Sunday, February 7, 2016

Time Capsule: Crowther on Goldfinger

At the time of Goldfinger's release Bosley Crowther, in his review of the film for the New York Times, spent much of his piece complaining that the writers were "involving him more and more with gadgets and less and less with girls"--in contrast with the prior "fantastic fabrications" (Dr. No and From Russia with Love) in which the hero was "constantly assailed by an unending flow of luxurious, exotic, and insatiable girls."

Even I was surprised by that. After all, Mr. Crowther was not talking about a movie of the tepid Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig eras, but a classic--even the classic--of the series' early '60s heyday. A movie which features two of the most iconic Bond girls of all time--Shirley Eaton's Jill Masterson, and of course, Pussy Galore.

Yet, that minute's thoughts showed the validity of his claim. As compared with the two prior Bond films Goldfinger did have less sex. Bond beds only two women in the movie's whole running time, compared with at least three in each of the prior films--and the sexuality more generally was handled differently in the way Crowther notes--the hero's being constantly assailed by said unending flow.

Many of these women, of course, were bait in a trap--Miss Taro, Tatiana Romanova. But the effect of their efforts at seduction (Tatiana in Bond's bed, wearing just a black choker) was more important to the fantasy than the motive behind it, all the more so as Bond and they usually had sex before the man with the gun came to take him out--and said gunman's typical, miserable failure, which kept that part from mattering so much.

There is, too, the fact that the first scene in which a woman throws herself at Bond involves no such agenda--Sylvia Trench in Les Ambassadeurs, then popping up in Bond's apartment, where, since it's a few hours before he has to make his flight to Jamaica, he sleeps with her. She makes it seem normal that such things happen to them, and the fact that some of the women who do so have ulterior motives that much less significant a detail.

By contrast, the girl in the trap in the pre-credits sequence in Goldfinger (Nadja Regin's Bonita) makes quite a different impression. Working the club as she is, her advances toward Bond are not quite so ostentatious as Trench's in Dr. No, and anyway, this time the man with the gun pops up before they can do the deed. Afterward, Bond does not have girls popping into his home, enticing him into squeezing sex in between assignments, but gets into Jill's suite in the line of duty. Afterward, Bond has no effect on her sister (readers of the novel know why), or on Pussy Galore (same reason), whom he has to work rather hard to wear down (with this, again, more plot-related).

In short, with the sex less frequent, less easy and less ostentatiously gratuitous, something of its element of fantasy was diminished. Still, it was far from extinguished--and Bond remained in his book "a great vicarious image for all the panting Walter Mittys in the world."

All the more so for its coming from a critic as prominent as Crowther, in the pages of the Times, the piece is a striking reminder of how completely some of the most basic aspects of the original conception--the accent on sexual fantasy, and on fantasy more generally--have been marginalized in Bond's most recent outings.

You can check out Crowther's original review here.

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My Posts on James Bond
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