From Russia With Love:
From Dr No, we proceed to From Russia With Love, which is also surprisingly grounded … to a point.
The plot is complicated enough that you might not be able to follow it if you went for a piss without pausing. The nebulously/fabulously evil organisation SPECTRE wants to nick a knockoff ENIGMA machine. So they hatch a plot to get a sexy Russian bird to seduce Bond (“Of course! Women! His one weakness!”) so she can convince him to pinch it from the Soviets. SPECTRE will then assassinate him, steal it for themselves, and let the limey’s take the blame. That’s actually some proper espionage!
But what the first half of the movie actually involves is Sean Connery going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey, where the Local Contact turns out to be a sleazy Chuckle brother who takes him on a ‘Fear and Loathing in Istanbul’ odyssey of booze and whores. It cannot be overstated how much of a dirty bastard Kerim is. He looks like someone who would try to sell you one his daughters from his hotdog stand.
At one point in the movie he takes Bond to a gypsy camp and they they watch two women mud wrestle for literally no reason. I know that JB has a lot of sex appeal, but this smackdown in the midden comes from nowhere, goes on far too long, and makes the actresses look like diarrhoea dressed up.
The Final Girl is Tatiana Romanov. By the way, it really annoys me how Russians always have that second name in movies. Why not go the whole hog and call all the Brits: ‘John Windsor?’
Tatiana is a plausible seductress but an implausible secret agent. I don’t buy her as someone who would slit your throat for state secrets, or that she’s skilled at mind games and manipulation. She just seems like someone who fancies James Bond. Wow; he won’t know what to make of that tactic love!
I think the movie would have been improved if she’d been gas-lighting Bond – drawing him into a web of lies and gaining his trust and sympathy, so that her antagonism is something with actual emotional stakes, then her redemption will be more meaningful. At least have her be a bit of a badass who can hold her own in a square-go.
But of course, because Bond has to be the best at everything, has to dominate everyone, this doesn’t materialise. Instead she falls for him, he pumps her, and she’s never heard from again. What was risked? What was learned? Nothing. Apparently if you bed gorgeous and two-faced Russian agents you can just get away with it if you’re good in the sack. Fine.
However, the antagonists are far better than Dr ‘Lobster Mitts.’ Red Grant is basically just James Bond but evil, by which I mean, a murderous rapist in a suit … but with blond hair! In a few movies time, when Bond will be dispatching goons with a Jokeresque level of comically-mocking relish, the lines between Grant and Bond will fugue into total ambiguity, and we’ll wonder why they didn’t partner up, Man From U.N.C.L.E style.
The main thing I noticed was a potent sexual tension between Bond and Grant. They have a long scene on a train where Grant has Bond at his mercy, and Grant is telling him he’s going to kill him. Sean Connery treats him as a serious threat, with none of Bond’s typical smirking through danger. But his out-of-character engagement makes it seem like 007 fancies Grant and wants leftie daddy to have his way with him. At least he’s interested in getting to know Grant before he kills him, which is more than you can say for Miss October Revolution.
The Final Boss of the movie is also our very first Henchman, Rosa Klebb, who is awesome. In typical James Bond fashion, you can tell she’s a baddie because she’s an older woman in a position of power wearing a frumpy uniform, which epitomises all the evil commie values that our man JB loathes. I’m not sure if Klebb is supposed to be telegraphed as a lesbian because of this. It would make sense, since it would categorise her as ‘deformed or abnormal’ by JB’s warped standards, and is lazily offensive, so it’s probably the case.
Anyhow, the climax of the movie involves her trying to kick Bond in the shins with knife shoes, so we have to watch Connery wrestle someone who looks like Terry Jones playing Brian’s Mum for 10 minutes, before Tatiana decides to waste her.
However, it does have another good hat toss at the start, so all is forgiven Albert Broccoli…
Okay, so I just want to preface this by saying that I actually liked this film. It’s good. It does hold up. I enjoyed it.
… But, this is the movie where the original sins of the franchise first rear their ugly heads. Everything which this movie does well will be attempted again in a later film, but worse, beat-for-beat. It’s easy to see why it was copied so much, since it works well, but let’s count the clichés which are established for the first time:
- Death Trap: James Bond is manacled to a table and almost has his peen singed off by a laser.
- Henchman: Goldfinger’s main muscle is a strange foreign man with a silly name who kills people in a daft way ( to whit: mute/giant, Korean, OddJob, throws a razor-bladed hat.).
- Elaborate Evil Scheme: To use a nuke to irradiate all the the gold in Fort Knox and make a shit-ton of $$$.
- Final Girl: a femme fatale called Pussy Galore, who owns a number of planes and resists Bond’s rugged fuckability for nearly 13 minutes (a new record for womankind).
- Gadget: An Aston Martin DB9, equipped with hidden guns, slippy oil, and an ejector seat (has Q been playing Mario Kart?)
- Daft Villain Death: Goldfinger gets sucked out of a plane window when he accidentally shoots it.
- Shootout: The US soldiers pretend to have been knocked out, then turn the tables on GF, drive off his goons, and save Bond.
The difference is that, in this film, it all coheres. Everything functions towards furthering the story (okay, apart from a revenge subplot that goes naewhere) and as cool as the gadgets are for 1964, and as big as the spectacle of Fort Knox is, it all works because it feels halfway believable and Bond isn’t invincible.
There’s plenty of one-upmanship between him and Goldfinger, but it’s balanced well, and Bond only barely manages to save the day. Look at the scene with the laser for example: it’s great because, for once, Bond is on the back foot, and can’t smirk and pun his way out of it. Goldfinger holds all the power and Bond essentially begs to be spared with as much dignity as he can manage. It’s genuinely tense (not least of which because Connery was actually scared about having a blowtorch sear his gonads).
Bond gets captured and handcuffed to the bomb, and only barely escapes in time, before getting his ass handed to him and winning through sheer chance. He’s actually pretty helpless – all he does is uncover the scheme, pass info to MI6 and the CIA, and survive until the end. You know, like an actual spy.
… However there’s also several mental moments that are worth listing here:
- The movie opens with James Bond on a mission, where he first appears swimming in a pond wearing a duck-shaped hat as a disguise. Except, no duck would ever pop out from underwater, and even then he only swims with the ‘duck’ paddling on the water’s surface for three seconds before standing fully upright and running to cover. This leads me to believe that James Bond just likes going on covert missions wearing a duck on his head, stealth be damned.
- At one point James and Random Bint are engaged in a car chase, and an old biddie appears with a machine gun and starts shooting at them. Who is she? A mercenary? A henchwoman only three days from retirement? Goldfinger’s dear old mum? We never find out.
- Bond kills a baddie in a bathtub by chucking a fan into the water, electrocuting him. He then quips: “Shocking.” Okay, typical dad joke stuff. But then there’s a pause and he says “positively shocking” once more for emphasis, like an insecure comic who’s annoyed the audience hasn’t laughed enough at the punchline.
- James Bond slags off the Beatles at one point. Saywood believes that Bond probably listens to nothing but Elgar and Radio 4. I agree.
- At one point Bond and his bro Felix Leiter are chatting, and Bond’s ‘Random Bint of the Week’ wanders up and asks what they’re gabbing about. Rather than politely asking her to excuse him while he has a private conversation, Bond just says (I shit you not) “Not now: man talk,” and slaps her arse. England’s finest.
- Pussy Galore seems like an awesome Bond girl, because she’s capable of beating Jim up, doesn’t take any of his shite, and looks great wearing jhodpurs. ‘Wow’ I thought, ‘a strong female character who says she’s immune to Bond’s charms.’ But no, after a judo fight Bond forces himself on her in a barn. Then she instantly falls for him and Bond apparently bones all the gay out of her. There’s no justice.
Also, in this movie Moneypenny takes Bond’s hat and throws it on that hatstand for him, in a subversion of the format which was the best thing in a Bond movie up to that point for me. It genuinely made me cheer out loud. And later on Bond has a fight with a man who challenges his hat-throwing prowess, and they have a hat toss-off. I can’t wait to see if Bond being able burping the alphabet will ever help him in the future.