Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ian Fleming centenary

Wednesday, May 28 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming, who is of course best-known for writing a series of books about James Bond, the British secret agent with the code name 007. A slew of Bond movies have been made, and the spy has become an icon unto himself, so it would certainly be fitting to discuss Bond on a blog about classic cinema. Since Frank Sinatra was The Man With the Golden Arm last night on TCM, I'll discuss a bit less gold (or more gold, as the case may be): Goldfinger

The story, of course, is fairly simple: Bond (played in this installment of the series by Sean Connery is asked to investigate a case of international gold smuggling. His investigation leads him to Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), as well as a dastardly plan. Goldfinger doesn't plan to steal all the gold in Fort Knox; that would be too difficult. Instead, he plans to irradiate the gold, rendering it unusable and thereby driving up the price of the rest of the world's gold, a substantial portion of which he owns.

This third Bond movie really begins to show the hallmarks of the franchise. Whereas the previous movie, From Russia With Love was a taut suspense movie with a believable plot, Goldfinger clearly goes for action and a storyline that is clearly over-the-top with its unrealisticness. There's the blue humor with the names of the Bond girls (in this case, Pussy Galore played by Honor Blackman), and the dark humor. In the famous scene pictured, Goldfinger is about to kill Bond with a laser slowly moving up towards Bond's private parts. Bond asks Goldfinger, "You expect me to talk?" Goldfinger responds, with a sinister laugh, "No, Mister Bond. I expect you to die!"

It's a departure from the Bond books, and from the other spy movies of the 1960s. Where movies like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The Quiller Memorandum show the legacy of film noir by being dark, gritty, and brooding, the Bond movies, starting with Goldfinger, veer towards the generation gap territory by becoming campy and eminently parodiable. The bad guys would become bigger -- compare bowler-throwing Oddjob in Goldfinger to Richard Kiel's Jaws in Moonraker, and the plots would too: the movies ended up in increasingly exotic locales (and outer space), with outrageous ideas like mass hypnoisis, diamond-based space rays, and multiple trips to outer space. (And I haven't even gotten into crossing the Iron Curtain in a cello case.) The series is still going, but the early movies are the best. The movies, being as popular as they are, get sold to commercial TV channels because they can spend more money on the rights. But if you want to watch them commercial-free, they've naturally been released to DVD: they're a big money-spinner, after all.

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