Talk of Goldfinger: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

goldfingerThe name Goldfinger is probably the most synonymous title in the Bond canon with the most famous Bond girl, Bond villain, Bond film and Bond line: “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

But what about the book as a whole in the collective memory?

It stands as one of the longest in the series and has one of the most implausible plots. Fleming’s tendency to overindulge himself with plot diversions is at the fore – pun intended. His love of golf takes up an entire 3 chapters, but much like the bridge game in Moonraker, it’s a brilliant piece of writing avid golfer or a good walk ruined.

In his “99 Novels: The best in English Since 1939” Anthony Burgess chose Goldfinger as one of the 99.

Anthony BurgessJames Bond foils Goldfinger, delesbianizes Pussy Galore, and regards his impossible success as a mere job of work to be laconically approved, with reservations, by M, the head of his department.

All this is, in some measure, a great joke, but Fleming’s passion for plausibility, his own naval intelligence background, and a kind of sincere Manicheism, allied to journalistic efficiency in the management of his récit, make his work rather impressive.

Critics of the book point to Fleming’s casual racism towards Goldfinger’s Korean heavy Oddjob – “Koreans are rather lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.” Villains are typically foreign (never English); a convention as old as literature itself, but in this case a touch of xenophobia creeps in.

This aside, the characterization of Auric Goldfinger is sublime. Early on, Bond deliciously gets the upper hand in on Goldfinger, catching him cheating in a game of Canasta while romancing his girl Jill Masterson for the double whammy. This sequence perfectly translated onto film including the now iconic image of Jill lying naked on a bed, painted head to toe in gold paint. Suffocated to death.

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Our friend Revelator adds:

Goldfinger is something of self-parody on Fleming’s part, and perhaps that makes it the most “Bondian” of all the books. Whereas From Russia With Love is influenced by Eric Ambler, Doctor No by Sax Rohmer, Casino Royale by the hardboiled detective school, Goldfinger is 100% Fleming–it recycles and encapsulates all the most Flemingian elements honed in the previous books. It is the biggest and splashiest of the Bond stories, the most larger-than-life, and that undoubtedly attracted Anthony Burgess.

Many of us are predisposed to knock the book because we were first exposed to the film, one of the few which unmistakably improves on its source. Reading the book makes us doubly conscious of all the implausibilities that were ironed out by the film. But Burgess undoubtedly read the book first, and it’s interesting that his cut-off point for the Bond films is From Russia With Love–right before Goldfinger.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 12.00.05 PMOne perceived weakness of the book is the lack of an archetypal Bond girl. There are in fact three in this novel, but save for a brief encounter with Jill Masterson at the beginning and a non-sensical turnaround of Pussy Galore‘s sexual orientation at the end, Bond is not saving a damsel in distress.

Tilly Masterson, Jill’s sister, seeks revenge on Goldfinger for her sister’s murder but gets abruptly gunned down by Auric’s henchmen. Tilly had promise as a Bond girl so it’s surprising Fleming killed her off but perhaps it was about Pussy Galore all along, who leads a lesbian gang.

Miss Galore, a black belt in Judo is also stunningly beautiful and Bond cannot have her. This wasn’t part of the plan.

Fleming was testing new territory here as Christopher Hitchens remarked: “it should be noted that the ill-name Pussy Galore acquits Fleming of the charge of gay-bashing.” There is also a theory that the word ‘pussy’ did not necessarily mean what we now think of it as meaning. Insidiously demoralizing or simply funny? I’d take it up with Barbara Broccoli at this stage of the game.

Screen Shot 2014-04-19 at 12.02.08 PMLet’s get to the plot. Goldfinger may not be the tautest or plausible: Why does Goldfinger let Bond live? Hiring him as a personal assistant is absurd. However, it shows Fleming and Bond at the top of their game, before the insecurities creeped in around Thunderball. Bond is in a confident mood taking on his most brilliant foe yet in Auric Goldfinger.

It’s a testament to Fleming’s character, that the filmmakers would use Fleming’s words verbatim in Goldfinger’s speech to his henchmen, while planning the attack on Fort Knox. So Goldfinger is not the perfect thriller. But it is the gold standard as far as Bond’s cultural legacy and why it’s characters are still the most talked about of any of Fleming’s creations.

Incidental Intelligence

The Goldfinger Dust Jacket

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2 thoughts on “Talk of Goldfinger: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

  1. According to “James Bond: The Man and His World” (great book, BTW), Pussy Galore is named after Mrs. “Pussy” Deakin, formerly Livia Stela. She was a friend of Ann Fleming. Pretty sure that I recall Mrs. Deakin appearing in a documentary on the CR blu-ray.

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