6/19/13

Casino Royale (1967)

CASINO ROYALE is too much...for one James Bond!

James Bond turned fifty last year. Though he hasn't even aged a day.

After twenty-three movies, six actors and so many women I'm surprised he hasn't picked up at least one sexual disease, people still love him.

Can't blame him, really. Good, bad or indifferent, there are so many awesome and memorable things to list from this long-running franchise. The fight scenes, the fancy cars, the innuendos, the elaborate gadgetry, the volcano hideout in You Only Live Twice, the amphibious car in The Spy Who Loved Me, John Cleese playing Q in that one movie, the bizarre henchmen like Jaws, Oddjob and Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the women characters with suggestive names like Pussy Galore, Plenty O'Toole, and Holly Goodhead...

This week, however, we'll be looking at a James Bond film that nobody remembers--Casino Royale.


Actually, there are TWO James Bond movies that aren't part of the official canon--there's this one, and there's also the 1983 film Never Say Never Again, in which Sean Connery (at the age of 53) returned to play 007 in what is essentially a remake of Thunderball.

When Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli won the film rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and stories, there was one title they didn't get--the very first novel from 1953, Casino Royale, which had already gone to CBS for a 1954 episode of their Climax Mystery Theater series. When those rights wound up in the hands of Columbia Pictures, producer Charles Feldman originally wanted to make the movie WITH Saltzman and Broccoli, but ended up producing it by himself when they couldn't come to terms, and neither could he cast Connery himself to play Bond...so he decided to make the film into a comedy. Too bad he didn't tell most of the actors who genuinely thought it was a straight-up Bond flick. David Niven, Fleming's original choice to play his super-spy character, was given the lead.

This was not the only problem this film had.

Guess how many people directed it.

Normally one is enough, unless it's a Coen or Wachowski flick.

This movie had SIX DIRECTORS--SIX--each helming different parts of the film. One of them (who went uncredited) was the stunt coordinator in charge of the final sequence. Another one, Val Guest, was put in charge of piecing this whole thing into as close of a coherent story as it gets.

Now, any movie that goes through six directors would surely have some wondrous tales of production hell. And this film does not disappoint - Orson Welles and Peter Sellers never got along, and Welles' good friend Princess Margaret, the Queen's sister, did nothing to douse the animosity; the original budget was $6 million but eventually ballooned to twice that amount; Sellers and co-star Woody Allen made frequent contributions to the screenplay, as did others including film director Billy Wilder and Dr. Strangelove's Terry Southern, whom Sellers brought in to try and outdo Welles. The end result was a mish-mash of a film that led to reviews ranging from lukewarm to negative from critics who called it indulgent, lacking discipline, and hard to follow. Despite this, and unlike many of the films I've done, it did manage to make its money back in theaters.

Many people in this film have also appeared in official Bond movies, the most obvious guess being co-star Ursula Andress, the Bond girl from Dr. No. The list also includes Vladek Shaybal (From Russia with Love), Caroline Munro and Milton Reid (The Spy Who Loved Me), Angela Scoular (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), and Burt Kwouk (Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice), who also appeared alongside Peter Sellers as Cato in the Pink Panther movies.

Look for a guy in a Frankenstein's monster costume at the film's climax. That's David Prowse in his first film role. You know, the guy who would later appear on camera as DARTH VADER. (Yes, you read that correctly. Frankenstein's monster.)

And incidentally, who should design the opening titles of this film than our old friend Richard Williams.

The first scene in the movie shows Peter Sellers standing in a French pissoir meeting a police inspector who shows him his...err...credentials.

This really won't make sense without a picture, so here is one:


Nothing comes of this scene.

David Niven plays James Bond 007, the ORIGINAL James Bond as it turns out, who retired from the British Secret Service 50 years ago (didn't know the Cold War was running that long) and has been living in resentment of the gadget-obsessed, sex-crazed buffoon that MI6 gave his name and number to after he left. His old boss, M (played by John Huston, father of the Grand High Witch herself) visit him with representatives of the CIA, the KGB and French intelligence in hopes of coaxing him out of retirement to stop the evil organization SMERSH from eliminating their secret operatives.

(Before you think SMERSH is a silly made-up word, it was actually an umbrella name for the Soviet Union's counterespionage agencies. The name comes from the Russian phrase smiert spionam, meaning "death to spies", which many Bond fans may recall was a plot device in 1987's The Living Daylights. Here they've given the name to a SPECTRE-like global terrorist group, while I'm left wondering why the KGB guy is there.)

Anyway, when Bond turns them all down, M has his mansion blown up for some reason...and then apparently dies in the explosion. Even though it looks like it only just blew off his toupee.

Old guy, young lady...I think this was how Never Say Never Again went, come to think of it.

Bond travels to Scotland to console the widow M, who has been replaced by a SMERSH agent named Mimi (Deborah Kerr) who has also replaced everyone in M's castle home with SMERSH ladies in hopes of seducing Bond and destroying his abstinent image. All their attempts fail, and even agent Mimi falls in love with him and saves his life when the other girls try to kill him during an exploding grouse hunt.

Now the new head of MI6, Sir James (we'll call him Sir James for clarity's sake) returns to London, acquaints himself with Moneypenny...'s daughter (Barbara Bouchet), and is briefed that British spies all over the world are being killed in bordellos and geisha houses by lady SMERSH agents who are preying on their inability to refuse sexual favors. As a countermeasure, he orders that all remaining MI6 agents will change their names to "007 James Bond" to throw SMERSH off his--I mean, their trail, and establishes a program to train spies to resist sexual attraction. Moneypenny Jr. brings in a new trainee, a karate expert named Coop (Terence Cooper) who doesn't really do much of anything if I recall.

Meanwhile, retired agent/millionaire Vesper Lynd (Andress) finds an expert baccarat player named Evelyn Tremble (Sellers) to become another James Bond, go to Casino Royale and play some cards against a SMERSH agent known as Le Chiffre - in the more recent movie a terrorist mastermind, but in this movie Orson Welles playing a guy who embezzled SMERSH assets to feed his compulsive gambling habit.

Right now at least one part of him is violating the Official Secrets Act.

Meanwhile, in another plot point that goes nowhere, Bond looks up his estranged daughter Mata Bond (Joanna Bettet), his long-lost daughter whom he sired with Mata Hari (yes, THE Mata Hari), to infiltrate a spy school in East Berlin that is really a SMERSH cover operation. She finds that Le Chiffre is also selling embarrassing photos of world leaders at an "art auction" to raise the money to pay SMERSH back, steals the photos, flushes them down a toilet and escapes in a cab driven by Wilfred Mott from Doctor Who.

Back at the casino, after Evelyn/Bond must fight off a lady SMERSH agent by the name of Miss Goodthighs, he goes off to play baccarat, but not before learning that Le Chiffre wears a special kind of infrared sunglasses to help him cheat. The baccarat game is a clear metaphor for the feud between Sellers and Welles on set - Le Chiffre and Evelyn/Bond trade off magic tricks and comedic foreign accents almost like schoolchildren on a playground. When Vesper steals Le Chiffre's infrared sunglasses, Evelyn/Bond easily cleans him out, but his victory is short-lived when Vesper is kidnapped outside the casino and Evelyn/Bond chases after her.

Or at least I think he chases after them, because there is a bit of a jump cut after he gets in his car and is about to give chase. Suddenly he's strapped in a chair about to be tortured by a sore loser Le Chiffre.

And he is. Psychologically.

As he is hallucinating being attacked by bagpipers and more women in bathing suits, Vesper appears to rescue him...and then shoots him.

So...does that mean he's dead or something? I mean, we don't see him for the rest of the film, and I know Sellers walked off the set at one point, but is he killed for real if he's killed in his freak-out? That needed to be explained a bit.

"Excuse me, which one is directing this scene? ...erm...am I in the right movie?"

Equally inexplicable is what happens immediately afterward, when some SMERSH agents suddenly appear out of nowhere and shoot Le Chiffre in the forehead.

Meanwhile, in London, Mata Bond is abducted by a SMERSH agent posing as a Royal Guardsman on a horse and taken onboard a...flying...saucer?


Okay, this movie's not making any sense now.

Sir James and Moneypenny track her back to the casino, where some friendly SMERSH agents with guns take them to their basement headquarters and present them to their leader Dr. Noah (no relation) face to face--Jimmy Bond. Yes, it turns out Sir James' lesser-known, ill-regarded nephew, played by Woody Allen, is so jealous of the size of his uncle's metaphorical penis that he started up a supervillain club to kill off all the sexually attractive secret agents. He's also devised a biological weapon to make women more beautiful and to kill every man taller than 4'6", to make him the most desirable man in the world.

He's also got this second plan to have all the world's leaders assassinated and replaced with robotic clones that obey his every command, but, again, nothing comes of this.

I didn't know he first auditioned as a Bond girl.

He's captured this other lady James Bond we saw training Coop (Dahlia Lavi) and offers to make her his new queen, and she complies only to trick him into swallowing a pill he's developed that turns him into a walking atomic bomb.

The climax of the film...uggh...I have no idea what's going on. Sir James reveals Lynd as a double agent, suddenly some cowboys bust in and then a free-for-all breaks out. Every character who's still alive at this point as far as I know are there beating people up, and people are running around screaming and I think they're ALL supposed to be James Bond, a couple of seals are there for some reason, and then we get some Indians parachuting out of a plane and they start shooting everyone with arrows and dancing around and...there's also a chimp...and all the while Jimmy's walking around counting down the number of small atomic explosions yet to go off inside his stomach before he finally hits zero and blows up the entire casino and all the James Bonds die and go to heaven except for Jimmy.

They all die at the end. Yeah, THAT'S how much sense this film makes.

The 1967 Casino Royale starts out as a straightforward satire of the Bond films, genuinely playing on Bond's natural attractiveness and reliance on gimmicky cars and watches and things. Unfortunately, at some point into its running time, the movie sort of forgets all of that. Actually I'd go as far as to say that the movie loses all sense of coherence and descends into psychedelic, madcap nonsense. As an early entry in the spy spoof genre, it is well-intentioned, and the talent of its all-star cast is accounted for, but as you can expect from a film with six directors and too many cooks in the screenwriter's broth, the execution is rife with dropped subplots and useless characters and just falls apart. By the end of the film, the filmmakers just throw their hands up in the air and say "screw it, may as well end on SOMETHING."

Of course, little did anyone involved in this film know that at some time in the future, there would be a moment where people would be tired of the old formulaic structure of a Bond film--the sexy girls, the gadgets, the double entendres, and the witty postmortem one-liners--and decide that the franchise was overdue for a reboot. (I think it was probably around Die Another Day, which was so by-the-book it really stung.) And so, in 2006, one movie in the official series would start the story of Bond all over again. This time, with a more serious Bond, a more action-oriented Bond, a Bond who doesn't just shoot guys in a tux with a girl hanging off his leg while drinking a martini (shaken, not stirred).

And that movie would be called...Casino Royale.

And incidentally, THAT movie WAS just the right size for ONE James Bond.

What, another--oh, this movie can go to HELL.

1 comment:

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