Thursday, June 27, 2013

Operation Double 007 (1967) – MST3K Review


Who do you call when an evil criminal organization called Thanatos attempts to destroy the world’s economy using a strange magnetic device? Oddly enough you contact Dr. Neil Connery played by Neil Connery. The good doctor is a master plastic surgeon, hypnotist, martial artist and crack shot with a bow and arrow. Why wouldn’t you want him on your side?

The evil Mr. Thayer (Adolfo Celi sans eye patch) kidnaps the lovely Miss Yashuko (Yachuco Yama) and attempts to break her hypnotic barrier. Neil is pressured into action by Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee) and Miss Maxwell (Louis Maxwell). But the forces of evil have a team of lovelies lead by Maya Rafis (Daniela Bianchi) who can kick butt and look sexy all at the same time. Will Neil be able to uncover Thayer’s evil plan, save the world and get the girl? Or will Operation Double 007 be a complete failure?

Movie Review:

The name is Connery, Neil Connery... Doctor.
Also known as Ok Connery or Operation Kid Brother this movie was released the same year as You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale with Peter Sellers. It came at a time when the spy-mania of the 1960s had already peaked. The Bond movies had reached their most over the top, and the competition was saturating the market with spy films and spy spoofs. The next Bond flick would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which would move away form comic book action and more toward the thrillers of the early portion of the series.

I’m setting the stage because it explains a lot about Operation Double 007. It literally grabs elements, actors and ideas from many previous James Bond and spy films and slams them all together in the hope of making an entertaining film. It has much more in common with its peer Casino Royale than it does with the proper franchise, and it is just as disjointed. What makes this film fail to click is the lack of a charismatic lead performance.

Miss Bianchi in one of her less outrageous outfits.
Neil Connery was doomed in this film from the start. Sean Connery was the epitome of spy culture in the 1960s. Even a spoof like Casino Royale understood this, and therefore let the actor(s) playing James Bond do as much as they could to distance themselves from Connery as possible. But poor Neil’s very presence forces us to compare him constantly to his brother, and it is just a loosing battle. He doesn’t have the natural charisma, the presence and the innate talent to make the role work. For some reason Neil is also poorly dubbed, which doesn’t help the situation in the least. I’m sure he did what he could, and probably had some fun in the role, but as a whole, his performance just doesn’t generate any sparks.

This leaves us with the supporting cast.  In a bizarre and amazing turn of events, nearly all the roles are populated by actors who appeared in previous Bond films. It makes things fun for fans of the series, but it also brings up the previous performances for easy comparison. In this case, it doesn’t sink the ship. Bernard Lee who played “M” in all the James Bond film up to Moonraker appears in a similar role in Operation Double 007. Louis Maxwell plays his assistant Miss Maxwell, instead of Moneypenny. Maxwell looks like she is having a great old time, running around with machine guns and blowing people away. Daniela Bianchi, of From Russia With Love fame, plays the Pussy Galore inspired role. She starts off evil, but falls for Neil as the film progresses. She too seems to be having a fun time playing the wicked girl.

With or without the eyepatch, Celi is one bad dude.
The two main villains are also familiar faces. Anthony Dawson plays Alpha, the head of the crime syndicate Thanatos. The irony is that Dawson provided the hands of Blofeld in the films From Russia with Love and Thunderball, where we only see the hands and the cat. He also played the treacherous Professor Dent in Dr. No. Then there’s Adolfo Celi who was so memorable in Thunderball as the right hand of SPECTRE. He plays Mr. Thayer much broader and more extravagant. In many ways, he’s cooler than Neil, but his final plan is so silly it’s hard to take him seriously, especially in that red vinyl jumpsuit.

Yeah, about the costumes in Operation Double 007… Bianchi and her gals end up wearing some of the most over the top and ultra-60s costumes I’ve seen in some time. How these are supposed to be anything other than hilarious, well I’m not sure. But these gals end up looking so silly that it removes any threat from those scenes. The sequence where they steal a nuclear device dressed as cat/skunk/showgirls… well, it has to be seen to be believed. The final battle features guys dressed in odd lederhosen-esque outfits against guys in red vinyl jumpsuits. So at least the ladies don’t get all the silly costume fun.

Catgirl Skunk Showgirls... AWAY!
The music is pure 1960s spy sound. Part was composed by Ennio Morricone, one of the most prolific composers out there. He worked on a few films in this genre, including Danger Diabolik. Sure we all know his spaghetti westerns, like The Good the Bad and the Ugly and his wonderful work on The Mission. But he was a busy guy, and even had time for flicks like this. The hilarious opening song, called Ok Connery is a combination of catchy jazzy hook and ridiculous lyrics about how awesome and amazing Connery is. Even James Bond looks like an idiot in comparison to this paragon described in the song.

The plot, well it kinda makes some sense, you know, if you don’t think about it too much. This isn’t that big a deal really. Even James Bond flicks aren’t immune to confusing or nonsensical plots (I’m looking at you Octopussy). Thanatos is attempting to use a magnetic device that will stop all the machines in the world (borrowed from Klaatu and The Day the Earth Stood Still?). But all the things they have to do to get that device just don’t add up. Sure it leads to some set pieces, but most of the time you’re just wondering if there wasn’t an easier way to get Dr. Connery from adventure to adventure.

"I see you envy my tailor, Mr. Connery."
But I have to admit some of the set pieces in Operation Double 007 are creative. You get an abduction involving a nun and a elaborate cable device. Then there is a raid on a castle that involves disguises, explosions and Moneypenny with a machine gun. There’s a battle aboard a yacht that pits the female squad against a bunch of goons. There’s the cat/skunk/showgirl sequence. The final battle forces our heroes and villains to battle without using any machinery or guns.

When you boil it down, this movie could have been a lot worse. It moves at a good pace, never takes itself seriously, and just wants to entertain you for a couple hours. The tone is a bit odd. It never seems like an outright parody, but it is too goofy to be a serious spy film. The end result is a breezy good time, but it has enough oddities to make it a great target for Joel and the bots.

Episode Review:  
The bridge of Mr. Connery's nose makes for
fascinating cinema.
The Italian spy film genre is teeming with all kinds of films. Some of them are horrible, some of them are good fun and some just kind of sit there. Luckily there are enough of them out there that the crew at Mystery Science Theater 3000 could pick and choose the ones that would work best with their format.

Operation Double 007 has all the right ingredients to make this a very fun episode. It is certainly a step up from the previous spy flick they tackled, Secret Agent Super Dragon. The fact that a whole host of Bond actors are in the film allows the crew to come up with some pretty hilarious material. They mine some serious gold from the fact that Neil Connery is in the film. There are plenty of jokes where other characters keep mistaking Neil for James Bond, or asking for his brother’s autograph. One of my favorite lines happens near the end where Mr. Thayer whirls around to see Connery standing there and Crow says in a urbane villainous voice, “Ah, Mr. Bond…. ‘s brother.”

They have a great time with his various powers. They wonder about his hypnotism, and the fact that each time he uses it, the camera is crammed right into his eyes. Or when he reads lips, while in disguise as a blind man, Tom says, “I hope he can read Braille lips”.

Moneypenny opens a can of hot leaded whoop-ass!
Speaking of disguises, the outfits in Operation Double 007 generate some serious riffing potential. Joel wonders why Bianchi is “dressed like Barney Rubble”. Later the assassin disguised as the nun fuels a whole mess of hilarious jokes including “I want the problem called Maria taken care of… permanently.” But my favorite sequence is the one where Louis Maxwell is in disguise as a gardener and wielding her machine gun. She looks a bit like Katherine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. The boys go to town with this, and do a bunch of hilarious Hepburn jokes including, “Norman, the calla lilies are raining hot lead!”

The host segments are a good bit of fun. Things start off with Joel sharing his home movies with the bots. Gypsy falls asleep, Crow is bored and pleading for help, and Tom is enjoying them! For the invention exchange Frank creates his lederhosen-hosen, which is a garden hose and some lederhosen. Crow creates the bobbin’ buzzard, which is just as odd as it sounds. At the first break, Joel is inspired the by main villain to turn the bots into his hench-girls and wander around acting smug. It’s very silly. For the next one, Joel and bots attempt to chart Neil and Sean’s careers. It gets a bit mean, but they apologize at the end. Finally the last two skits revolve around Torgo from Manos – The Hands of Fate returning with the sodas the mad scientists ordered way back in season four! The show ends with Torgo thanking Dr. Forrester for letting him use the bathroom – ick!

Torgo visits the Mad Scientists with a special treat.

All in all, this is a fun episode, not quite the best of the secret agent flicks they tackled. I like Danger! Death Ray a bit more. But James Bond fans will find plenty to like here, and the riffing is solid and stead all the way through.

I give it four cat/skunk/showgirls out of five.

This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection XXV.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Top Ten - Science Fiction Characters

Fellow blogger and genre fiction aficionado, John Kenneth Muir compiled another top ten list for his blog. This time he was asking for the greatest characters in science fiction films. He asked readers to submit their votes and rank them. The results were published here and may surprise you.

Once again, I had to participate. Like my previous list, I focused on characters that went on to inspire and influence future characters in science fiction and film. The list is a little different from my favorite characters. So once again, I'll provide both lists and explanations of why I picked who I picked.

10. Mr. Smith from The Matrix Trilogy
In a way Smith is fusion of the Terminator and Captain Nemo. He’s unstoppable, unflappable and focused on a very narrow perspective. He’s also one hateful son of a bitch. He makes a great villain and Hugo Weaving provides an excellent performance. Any time the audience can cheer the hero to take out the villain, you know you’ve got a good one.

9. Mr. Spock from the Star Trek film series
While his television self is perhaps the most fascinating of the incarnations, I feel the movie journey of this Star Trek character is very engaging, and worthy of a place on the list. Spock goes from seeking a understanding of the universe through pure logic and ends his journey attempting to teach himself that some challenges require great sacrifice – literally. Spanning the first six films and the two Abrams movies – we get to witness the evolution of a character that is really unmatched in cinema.

8. The Terminator from The Terminator series
An unstoppable enemy who has no emotions, no weaknesses and no mercy - this trope was solidified with the Terminator and it has been with us ever since. You see it all the time in various forms, sometimes alien, sometimes machine, sometimes fantasy monster. But always with that cold emotionless determination. The cyborg really came into it’s own with this creation. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen a character in anime and video games that is clearly inspired by this trope.

7. Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still
He probably isn’t the first instance of a peaceful visitor to earth, but he is one of the best realized. Klatuu inspired countless variations on the theme of the alien that attempts to help the human protagonists realize a truth. The alien perspective provides him with the ability to see more than the humans can. While this character type has become more of a supporting cast member in anime and video games, I always hope we can see a story featuring this type of character in a lead role. 

6. Frankenstein's Monster from Frankenstein
When you come right down to it, the monster in this classic tale is a synthetic life form searching for it's meaning in our world. It is literally a science fiction version of Pinocchio. The character spawned a trope dubbed by Joel Robinson (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame) where a robot attempts to become a real boy. This concept seems to the focus of most robots in science fiction these days, with Blade Runner doing an amazing job with the concept. Anime loves this trope, and there are countless "robot-girls" who wander around wondering why they were created and if they can be considered human.

 5. Han Solo the original Star Wars trilogy
Yes Luke Skywalker was our hero, but Han was the cool one. He had the fast ship, the wookie copilot and he got the princess. What more did you need in a hero? Countless heroes were modeled after Harrison Ford’s devil may care attitude. His best moments are in The Empire Strikes Back. Some of the best incarnations of the charming rogue character include Mal from Firefly and Spike from Cowboy Bebop.

4. Ellen Ripley from the Alien series
One of the best female characters in genre fiction, period. She is strong in so many ways, and her journey through the four films is really something unique in cinema. Weaver brings so much to the role, and does great stuff with it. While we’ve had many “tough” female characters since Ripley, she has never really been duplicated. And I always love that she went back to save Joansie the cat! She's even a hero to animals!

3. Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
A man who is seeking out peace at all costs, even if it means killing many people to prove his point. The man is brilliant, charismatic and cultured. But he is also obsessed, and will only view the world form his narrow perspective. It makes him dangerous and yet we understand him. This type of villain has become very popular, because it allows the audience to see that not everything is black and white. Yes, Nemo is the antagonist, but we see much of ourselves in him, and the potential to become just as warped as he is. This type of villain is a huge favorite in anime and video games, with too many examples to even start listing.

2. HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey
The AI that started it all. Nearly every type of conscious machine in science fiction films owes something to HAL. The voice performance by Douglas Rain is really amazing, creating a cool, chilling calm. But most interesting is the final scenes where HAL pleads for his life, coming across pitiful and yet completely calm all at once. Anime has mined this trope heavily and even used the single red eye on numerous occasions. My favorite was the virtual idol singer Sharon Apple from Macross Plus.

1. Darth Vader from the Star Wars trilogy
In the original trilogy Darth Vader is one of the most intimidating and imposing figures in science fiction and fantasy. The dread he inspires, especially in Empire Strikes Back is palpable. He is more than willing to punish his own people for failure and lop off his son’s hand to round out the day. To see such a dangerous and ominous force then grovel to the Emperor shows that even power can be enslaved. His final redemption in Return of the Jedi actually forms the strongest part of that film, and gives us a vision of evil that can be saved. Vader is iconic as the image of evil. But he also inspired countless imitations and inspirations. Some just surface deep with black armor and synthetic voice. Others, much deeper, showing us an enslaved will that can be saved, if only the hero can achieve it.

Top Ten Favorite Science Fiction Characters

These characters are personal favorites, sometimes from movies that other folks don't find as appealing. Maybe I like their personality, maybe I like their concept, maybe I just like way they fit in the story. I won't put them in any order, just list them as they come to me.

  • Dr. Atsuko Chiba (aka Paprika) - Paprika
  • Alexander Dane (aka Dr. Lazarus) - Galaxy Quest
  • Kevin Flynn - The Tron series
  • Major Motoko Kusanagi - The Ghost in the Shell series
  • Marty McFly - The Back to the Future series
  • Ellen Ripley - The Alien series
  • Mr. Smith - The Matrix trilogy
  • Han Solo - The original Star Wars trilogy
  • Mr. Spock - The Star Trek series
  • Yoda - The Star Wars series

Do you have a list of favorite or "greatest" science fiction characters?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

When it comes to the James Bond series, everyone has their favorites, and their least favorites. Some folks will champion some of the lesser loved films. Other madmen will call Goldfinger a merely average film. But there are a few James Bond films that most folks can agree on. The Man with the Golden Gun is one of those. But do they consider it a winner or a stinky dog best left alone.

British secret service agent James Bond (Roger Moore) discovers that he is on the hit list of the most dangerous assassin in the world. The killer is named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). He charges 1 million dollars for each job and always does it with a golden bullet, shot from a golden gun. He’s never failed an assignment, and the gold bullet with 007 etched in it means Bond is next.

This is a bit of a problem since Bond is attempting to track down a solar cell that may solve the world’s energy problems. M (Bernard Lee) takes Bond off the case, and lets him go on leave. Bond takes the opportunity to track down Scaramanga. The journey takes him to Beirut, Hong Kong and Bangkok.  Along the way he teams up with Goodnight (Britt Ekland) a klutzy but cute civil servant, and Hong Kong agent Hip (Soon-Tek Oh). But he must also face Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) Scaramanga’s height challenged henchman, and figure out what side Andrea (Maud Adams) will play for. It all comes down to a face off between James and The Man with the Golden Gun. Winner take all.

Good Points:
  • Christopher Lee is a excellent villain
  • The location shooting is impressive
  • The final duel has some very tense moments

Bad Points:
  • The tone never figures out what it wants to accomplish
  • The script is horrible
  • The pacing is lethargic

What kills me about this movie is that you’ve got all the ingredients for one of the best James Bond adventures ever. Lee makes a perfect foil and dark mirror for James Bond. When he’s driving the story, the movie works at it’s best. But the humor is handled very poorly, the tone tries to juggle edgy and super silly from scene to scene. It doesn’t know what to do with Goodnight. The pacing meanders, never creating any urgency. This is certainly one of the weaker entries in the series, but not quite the worst.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

In Depth Review

Bond is keeping an eye out for the screenwriter.
While Live and Let Die wasn’t a triumph, it did achieve what it set out to do, put Roger Moore firmly in the role of James Bond. He seemed a natural fit and for the most part, when that movie was working, it was because of Moore’s easy charm and skill in the role. I can imagine that he was pretty hopeful about the follow up film; especially when he found out he would play opposite one of the best actors to play a villain in the 1970s, Christopher Lee. How could this not work?

It all comes down to the script and lack of concept behind The Man with the Golden Gun. Everyone knew that Roger Moore could handle comedy. Everyone felt that folks wanted to see a less serious Bond film, and have more fun at the movies. But the problem is, no one really figured out how to best utilize Moore, and focus the script. The result is a film with split personality. One moment it tries to get edgy and dark. The next we have James Bond in mortal peril because of a woman’s butt. I’m not kidding.

The movie provides some wonderful exotic locales.
But the film isn’t a complete waste of time, and the first reason is the wonderful location shooting. You’ve got some great sequences in Macao, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Everything from the inside of casinos, to lovely views of Kowloon Bay and surrounding city are a sight to behold. The chase scene in Bangkok provides plenty of visual eye candy. But the most amazing location is in Phuket in Thailand. The islands of Phuket create some of the most memorable visuals in the James Bond series. The way the rocks stretch up like pillars is amazing. It seems the perfect spot for the finale of The Man with the Golden Gun.

Less impressive are the sets used in the film. Ken Adam was not brought on for this film and the production design was also limited by the budget. The result was some really unimpressive sets that just don’t measure up to the larger scope of the James Bond films. But really, that type of set wasn’t needed in this film. Because the script inserted the whole solar cell MacGuffin, it probably felt like they needed to have an exploding lair sequence. All it did was end up making the film look cheap, something no other James Bond film ever suffered from, even Dr. No.

Nick Nack attempts some karaoke to Lulu's title song.
The sound work is up to scratch. Nothing stands out, but the gunshots, squealing tires and fisticuffs sounds all work well. For the musical score, composer John Barry was brought back. He brings his lyrical sense with him, and creates a James Bond score that was less funky than Live and Let Die, but more in line with the sound he created in You Only Live Twice. The tune for the song The Man with the Golden Gun is used quite a few times and handled well in the score. He adds a bit of Asian flair, but keeps it on the lighter side, arguably tongue in cheek. His action music is still pretty fun, and helps move those scenes along. It’s not a great Bond score, but it’s solid work by Barry.

As for the song itself, well it’s really a doozy. Lulu sings it with a sassy brassy style. But the lyrics are so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. I mean, they are eye-rollingly bad. You’d think they came from a James Bond parody. At the same time there isn’t much they could do with that title. I find it to be a song that is so bad, I get a kick out of it each time it comes on.

Lee adds some much needed danger to the film.
This brings us to the acting in The Man with the Golden Gun. Well, part of the problem here is that the script is so bad, I can’t blame the actors for not being able to pull some of this off. Let’s start with the good, Christopher Lee makes a great James Bond villain. He’s cold, calculating, urbane and intelligent (for the most part). His scenes are always the best of the film, and his interaction with Moore makes for some of the best moments of the Moore era. Villechaize makes for a good henchman. His small size makes for a deceptive villain. He’s got a sadistic streak in him, and there is an added playfulness that makes it work. The script does end up failing the two characters. Scaramanga does some really stupid things near the end of the film, and they seem out of line for the character. Nick Nack is played for laughs a few too many times, and it cheapens the character in the end.

The two ladies fare little better. Adams is sultry as Andrea, but her part is under written. I’m not sure if the writers knew what to do with her, other than make her into a plot point. What we get isn’t bad, but I always wish they did more with her, either make her a co-villain, or work her into the story better. Ekland looks great in a bikini. She plays ditzy fairly well. But Goodnight is pretty much around for eye candy and laughs. It’s a thankless role really, and Ekland does what she can, but frankly her character annoys me. She ends up getting into numerous scrapes, and is only around for Bond to rescue or kiss.

This karate scene is a miscalculated mess.
This leaves us with Moore. Roger had it rough in this one. One minute he has to be a cold brutal agent, the next he’s in a silly karate battle that’s setting up one lame joke after the other. Then he’s got some horrible scenes with J. W. Pepper (Clifton James), and then gets his great scenes with Lee. James Bond is not clearly defined in this film. Even in Live and Let Die he seemed clearer in concept then in The Man with the Golden Gun. The result is Moore’s most uneven performance. He doesn’t quite nail the darker scenes when he interrogates Andrea. The humor doesn’t play to his strengths, and so scenes where he chastises Goodnight come off badly. Moore is capable of both side of Bond. His anger in For Your Eyes Only is played perfectly. He is able to keep the parody mode of Moonraker fun. But in this film, he is scuttled time and again by the script.

Guy Hamilton is once again at the helm here, and like his work on Live and Let Die and Diamonds are Forever, there are some serious pacing issues. The movie just meanders around, never getting any urgency or momentum. Tension is kept to a minimum, with only the Scaramanga scenes providing any kind of thrills. But I think most of that comes from Lee's sheer force of will. Hamilton does provide some good framing for the location shooting. But he doesn’t handle the action scenes very well. The chase scene is lifeless. The amazing stunt involving a 360 roll in mid air is the highlight. But a stupid slide whistle effect turns it into a joke. Other moments, like the whole karate school segment feel like a bad joke poorly executed.

Amazing stunt? Yes. Amazing movie? Not quite.
Once again Hamilton directs a script that is set pieces in search of a story. The Man with the Golden Gun is the most interesting of the three Hamilton films from the 1970s. It has some very good moments, but the typical problems of pacing and poorly executed humor injure this one. Hamilton was picked because of his work on Goldfinger and the resulting popularity of that film. But when looking at the four Bond films he directed, they are overwhelmingly some of the weakest of the bunch.  The flailing of the script and direction here seriously derail what could have been a classic Bond film. It would take The Spy Who Loved Me to really get the right tone for the Roger Moore era. Looking at the behind the scenes issues during The Man with the Golden Gun I’m willing to give it a little bit of a break. The two main producers of the series were in the middle of a falling out. But it doesn’t make it an average film. It’s better than the two movies that preceded it, but not by much.

Goodnight's butt is about to kill Bond.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Goldfinger (1964)

How do you write a review for what many consider  the quintessential James Bond movie. It is considered the king of the Connery flicks (and for many the best James Bond film ever made). It is the very definition of iconic. So really, should I spend any time going over what everyone else already knows? Of course I will! I’m going to write reviews for every Bond movie. Besides, I think it’s time to scrape off some of that gold paint and see a bit of the tarnish underneath. Oh yeah… I’m going there.

British super agent James Bond (Sean Connery) is just trying to enjoy some relaxation in Miami when his superior M (Bernard Lee) gives him a new assignment. Bond is to observe Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) a wealthy industrialist who they suspect is in the gold smuggling business. Bond quickly gets on Goldfinger’s bad side when he seduces Goldfinger’s pretty assistant Jill (Shirley Eaton). Before you can say “most famous film image of the 1960s”, Jill is covered in gold paint and Bond Is standing over her lifeless body.

Well Bond isn’t going to take this lying down. He goes after Goldfinger and soon uncovers a diabolical scheme to raid Fort Knox! With some help from the pretty Tilly (Tania Mallet) and a super car, Bond attempts to stop the plot. But against him are Goldfinger’s dangerous agents, Oddjob (Harold Sakata) and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Does Bond have any hope of bringing Goldfinger to justice?

Good Points:
  • Hits all the key elements that you expect in a James Bond film
  • Honor Blackman is alluring in her role
  • The Astin Martin nearly steals the show

Bad Points:
  • Drops the serious thrills in favor of silly spectacle
  • Bond spends the second half of the movie hanging out
  • The script could have used a few more passes

The James Bond series hits the formula in this film, and it would inspire many of the sequels as well as countless imitators. It’s a fun flick, but a long way from the edgy thrillers leading up to this film. The script has plenty of loose threads and random moments. While I don’t hold this is a high point, it’s a perfectly average outing for 007.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review
It was the kiss of death, from Mr. Goldfinger.
A lot of people LOVE this movie. When it comes to king of the James Bond series, Goldfinger tends to be on top. As I mentioned before, nearly every scene is iconic in some way. It’s fun, a bit breezy, a bit over the top and has some very funny and quotable lines in it. In so many ways, this film was the perfect fit for the perfect time. It was this film that turned James Bond into a phenomenon.

Because of all that, it’s really hard to look at the film objectively, or in comparison to the other James Bond films around it. The Bond series is very much a snapshot of popular culture. With this film – Bond became popular culture, and held that position for the next couple movies. I think that is why so many people connected with it, and with Sean Connery as their James Bond.

But that doesn’t mean only people who caught Goldfinger in theaters are the big fans. I’ve met plenty of people my age and younger who adore the film. Most of the time, it is their first exposure to James Bond and it becomes a kind of keystone for them. All other Bond films are measured against it.

But I believe that as entertaining as the film is, it isn’t the best James Bond film, or even the best Sean Connery film, or even the best Bond film of the 1960s. It lies solidly in the middle of the pack.

No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.
The visuals are one of the most impressive things about the film. Ken Adam did an amazing job with the set design and would only top it in You Only Live Twice. His set for Fort Knox is stellar, looking impressive and a bit fantastic. The shimmering gold lighting and illuminating the bars all around James and Oddjob during the final battle are like something out of a dream. Equally impressive is Goldfinger’s rec-room/war room. With Its sliding panels, trapdoors and rising and falling furniture, it’s the perfect man cave for a megalomaniacal villain.  Then there is the laser room, easily one of the most iconic visuals in the film, with its sole table in the center of darkness, as the shiny machine prepares to whittle Bond down to size. Last but not least is the first time we see Q’s laboratory. This scene made such an impression that it was considered mandatory inclusion in every Bond film until Casino Royale in 2006.

This leads into the camerawork in the film. Goldfinger has so many memorable visuals in it, and that goes in large part to Ted Moore’s cinematography and framing. The golden girl draped across the bed is immediately stamped into our minds. The low angle, the lighting plays up the beauty and horror of the scene. I already mentioned the laser scene, but the high angle for the establishing shots, not to mention the close ups on the laser and it’s progress are striking. The entire finale sequence at Fort Knox includes many visual highlights. Strangely enough, whenever I think of this film, my mind goes right to the aerial photography of Pussy’s pilots flying over the military base around the fort. Combined with John Barry’s brassy score, this moment always stands out. Finally you have the framing of the battle around and inside the fort, with the camera capturing the scope of Adam’s sets as well as the action in front of us.

Operation Grand Slam has nothing to do with Denny's.
As usual the sound effects work in the Bond film meets the needs of the production. These early films didn’t have some of the spectacular sound work of the later flicks (especially from Goldeneye on). But the musical score by John Barry is often considered the first “true” James Bond score. Barry helped pen the title theme, and uses it as the theme for the film. He integrates Monty Norman’s James Bond theme into the score at key moments and even comes up with a sinister motif for Oddjob. From Goldfinger to The Living Daylights Barry’s signature sound would be the frame for all the James Bond films. Even when different composers tackled the series, they would end up relying on the mold Barry created here.

From an acting standpoint, you’ve got a solid cast. Connery seems to be having a good time in the role, comfortable with the character and the lighter tone of the film. I think he’s a bit better in Thunderball, because the role is a bit meatier. Matching him is Honor Blackman as Pussy. I love her tough gal performance. She doesn’t take any flack from Bond and seems to be a perfect match for him. Of course she has to melt in his arms by the end, but while she’s his foil, she does a great job.  Gert Frobe is a bit tougher to judge. He was dubbed over and so you have to judge his physical presence more than anything else. He’s got the sinister, confident and jovial villain down pat. It was such a memorable performance that it would be cloned in many imitations (and even a few sequels).

Silent henchmen and caddy, Oddjob does it all.
The supporting cast is great too, with Sakata being an intimidating presence as Oddjob. Shirley Eaton is sexy and likable as Jill Masterson who would become the golden girl. Tania Mallet as her sister Tilly is just as good as the revenge driven sibling. Back in London we get solid performances by Bernard Lee and Louis Maxwell. But the real surprise was Desmond Llewellyn as Q. The part was greatly expanded from his appearance in From Russia With Love. Here he is a foil for Bond and does a great job in the part. Again, it became a necessity to have Llewellyn in the part that he appeared in every James Bond film by MGM until 1999’s The World is Not Enough (with the exception of Live and Let Die).

Where Golfinger ends up falling a bit short is in the script. And that’s not to say the actual dialogue itself. There are plenty of classic lines from this film, and many that have become some of the most beloved lines in the James Bond canon. No I’m talking about the way story is constructed and executed.

It's Pushy!
From an early point on director Guy Hamilton decided to change the tone of this particular James Bond movie. He wanted to make it less inspired by Hitchcock, as From Russia With Love obviously was. He decided to make the whole thing more light and more like a comic book. This may be why certain plot elements aren’t really fleshed out or seem to go nowhere.

With the focus firmly on getting Bond into and out of scrapes, this allowed the writing team to come up with the first full pre-credit sequence. Unlike the one from the previous film, Goldfinger’s pre-credit sequence acts like a short Bond film. It gives us everything we could want, and sets the tone of the film. There’s action, explosions, a hot girl, Bond acting suave and Bond with a seagull on his head. It even ends with a classic post kill quip.

I got to admit this was a great way to start the movie. Once the movie proper kicks in, the first hour or so is actually handled fairly well. The introduction to Goldfinger is classic. I love how Bond outmaneuvers him in the card game, and then again during the golf game. Once he gets into the Goldfinger’s refinery and we get the great car chase, it seems like the movie is shaping up well.

Settle in James, you'll be stuck here a long time.
Things start to go badly when the movie arrives in Kentucky. Goldfinger catches sight of Felix (Cic Linder) casing the place and keeping an eye out for Bond. So Goldfinger decides to keep Bond around, visibly walking around with Pussy. This convinces Felix that Bond is in no danger. This whole sequence seems a bit pointless. It ends up slowing the forward momentum of the story. Too much time is spent with Bond in captivity and sitting around making smart remarks and not much else.

The weakest bit of writing in Goldfinger comes during the scene where our villain gathers all the mob bosses together, tells them his entire plot and then kills them. If he was just planning on killing them, why bother to tell them his plot? You can write it off as his ego forcing him to gloat. But it’s just bad screenwriting. The scene only exists to allow Bond to hear the plot and then get the word to Felix. There had to be a better way to get that information. Instead we get a fairly messy scene that leads to another pointless (but cool scene) of Oddjob getting rid of the last gangster, ironically named Solo (Martin Benson).

The Bond vs. Oddjob battle is a classic.
Once the action moves to Fort Knox, it gets better. Bond still spends most of the sequence chained to a metal box, but the stakes are high and it’s fun to watch Goldfinger’s plan in action. When Bond manages to free himself it feels like a James Bond film again, and the ending is good. I still think Goldfingers final scene is bizarre and hilarious. I’m not sure if that was the intention, but it’s one of the goofiest villain deaths in the canon (only supplanted by the bizarre death by inflation in Live and Let Die).

The second hour of the film always annoys me. It’s too messy and lacks momentum. The thing is, it fits the more cartoony and breezy tone that Hamilton wanted. You aren’t supposed to think about the movie that hard, just enjoy the ride. And most folks do.

"You've been a very naughty screenwriter."
But the side effect is that there is very little danger in this film. The most intense scene Is the laser sequence. Compared to the tense capture scene in Dr. No or the brilliant game of wits on the train with Grant in From Russia with Love, this movie is much less concerned with danger and more with spectacle. It’s that element that really turned Bond into a phenomenon. I’m not complaining, I love Bond flicks when they pull out all stops like Thunderball or The Spy Who Loved Me. But the thing is, I like both of those movies more than Goldfinger. They have better momentum, and a better understanding of what they are trying to accomplish.

But at the same time Goldfinger was the first of it’s kind of film. Even more than Dr. No it is really the beginning of the James Bond legacy, and so it deserves that distinction and everything that goes with it. But I feel that I can’t be called the best of the best.