The villain in Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger (1964) is like a dragon with an insatiable lust for gold. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) loves the yellow metal more than anything, telling James Bond (Sean Connery), “All my life I have been in love with its color, its brilliance, its divine heaviness.” His plan to irradiate all the gold at Fort Knox with an atomic bomb reveals the absurd nature of greed: Greed is a madness that consumes the mind, making people do things that are irrational and ridiculous.
Although the film’s plot is absurd, it is based on the historical reality in 1964. Goldfinger’s plan to irradiate all the gold at Fort Knox would send shock-waves throughout the world economy. In 1964, the United States, England, and over forty other countries were on the gold standard.1 Many of the world’s currencies were pegged to the price of gold.2 Under the Bretton Woods System that lasted until 1971, “the U.S. government promised to redeem other central banks’ holdings of dollars for gold at a fixed rate of thirty-five dollars per ounce.”3 This resulted in a steady outflow of gold from the United States to other countries due to “persistent U.S. balance-of-payments deficits.”4 For example, if another country had a trade surplus with the United States—exporting more goods to the U.S. than they imported—this would result in a surplus of U.S. dollars in that country’s central bank. The central bank could then exchange the U.S. dollars for gold bullion with the U.S. Federal Reserve. Goldfinger’s plan, if successful, would create financial chaos. With the gold at Fort Knox irradiated, the U.S. would not be able to meet its international obligations to exchange gold for U.S. dollars, leading to a financial crisis. Such a crisis, however, would be good for Goldfinger. With his large holdings of industrial gold, the resulting shortage would allow him to raise his price on the black market, making him an even richer man.
Prior to launching Operation Grand Slam, Goldfinger is already a rich man, but he wants to increase his wealth ten-fold. By definition, he is a man consumed by greed: “an excessive desire for more of something than is needed.”5 With international gold deposits worth 20 million pounds, he does not need more wealth, but when you are greedy, more is always better. The Bretton Woods System made “the importation of gold for private speculative purposes” illegal, so Goldfinger makes his money in the black market.6 This also mirrors historical reality at the time: “By the 1960s, many foreigners were buying gold at an artificially low price of $35 … and sold it in the black market for easy profit.”7 Goldfinger purchases industrial gold in England, smuggles it to other countries, and sells it at double or triple the price. To protect England’s gold supply, this is something MI-6 wants to stop. Colonel Smithers tells Bond, “We are vitally concerned with unauthorized leakages,” to which Bond replies, “I take it you mean smuggling.” Although MI-6 suspects that Goldfinger is selling gold illegally, they have no proof. Bond eventually discovers that he has a plan to create a worldwide gold shortage by detonating an atomic bomb at Fort Knox. Goldfinger is more than a gold smuggler: He is an economic terrorist who must be stopped.
With an outrageous plot and a ridiculous villain, Goldfinger illustrates the absurd nature of greed. Goldfinger tells Bond, “I welcome any enterprise that will increase my stock, which is considerable.” There is nothing wrong with becoming rich, but Goldfinger has only one goal in life: getting richer. An incredibly rich man, he is not content with what he has. Such is the nature of greed: No matter how much you get, you are never satisfied. You always want more.
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Bretton Woods system,” accessed January 1, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/389170/money/247599/The-Bretton-Woods-system#ref1089594.
- Investopedia, s.v. “Bretton Woods Agreement,” accessed July 25, 2015, http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/brettonwoodsagreement.asp
- Michael D. Bordo, “Gold Standard,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/GoldStandard.html.
- Merriam Webster, s.v. “Greed,” accessed December 29, 2014, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greed.
- Henry C.K. Liu, ” Gold, manipulation and domination,” Asia Times, October 2, 2008, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/JJ02Cb03.html.