Tuesday, August 18, 2009

James Bond Daily: Goldfinger

Goldfinger is Doctor No done again, with slight variations -- in some ways, it's more refined and tightened (particularly in the three-encounters structure), and in others, it's clumsier (as with the shuffling of three Bond girls, and the anti-climax at Fort Knox). The most interesting lesson of Goldfinger-the-book is that Goldfinger-the-movie is faithful to all of the things that are good about it, and deviates only to be more like Doctor No (the book and movie), only to be more like the Platonic ideal of a James Bond story.

Goldfinger also echoes Moonraker, with a rich, ruthless man (first Drax, then Goldfinger) cheating while gambling, and that cheating being what originally brings Bond into the picture and onto the villain's trail. In this case, Bond is passing through Miami, runs into a minor character from Casino Royale, and is enlisted to help figure out how Goldfinger is cheating.

After humiliating Goldfinger in America, Bond is set to investigating Goldfinger's gold-smuggling, and so goes off to play golf, in hope of ingratiating himself with the villain, getting a job in his operation, and unravelling the whole plot. (Fleming insists on giving the reader a stroke-by-stroke depiction of the game; I found it tolerable but it runs on for nearly two whole chapters.)

Eventually, the third encounter comes about -- do we all remember Goldfinger's Chicago dictum about interference? once coincidence, twice happenstance, thrice enemy action? -- and Bond finds himself once more the captive of a sinister figure with designs on the world. The plot in the book is subtly different than the one in the movie -- as I said above, the movie machines some rough edges from the plot, though it also disengages Goldfinger from the vague overall anti-SMERSH plot of Fleming's books. (Though I have to admit, the SMERSH connection, as here, is often pretty perfunctory.)

Goldfinger does get in his allotted number of villain speeches, and they work quite well -- he's both a megalo- and a monomaniac, with the Fleming touch to make his dementias seem entirely reasonable while he's speaking.

Without looking at the dates, a casual reader might assume that Goldfinger was influenced by the movies -- it has that feeling of doing the same sort of thing as before, only broader and bigger -- but Goldfinger was published in 1959, and the movie of Doctor No wasn't released until 1962. So this is still all Fleming at this point -- the feedback from the film series could only have affected the last novel (or two, at best). And I'm now searching my memories to remember if the books do keep getting bigger and less realistic from here -- but I don't believe they do.
Listening to: Tom Waits - I Don't Wanna Grow Up
via FoxyTunes


Howard said...


I'm really enjoying these reviews...I will eventually catch up (I'm going to read Doctor No next, though I'm not sure when).

We're also slowly working our way through the movies (we last watched "The Man with the Golden Gun")

Major Major said...

You might want to read up about the relationship of first Armand Hammer and then Robert Maxwell with the KGB. Replacing "SMERSH" (a wartime expedient, like the OSS or SOE) with "KGB" and this odd man Goldfinger sounds more and more like some of the KGB assistants.

Joseph T Major

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