Up until Goldfinger, the James Bond series had walked a careful line, remaining faithful to the straight and serious tone of Ian Fleming’s original Bond stories but adding a touch of screenwriter Richard Maibaum’s self-mocking humor. Humor was an important element in American suspense films at that time, including most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, especially the very Bond-like North by Northwest (1959). Maibaum reasoned correctly that to make American audiences accept the completely preposterous 007 plots, there had to be moments in which the story gave a wink: We know this is completely ridiculous, but isn’t it also extremely fun? In the early films, Sean Connery mastered the deadpan throwaway delivery that sold Maibaum’s humor to the masses.
Unfortunately, with the “fake rubber seagull” gag in Goldfinger, the humor started to become less subtle. Putting a rubber bird on 007’s head was like a popping a red ball on his nose. In From Russia with Love, 007 was a British Secret Service agent. But in Goldfinger, he began to take on the trappings of a clown. It was not yet a full-bore transformation; Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice were still very serious spy adventures. But the table was being set for the comedy Bond of the upcoming Roger Moore era—culminating in 007 literally dressing up in a red nose and white face paint in Octopussy. It was an unfortunate shift in the character, which even the technicians on the set during the seagull scene saw coming. There was considerable grumbling when the prop department brought out the phony seagull rig.