FLEMING FRIDAY: GOLDFINGER AND A VIEW TO A KILL
It’s been a quieter week on the James Bond front. No major news after the last few bursts of television spots / casting speculations etc. But we did get UK Paper the Daily Mirror claim that Daniel Craig is contracted to play Bond until at least 2020. Good. He is the one Bond that COULD age in the role, naturally.
There’s a reality about the way Daniel plays it, without actually compromising the fantasy. Think television. John Thaw’s Inspector Morse: there were momentary glimpses whereby women of all ages and styles clearly admire /fancy and sometimes seduce /were seduced by the character and his aura of the veteran actually made that credible. Repeat that pattern for Bond on a bigger scale.
An aging assassin’s angst; ongoing heroic dangers; sense of style and adventure and on a big screen, glossy background. Craig’s Bond can still be credibly ‘sexy’ into the next two adventures at least. With or without perfect abs.
His stamina and speed are past the Casino Royale peak; yet he remains a convincing, force of nature, masculine THREAT in a fight on screen. Age need not weary that charisma of violence in either the character or the actor. So: hang in there, Mr. Craig (not that anyone really believed you were leaving so soon, anyway). The pretenders and re-boots will have their day. Just not yet.
Speaking of which: today’s Fleming Friday: double-bill. Goldfinger (1964) and A View to a Kill (1985).
Pay attention, 007.
Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman
Bond (Connery) is assigned to spy on Goldfinger but cannot resist sabotaging his mark’s attempts at cheating in a card game; before also seducing his beautiful assistant, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton). When Jill is found dead ‘covered in gold paint’, Bond returns home.
M berates Bond yet still assigns him to continue watching Goldfinger in Switzerland. The trail leads back to the USA and an epic criminal endeavour. Bond will have to use every skill at his disposal to survive and may also need help from Goldfinger’s personal Pilot, Miss Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).
A VIEW TO A KILL
Director: John Glen
Stars: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts
Bond (Moore) recovers a microchip on assignment in Siberia. Analysed back home, it turns out that the KGB might be cloning British defence technologies, notably the EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). The source of the leak? Zorin Industries, fronted by a French industrialist, Max Zorin (Walken). Bond catches Zorin cheating at horse racing and follows a trail from France to San Francisco. He teams with beautiful Geologist, Stacey Sutton (Roberts) to foil Zorin’s evil plans.
Two films, twenty one years apart. The connection? They have arguably the same plot / basic story beats. Mad industrialist with fetish for specific item attempts to consolidate monopoly via destructive plan that Bond must foil.
One could argue that countless Bond films follow a similar arc. Pierce Brosnan’s 007 prevented villains from controlling both the media and oil markets. Rogue capitalism, unchecked, is as great a villain as, if not greater than, Soviet power or lone wolf terrorists. Even Daniel Craig’s era saw at least one baddie trying to own the world’s supply of a natural resource.
A View to a Kill comes in for particular stick though because it repeats almost identically the structure and ideas of Goldfinger. That it happens to do so without the verve, style and success of its predecessor is another reason for its vilification, thirty years on.
But let’s face it, Goldfinger is on one hand THE Bond movie to copy and also therefore IMPOSSIBLE to truly equal or best. Made at the height of ‘Bond mania’ in the 60s (each decade since arguably has a version of that phenomenon), the film is a package deal.
Goldfinger set THE James Bond template. True, it was the third movie in the series. We’d already had Dr No and From Russia with Love. But those movies are great spy thrillers that just happen to feature James Bond. Whilst that is key to their timeless charm, it is also why one thinks more of Goldfinger when considering a ‘typical’ Bond formula.
We get a larger than life villain in Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). He’s excellent and gives a genuine life to the idea of Bond thrillers being the ‘fairy tales for adults’ envisaged by Ian Fleming. This baddie could literally come from the pages of Brothers Grimm.
The fetishizing of gold is particularly sinister. To a kid, that’s just the baddie likes gold. To an adult? It’s clearly a kind of metaphorical expression of the villain’s inadequacy and impotence, as contrasted to the perfect virility and machismo of Connery’s Bond.
Bond movies are an ‘adult fantasy that kids can enjoy’, as Timothy Dalton once put it so eloquently. Goldfinger’s brand of villainy captures that ethos in a perfect personification. Even Blofeld is a dull figure by comparison and the Producers knew this (they even wanted to use Goldfinger’s brother as the villain in Diamonds are Forever).
A View to a Kill had real problems from the start in so far as the villain lacks that fairy-tale yet naughtily adult twist on his character. In fairness, they do try. He’s a product of genetic engineering during the Nazi era, before being farmed out to the Soviets. So he’s a genius psychopath with heightened abilities that can best Bond in every way. Great pitch, yes? Sure. Except his ‘thing’ (as Austin Powers’ GoldMember might say) is MICROCHIPS. Zorin loves MICROCHIPS! Not sexy, is it?
Things might have been evened out a bit had Bond been played here by a man at his peak. But this is Roger Moore at the end of a tenure which he had himself tried ending earlier, only to stay on by popular demand. He was 57. It’s younger than quite a few action heroes today.
And it’s ironically enough one of his better Bond performances at character level. He’s charming as ever. You believe this man is in danger and that he understands the seriousness of his mission. His exchanges with Christopher Walken’s Zorin are particularly good. But Roger’s just lacking physical energy. Gone is the buoyantly boyish glow.
Moore clearly WANTS to retire here and that COULD work IF that were written into the script (as with Skyfall challenging Bond’s age /abilities). It isn’t and one therefore feels just awkward watching Moore huffing his way through action scenes. Contrast that with Octopussy just two years previously, where Roger had vitality and performed action with aplomb. A View to a Kill is not a fitting send-off; though it does show moments of his old brilliance as Bond.
Connery’s Bond though IS at his peak in Goldfinger. He moves with pace, precision and grace but underscored by the kind of violence that one expects from Bond. You would not want to cross Connery’s Bond. He’s also having tremendous FUN, which is infectious. Key to the film’s success, in fact, is the fact that Bond is simply enjoying every line, from ‘positively shocking’ through ‘discipline, 007’.
Whilst I loathe the overused term ‘iconic’, I do concede that Goldfinger is precisely that: iconic. It provides fantastic imagery in every scene and character. The Q Lab scene. Oddjob and his Bowler hat. The Golden Girl. Golf! The roll in the hay with Pussy Galore (nb: actually more innocent that many a revisionist critic will now allow: this is NOT a ‘rape’ scene and if it were, I’d not be writing about the film now, on principle). See also: the ejector seat! And THAT scene with the laser beam. ‘NO MR. BOND I EXPECT YOU TO DIE!’.
Fort Knox is also a great set and its sound, visuals and lighting are perfect. All backed up by one of the most beltingly brilliant John Barry Bond scores and Shirley Bassey songs of all time. That takes some beating. It made Bond as big as big as the Beatles in the 1960s and ensured the film’s lasting legacy as THE template Bond film. Which is WHY A View to a Kill was RIGHT to think of matching it yet wrong to even try. Catch 22.
But let’s not be too kind to Goldfinger or too harsh on A View to a Kill. Goldfinger has arguably been damaged through over-use / overpraise. You’ll have seen it so often that its sense of shock value is diminished and its pace does lag in some scenes. It’s also the film that took James Bond away from the heightened reality of spy thrillers into the realm of all out fantasy. Goldfinger is effectively launching a new series entirely, when viewed next to the films that immediately preceded it.
A View to a Kill is not well loved, but does have much to love about it. The score from John Barry is one of his best since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, backed by a chart topping song by Duran Duran. There is a parachute jump. From the EIFFEL TOWER! THINK about that phrase for one second and THEN say that the film is unremarkable.
There’s some genuine comedy in Roger Moore’s interplay with Patrick MacNee (MacNee sadly died this week: RIP) and also with Walken’s Zorin and Grace Jones’ May-Day. All the Bond women are stunningly beautiful and lovely here (Alison Doody; Tanya Roberts; Fiona Fullerton). The locations are lovingly filmed and the action is frequently tense and inventive, albeit slowed in pace and cohesion and with a dash of plain old nasty violence that was in vogue at the time.
Goldfinger and A View to a Kill are both of their time. Where the former left a lasting legacy and is much loved, the latter showed moments of brilliance but also a pervasive need for reinvention and new energy injections. Goldfinger is followed by a less remarkable (underwater innovations aside) Thunderball. A View to a Kill gets a more satisfying follow-up in The Living Daylights.
Remember: there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ Bond film.
JAMES MURPHY WILL RETURN