“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”
One of the many advantages of having a brother eight years older than you is you learn things about the world you wouldn’t normally learn until you were at a decently mature age. Like, at least the age of puberty. By the time I was eight, I was light years ahead of my playmates in understanding the adult world: Girls, drinking, dirty jokes. I was devouring music, books and magazines other kids were completely ignorant of. While they were obsessing over the Beatles and the Beach Boys, I was dissecting the Mothers of Invention’s newly released “Freak Out”. While my elementary colleagues were perusing shit like “Highlights” and “Boys’ Life”, I was reading Playboy. Forget the naked women. Okay, don’t forget the naked women. But when the latest issue arrived, I headed straight to the short stories, the articles, the interviews. And so I was a good decade ahead of my friends with authors like Jean Shepherd, Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Aldous Huxley and above all, Ian Fleming. Fleming’s books were scattered throughout the bedroom my brother and I shared. “Casino Royale”, “Dr. No”, “From Russia With Love”. And, of course, “Goldfinger”.
I inhaled Fleming’s Bond universe. By the time I was nine, I knew how to make a martini shaken, not stirred. I could say “Death to Spies” in Russian. “Shmert Spionam!” Shit, I still remember it to this day. And before I learned how to play gin rummy, I was an expert in Baccarat. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Bond’s favorite card game, just think Blackjack in a tuxedo. And I could play it In French, of course. Chemin de Fer, baby!
By the time I reached the age of ten, I had, thanks again to my outer brother, as I liked to call him, seen the film versions of the books at least three times each. See, that’s one of the other advantages of having a much older brother. He has money. And a car. I inhaled “Dr. No”, my pre-puberty hormones stimulated by a bikini-clad Ursula Andress, or as I liked to call her, Ursula “undressed”. I absorbed the Cold War underworld of “From Russia With Love”, where the villian was a diminutive little woman named Rosa Klebb, who reminded me of my grandmother, from her tightly bound hair bun to her black orthopedic shoes which, unlike Nonna’s, concealed poison-tipped daggers.
So, by the spring of 1964, I had already heard the rumors (probably from a promotional pictorial in Playboy) that “Goldfinger” was going to be more brash, outrageous and gimmick-filled than the previous films.
We hurried to our local theater on opening night. Popcorn, a last minute pee, previews and then the opening scene. A quick Bond kill with an electric fan thrown into a bathtub containing a disposable bad man, the first of many sizzled into oblivion. Before I could take my next breath, a symphonic crash of strings and horns as a girl soaked in gold floated across the screen, the credits drifting over her glistening body. John Barry’s lush, sexy score blasted over the theater speakers, with Shirley Bassey belting out the theme song. “The man with the Midas touch! A spider’s touch!” She ends with an operatic bellow worthy of a Wagner opera. “He loves GOLLLD!” A crashing climax. A second or two of deafening silence. Then into a lilting, sexy 6/8 time jazz tune as a helicopter shot of the Fontainbleau Hotel on Miami Beach filled the screen. And then a two hour roller coaster ride into a world I didn’t totally understand but there was no doubt who was the good guy and who was the villianous asshole.
I met Oddjob, a politically incorrect Korean killer, grunting like some primal Neanderthal. Pussy Galore and her leggy stunt pilots sashaying out of their Cessnas like something out of a Priscilla, Queen of the Desert sequel. Auric Goldfinger, who, if being obnoxiously wealthy wasn’t reason enough to hate his guts, is such a prick he cheats at golf. And the mafia guys who meet Goldfinger to discuss his ludicrous plot to destroy Ft. Knox’s gold. As Goldfinger presses a button that elevates a huge model of Fort Knox out of the floor, they gasp and protest in hilariously phony New York accents. “Heyyyy! Wut gives heah? Wut the hey! Holy mackerel!” They’re more like villians out of a Hannah Barbera cartoon than intimidating criminals. I didn’t care. It all made sense to me.
They say if you have a chance to see a movie from your childhood that you were totally enamored with, it’s best to avoid it if it shows up on TCM or some retrospective late night film venue. They never hold up, and you’re better off enjoying the memories instead of trying to relive it with some desperate attempt to retrieve the cinematic magic of your youth. “Goldfinger” is a perfect example. Out of the entire Bond ouvre, It has to be one of the corniest, badly acted films in Bond history with a ridiculous plot, cartoon-like characters, and ethnic and gender stereotypes that make me cringe now. Ian Fleming must have been horrified with what they had done to his baby, cursing under his breath as he drove to the bank, probably in his own Aston Martin Goldfinger-style to deposit his riches from the film. What the fuck was I thinking when I fell in love with it? Not much probably. I was ten years old for Christ’s sake.
So, leave it. Let my ten year old brain glow in the ecstasy of seeing one of my favorite Fleming books turned into eye candy for a Bond-enamored boy. Let the tears come to my eyes whenever I place the precious vinyl my brother gave me after we saw the movie on my turntable and hear Shirley Bassey belt out one of the greatest Bond themes ever. Move over Adele, Nancy Sinatra, Sheena Easton and see how the grownups once did it.
Decades after that first viewing of “Goldfinger”, I had the chance to check out the film again. Once again, the stunning woman in gold, the brassy theme song. And then, splayed across my tv screen, the Fontainbleau floating underneath the aerial camera on Miami Beach. Suddenly, I had a shock of recognition. The Fontainbleau! Just the previous year, I had finished shooting a Stallone film on Miami Beach, where I had the dubious honor of Sly slamming my face into a concrete pillar poolside as dozens of extras ran past us. It was one of the first money-making roles of my career. And it dawned on me I had gone full circle. At the same location that Sean Connery had foiled Goldfinger’s rigged card game, where he had discovered the gold-painted girl, the same spot where Felix Leiter, the CIA operative delivers one of the classic lines in Bond history, “I figured I’d find you in good hands, James”, I was helping make a film in a location where a ten year old kid fantasized living in an adult-sized world. A world he didn’t totally understand but immersed himself in until that fantasy finally became real.
I can guess what Bond would have said about it with a seductive smile: “Shocking. Positively shocking.”