Look. Goldfinger is pretty great, sort of in the way Sticky Fingers is better than everything the Stones did post-’72 or so. That is: Not the best in the filmography, but miles ahead of what the Bond franchise became after Sean Connery gave up the tux.

For its iconic characters and set pieces, Goldfinger, which tonight opens the Screen on the Green series on the National Mall, is considered the greatest film in the James Bond franchise. I say bullshit.

It has what are probably the two most memorable images of any Bond film: The early scene where Bond discovers one Jill Masterson—-his lover, the villain Goldfinger’s assistant—-asphyxiated by a coating of gold paint; and the later one where Goldfinger’s laser inches toward Bond’s more sensitive parts, and where, after Bond asks Goldfinger, “Do you expect me to talk?” the villain responds, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” Classic, no doubt.

But on the whole, and especially compared to the other early Connery films—-Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball—-Goldfinger is a let-down, containing little of the magic that makes Bond Bond.

My ishes, in bullet form:

  • Bond’s Beatles comment (“My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs”) is woefully lame.
  • So are the villains. Gert Fröbe‘s Auric Goldfinger is petty and not terribly villainous. Harold Sakata‘s Oddjob decapitates people with his hat, then draws his finger across his neck and makes a clicking sound. I want my bond villains to be sophisticated sociopaths, like Dr. No or Emilio Largo, not these bozos.
  • The villains’ plot is awful and unimaginative. Destabilizing U.S. currency by robbing it of its gold backing? Pretty quaint seen from a post-gold standard era, although one wonders how responsible Goldfinger is for the Nixon Shock, as well as the overall worldview of Ron Paul.
  • In the early films, the SPECTER SPECTRE metaplot was pretty cool. Goldfinger doesn’t have a trace of it.
  • Goldfinger’s death scene, in which the fat German fuck shoots a hole in a window and is sucked out, a fitting end that looks like it’s been rendered with Playdo.
  • That it’s set in the States. Bond always does well in the tropics, so the early sequence in Miami works—-that it involves cards and barely clad women and an insanely pricey hotel helps. Drop Bond in Kentucky—-much of the action revolves around a break-in at Fort Knox—-and he loses his luster. The last Connery film, Diamonds Are Forever, is set in Las Vegas and has the same problem.

I could probably go either way on Honor Blackman, who in Goldfinger stars as Pussy Galore.

The more important point is that I like a Bond who’s either at home in England, doing what he does (flirting, gambling, cracking wise), or in some exotic locale, doing what he does (screwing, gambling, ass-kicking). He also can’t be too humorous, although that’s key to the franchise. Goldfinger‘s tone, on the whole, is light to point that it sacrifices Bond’s erudition. The Austin Powers-ization of James Bond began here.