Shiny Shelf

Best Bonds: Goldfinger & Moonraker

By Lance Parkin on 08 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘Goldfinger’ is the best Bond film.

It’s not quite as outrageous as the book, which inspired Anthony Burgess both to name it as one of his favourite ninety-nine books of the twentieth century and to coin the word ‘delesbianise’. But ‘Goldfinger’ still has far more than its fair share of moments of brilliance – which other film has such riches that it could throw away a line like ‘at least he won’t be selling heroin-flavoured bananas to finance revolutions’? It was the first Bond film made for an audience that intimately understood the format, and it has tremendous fun with itself – Bond joking that he carries a gun because of his slight inferiority complex and, of course, ‘Do you expect me to talk?’, ‘No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die’. It’s the third Bond movie, but the first one that gets the formula spot on. It’s the archetypal Bond film, and on lovingly restored DVD it’s fresher than it’s ever been. Hell, it’s topical – Austin Powers spoofed it this year, thirty-eight years after it was made, it’s the one which Robbie Williams aped – in pretty much every sense of the word – in the ‘Millennium’ video.

It’s set in the ‘Golden Age’, with a Bond from an ideal Britain which still has a fifties sense of style and manliness, but is able to include the Beatles and touring holidays in an Aston Martin. Bond’s never been more … Bond. Macho without taking that last step that would make him camp, stylish without seeming groomed. Bond here isn’t politically incorrect – just from an age where such considerations simply don’t exist, he’s not the anachronism he’d become, he’s self-aware without a hint of self-parody. The word, I think, is ‘effortless’. Made at a time when most British films were still in black and white and were about men with funny voices who wore overalls, it must have been even more gorgeous.

There’s nothing so troublesome as a plot – it’s a series of wonderful set pieces linked by having Bond knocked out at the end of almost every scene and waking up somewhere else in the next. The films that followed arguably all tried to do ‘Goldfinger’ again, but bigger and bigger every time. ‘Moonraker’ was the culmination of the process, and it’s unfairly maligned because all anyone remembers is the space shuttle stuff at the end, or – if they can read – complain that the book is so much better. The space shuttle stuff is actually pretty impressive and exciting, but let’s leave it aside – there’s an hour and a half beforehand which is quite simply the biggest and most visually impressive Bond film there’s ever been – the only way from here was down, into the character-based and the ironically reinvented.

‘Moonraker’ starts with a fight in mid air. A fist fight between three people who’ve jumped out a plane, only one of whom has a parachute. And, a few clever camera angles aside, this was a real fight, not something done with back projection. Nowadays there are sequences like it in films like ‘Charlie’s Angels’ – but ones faked up using CGI. This is the real deal. It’s one of the most audacious sequences in cinema, and again the DVD version is only more impressive.

And, again, that’s just a throwaway before we hit the main plot. The film was made just before the first shuttle launch, and it’s about someone stealing a shuttle. A great idea for a story – but merely the start of a plot that sees the biggest possible extension of the ‘poison gas at Fort Knox’ sequence of ‘Goldfinger’ – a plot to wipe out the whole human race. Drax is perhaps a little colourless, but that’s only in comparison to the rest of the film, which includes sequences straight out of ‘The Omen’ (the scene where a pair of dogs tear apart a woman) alongside comedy turns that would be too out there for Mike Myers. It’s the last of those mad 70s films that tried to appeal to everyone by throwing in a bit of everything. The 80s would see movies aimed at ‘key demographics’ and ‘the loyal fan’. ‘Moonraker’ is the equivalent of one of those Saturday Night variety specials that had Ronnie Corbett introducing The Clash.

For a very long time, ‘Moonraker’ was the biggest-grossing Bond film and that’s fitting as it’s the ultimate Bond movie – full of every possible excess, one that crosses pretty much every line. It’s
criminally under-rated because it’s too much fun for some people. If the end sequence offends you so much, shut the film off as Bond boards the shuttle – right until then, it’s got a real claim to be the best Bond film ever made.

Or at least it would have, if they hadn’t already made Goldfinger.

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By Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin writes lots of things, including a biography of Alan Moore that's due out late next year. Find out more at his website.

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