Music for Spies

Secret Agent Super DragonMatt Yglesias wrote a great economic deconstruction of the film Goldfinger, Economics of Goldfinger: James Bond as the Enforcer for Harold Wilson’s Doomed Austerity Policies. In it he argues that Goldfinger is basically a good guy, pushing against the bad gold policies of the western powers and James Bond is just a rube being used in a kind of “wag the dog” operation. I’m not going to say more about it. You should read it.

I bring it up only to mention that it got the song “Goldfinger” going through my head. I’ve always liked the song, especially the great singing by Shirley Bassey and the dense production by George Martin. So I found it on the internet and listened to it. Here is a live version. Check it out and pay close attention to those raspy trumpets:

It was only when I listened to it that I realized that one of my favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 bits was a parody of this song. It was a hosted segment for the film Secret Agent Super Dragon. It was a 1966 Italian spy movie very much in the tradition of Goldfinger. In fact, the filmmakers may even have seen the film as a kind of parody like International Secret Police: Key of Keys. It is certainly true that the film on its own is amusing.

On MST3K, Tom Servo has written this song and he gets Joel to play bass and Crow to play trumpet. At one point, Crow mentions that he only knows two notes. If you listen to “Goldfinger” again, you will hear that the trumpet refrain in that song is only three notes. Anyway, the sequence is funny and the music is really good. I never tire of it:

Chop on this, pal!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Music for Spies

  1. Wow — that’s a stunningly weird Yglesias column. Of all things in the world to write about, he picks . . . a silly 50-year-old action movie. His take on it is probably quite right, it’s just a strange choice.

    Of course, Bond is a rube. He’s actually quite a despicable little turd of a character. I got to interview John le Carre when I was a 17-year-old college paper guy, and le Carre (gracious, quite kind to a kid reporter) explained that his books were partly inspired by Fleming’s. He was trying to show that spies are really petty, unglamorous people, especially because the interests of intelligence agencies (the interests of the countries that run them) are petty and far from glamorous.

    I just read a history of US involvement in the Caribbean in the Cold War, and at one point candidate Kennedy, a big Ian Fleming fan, met Fleming at a party. He asked Fleming what Bond would do to get rid of Castro. Fleming said Bond would drop leaflets all over Cuba claiming that US nuclear tests had made men with huge beards impotent. Castro and Che and the other revolutionary leaders would shave their symbolically important beards, and the movement would fold.

    As dumb as that idea is, what’s dumber is that Kennedy passed it on to Allen Dulles, and the CIA actually considered it for a while. Before going ahead with their other, equally stupid, plans. Spies are morons.

    Like Yglesias, I loved Bond films as a kid. The music was a huge part of that. Minus the big orchestral John Barry scores, the early Bond films are just Sean Connery exhibiting pure smugness and getting away with it (what pubescent geeky teen wouldn’t want to have that kind of confidence.) The rich, full sound of the music makes the pettiness of the goings-on seem bigger than they deserve, and helps gloss over Bond’s essential snobbishness (you don’t serve Don Perignon at the wrong temperature, he says in "Goldfinger"; that’s as bad as "listening to the Beatles without earmuffs."

    The newest Bond had a good, old-fashioned score, and a really retro theme song. I quite enjoyed it; I thought Daniel Craig managed, somehow, to slyly hint that he was aware on a meta level of being in a long-running franchise, while still staying in character as a rather rotten hitman (but one with a heart of gold, natch.) At one point, he’s fighting a faceless goon in a pit with an exotic monster present, and there’s an expression on his face, for just a split-second, that reads "have you never seen a Bond movie before, bad guy? Don’t you know what happens to the faceless goon in the pit with an exotic monster?" It’s like he almost feels sorry for the guy, and it’s just for an instant. I howled, though.

    The movie got good reviews, but no-one I know besides the lady I went to it with have liked it. They probably aren’t Bond fans, and I get that. He’s really a glamorized asshole. Then again, so is Captain Kirk, Iron Man, insert cocky alpha male here.

    Just a random note, on long-standing Brit franchises — remember Peter Capaldi, the sweet Scot in "Local Hero" and the savage dispenser of profoundly creative curses from "In The Loop"? He’s just been announced as the new "Doctor Who." Y’all don’t enjoy fantasy/sci-fi the way some of us do (hey, if we’re gonna get hypnotized by stuff, better that we know it’s bogus), but even a non-fan can cheer for a gifted actor getting one of the highest-profile gigs in modern TV. Good for him!

  2. @JMF – I think Yglesias’ article is brilliant. I love it when people provide a different way to look at a piece of art.

    You are quite right about spies. One of the few things I liked in [i]Traffic[/i] was how it showed the DEA agents as totally obtuse regarding what they were actually doing. And even when it was pointed out to them, they just dismissed it. Law enforcement people–and that includes spies–are not interested in what the effects of their actions are. They are too focused on the chase. That’s one of the reason it is so absurd when Congress (and most of the rest of the nation) bow down to the military. Whatever they want must be right. That is definitely the tail wagging the dog.

    I love Capaldi, especially the way he specializes in playing asshole now. Have you seen him in [i]Magicians[/i]? He’s great. I was a big fan of the original Doctor Who. I’ve never watched the new series, even though Netflix says I would really like it. I will definitely watch Capaldi if he is in it. Thanks for the news!

  3. "Who" is considered too cheesy for a lot of people who like science fiction, much less those who don’t care for the genre. But maybe you’ll enjoy seeing an episode or two with Capaldi in it, once he arrives. I’m certain he’ll be quite good at telling off the bad guys when he’s angry.

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