Yet another round of classic James Bond. This time, it’s the dastardly Auric Goldfinger.
Goldfinger is Fleming’s 7th Bond book – and largely doesn’t disappoint. Unlike most of the rest of the Bond series, the movie version actually follows the book. Not only that, but the movie actually seemed better. But that’s no reason not to read this one.
Some of the differences? In the film, Bond is threatened by a laser beam; in the book, it’s a metal cutting circular saw. In the film, Bond escapes the the laser with clever talking, in the book he is beaten and attempts to hold his breath to reach unconsciousness, completely resigned to death. In the film, Goldfinger puts Fort Knox to sleep with poison gas; in the book, he taints the town’s water supply. In the film, Goldfinger wants to blow up the fort; in the book, he actually wants to rob it. In the film, both Oddjob and Goldfinger die clever and inventive deaths; in the book, only Oddjob’s demise is interesting. In the film, the golf game is smoothly played, while in the book it’s a bit rough and Goldfinger even intuits the deception.
The plot in the book also has a few more holes that were handled better in the movie. For example, in the book the ludicrously shrewd and calculating Goldfinger, (who is a brilliant financier for SMERSH and genius of planning), falls for Bond’s flimsy cover story of working for an export company. Yet, after Bond completely outwits and flim-flamms Goldfinger publicly, TWICE, Goldfinger somehow figures it’s a good idea to put Bond in charge of part of his Fort Knox operation. At the last minute. After he’s said he’s planned this out to the minute with nothing to chance. When Bond is captured and tied to the laser/cutting saw table, he resigns himself to a gruesome death. No witty banter, no fast-talking escape – just a plan to die quickly and Goldfinger saves him on a hunch on suspicion that Bond might be ‘clever’.
As a final sore spot, the book has the usual cringe-worthy racism and sexism. While ever-present in all of Fleming’s novels, this one seems worse than the others. Fleming’s racist comments about Oddjob and the other Korean helpers are downright disgusting. The handling of Pussy Galore’s lesbianism is no less stereotyped. I’m also amazed at the number of times Bond demands and insults his captors into first-class treatment – and gets it each time! It definitely showed the cock-sure British ideal of considering themselves to be superior to others and that the place of lessers was to treat their greaters properly – even when they’re about to put you to death. Definitely out of step with the sensibilities of today – but a good historical reminder of what our world once was.
Still the plot is super-grandiose. I mean, nowhere else would someone even think of knocking over Fort Knox. The movie even makes a jab at Fleming with the movie Bond gafawing the the notion of trying to get all the gold out with even a hundred men. Something Fleming was actually going to do in the book. Yet, Goldfinger falls into the classic villain stereotype of saving Bond because he believes Bond is the only man truly smart enough to appreciate his dastardly plan. He gives Bond a front-row seat during the critical moments, and then is completely taken aback when Bond foils his plot with a plain-looking shoe. Sigh.
Sure, it’s a pulp novel with cardboard cut-out villains, heroes, and femme fetals. But the writing is actually pretty good and story keeps chugging along nicely. Ignore the rough spots – and it sure makes me wish we had such grandiose and imaginative villains in the works of today. All we seem to get in today’s villians are disenfranchised psychopaths (the Joker) racing to the sewers of depravity, super-heroes on 30-year-old rehashed plots, characters that are just thinly veiled social or political commentaries, or gore-fests that show off our latest CGI abilities. I wonder what a villain of global scale would look like today…