Casino Royale 1967 Review

casino royale poster 1967

Casino Royale is too much for one James Bond!

Up until quite recently Casino Royale was the one Ian Fleming book that had escaped the clutches of Eon Productions, the company behind the James Bond films. In the sixties - while Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were busy with their immensely lucrative series featuring Sean Connery - it was rival producer Charles Feldman who held the screen rights to Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel. It should have been an incredible opportunity for Feldman. He had the legal right to make a James Bond film of his own based on the original (and some would say best) Bond book. A faithful and lavish adaption starring a Patrick Mcgoohan or Laurence Harvey as Bond could have been very special indeed and an enduring part of the Bond 'universe'. However, after mulling the project over and apparently even approaching Sean Connery unsuccessfully, Feldman decided that he would use his rights to spoof Bond and make a comedy, perhaps repeating the financial success he'd had with the recent What's New, Pussycat? Jealous of the success of the Bond series, Feldman set out to make a parody of the Broccoli/Saltzman series.

The end result was a legendary disaster and a chaotic production that went through six directors and countless writers. A headache-inducing mess of a film famously described by contributor Woody Allen as 'an unredeemingly moronic enterprise.' To make matters worse, one of the principle stars of the film, Peter Sellars, walked out on the project halfway through leaving Feldman and a revolving door of directors and writers desperately trying to salvage a completed film from the wreckage. 
orsen welles casino royale

The 'plot' of Casino Royale revolves around the retired 'Sir' James Bond played by David Niven (who was one of Fleming's choices to play the role in 1962's Dr No). The film makes clear this is the 'real' James Bond with one or two jokes about Connery's Bond being a codename replacement - "That sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of dead beautiful women like so many blown roses behind him, that bounder to whom you gave my name and number." In this version of Casino Royale, British, American and Russian agents are being murdered and the heads of the the world's secret services decide to call the 'real' James Bond out of retirement to find those responsible. Bond refuses at first but after an explosion at his house accounts for M and a visit to M's ancestral castle in Scotland reveals it has been infiltrated by SMERSH, 007 takes over as the head of the secret service and, to confuse the enemy, renames all British agents James Bond 007.

Cue several James Bonds, dozens of famous guest stars, a story that was literally made up as they went along, lavish sets, not enough laughs and, er, a guardsman riding a horse into a flying saucer...

A rather expensive waste of time (Charles Feldman's solution to trouble piling up around his ears seemed to be to throw ever more money at it), watching Casino Royale is like eating too much chocolate cake and washing it down with cheap cherryade. And having separate sections of the film made by different directors - Ken Hughes, John Huston (who also cameos as M), Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish and Val Guest - adds to the disconnected and chaotic feel of the film and makes it a very strange experience. The idea of spoofing the Bond films is also a redundant one for me personally because the Bond series (excluding the somewhat generic and depressing reboot of late) is delightfully ostentatious, tongue-in-cheek, amusing, cultish and fantastical anyway, packed with beautiful women, quips and colour. I don't really see the point of spoofing something that isn't really that serious to begin with. 
casino royale woody allen

There are a few bright spots in the film, which is surprisingly dull considering the money and talent involved. A young Woody Allen (as Dr Noah/Jimmy Bond), who presumably wrote much of his own dialogue, has a few amusing moments and some Groucho Marx inspired banter - "You can't shoot me, " he says before a firing squad. "I have a very low threshold of death... you realize this means an angry letter to The Times?" Allen's clowning lifts the film a little when he appears but even he gets lost in the mayhem. "They'll run amok," says Allen. "But if she's too tired they can walk amuck." It's decent stuff but there isn't enough of it. Allen's Dr Noah plans to release a germ into the atmosphere which will destroy all men over 'four feet six inches tall'.

There is also a reasonably amusing Q scene too which spoofs the Connery films by presenting scuba divers with bows and arrows, infra red glasses and a pen that fires poison gas - "Poison pen letter, yes, all our agents say that, sir."

Peter Sellars, who disliked having to share the spotlight with the likes of Orson Welles and Allen and never even stayed around long enough to complete all of his scheduled scenes, plays Evelyn Tremble, A Baccarat Master recruited by Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) to challenge Le Chiffre. Ironically, Orson Welles, who isn't in the film for long, makes a much better and more faithful Le Chiffre than that Danish bloke (whatever his name was) who played the role in the 2006 version by Eon. Sellars has a few funny moments but his performance is somewhat indulgent and descends into impersonations too often. His best moment - and the film's most memorable sequence - occurs when he has a slow-motion love scene with Andress to the strains of Burt Bacharach's song 'The Look of Love' performed by Dusty Springfield. 

The 'Bond girls' in the film are very well chosen and include Ursula Andress, Dahlia Lavi, Joanna Pettet, Barbara Bouchet, and Jacqueline Bisset. Some of the girls were or went on to be in Eon Bond films and it's good fun trying to spot them. Elsewhere everyone from Bernard Cribbins to Ronnie Corbett to Peter O'Toole pops up in minor roles and cameos. You get the impression that Feldman spent a lot of the production on the telephone cajoling showbiz mates into turning up on the set for ten minutes so they could be in the film.

It's hard to follow such a plotless, episodic and eccentric film and, this being the sixties, it's not that surprising when someone turns on a gigantic bubble making machine near the end. Before the film is out we also get cowboys, Indians, Keystone Cops, women in gold paint, clapping seals, the French foreign legion, gangsters and monkeys. It's annoying really to think that someone had the legal rights to make a sixties film version of Casino Royale and produced this nonsense instead.

As far as weird psychedelic sixties capers go, Casino Royale is overblown and ultimately just a bit dull and leaden. While it has a nice soundtrack and some inventive futuristic sets, the film just isn't consistently funny enough and the lack of coherence eventually makes the picture tiresome.

You'd have a lot more fun watching Barbarella or one of those Derek Flint films with James Coburn.  

- Jake  

c 2009 Alternative 007