everybody likes to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t exactly demanding candor. But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it’s never going to get much love in the 007 community.

MI6 Confidential interviews Purvis & Wade

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis.

MI6 Confidential, the James Bond fan magazine, is out with a new issue that includes an interview with five-time 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

In issue 24, the duo “talk candidly about their years with Bond,” according to an MI6 Confidential promo. The writing team’s work on Bond spanned more than a decade, from 1999′s The World Is Not Enough, through 2012′s Skyfall.

Purvis and Wade have now departed the series. Bond 24 is being written by John Logan, who rewrote Purvis and Wade on Skyfall. Logan is also slated to write Bond 25.

As we discussed IN A JAN. 11 POST, four of the five Purvis/Wade movies involved a theme where either Bond isn’t “fully” Bond yet, or he’s lost his mojo and needs to get it back.

Also in issue 24 of MI6 Confidential is a feature on John Glen, director of the five 1980s 007 films, about his career; a story about the casting of the female leads in 1989′s Licence to Kill; a story about Denise Richards; and a story about highlights of John Barry’s scores of Bond movies.

The price is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros, plus postage and handling. For more information, CLICK HERE.

Secret Agent Radio: all spies, all the time

John Barry

John Barry

For those who can’t get enough spy soundtrack music, there is now SECRET AGENT RADIO, an Internet “radio station.”

It’s part of the AccuRadio Web site, which provides music offerings of various types.

Secret Agent Radio covers a lot of ground, including soundtracks from Bond films, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, The Prisoner, Danger Man/Secret Agent. It can also veer into related genres, including music from Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn soundtrack.

There’s also Open Channel D, which, despite its name, isn’t exclusively U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks and plays some of the same other selections as Secret Agent Radio. Finally, there’s Channel 007, which specializes in 007 sountracks, featuring music by John Barry and other composers. Based on a sampling, it’s currently playing selections from Thomas Newman’s Skyfall soundtrack fairly often.

There are occasional commercials, but the interruptions don’t seem to occur that often, certainly less often than a commercial radio station.

Funeral in Berlin gets new U.S. DVD release

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Funeral in Berlin, the second Harry Saltzman-produced film based on Len Deighton’s spy novels and starring Michael Caine, is now available in a new DVD release in the U.S. through Warner Bros.’s Warner Archives.

Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, producer of the James Bond film series, had ambitions beyond the 007 movies. At the same time, Saltzman summoned 007 film veterans to work on his Deighton-based films.

With 1966′s Funeral in Berlin, Saltzman hired Guy Hamilton, who helmed Goldfinger, as director. Also on board was Ken Adam as production designer and Peter Murton as art director. Other films in the series employed John Barry, Peter Hunt and Maurice Binder.

Warner Archive specializes in “manufactured on demand” (or MOD); the DVDs are made as they’re ordered and the sets aren’t available in stores. Warner Bros. has used Warner Archive for home video releases of properties in the vast WB library, including THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. and THE FBI television series.

The price for Funeral in Berlin is $18.95 plus shipping and handling. For more information on ordering, CLICK HERE.

For more information, you can view the IMDB.COM pages for:

1965′S THE IPCRESS FILES

1966′s FUNERAL IN BERLIN

1967′s BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers