Home > Greatest Scores of the Twentieth Century, Reviews > GOLDFINGER – John Barry


November 13, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wished to capitalize on the burgeoning success of the Bond franchise, but could not proceed with the next installment “Thunderball” due to ongoing litigation between Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory over screenplay rights. As such they decided to move forward with Fleming’s next novel, Goldfinger. Guy Hamilton would return as director and was rewarded with a budget, which exceeded that of the first two Bond films combined. A fine cast was assembled, but not without significant challenges. Orson Welles was approached for the role of Auric Goldfinger, but his salary demands were too high. As such they brought in German actor Gert Frobe to play the titular role, but his poor English necessitated dubbing his lines. Sean Connery returned to reprise his role as James Bond with Honor Blackman joining as Pussy Galore, Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, Harold Sakata as Oddjob, Bernard Lee as Department Head M, Cec Linder as CIA liaison Felix Leiter, and Desmond Llewelyn as Q.

The case involves M assigning Bond to investigate the activities of gold magnate Auric Goldfinger. After cat and mouse intrigue and several murders Bond outwits Goldfinger and discovers his truly audacious plot to attack Fort Knox. The plan involves Pussy Galore and her female squadron overflying the facility and killing its guards with nerve gas. Once the Fort is defenseless they would come in and detonate a nuclear bomb, which would irradiate America’s gold reserves. This would then significantly multiply the value of Goldfinger’s holdings and make him the richest man on earth. Bond manages to alert M and then foil the plan by seducing Galore, and then convincing her to substitute the gas with an inert substitute. As the soldiers feign death from the gas Goldfinger moves in only to see Bond save the day. Although he escapes, he meets his end aboard Galore’s plane, slain by Bond. The film was a massive commercial success, earning $122 million above its $3 million production costs, which ensured the longevity of the franchise. It was also the first Bond film to win an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.

John Barry had acquainted himself well in the previous Bond film, From Russia With Love, and so was brought back and given greater creative control. For the first time he would write both the score and title song, which would thereafter establish the franchise practice of integrating the title song into the score’s fabric. Barry composed the melody and then sought out Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse to provide the lyrics. Barry believed the song required a powerful vocal, and so brought in Shirley Bassey. Well, Bassey’s dramatic vocal was stunning, achieving worldwide acclaim.

She cemented the use of Bond films beginning with dramatic title songs and her performance is considered to be the finest of the franchise. The song melody is utilized by Barry as the film’s Main Theme, a leitmotif for Goldfinger in the film whether Goldfinger is in the scene, or not. He is a larger than life figure and his influence is omnipresent, as such the melody permeates the score. The electric guitar powered James Bond Theme, which debuted in the first film Dr. No, returns in the Main Title sequence, and to support the CIA operatives assisting Bond. For Bond himself, however, the theme is only employed as a fragment often linked to the Main Theme. For our villain’s personal assassin Oddjob, Barry utilized the crisp metallic chimes of finger cymbals, an association with the composition of gold as a metal. Lastly, I have reordered the album cues as they were not arranged in film scene order.

The film opens with “Bond Back In Action Again”, which features the classic gun barrel scene carried by the iconic Bond Theme. A diminuendo brings us to the film opening, where we see Bond in scuba gear come ashore and use stealth to access and sabotage a drug lord’s heroin laboratory. His theme with dirty trombones, muted trumpets and a percussive ostinato carries his progress. After he escapes unnoticed he changes out of his scuba gear into a white tuxedo and nonchalantly enters a local saloon. As the lab explodes the saloon empties as people flock to see what happened. True to form, Bond then seeks to seduce the bar dancer who caught his fancy. As the love play begins in her back room, he is ambushed and a brutal fight ensues. Bond wins, and as he departs, we launch into “Main Title – Goldfinger”, which features the fierce vocals by Shirley Bassey who offers one of the most dramatic songs openings in cinematic history. In these three minutes Barry brilliantly captures the film’s emotional core. As the opening credits roll, images of the actors display against a myriad of shifting resplendent golden backdrops. Slowly we crescendo atop Bassey’s crisp vocals, which entwine with the Bond Theme playing in counterpoint. The climax atop the word gold, which is held powerfully by Bassey, is stunning! One cannot overstate how this title song established Barry as the signature voice of the franchise, but also the practice thereafter of using the song melody as a primary leitmotif in the score.

“Into Miami” reveals a sweeping panorama of the beautiful Miami Beach skyline. Barry supports the imagery with big band jazzy swagger, which showcases John Scott ‘s excellent sax playing. Bond is on holiday at a fine hotel when he receives an assignment from CIA liaison Felix Leiter. He is ordered by M to investigate the activities of gold magnate Auric Goldfinger, who is also staying at the hotel. After he charms and coopts Goldfinger’s mistress Jill, they retire to his room for the classic Bond seduction. Barry supports the scene with the Goldfinger Theme emoted romantically, adorned with Scott’s sterling sax play. Regretfully, this music is not on the album. In “Golden Girl”, Oddjob knocks Bond unconscious as he is fetching more champagne. After he wakes up, he returns to the bedroom to find Jill dead from suffocation as she has been encased in shimmering gold paint – punishment for her betrayal. Barry provides a dark shifting and formless ambiance for the scene. We open with foreboding horns, which carry his awakening. As he enters the bedroom the resplendent metallic twinkling of Oddjob’s Theme resounds, which portends his lethal handiwork. Plaintive horns and plucked harp speak to us of Bond’s sadness as he calls Felix to report the murder.

“Alpine Drive” offers a score highlight, which features an extended romantic rendering of Goldfinger’s Theme, which provides a beautiful confluence of music and cinematography. Bond has followed Goldfinger to Switzerland and as he trails him on winding alpine roads we are graced with the theme born by sumptuous strings replete with harp glissandi. As Tilley (Jill’s sister) passes him the theme shifts to horns, before concluding as it began atop lush strings as Bond observes Goldfinger buying some fruit. At 1:52 we segue into “Auric’s Factory”, which offers another ambiance cue filled with shifting textures where Barry sows tension and unease as Bond arrives at Auric’s Factory and observes its activities. String stingers at 2:25 support the transition to night and Bond’s stealthy infiltration into the plant where he evades guards. As gold is smelted in the warehouse he overhears Goldfinger speaking to a Chinese official about operation “Grand Slam”. Bond returns safely to the hills only to find Tilley with a rifle preparing to shoot Goldfinger, revenge for his murdering of her sister Jill. They set off an alarm, which triggers a classic Bond car chase in which they are eventually cornered. In “Death of Tilley” Oddjob flings his metal ringed hat at the fleeing Tilley and kills her. As Bond comes to her dire horns resound cruelly. He is forced at gunpoint to drive to the factory and plucked harp and ambient textures carry his progress. He attempts to escape again by ejecting his thug passenger out of the car, but ultimately fails to escape, again captured by Oddjob.

In “The Laser Beam” Bond wakes up strapped down spread eagle atop a gold plated industrial table in Goldfinger’s laboratory. Goldfinger revels in his prize whom he identifies as agent 007. He decides to extract revenge by introducing Bond to his industrial laser. He turns the laser on and it begins a track upwards on the gold slab towards his Bond’s crotch. A soft percussive ostinato supports Goldfinger’s commentary and deployment of the laser. At 1:36 a violin ostinato commences a menacing crescendo as the laser is activated and begins its tack upwards. We see a rising panic in Bond’s eyes and voice as he tries to dissuade Goldfinger from killing him. At 2:24 he calls out “Operation Grand Slam” in desperation as the violin ostinato mutates into a more lethal ostinato, a frightening crescendo of approaching death. Goldfinger relents at the last moment and has Bond shot with a tranquilizer gun. Barry demonstrates mastery of his craft in instilling menace and terror, which fully realizes the director’s vision.

“Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus” reveals Bond arriving at Goldfinger’s Kentucky country estate. As her squadron flies overhead Barry graces us with lush swirling strings, aerial music that for me offers a progenitor from which would be born his gorgeous flight music for High Road To China (1982). The cue from 0:14 – 1:48 was intended to support Bond being escorted to his cell under the house, but was excised. At 1:49 the Aerial Motif returns as the squadron lands. As the cockpit canopies open we behold sexy women pilots, which Barry supports chauvinistically with a lusty, crowing sax line as they run to their leader, Pussy Galore.

“Teasing The Korean” reveals Bond imprisoned in a cell under Goldfinger’s Kentucky ranch. Bond manages to lure the Korean guard into the cell with silly cat and mouse antics where he incapacitates him and escapes. Barry uses string sustains, ambient harp and sax to create a mysterioso, which lures the Korean in. At 1:07 two strikes supports the Korean kicking open the unlocked cell door. The mysterioso returns as the guard sees an empty cell. At 1:21 Bond pounces from the ceiling and a fight ensues supported by low register horn blasts and strings. As he escapes, the mysterioso supports his progress. In “Gassing The Gangsters”, Goldfinger has assembled the mob leaders from both east and west coasts to pitch his plan to rob Fort Knox. After Mr. Solo rejects the offer, Goldfinger leaves the gangsters in his lodge to show Mr. Solo out. In the basement a Korean scientist activates controls, which seal the lodge and then release the lethal nerve gas. Grim, repeating phrases by saxophones of doom portend the fate of the gangsters. As the gas is released sharp metallic chimes and percussion support the extermination.

In “Oddjob’s Pressing Engagement” the henchman is instructed by Goldfinger to take Mr. Solo to the airport with his gold payment. Before he departs, Bond slips a tracking device into Solo’s pocket. As they depart the CIA operatives see on their screen that he is moving and begin a pursuit. Barry supports the scene with a horn rich unbridled rendering of the James Bond Theme, with counterpoint from Goldfinger’s Theme, which carries the progress of both cars. Oddjob bypasses the airport and a diminuendo carries him to a deserted road where the mysterioso returns and crescendos as he shoots Solo. Oddjob then resumes driving, taking the corpse to the dump where the car is compressed into a block of metal. Goldfinger’s Theme carries both his and the CIA’s progress. At 2:23 comic woodwinds support the placing of the metal block in Oddjob’s truck. As he returns to the ranch a reserved Bond Theme underscores the CIA’s confusion at having lost the signal. Mocking horns resound as Oddjob drives past them.

The next two cues offer the score’s finest action cues. “Dawn Raid On Fort Knox” reveals Pussy and her mates boarding their planes and taking off to attack Fort Knox. A martial snare drum propelled variant of Goldfinger’s Theme with an embellished string counter and blaring horns carries their progress. As they release the gas we see one brigade after another fall unconscious. At 2:42 imagery of the fallen soldiers is supported by a relentless snare drum ostinato. At 3:04 a shift in tempo reveals Goldfinger’s trucks on the move, supported by the snare drum ostinato and dire horns. After the gates are blown apart, horn blasts at 4:09 resound as Goldfinger’s men enter the compound buttressed by his theme. The snare drum ostinato maintains the tension. At 5:06 we shift to a new, high register and high frequency metallic percussive ostinatao with counter drum strikes, which supports the deployment and use of the laser to breach the massive metallic doors. As they fall we end on grim horns.

In “The Arrival of the Bomb and Count Down”, Goldfinger and the atomic bomb arrive by helicopter. His intention is to detonate this dirty bomb, irradiate America’s gold reserves for 58 years, which multiplies his gold reserves by ten times. He orders the bomb deployed and activated with Bond chained to it. After the army arrives, (Pussy had switched out the lethal gas) Goldfinger seals the chamber, trapping his lieutenant and Oddjob in the vault. Oddjob kills the lieutenant when he tires to deactivate the bomb, which allows Bond to get the key and unshackle himself. After a brutal fight with Oddjob, Bond manages to electrocute him. He then tries to open the bomb casing and deactivate the bomb, which Barry supports with blaring trombones and a powerful and purposeful percussive ostinato. He amplifies the tension at 1:44 with the high frequency percussive metallic ostinato as Bond opens the casing but struggles to disarm the device. We build to a frightful crescendo, which ceases as an agent turns off the device with the clock displaying 007!

In “The Death of Goldfinger”, Bond is to fly by private jet to meet the President. He boards the plane only to discover to after take off that Goldfinger had removed the crew and was in control. A fight ensues, which Barry supports with snare drums and horns brutale blaring Goldfinger’s Theme. After the gun discharges and shatters a window, Goldfinger is sucked out to his death. The music intensifies in a deafening crescendo as the plane plummets with Pussy unable to regain control. We see the plane disappear off the radar screen with an indication that they parachuted to safety. We transition at 1:22 to a sumptuous romantic rendering of the Main Theme as we see Pussy and James safe on a lush Bahaman Island. We close with our lovers embracing as Bond pulls the parachute over them. At 1:48 we segue into the “End Titles”, which features a final statement of the Goldfinger and Bond Themes. This album version is not the film version, which closes with a shortened reprise of Bassey’s sterling vocals. Lastly “Goldfinger” offers a funky guitar rendered Instrumental version of the legendary Main Theme.

This was a seminal score in the Bond franchise, one that firmly established Barry as its voice. His iconic title song “Goldfinger”, which was empowered by Shirley Bassey’s powerful vocal, has passed into legend as one of the finest songs to ever open a film. Within the notes Barry captured the film’s emotional core and the maniacal menace of our villain, Auric Goldfinger. How Barry rendered the theme in different guises, often with interplay with the Bond Theme is largely responsible for the film’s astounding success. The 1960s vibe, which permeates the film also contributed to an authentic soundscape and enhancement of the film’s narrative. The creative use and frequency shifting of ostinati offer fine examples of how a composer can sow tension and suspense. I believe this score to be the defining score of the Bond franchise, a testament to Barry’s mastery of his craft, and a classic of the Silver Age. I highly recommend its purchase as an essential member of your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a Youtube link to the iconic title song, sung by Shirley Bassey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZnDP9tPnIM

Buy the Goldfinger soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title – Goldfinger (written by John Barry, Leslie Bricusse, and Anthony Newley, performed by Shirley Bassey) (2:48)
  • Into Miami (0:57)
  • Alpine Drive – Auric’s Factory (4:27)
  • Oddjob’s Pressing Engagement (3:08)
  • Bond Back in Action Again (2:31)
  • Teasing the Korean (2:16)
  • Gassing the Gangsters (1:05)
  • Goldfinger [Instrumental] (2:10)
  • Dawn Raid on Fort Knox (5:48)
  • The Arrival of the Bomb and Count Down (3:29)
  • The Death of Goldfinger – End Titles (2:34)
  • Golden Girl (2:10) BONUS
  • Death of Tilley (2:04) BONUS
  • The Laser Beam (2:54) BONUS
  • Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus (2:48) BONUS

Running Time: 41 minutes 09 seconds

Capitol/EMI Records 72435-80891-2-7 (1964/2003)

Music composed and conducted by John Barry. Orchestrations by John Barry. Featured musical soloists Vic Flick and Johnny Scott. James Bond theme by Monty Norman. Recorded and mixed by John Richards. Score produced by John Barry. Album produced by Frank Collura.

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