July 5, 2024

Behind-the-Scenes Facts About 'Goldfinger'

In 1964, Ian Fleming's gentleman spy creation James Bond was officially a successful film star. Having made the leap from page to screen in the form of Sean Connery, Bond had already led two successful action films, but the best was yet to come. Determined to make Bond the biggest thing in the world, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli mounted their most ambitious Bond production yet, including everything from a gold-painted actress to a catchy theme song to one very cool car. The result is the spy movie by which all other spy movies are measured. Here are 18 facts about the making of Goldfinger.

1. Goldfinger was inspired by a chance encounter.

Goldfinger, which was published in 1959, was the seventh title in author Ian Fleming's series of novels about gentleman-spy James Bond, and its premise sprang from a chance encounter three years earlier. In 1956, Fleming was staying at Enton Hall, an English health spa, when he happened to strike up a conversation with a broker who specialized in gold. As he picked the man's brain about the gold trade for a while, the seed that would grow into Goldfinger was planted.

2. There are key differences between the book version of Goldfinger and the movie.

As with many of the Bond films, the plot of Goldfinger the movie differs in certain key ways from Goldfinger the novel, particularly in terms of the ambitions of its villain. In both versions, Auric Goldfinger wants to control the world's supply of gold, but in Fleming's original novel he's much more of a hoarder than he is a shrewd dealer. Both versions required a Fort Knox heist, but the novel suggested that Goldfinger would actually steal all the gold from the United Stated repository, which presented a logistical challenge for screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn.

"Fleming never bothered his head about how long it would take to transport the gold from Fort Knox, or how many men and vehicles it would require," Maibaum recalled.

To get around this while still keeping the Fort Knox set piece, the screenwriters devised a scheme in which Goldfinger would set off a dirty bomb at Fort Knox, irradiating the gold and making it useless, therefore making his personal stockpile much more valuable.

3. Goldfinger was the first James Bond film to switch directors.

Like the group of actors who've played Bond, the group of filmmakers who've helmed a Bond film is still a rather exclusive club. In 1964, as producers prepared to make Goldfinger, it was still a club of one. Terence Young, who'd directed both Dr. No and From Russia With Love, was assumedly also going to return for the third Bond film, and even contributed some work to pre-production. Ultimately, however, he decided to step away from the grind of the budding action franchise and its schedule of one film per year at the time.

To replace him, producers selected Guy Hamilton, an original contender to make Dr. No. It would be a momentous decision that helped set the template for every future Bond movie.

4. Goldfinger established many James Bond firsts.

Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger (1964).

When he came on board as director, Guy Hamilton saw an opportunity to infuse a greater sense of lightness and even fantasy into the Bond franchise. Fearing that his lead character was "in danger of becoming Superman," Hamilton decided to redirect narrative tension from "Will Bond live or die?" to a deeper focus on the character conflict between 007 and his villains.

"There was now no suspense, because if somebody pulls a gun on him, you know that he's going to kick it away before the scene is over," Hamilton said. "Bond is as good as his villains. Let's spend more time worrying about the villains and make that important."

As part of his new focus on a more fanciful Bond, Hamilton established many firsts in the franchise even beyond the idea of villain monologues and unforgettable henchmen. Goldfinger is the first Bond film to have a full-on cold open in which the character goes on an unrelated mission to set the tone; the first Bond film to have an opening theme performed by an iconic vocalist; and the first Bond film to play up the relationship between 007 and his put-upon gadget master, Q.

5. Sean Connery was uneasy about Goldfinger.

Though James Bond fandom had not yet reached the heights of full-on mania that it would achieve with the release of Goldfinger and Thunderball, star Sean Connery was already beginning to feel the burden of the franchise. Bond had made him a massive star, but his commitment to the series, and its producers' insistence on churning out one film per year, meant that he was both exhausted and forced to turn down other work. In between From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, Connery made Woman of Straw and Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, but had to decline a role in a John Ford film along the way. For an actor trying to prove he was more than 007, it was a lot to carry.

Connery's unease was only worsened by his reaction to Goldfinger's script, which he felt was too humorous and, in some places, unbelievable. His concern was shared by Hamilton, who dubbed the script "too American" after reading the original draft by Richard Maibaum. Screenwriter Paul Dehn was brought in to help Maibaum revise the script, but the deeper humor of Bond was something that stuck.

6. Goldfinger established James Bond and Q’s dynamic.

Though Desmond Llewelyn made an appearance in From Russia With Love, he didn't really come into his own as the beloved Bond figure known as "Q" until Goldfinger, when Bond visits his laboratory to receive a load of new equipment. It turned out to be a pivotal scene not just for the film, but for the entire Bond franchise, thanks to a key piece of direction from Hamilton to Llewelyn. Originally, the actor planned to stand when Bond entered the room as a gesture of respect, but Hamilton shot the idea down and told Llewelyn to play up Q's dislike for the brash secret agent.

"I looked at him and said 'You hate the bugger,'" Hamilton recalled. "He says, 'Why do I hate him?' 'Think about it. He comes down here, pays no attention to what you say, takes your props away, uses them in completely different ways than you intended, never returns them. I mean, the man's a menace as far as you're concerned, and the sooner 009 turns up, the happier you'll be.'"

So, Llewelyn was grumpy with Bond, and an iconic odd couple was born.

7. Goldfinger didn't speak English.

Though Victor Buono and Theodore Bikel were both considered for the title role of Auric Goldfinger, Cubby Broccoli's preferred choice was German actor Gert Fröbe, who'd he'd seen play a child murderer in a film called It Happened in Broad Daylight. Hamilton agreed to the casting, but was dismayed to find that, apart from a few pleasantries, Fröbe didn't speak English. So, rather than recast the villain, the decision was made to dub him with actor Michael Collins.

"He had a dialogue coach and he studied his scenes very hard. I made a point of not making them too long and had lots of cuts in them," Hamilton recalled. "He learned his dialogue phonetically. The only thing I had to do was get him to speed up, because he was enunciating everything very slowly. The main thing is that the mouth is moving at the right tempo. Michael Collins did a tremendous job of imitating Gert."

8. Honor Blackman and Harold Sakata were the first choices for their roles in Goldfinger.

Sean Connery and Honor Blackman promote Goldfinger in 1964.

For the role of Pussy Galore, Goldfinger's sexy and high-flying partner in crime, Hamilton looked no further than Honor Blackman, who was then ready to leave her starring role on the hit TV spy series The Avengers and already had a built-in knowledge of Judo (which Pussy schools Bond in at one point) from her time on the show.

"There was hardly anybody else about that was as right for it as me," Blackman later recalled.

For Oddjob, Goldfinger's mute, brutally strong, hat-throwing enforcer, it turned out all Hamilton had to do was turn on his television, where he saw former Olympic weightlifter working as a heel on a pro wrestling show.

"Harold Sakata came on, and everybody booed, and there was Oddjob," Hamilton said.

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