Bond Hits Box Office Gold: “Goldfinger” (1964)

James Bond (Sean Connery- aged 34 and very confident in his role) is on a new mission takes him to Kentucky, where Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) and his henchmen are planning to raid Fort Knox and wreak havoc on the world’s economy. To save the world, Bond will need to get close to Goldfinger. Also, he has to keep his mind off pilot, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman- already an experienced TV actress), who says she is “immune” to his charm.

Goldfinger: Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor… except crime!

Ian Fleming visited the set while filming was going on, as w/ the previous 2 films; he died less than a month before the movie’s release (August 12, 1964). This was the fastest grossing movie in history; some theaters had to operate for 24 hrs. a day to meet demand! It even won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects. The opening credits show us a woman (Margaret Nolan, who played Dink) in gold paint and we hear the the title song (sung by Shirley Bassey). For the orchestral opening to the title song, composer John Barry (who had total control over the score/song) used trombones, trumpets, French horns, and a tuba. The re-creation of the Fort Knox repository at Pinewood Studios (by production designer Ken Adam and his team) was very accurate, considering that they weren’t been allowed inside the real location (b/c of security reasons). Goldfinger’s 3-D model map (for his “Operation Grand Slam” plan) is located at the real Fort Knox.

Q: Now this one I’m particularly keen about. You see the gear lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you will find a little red button. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.

Bond: Yeah, why not?

Q: Because you’ll release this section of the roof, and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Whish!

Bond: Ejector seat? You’re joking!

Q: I never joke about my work, 007.

Aston Martin was reluctant to part with two of their cars, so the producers had to pay; after the success of the movie, they never had to spend money on a car again. Spielberg liked this Bond film above all the others (esp. the old lady firing the machine gun); he owns an Aston Martin DB5. Long-time fans noted that Q came into his own here; director Guy Hamilton advised Desmond Llewelyn to add humor into the character. So, we see the start of the friendly antagonism between Q and Bond. We see Q’s workshop for the first time w/ men testing out various gadgets. Tilly Masterson’s (Tania Mallet’s) Ford Mustang was the first appearance by a Mustang (released in April of 1964) in a movie.

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!

Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob (played by a wrestler from Hawaii- Harold Sakata) are considered two of the great movie villains; the actors portraying them are opposite of their characters. Fellow cast members have remarked how charming and friendly Fröbe (who came from Germany) and Sakata were off-camera. Fröbe can be seen singing and dancing in the popular children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). It is speculated that Goldfinger was based on a German spy who once tried to rob the Bank of England during WWI; Fleming was a high-ranking officer in Naval Intelligence, so would’ve had access to such info.

Bond: 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!

Shirley Eaton (who played Jill Masterson) underwent 2 hrs. of make-up for the gold-painted death scene. “Skin suffocation” by being coated in gold has no basis in fact. A doctor was on set at all times and Eaton’s shots lasted less than 5 mins. in the final movie. Blackman (who also knew judo) was the oldest Bond girl (39 y.o.) until Monica Belucci (51 y.o.) appeared in Spectre (2015); however, Belucci didn’t play Bond’s love interest.

To reflect the main setting, we see horses, the precursor to KFC restaurants, a military base, and (of course) drinks w/ whiskey on a wrap-around porch. I could’ve done w/o the segment on golfing; aside from that, the movie moved along at a good pace. I didn’t watch it 2x (as I’d done with To Russia with Love), but I did re-watch segments I liked. The flying scenes were cool, as were the soldiers (simultaneously) falling like they’d gone to sleep. So far, Blackman is the most interesting Bond girl; she has a strong personality and (surprise) a brain! Some of you may’ve seen the Mike Myers’ parody- Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).

[1] Thanks to a long film with lots of twists and turns, it felt like a real adventure–very escapist and satisfying.

[2] For me Goldfinger is the slickest of the Bond films in terms of how the stunts are performed and how the story is told. The story mayn’t be the most exciting of all the Bonds, but it is still very gripping. The direction is sly, the cinematography is stylish, the locations are stunning and I can never get enough of the theme song sung by Shirley Bassey.

[3] I believe he was the most dangerous opponent James Bond ever fought with in all of his films. Watch that fight scene that Harold Sakata had with Sean Connery, he’s got Connery almost down for the count. Fighting skills can only carry you so far when your opponent outweighs you and is built like a brick outhouse. In fact it’s only sheer trickery in which Connery overcomes Sakata in a shocking conclusion.

[4] The various scenes of action are slick and exciting, especially the explosive, spectacular last fifteen minutes which sees a brilliant fight scene between Bond and Oddjob, one of the best ever. The sight of Frobe being sucked out of a plane window is also something to remember.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Modern Film Noir: The Dark Side of Life (In Color)

Body Heat (1981)

This film is considered to be an erotic thriller; it is (obviously) inspired by classic noir. So, maybe we can consider this to be neo-noir? Matty (Kathleen Turner) is the femme fatale; she has a secrets in her past. Ned (William Hurt) is the not-so-smart/playboy/lawyer who gets caught in her web.

Read my review.

Blade Runner (1982)

Many critics consider this to be the first sci-fi noir. It is a deep film that makes us wonder re: the nature of humanity. Many have wondered if Deckard (a young-ish Harrison Ford) was a human or a replicant. If you find this interesting, you may also like the sequel- Blade Runner 2049 (starring Ryan Gosling).

Dir. Ridley Scott and D.P. Jordan Cronenweth achieved the “shining eyes” effect by using a technique invented by Fritz Lang (“Schüfftan Process”) where light is bounced into the actors’ eyes off of a piece of half mirrored glass mounted at a 45 degree angle to the camera. Lang is known as a titan of the noir genre.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

This is a lesser-known Coen bros film w/ young-ish Gabriel Byrne and Marcia Gay Harden (who I saw on the NYC subway years ago) that I really enjoyed. You see fine character actors in a world of their own which is very engaging (as expected from the Coens).

Read my review.

Cape Fear (1991)

This is the remake of the classic film dir. by Scorsese; the stars are Nick Nolte, Robert De Niro (sporting long-ish hair and fake tattoos), Jessica Lange, and a teenaged Juliette Lewis. You will also see cameos from Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum (I got a kick out of that). It’s NOT as good as the original, but still worth a look.

Heat (1995)

This film is loved by many who like action films, but also want strong character development. Fans of De Niro and Pacino will definitely want to check it out!

Read my review here.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

I haven’t seen this movie in a long time- think will give it a re-watch soon! It’s been on “modern noir” lists I looked up.

Fargo (1996)

Perhaps the Coens’ most well-known/loved film; we find quirky characters, dark humor, crime, moments of lightness, etc. Frances McDormand is the pregnant cop who you just can’t help but admire and root for, as she works to investigate some shady events in her small/snowy/usually safe community.

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Three young cops w/ different approaches to their work: Russell Crowe (looking hot), Guy Pearce (also looking hot), and Kevin Spacey investigate a series murders in 1950s LA. Kim Basinger revives her career w/ a strong (supporting) role. I will re-watch this soon.

Se7en (1997)

I’ve only seen this film once; I didn’t like it that much (aside from Morgan Freeman’s role). You get to see a young/lonely wife (Gwenyth Paltrow) and her hubby/rookie detective (Brad Pitt); they are newlyweds starting their lives in the big city (Chicago). Of course, the baddie (Spacey) steals the show, as many of you know. We know dir. David Fincher made a big splash w/ this controversial/bloody/creepy film.

Training Day (2001)

You all probably know I’m a big fan of Denzel Washington; I also really like Ethan Hawke. They make a great/unlikely duo in this film, which has good supporting actors, action, dark humor, crime, etc. Denzel is really good as a baddie, though he’s NOT a one-note villain!

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Wow, the Coens really hit it out of the park here! I recall many/diverse viewers commenting that they enjoyed this film; they were also scared (or at least, on edge). I became a fan of Javier Bardem (who they ugly-fied for his baddie role). I also enjoyed seeing Tommy Lee Jones; also, I think Kelly Macdonald should’ve gotten even bigger roles (as she’s good in everything).

Gone Girl (2014)

I saw this film w/ a group of (mostly) single gal pals in one of our local theaters; we were NOT expecting what we saw (LOL)! Is this a farce (as some critics have noted)? Is the depiction of dysfunctional marriage meant to be taken (mostly) seriously? You can hate exurban life in the Midwest (BUT not as much as the wife played by Rosamund Pike)! Ben Affleck had his Batman physique then; I found that somewhat distracting (he’s supposed to be a underemployed teacher/writer). I liked the detective (Kim Dickens) and the defense lawyer (Tyler Perry); they were the ONLY characters that seemed somewhat normal/relatable. Maybe I’m just NOT a fan of Fincher’s cold/slick style? Thank goodness for my single life!

Hell or High Water (2016)

This is a Western neo-noir set in the Southwest starring the (always great) Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine (in a rare non-glam/anti-hero role), and Ben Foster (a fine character actor I’ve admired since he was a teen). The two working-class bros at the center of the story can’t seem to get ahead, so they take a (criminal) turn. A must-see for fans of smart films!

Read my review.

Film Noir takes on “Bonnie & Clyde”: “Gun Crazy” (1950) starring John Dall & Peggy Cummins

Thrill Crazy… Kill Crazy… Gun Crazy -A tagline for the film

Since he was a little boy, Bart Tare (John Dall) has loved guns. After 4 yrs. of reform school, then a stint in the Army, he returns home to his small town. His older sister (Ruby)- who raised him after they lost their parents- is now married w/ 2 young kids. His two best friends (a cop named Clyde and a newsman named Dave) take him to a carnival; he meets Annie Laurie Starr, a blonde/petite woman who is a sharp-shooter. Laurie loves guns as much as Bart- even getting him a job! They end up getting married, leaving the carnival (after the boss hits on Laurie), and have a long honeymoon where they live it up. When they get low on money, Laurie tells Bart her idea- robbery!

I told John, “Your c*ck’s never been so hard,” and I told Peggy, “You’re a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don’t let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting.” That’s exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn’t have to give them more directions. -Joseph H. Lewis, director

This film is based on a story written by McKinley Kantor reworked by Dalton Trumbo (who was blacklisted). Here we see the linking of sex and violence; it also reveals that guns are a big part of American life. Though this was an inexpensive B movie, it has some fine elements that were ahead of its time. Director Joseph H. Lewis uses long takes, angles, deep focus, and jerking camera movements. Lewis also gave the actors permission to improvise. As the hosts commented on Out of the Podcast, “Bart and Laurie are equals” and “are the only ones who understand each other.” Though Bart avoids shooting anyone, Laurie isn’t as careful; she tells him early on that she’s “no good” and wants some “action” (excitement). Dall and Cummins have great chemistry; they are like two magnets instantly drawn to each other. Coming from the theater, Dall is also not afraid to express emotions (incl. fear and doubt).

Dall and Cummins did all their own driving in the film; only one process shot (i.e., rear projection behind the actors pretending to drive) was used in the film. The cinematography by Russell Harlan is a standout. The bank heist sequence was done in one take, with no one outside the principal actors and people inside the bank aware that a movie was being filmed. When Bart says, “I hope we find a parking space,” he really meant it. At the end of the scene, someone screams that there’s been a bank robbery; this was a bystander who saw the filming and assumed the worst.

[1] It’s psychological side of danger, pathological lies, and the pattern of a downward spiral in having to commit violent acts (even un-intentionally), becomes what really pulls in the viewer into the picture, aside from the more loose, on-location ‘real’ style and interesting camera-work.

[2] Peggy Cummins is really good in this. …her baby-doll voice creates an effective contrast to her colder-than-ice attitude. She’s crooning into her lover’s ear one minute and itching to kill someone the next.

I thought John Dall was at first odd casting for the role of Bart. Annie is supposed to think of him as a man’s man, and Dall, with his willowy physique and gentle mannerisms is far from that. But then when we realize that he’s at heart really too gentle for the life he and Annie have chosen for themselves, his casting makes sense.

[3] What is the quintessence of a film-noir? A good answer is: an evil strong woman that manipulates a weak, although basically decent, man, involving him in a crazy love, doomed to a tragic ending. Then we can safely state that “Deadly is the Female” [the original title] is a perfect instance of film-noir.

The movie has outstanding merits. The cinematography, and especially the camera-work are excellent, and comparable to the best achievements in the film-noir genre.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Diabolique” (1955): A Classic French Horror starring Simone Signoret & Vera Clouzot

Monsieur Drain (a teacher): I may be reactionary, but this is absolutely astounding – the legal wife consoling the mistress! No, no, and no!

Christina Delassalle (Vera Clouzot) suffers greatly at the hands of her abusive husband Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is headmaster of a boys’ boarding school. She inherited this school from her family, but it’s clearly Michel who is in charge. Christina and Nicole Horner, one of the other teachers/Michel’s former mistress, decide to kill him! Christina (who has a serious heart condition) is terrified when- by chance- she meets a retired police inspector curious about the case.

Michel: [embarrassing Christina in the dining room while she is trying to eat some distasteful fish] Everyone is looking at you. Swallow.

Nicole: It’s disgusting!

Michel: Sorry?

Nicole: [angrily] Some things are hard to swallow, and I’m not talking about the fish.

When director Henri-Georges Clouzot bought the rights to the novel, he beat Alfred Hitchcock by only a matter of hours. Hitchcock was a big fan of this movie; some critics think that it influenced Psycho (1960). The message during the end credits was one of the first examples of a spoiler alert, requesting the audience not to disclose the plot. One of the posters said: “See it… be amazed by it.. but… be quiet about it!” Like most murder mysteries, the story is improbable; the film is entertaining, in part to plot twists and turns. The B&W lighting creates a noirish/sinister atmosphere. In the final 10 mins. we find an ending that is bound to scare (even modern/savvy audiences)!

Christina: Don’t you believe in Hell?

Nicole: Not since I was seven.

Christina: I do.

Filming took much longer than expected; the shoot was originally scheduled for 8 weeks, but ran for 16 weeks. This caused tension between Henri-Georges Clouzot and Signoret; Vera (also the director’s wife) tried to be a mediator. The co-leads couldn’t be more different from each other, though they are involved w/ the same man. Christina is delicate, petite, and wears conservative A-line dresses. She has two long braids that connect down her back (adding to her girlish qualities). Nicole is robust, tall, and wears blouses and pencil skirts. She has very short/blonde hair (reflecting her more modern personality). Christina is very religious; she has a small Catholic shrine in one area of her bedroom. While Christina (who can barely hide her nervousness) feels guilty, Nicole (cool as a cucumber) acts like planning a murder is no big deal.

Some viewers balk at reading subtitles- we should feel sorry for them! Others avoid unusually intense movies where the tone created makes the viewer feel uneasy. The crumbling boarding school where the main characters live doesn’t look pleasant at all. The swimming pool is filled w/ murky water, which makes it appear ominous. The teachers have to sit at the nasty headmaster’s table and eat old fish; only one glass of wine is allowed. Nicole’s apt. back in her small hometown seems stuffy and claustrophobic.

[1] From the very start it is very clear that all is not as it seems. But why? And who? What is the terrible secret of the swimming pool and later on, the bathtub? As the tension builds to an unbearable climax, we sit and hide behind our hands, peering through the gaps in our fingers. Oh my God!! It can’t be! It is!

[2] This movie does not offer cheap, pop out and scare you tactics. Rather, it makes the viewer expect things to happen that don’t. You wait on the edge of your seat for the quick jump out and scare you event to take place, but instead, it sneaks up from behind you. What an effect!

Les Diaboliques is a classic film that delivers the complete suspense package. It’s not surprising that many suspense movies of the modern era have tried to copy the plot.

[3] I remember when I first saw this. Nothing scary at first, but the nastiness of the place and the people is effortlessly shown. And then the bad stuff starts to happen.

Ugliness…shock…suspense…shock…mystery…eeriness…awful shock.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Obsession” (1943): Italian Adaptation of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”

In Fascist Italy, Gino Costa (Massimo Girotti), a young/handsome tramp, stops at a humble restaurant (trattoria) run by Giovanna (Clara Calamai) and her husband Bragana (Juan de Landa). Giovanna is unhappy w/ her older/controlling husband, who she married for security/money. Gino does some work around the place and he and Giovanna quickly fall in love. She refuses to run away w/ him and lead the life of a poor wanderer. Gino leaves for another town and becomes friends w/ a street artist, Lo spagnolo (“the Spaniard”); they work together for a few weeks. One day, Gino sees Giovanna and Bragana at a street fair; it is obvious that they haven’t gotten over each other. After a day of fun (w/ plenty of drinking on Bragana’s part), Giovanna comes up w/ a plan to finally be rid of her husband! Gino (though reluctant) goes along w/ the plan.

The film’s negative was destroyed by the fascist government of Benito Mussolini during WWII, but (first-time director) Luchino Visconti managed to save a print. In Italy, some priests sprinkled theaters w/ holy water after this film was shown- LOL! Obsession wasn’t seen in the U.S. until 1976, as James M. Cain’s publishers fought the release. Cain is perhaps best known for Double Indemnity, though The Postman Always Rings Twice was quite a popular work also. I heard about it recently (from a Facebook film noir group); it caused quite a controversy and was way ahead of it’s time.

The original actress cast for Giovanna was the glamorous/diva-like Anna Magnani, but she became pregnant before shooting. Unlike some other femme fatale, Giovanna isn’t glamorous or evil; she is more like a spoiled girl-next-door (too good to cook and clean). Bragana isn’t totally a bad man either, but (like many husbands of his day) has to “wear the pants” in the family. He is short, stout, and unattractive (though he can be jovial at times). Gino is down on his luck, not that educated, but also handsome w/ a strong physical presence. Lo spagnolo (Elio Marcuzo) brings a sense of lightness/fun into the film; I really liked his character. The young dancer/part-time prostitute, Anita (Dhia Christiani), is only in the film for few minutes, but she made a big impression. The director and actress were able to do a lot w/ this character- I thought she was heartbreaking!

Most of the people behind the film were still in their 20s and willing to take risks. Let us compare these two scenes where the (would-be) lovers first see each other. In the ’46 American film noir (starring Lana Turner and John Garfield), we first see Cora (the object of desire) from the POV of Frank. Here we first see Gino’s face from the POV of Giovanna (making the man the object of desire)! While the American version gets more into the world of cops and lawyers, Obsession concentrates more on the psychological effects of the crime on the lovers. If you’d like to know more re: the neo-realism movement, check this film out.

[1] Ossessione is a very complex film with complex characters. It’s always fascinating, but it does go on a bit too long. This is partly due to the neorealist stylistics that Visconti was inventing within this film. It was, after all, the first film that won that label. We see a lot of the action prolonged as it would be in real life, without any hurrying to the next plot point.

[2] The movie is brilliantly filmed, and the acting by the three leads are first rate. You really get a genuine insight into 1940s Italian working class life. The character of The Spaniard adds an interesting touch to the story with a possible homosexual relationship between Gino and himself. It’s very subtle but it’s there if you look. […] The movie is surprisingly frank for the time and period (Mussolini’s Italy), much more realistic and earthy than Hollywood movies of the same period.

[3] …such graceful camera movements, such beautiful composition, such wonderful faces, such terrific characters, such a great story development, the first movie adapted from James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

…I can’t believe this was made in ’43, eight years before Brando was supposed to have introduced realistic acting to the world with A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). The actors in this may not have used the method technique… but they’re some of the best, most genuine and realistic performances up to this date in cinema.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews