Friday, February 3, 2017

Better In Your Head?--GOLDFINGER

Ian Fleming

"Not much future in England. Rather like the idea of Canada."

Goldfinger is a book that lives and dies by the coincidence.

A cancelled flight and a chance meeting leads to our man James in a Miami hotel, looking to catch a card cheat. Since the maybe-victim is the owner of the damn place, Bond is not only hooked up with a gorgeous room, he's also provided the pass-key to the room of the maybe-swindler, a misshapen misfit fantastically named Auric Goldfinger. Bond discovers the black-bra'ed beauty in cahoots with old Goldie and convinces her to let him assume the role. Bond works some blackmail magic, collects 10K from a grateful rich guy, and bangs Goldfinger's girl during a rail ride.

Game, set, train sex.

Sounds like a tidy short story to me, but no, Mr. Fleming had to keep going. In between fluid-smearing, Goldfinger's cohort--a quiet lovely thing named Jill Masterton--mentions that the sore loser will be in England soon, to play some holes of golf at the Royal St. Marks at Sandwich. Back at MI6, M shares his suspicion that Goldfinger is a treasurer for SMERSH, an organization that, for all its cold efficiency at killing people, has always been hindered by financial hiccups. Who better to remedy the situation than an outsider?

SMERSH? Shit just got incredibly real.

A gentlemanly game of golf (one letter away from "gold," you know) isn't really, since Auric insists on cheating while our man relies on skill. And, eventually, his caddy, who has also grown tired of the other guy's shit, and together, the good fellows take down Goldfinger by messing with his balls. Bond walks away with the match, the money and the sincere hope that Goldfinger will want to see his face again, soon. Bond gets one better; Goldfinger invites him to his house. He gets to meet the acquaintance of Oddjob, a bowler-hatted Korean with the build of a wrestler and the charm of a death certificate.

Back in England, Q Branch has some good news and some bad news. Worst first--Bond's beloved Bentley is off the table for this mission. But, his new whip is a "battleship grey"Aston Martin DB III with reinforced steel bumpers, a gun under the driver's seat, and a radio to follow a special tracking device known as "The Homer."

The last item proves very useful attached to Goldfinger's Rolls Royce, which winds up at a warehouse in Geneva, where the smuggling process reaches ridiculous levels. Bond isn't the only one with a score to settle; lying on her stomach, sniper rifle in hand, is one Tilly Masterton, grieving sister of Jill, who wound up dead after her boss ordered her painted head-to-toe gold.

All of this provides ample time for radar to spot them, and for Oddjob to come out of the house shooting silver arrows like some big fat Korean Link at Death Mountain. Bond and Tilly allow themselves to be brought before Goldfinger, where 007 leaps across the desk like a madman, literally going for the throat, a well thought-out plan which finds him lying on a metal table, hands and feet bound, a circular saw at the far end ready to ride the slit to where he's split. The old "we're more valuable to you alive than dead!" routine does little to sway a man in possession of two discernible emotions. Bond making himself pass out, though? Works every time.

Goldfinger decides to keep his prisoners on as secretaries. He needs people to keep tabs on his monumental undertaking.

At his operational HQ in NYC, Goldfinger welcomes six infamous gang leaders, including the new head of the Spangled Mob and the leader of a Harlem-based all-dyke burglary brood known as the Cement Mixers. The former's handle ain't on the quiz, but the latterly lady is the one the only the Pussy Galore (and I have named the quiz after her). Goldfinger wants them all in, all-in, on "Operation Grand Slam," a meticulously-plotted scheme to rob the gold reserves in Fort Knox, an Army post in the state of Kentucky infamous for its fortifications. In order to assure the success of "OGS," Goldfinger has borrowed some nerve poison to flavor the local water supply. Oh, and to blast the vaunted vault open, an atomic warhead.

In between notes for his boss, Secretary Bond scribbles out a message to be delivered to Felix Leiter at Pinkerton, with the promise of a handsome cash reward. He manages to put it inside the toilet on Goldfinger's plane, hoping a cleaner will find it in time.

From plane to train, the evil-hearted worst do their level-headed best to assure the success of the looniest goddamn thing any of them has ever heard. It's almost beyond comprehension, until the train finally slows in Kentucky, and a look out the window reveals the damage already done: car crashes, wailing babies in their prams, bodies prostrate on green, brown and gray. Thousands dead, or dying, all for the love of gold.

Goldfinger, Oddjob, Bond, Tilly and the six bosses all hang back and watch the action unfold. Everything seems to be going well, the players aren't missing a step…but Goldfinger didn't realize he wasn't the only one putting on a show. A plane appears, up pop tens of "unconscious" soldiers, and the shit is well and truly on. Seems Bond's message got through.

A few days pass, and though Bond is pleased to avoid international scandal, he considers the mission an ultimate failure, since Goldfinger and chums escaped the not long enough arm of the law. Apparently the feeling was mutual. Before Bond can board a BOAC flight, he's taken aside for an inoculation. He awakens on board a plane with the unpromising flight crew of Goldfinger, Oddjob and Pussy Galore. Those other gangsters? Fish food. Bond? Same, after SMERSH has words.

Using a knife that somehow was not confiscated while he was unconscious, 007 cuts through one of the plane's windows, sending Oddjob to a well-deserved demise. Goldfinger, despite outnumbering Bond 1 gun to 0, still winds up dead. Pussy Galore, despite being a lesbian, has sex with Bond, which clearly means she's really straight, since bisexuals did not exist until Elton John invented them in the 1970s.

Goldfinger is the craziest Bond novel yet, and even the author doesn't seem in full control.

"The champagne seemed to have the faintest scent of strawberries. It was ice cold. After each helping of crab, the champagne cleared the palate for the next."

Everything but the first sentence is hilariously inessential. That's the most egregious example, but lazy prose is a slight problem. The physical descriptions are, on average, one paragraph overweight. Bond's inner reacter is back, indulging in digression and conjecture at a rate unbecoming a man of his status.

When Bond becomes a glorified receptionist, the story gets cracking. Steph Curry scoring 40 points in a blow-out win, knowing full well he could have cracked 50, even 60, if he played the final quarter--that is Ian Fleming with Goldfinger.

Director-Guy Hamilton
Writers-Richard Maibaum & Paul Dehn

Back on your screens for movie number three, it's James Bond! Not to be confused with either Jackie Chan or that bitch MacGyver!

007's in Miami, getting a poolside massage, when Felix Leiter shows up Hey buddy! and Bond's all Hallo chum! like his CIA buddy isn't there on business. MI6 has identified a person of interest staying at the same hotel as Bond, a bullion dealer named Auric Goldfinger. Turns out he's also a card cheat, and those types can't fool the super spy. With Jill Masterson's help, Bond embarrasses the unpopped pimple of a man first by futzing his scheme, then by frolicking with his lady friend.

All fun and games until a silhouette in a bowler hat knocks you out and paints your lover gold.

Back in England, Bond is given his objective--get to the bottom of Goldfinger's smuggling operation. He sets up another humiliation for poor Auric, this time on the green, and then sneaks into his plant. There, Bond witnesses firsthand how the donuts are made (so to speak). Further, he hears Goldfinger talking about "Operation Grand Slam."

Before Bond can pass this possibly tantalizing information to MI6, he stumbles over Jill's sister Tilly in the midst of exacting revenge. She dies in the ensuing chase, but Bond is kept alive so Goldfinger can show off his awesome bisecting laser. Possibly more frightened than he's ever been in his life, Bond feeds Goldfinger some spray-painted bull about MI6 knowing all about "Operation Grand Slam."

Aboard Goldfinger's private jet, Bond makes the acquaintance of the pilot, Pussy Galore. The pair spend just enough time together to wordlessly establish future sexy times, and also enough time to create the nagging suspicion that ehhh, Bond maybe doesn't deserve to storm that citadel.

I love when Bond does actual spy work, and eavesdropping on Goldfinger's "Gathering of the Goons" sure qualifies. Later, 007 insists no one can carry out all the gold in Fort Knox, and Goldfinger readily agrees. His intent is to detonate an atomic device inside of the vault that will render the gold useless for 58 years, thus increasing the value of his own gold.

Just as in the book, Bond manages to put the kibosh on the whole shebang, utilizing the power of pussy. Goldfinger escapes, but no matter. Bond's got a date at the White House, which means he actually gets to board a plane of his own accord instead of being dragged on. Nothing is so easy though; Goldfinger hijacks the flight and despite a valiant effort, his last shot at revenge goes out the window. He follows soon after.

With a budget the amount of Dr. No and From Russia With Love combined, Goldfinger needed to bust the blocks. Which is precisely what happened.

The end product is resolutely of the era, and that rear projection is pretty jarring, but so are pointless racial slurs and assaults on the moral fiber of gay pe--you know what? I'll save that.

Bond is a charming brute, well short of oafish, the very opposite of Goldfinger--as it should be. There are three Bond Girls, each progressively more likable and fuckable than her predecessor. The ultimate Bond car? Look no further. The Aston Martin DB V is loaded for war and what's more, it's visible.

Goldfinger embraces its improbabilities so tightly, some of them have become iconic. Even if you aren't among the fans who place it at the top of your Bond list, hell even if you dislike it, the film's enduring popularity (both as straight entertainment and parody fodder) isn't a mystery.

Let's get this over and done--that Beatles remark in the movie? Wow. Double-0 L7, anyone? Top 5 Uncoolest Bond Moment, for eternity.

Book Goldfinger believes physically robbing Fort Knox is possible. That alone makes the movie version superior. (Mind you, he still kills a room of mobsters for nothing, blowing his scheme in the process.) Add in the fact that he has no connection to SMERSH, or SPECTRE, setting him apart as a lone sociopath with unseemly lusts have driven him to a singular madness.

Lasers over saws.

Reveal in silhouette, no, a book can't do that.

Maryland and Kentucky? Let's make out, movie.

Though she meets the same fate either way, Tilly lasts longer in the book. She's shown as pretty and competent until her lesbian attraction to Pussy Galore clouds her judgment, causing her to run from Bond and into Oddjob's flying bowler. There's a metaphor there. Less than, really. Metathree, perhaps.

Goldfinger, another patented Fleming grotesquerie--five feet tall, huge round head covered with a carrot-colored crew cut, "Nothing seemed to belong." (Damn, it's like I'm seeing double here! Four shadows!)

Book PG is a black-haired beauty with violet eyes, a Lesbian with a capital "l" (no, really, Fleming capitalizes the word every time). She's brassy and witty, a flusterer not a blusterer and if Bond is a curious cat, Tilly is a smitten kitten. Changing her role for the movie was a great move. It means we get to see more of her, earlier in the action, and although she's still seduced to the dark side by Bond's dong, at least she gets to flip him on his ass. And that's Honor Blackman's actual voice! And her name is HONOR BLACKMAN! Huzzah and hallelujah! Man, if I'm singing the praises of a blonde over a dark-haired gal, listen up.

The DB V isn't a step up from the Mark III. It's an entire staircase up. And one of the stairs blows up if you stand on it too long.

Turns out golf is a game better read about than watched. Better still if the voice in your head speaks in those classic hushed TV commentator tones.

Oddjob's death in the book was given to Goldfinger for the film, a wise change. While Goldfinger's end in the novel made sense, and was realistic, why should the death of the villain be anything other than outlandish?

The script is an artful re-arranging of plot elements, of characters, with a willingness to smash the gas pedal and the common sense to keep an eye on the fuel gauge. What Fleming wished to do, Eon Productions actually did: tell a fun, wry spy story where the ridiculousness adds to the appeal.

There's a rule that a director should never show the poster to a much better movie in the background of their own movie, well, authors should never reference better (or potentially better) books in the text of their own books. The past year or so, we learn, Bond's been working on a pet project, a compilation of the best writings on the subject of unarmed combat from Secret Services worldwide. His goal is to present the finished manual to M for possible acceptance as one of the select few texts considered "required reading" for MI6 agents. This part made me smile. Say what you will about 007, the man loves his work.

Let's get this over and done--"epidermal suffocation" sounds plausible. But is it a thing? It is not.

Changing the bomb timer to seven seconds for American audiences, sure, okay, but they didn't have the time to dub a new, more accurate line reading?

"Auric Goldfinger" was born to be a gold smuggler/snuggler just as "Thanatos Dirtfoot" was born to be a gravedigger.

Bond calls Oddjob an "ape" repeatedly, even to his face. Goldfinger refers to Koreans as "the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world." That's pretty rugged. But with his seventh novel, Ian Fleming decides to give the non-white members of society a relative break and go full guns at the fairer sex, and the fairer of the stronger sex.

"Tilly Masterton was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up….He…thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality'….The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits."

"She said, not in a gangster's voice, or a Lesbian's, but in a girl's voice…."

"She did as she was told, like an obedient child."

"All you need is a course of T.L.C."
    "What's T.L.C.?"
    "Short for Tender Loving Care treatment. It's what they write on most papers when a waif gets brought into a children's clinic."

My freezer has been broken since November 2016, so let me be brief. Fuck anyone who still has these thoughts and attitudes. Back in Fleming's day, things were different. Clearly. What people didn't understand, they feared. In the 21st century, we have the resources to understand much more and ergo, fear much less. About ourselves, others and the world we all share. So as much as the above passages enrage me, they don't hamper my ability to fairly judge the total work. To read similar sentiments in a contemporary novel, however, would be enough to make me disregard the book entirely.

Final note to the writers out there: if you are not going to actually spell out the word "fuck" in your text, rewrite the relevant sentence. Avoid preciousness. No dashes, no blanks, especially if you're comfortable with throwing around racial epithets and infantilizing women in situations that don't advance a character or the story.


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