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Monday, February 17, 2020

Here We Go Again ...

It's My Birthday Week and I'll Write About James Bond If I Want To

1964 Touchdown in Gotham for Goldfinger
What is it that is so especially sad about the passing of James Bond personnel, time passing for us all the short answer as two more joined the necrology since last year, Tania Mallet from Goldfinger (Tilly Masterson), then Claudine Auger, Domino of Thunderball in December ’19. I thought of these upon revisiting Goldfinger this week, of Shirley Eaton covered with gold paint, then recovered to join us forty-four years later (2008) at Winston-Salem’s Western Film Fair, sat behind a signing table in a drab conference room that was cosmos away from '64 London premieres (royalty present at one), and her LIFE magazine covered-in-gold cover. Next to Ms. Eaton was Caroline Munro, vet of a Roger Moore Bond, both not an hour from the house I live in. What varied planets these two have known, fame from long ago an annuity to buy them plane fare to farest-flung places where 007 fans dwell (which, of course, is everywhere).

Goldfinger today salts streaming mines with all of other Bonds, no more special than the rest, and far from the overpowering spectacle it once was. Maybe “spectacle” is inapt, because Goldfinger got made for a price (three million, it is said), then forged on to profit-bearing history. It’s been told and re-told that the Bond craze began here, a first two successful (Dr. No, Russia), but not remarkably so. I’ve written, perhaps too much, of impact(s) each made, yet Goldfinger startles still for so many pop cultural touchstones it introduced. For starts, the tying-in of toys, knick-knacks, stocking stuffing, that came of Goldfinger and run-up to Thunderball, presaged all of doo-dads to sell alongside Star Wars a decade later. Look, however, at what Goldfinger had to offer: a bathtub electrocution (this was where I learned not to plug anything in when/where immersed), the Gold Girl, sprawled and presumed naked on a bed she has lately warmed with Bond, a heart-stop in March ’65 when Goldfinger finally dragged ways to the Liberty following a December ’64 open elsewhere, Oddjob and his hat, amusing on the one hand, deadly on another, and yes, we threw hats as result of seeing him, though brims were too soft and fewer men wore lids at all thanks to Kennedy, it was said, shunning them. Then was the table to which 007 was strapped, and a laser beam aimed for his nether regions, a hazard even youngest viewers felt acutely. Sears offered the devise as toy for shoppers in 1965, for hadn’t Aurora given us a working Guillotine around the same time, with its detachable victim’s head that could be affixed, then cleaved, then back again?

I could go dizzy recalling all of stimuli … from which the Aston-Martin, with its ejector seat, stood well out. It was no time before Jethro Bodine tried a same gag on passengers as a “double-naught spy,” which reminds me too of many and tiresome spoofs that tried, but could not, dissipate powerful narcotic that was Bond, nor would ersatz agents we knew from posters, if not content of films, to be unworthy. Goldfinger was pygmied by ABC for September 1972 broadcast, a first Bond so shrunk and the network’s season premiere for Sunday Night Movies. I refused to watch as expression of grief that such a thing was allowed to happen, another theatrical totem toppled down to level of the living room box. Blu-Ray redeems all this, Goldfinger very much with theatre punch (albeit minus an audience) where home screens are large enough. There is much to enjoy anew from a favorite you’ve had for over half-a-century. Sentiment, memory, fresh aspects not noted before … whatever ails of modern life suspended for those 110 minutes, disc extras offering hours more. Here’s what one of those taught me: Albert R. Broccoli from the beginning proposed James Bond as family entertainment, which for me at age ten it seemed anything but. In fact, we went to Goldfinger upon assurance that it was the dirtiest picture ever to play the Liberty, and certainly the rawest to come our childish way. You had to assume all stops were out when they called the female lead “Pussy Galore.”

The teaser had Bond putting squelch to “heroin-flavored bananas,” this for obvious benefit of those arriving to 3:00 shows a little late from school-out but not missing essential narrative that follows. “Miami Beach” is a fascinating mosaic of that exotic place, plus indoor environ at Pinewood where most of “exteriors” were done, a happy economy I’d not trade for bloat that would accrue in a next, and future, Bonds. Shortcuts become old friends, “flaws” if you like, though I don’t see them so. It humanizes Bond to be humbled both at M’s office and even at table he shares with the boss and a high-up gov’t man (“Smithers is giving the lecture, 007”). Such quiet moments would become a lost thing as Bonds got Bigger, then Biggest. Time passes faster for me here than any of the series, Goldfinger a model of forward-movement, all muscle, no fat. The golf game reflects confidence in a situation played nearly mute (little dialogue, sans scoring), suspense taut upon whether Goldfinger, let alone Oddjob, would notice 007 having switched a golf ball. Where it is necessary to defend the concept of James Bond, this sequence will do.

Outdoors Miami Beach Staged Indoors at Pinewood

What films would you call wholly satisfactory? Narrowed down further, what Bonds are so? Many are fine in parts if not whole, but I’d call Goldfinger the one closest to a total win throughout. Noted, not for a first time, was fightin’ words Bond utters (certainly so in 1964), offhand, as in something to effect that no one should listen to the Beatles without earmuffs. So whose poison pill was that? Writer Richard Maibaum (b. 1909), co-scribe Paul Dehn (b. 1912)? I wonder if the line elicited boos anywhere. The Liverpool pack were at a peak of popularity, A Hard Day’s Night lately out, and clicking, though not on a level Goldfinger would. Here’s the thing I noticed from seeing Goldfinger first-run … virtually no one else at school had, and what’s more, they didn't much care. Classmates seemed not so taken with movies, at least not near extent I was, an admitted extreme not to be wished on anybody, but what did occupy them? I’ve looked back for answers, asked contemporaries ... there was the YMCA, kid sports, though less of that before at least seventh grade. What of the popular culture engaged them? Television surely … everyone had their favorite shows, but … I'd say it was music, records, AM radio, the more so as we moved up grades toward high school, enthusiasm a-plenty directed toward the Beatles. Were there polls in the 60’s asking teens which they preferred --- rock and roll, or movies? 

Brief as it was, had there been such a high-sped chase as Goldfinger’s with the Aston-Martin? There is one shot where the thing races round a corner and toward the camera that feels like a missile ready to jump off the screen. Pursuits before this were staid by compare, boxy sedans that seemed still even as drivers looked to be in seat-flight. Revenooers would never have run Lucas Doolin off a mountain road had he been driving an Aston-Martin (just checked --- they introduced the sleek DB4 in 1958, the year Thunder Road came out). Grace Kelly quick-drove a sporty vehicle to Cary Grant’s discomfort in To Catch A Thief, but we didn’t feel it for Hitchcock falling back on process screens. Even Bond did a sort of same in Dr. No, before car chases became ends in themselves. British wheel men Stanley Baker and crew rode trucks hard in Hell Drivers (1957), but that, at least for me, was more scary than thrilling, not meant to be “fun” chasing. So … I’m asking, what did we have for road action, in a modern sense, before Goldfinger and the Aston-Martin? I know I’m forgetting several, maybe some I’ve never seen or am not familiar with. And note: They kept making, and selling, 007’s Aston-Martin model for years after Goldfinger. Chances are, they still do.

Couple of random thoughts re Goldfinger: Dubbed voices, as in Gert Frobe, plus others throughout the Bond series whose faces we see, but with voices we don’t hear. You could almost call 007 a lot of dubbed foreign movies. And think of worldwide fame that came to so many journeyman Brit players when Bond went nuclear. Jobbers from way back, like to the 40’s … Honor Blackman, Bernard Lee, then Connery and Shirley Eaton almost anonymous in whatever work could be had during the 50’s. These folks must have stood often together to shake heads in astonishment. From Jacks to Kings, across the boards, so long as Bond would last, and of course, he’s still lasting. Here’s the other thing, and maybe I mentioned it somewhere before, but Brick Davis and I tallied percentage of UK films we saw at the Liberty during the mid-60’s, agreeing it was close to half. Consider the Bonds, Hammers, Beatle features, Tom Jones, Darling, Georgy Girl, offshoot chillers from Amicus and elsewhere, like Lipperts from over there, even Carry On entries that washed up on our shore. I was fully adjusted to British idiom and pace by age eleven. One last thing to close: Felix Leiter and assist are scoping Goldfinger’s stud farm where 007 is an apparent prisoner. At one point, they are parked in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. A keenest memory I have of that March ’65 day was sitting and wondering why our town did not yet have a KFC. It bothered me near as much as not having an extra dime for two Baby Ruths rather than one. For the record: Colonel Sanders finally built for us in 1967, the site now a Thai place.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

My mother saw an ads for someone to cut chicken at KFC Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. She sent me. I did my best not to get the job so, naturally, I was hired. We cut with a bandsaw. The boss showed me how to cut the Colonel's way. The manager showed me how to cut fast. He said, "Don't get caught." I figured the smart thing would be to learn how to cut the Colonel's way FAST. It was an alternating two man job. We got 1.5 cents for each chicken we cut, 1.5 cents for each chicken we bagged. They had trouble keeping a second person so I did both jobs getting the full 3 cents. With that I bought my first 8mm prints of METROPOLIS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). My family and friends thought I was wasting my money. Then I got FOOLISH WIVES, HELL'S HINGES, THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and more. I was hooked.

Colonel Saunders came to the Sault. He watched as I cut and bagged the full load of chicken perfectly.

I learned a great life lesson: Learn to do what we do the right way FAST.

Great post on GOLDFINGER. Yeah, I noticed that KFC outlet.

7:01 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

Happy Birthday!

But, wait -- on one's birthday, one generally receives presents, and not generously dole 'em out to others... 'cause this fabulous memory piece about GOLDFINGER is a great gift to all Greenbriar readers. Enthusiastic, evocative text, swell photos. A welcome blast from the past on a dreary Monday. The only thing missing: a photo of that Sears toy laser table!

As so much of GOLDFINGER was photographed, as you point out, with the use of "shortcuts," I wonder just where the Colonel Sanders restaurant where Leiter and his partner wait was located. Even as a kid, the use of the KFC joint in the movie seemed to me a masterful stroke. Since they were supposed to be in Kentucky, what could have been a greater quick signifier of this than a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet? If they made the movie today, the Broccolis would probably stage an elaborate action sequence at Churchill Downs on Derby day to establish the location. The KFC -- coupled with Goldfinger's palatial horse farm -- worked just fine.

-- Griff

10:28 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I was born in February 1946 so I was at the spear point of the Baby Boomers (choose one: "I'm sorry"/"You're welcome.") After I saw the film in my college town theater, a long tradition of Spring festivals run by frat boys and their Greek houses ended at my university. I might have seen the very last festival. They were crude and rude and performed inside of tents. One House did a parody of GOLDFINGER which I thought was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. Goldfinger's servant was called Handjob (isn't that hilarious...?) which tells you the level of humor at the time.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Oops...I forgot: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

11:35 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I wonder how many people were lured to see "Goldfinger" just from the theme song alone? Where I lived, that was constantly blasting from the transistor radio, as was "Thunderball" a year or two later. Never underestimate the power of a good opening theme!

12:33 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I always thought the KFC was the British filmmakers' idea of Exotic America, a colorful detail of native life like calypso music in Jamaica. While the series was sliding into self-parody by the time they did "Diamonds Are Forever", their treatment of Las Vegas was less like a travel brochure than a condescending Traveltalk.

Recently watched "Gosford Park", followed by the screenwriter's commentary that explained all the details. One was that the upper classes elaborately disdained popular entertainment, so when a West End composer sits down at the piano, his hosts mutter contempt while all the servants gather as close as they dare to savor the music. In that light, Bond's crack about the Beatles is asserting his high-class credentials for an English audience. Bond was essentially a nobleman living in a world of luxury brands, bespoke suits and first-class travel. His music was usually upscale jazz and sexy chanteuses in very expensive or dangerous clubs. The Beatles played for tradesmen's kids, first in basement dives and then in sports arenas.

Old enough to remember when the Corgi version of Bond's "Goldfinger" car was the ultimate wish list item, followed by the official attache case. The attache case was only in "From Russia With Love", but instantly became another permanent secret agent cliche. There was something compelling about Bond getting to play with what were essentially toys with live ammo, but still getting to be a privileged grownup who did it (snicker) with busty girls. You knew you'd have to put aside your cowboy gear and Marx playsets, but you could fantasize a somewhat Bondian adulthood. Heck, there was Bond aftershave and other goodies for the arrested adolescents.

2:45 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I got the attache case Christmas 1965, and though the case itself eventually fell apart, I still have the billfold and 007 business cards.

3:36 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

The only thing Stinky has to contribute is Stinky LOVES Honor Blackman!

6:09 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Happy Birthday; and may you enjoy many more.
I have nothing to say about the movie Goldfinger itself, which I like very much.
But I see that new Goldfinger-related merch is still being created and sold, by the Royal Mail no less, in the form of a postage stamp - one of a set of James Bond-related new issues announced today.
These are coming out soon, I guess timed to coincide with the latest Bond film. Here's a link to an image of the new Goldfinger stamp:

7:48 PM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...


And thanks for bringing back those James Bond memories from 50+ years ago. Yeah, we sure were lucky to see all those UK imports on the big screen, considering the little town in the foothills of Appalachia where they were exhibited.

11:33 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

According to this site, the KFC was in Florida

Thanks for another fun read. Tough choice; Marx playsets or Honor Blackman!

8:07 AM  
Blogger Matthew Clark said...

Car chases came into their own a couple of years after Goldfinger with the opening scenes of Peter Yates' heist movie "Robbery"(1967). The auto sequences caught the attention of Steve McQueen and he brought Yates to the US to direct McQueen's next feature "Bullitt" (1968).

According to the audio commentary on the disc releases, the KFC that they filmed was actually in Florida, where the exterior US shots were recorded.

10:39 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

The James Bond billfold? The one where "007" appears on the business cards when you take them out? Clever, but I wondered how that could ever be useful or even advisable in undercover work.

I never got the whole attache but I did get the decoder with built-in notepad. Not knowing anybody else with a decoder I didn't get much mileage out of it. In the final analysis it was just a bulky version of old radio show premiums. There were large action figures of Bond and Oddjob. The Bond figure was rigged so one leg would kick forward as a "poison blade" popped from the toe of the shoe -- a villain's gimmick from "From Russia With Love". And of course there was the Sears Exclusive James Bond slot track, which was reportedly such a production disaster it took down venerable toy manufacturer Gilbert. One of the deluxe Bond DVDs covered it in a special feature.

There was a knockoff attache called "Secret Sam", which included a real camera so you could secretly take photos of kneecaps. Mattel's "Zero M" toys were just confusing. They were mock radios (the big old barely portable kind), cameras and pocket knives that transformed into cap guns. They didn't fit the fantasy of being Bond. The idea seemed to be pretending your preteen self was a spy, or at least covertly armed. There was a "Man From UNCLE" pistol that converted into a rifle, but no attache to carry the silencer, stock, etc. I was fascinated that they merchandised the THRUSH rifle, an odd-looking weapon carried by all the flunkies on the TV show. I guess the play scenario was that, like the good guys on the show, you'd disarm a guard while escaping the secret lair.

Honor Blackman trivia: Before "Goldfinger" she was Mrs. Gale on "The Avengers". After her Bond success they had a scene where John Steed is going through his Christmas cards and says something like, "Here's one from Cathy Gale. Whatever is she doing at Fort Knox?"

2:23 PM  
Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

Happy B-Day and thanks for the memory of waiting on line outside the Demille on a bitter cold day only to be shut out of the next screening and having to wait 2 hours to get into the next one. It was worth the wait.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Re:KFC...we'd stumbled across an early outlet near Indianapolis just before our initial viewing of GOLDFINGER at the local drive-in....great to have a common point with the Bond universe... when I caught it again on the later double bill, I rejoiced in pointing it out to classmates who'd not seen ANY Bond at that point.....
Looking thru online scans of various Xmas catalogues from those years, it was interesting to see how the spy craze unfolded, soon to be superceded by BATMAN/superheroes a year or two the end of the decade, the Corgi Aston Martin was about the only 007 toy still on the height, there were 4 or 5 different spy brands in addition to BOND/UNCLE.... every major manufacturer and quite a few minor ones jumped in, displacing most of the Army toys, with the noticeable exception of GI JOE/ACTION MAN....

4:44 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

Over the years of reading this blog the Liberty Theater has become a character. So I Google-earthed the location and I was amazed and gratified to find it's still in business! I checked out the old KFC location and wondered why a fried chicken franchise did not survive in North Carolina.
In the early days of KFC to well into the early 1960's there were no stand alone KFC stores. A local restaurant would "feature" KFC. Maybe this was the case in the Bond film. Sanders would lease his proprietary chicken frying equipment to the restaurant and periodically visit the restaurants to make sure his instructions were followed to the letter. If the restaurant wasn't doing it exactly Sander's way, he would take the equipment and void the agreement. Sanders sold his business to a beer company IIRC and they kept him on as a spokesperson. One of Sander's relatives stated that once Sanders found out that the new owner switched from real potatoes to dehydrated potato flaked for the mashed taters, he went into a depression and died shortly afterward.
I never saw a Bond film in a theater (or on TV for that matter) until I was driving on my own. By then it was the Roger Moore era. My mother would not let our family patronize such dirty films.

10:09 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer notes a possible inspiration for Oddjob:

I wonder if Odd Job, with his lethal derby, was the product of a young Ian Fleming watching "After the Thin Man" at the local Odeon and seeing Lum Kee distract a berserk David Graham at the climax by flinging his hat into his face?

4:38 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...


There's been a new wave of James Bond slot car sets from British firm Scaletrix, with one of them based on SPECTRE:

Unlike the A.C. Gilbert sets, these actually do work.

5:13 PM  

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