Just when I thought I was done and could walk away, it pulled me back in. Welcome to all of you who have made it this far! After meticulous fact checking, hours of painstaking research, and figuratively thousands of miles travelled in order to come to the truth, I have discovered that yes, there is one more James Bond movie. Well, technically, I suppose. And also yes, I knew about it the whole time, but as it just doesn’t fit any applicable mold, I couldn’t reverse rank it with any real confidence amongst the other Bonds. Even Never Say Never Again is more of a Bond movie than this one. So finally, yes, I am going to bring up…the 1967 version…of…Casino…Roy…ale.
Our story begins back in the middle 1950s when Ian Fleming sold the rights to the first Bond novel Casino Royale to Gregory Ratoff. Ratoff could never get a movie going and when he died, Ratoff’s widow sold the rights to producer Charles K. Feldman. When EON productions got the rights to the other Bond novels, they also wanted to purchase Casino Royale. Feldman said no and EON replied with Dr. No, which made an embarrassing amount of money, as did From Russia With Love and especially Goldfinger.
Feldman, smelling a profit, wanted to jump on board with EON and made an offer to co-produce Casino Royale with them. EON weighed this option and then decided to make Thunderball with Kevin McClory instead. EON felt that they would be going backwards as they had already made three Bond movies at that point. They also believe that going back to Bond’s first adventure was going to be hard to adapt. Well, not really, the book would have been fine to adapt, but the larger problem is that the scale of each Bond film had grown with each installment. Casino Royale just doesn’t have enough meat on the bones to make it a worthwhile effort. Even the 2006 version had to include an incredible amount of padding and foot chases in order to fill a runtime.
Feldman, who had just produced What’s New Pussycat?, decided to press on anyway with a Casino Royale film. Since EON wouldn’t make it with him, Feldman would not only make it himself, he would make it a parody of the Bond series. Making it a flat out comedy was still going to be a chore as the book is rather straightforward and doesn’t lend itself to humor. But Feldman went ahead anyway and the mess that exists is the result.
Well, not a mess, but a real fustercluck, to use an edited term. No less than five directors were brought on to helm various parts of the movie during shooting. As a result, the film feels like separate shorts were jammed together in order to make a full length feature. So many writers were used that if one picked up up a world phonebook in 1967, you’d find that at least three-quarters of the names listed were involved in this production. And these were not lightweights either: Ben Hecht, Woody Allen, Terry Southern, Billy Wilder, and Peter Sellers all contributed in some way to the proceedings. And yet, this movie was the result.
The plot did have the original Fleming story at the center but there was an incredible amount of filler surrounding it. A main idea of the screenplay seems to have become a basis in modern fan theory about James Bond. That since there have been a number of actors who played the character over years, perhaps “James Bond” is just a codename used to confound the enemy. This isn’t a bad idea and was worth exploring. But like everything else, Casino Royale overexaggerates everything to the nth degree, resulting in there being approximately 185 James Bonds in this movie. If only there were talented ones. I’ve never missed Roger Moore more in a film.
One of the James Bonds is played by David Niven who supposedly is the original James Bond. He is a pure, noble British gentleman, which is kind of a laugh given the character’s real background. Niven is able to play comedy very well, heaven knows he was in enough bad Blake Edwards movies to prove it, so he is rather game here. However, even his best intentions don’t make up for playing a bad script. But since Peter Sellers walked out, they had to film someone.
Oh yeah, Peter Sellers is in this! Now that Sellers was a comedic genius is not an understatement. His legendary role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the Pink Panther series was popular enough to rival the Bond series as far as franchisable dollars go. His multiple roles in films such as Dr. Strangelove were a revelation. Sellers at this point had just come off of the hit of What’s New Pussycat? for producer Charles K. Feldman, so he was a box office commodity. Sellers plays another James Bond but his part of the film is actually the real story of Fleming’s Casino Royale!
Unfortunately he fought with the production the whole time. This reached a fever pitch by the time the main villain was brought in to film with Sellers because Sellers felt upstaged. Who was this main villain? None other than Orson Welles as Le Chiffre. Welles and Sellers did not get along, but this was more of a fault on Sellers than Welles, not that Welles didn’t goad Sellers by the by. In any case, Sellers left, came back, and then was fired with scenes yet to film. But they figured they could edit around the missing bits. Yeah, they couldn’t.
To be fair, Orson Welles actually comes off okay and doesn’t really overstay his welcome. He’s a good Le Chiffre and would have made for an excellent villain in the regular Bond series. I would have loved for him to play against Sean Connery’s Bond or any Bond for that matter. Just not in this film.
Ursula Andress, the lovely Bond girl of Dr. No, was brought in to play Vesper Lynd. Unlike in Dr. No, we actually get to hear her real voice which is about the only thing she brings to the movie. Well, besides some quite amazing and raw in-your-face sexuality, but that’s a given, right? Is it warm in here? Feels warm in here. Moving on as quick as I’m able. Hopefully the weather gets colder quick.
Woody Allen was also brought in and his part of Jimmy Bond, the nephew of the David Niven Sir James Bond, is one of the bright spots of the movie. Allen might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but no one can deny his comic talents. He was also in What’s New Pussycat?, so Feldman saw an opportunity to cash in again. Feldman even dragged Pussycat‘s Peter O’Toole in for a cameo in this. At the end of the day when you have Sellers, O’Toole, and Allen together, why not just make Pussycat 2 instead? I know that wasn’t that great of a movie either, but it was slightly more coherent than this.
Amongst the cast we also see an incredible group of people in various stages of embarrassment as well: John Huston, Ronnie Corbett, Barbara Bouchet, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, and Charles Boyer. As the movie doesn’t really spend a lot of time with them, I won’t either beyond saying that these people were either friends of the producer or former clients of the producer or they needed the money badly or all of the above.
The music is perhaps the most delightful part of the movie. Burt Bacharach did the honors of the scoring, bringing life to a lot of what otherwise would have been lackluster scenes. The main title theme is played by Herb Alpert and His Tijuana Brass and is absolutely wonderful. There is also a song called “The Look of Love” performed by Dusty Springfield that one wishes could have been in a better movie. If the film has only one incredibly positive credit, it is in bringing the world such a great soundtrack.
I wish I could say that time has been kinder to this movie than it actually was but time is a cruel mistress. After the charming opening titles, we are left to slog through an entire sequence that leads to a little bit of fun with either Woody Allen or Peter Sellers and then back again to another scene to struggle through. This is the entire pattern of the movie. Sometimes there’s a dance sequence, sometimes there isn’t.
IF, and that’s a caps lock “if”, the script had been organized this way prior to filming, then Casino Royale would be probably be regarded more highly. If the goal was to create something this disjointed just as a way to screw with the James Bond audience, then I would purchase an expensive hat just for doffing purposes in their direction. But as the production problems were unfortunately well publicized during filming and followed the film until it opened, we know that this was not the initial goal.
Apparently anything with James Bond in it could make money by 1967. Incredibly, Casino Royale made an impressive haul at the box office. I cannot imagine that audiences were enraptured in their seats when watching this movie. Even compared to the other spy cash-in movies at the time, Casino Royale manages to commit the cardinal sin in film: it just gets boring. I suppose if I were close to 6 years old, I would enjoy it more, but I’m not, so I don’t.
That being said, Allen, Sellers, Welles, and in some cases Niven are the brightest spots in the movie and the score is absolutely top notch. Some of the jokes work, most fall flat. The disjointed nature could have just been possibly solved with having a series of short vignettes instead of just jamming everything together into a red hot mess and serve it as a movie.
I don’t want to come down hating on this movie, but I cannot help it at times. Given the talent involved, the movie should be way better instead of just a lame James Bond cash-in parody. There was an opportunity here that was completely squandered and it just plain ticks me off. Going in without a finished script and trying to make it work on the fly is never a great gameplan. Combine that with the raging egos at times and it didn’t do anything to help the finished product. Oh, and the flying saucer? Get bent. Your little hootenanny brouhaha fight at the end? Find where the sun isn’t shining and stick it there.
And with THAT, every James Bond film to date has been somehow ranked in order of worst to best in a rather hackneyed manner on yet another meaningless webnetblog! I even had an addendum entry to the whole bloody thing! If you’ve started with me way back at the beginning of the month, then I apologize, I mean, I congratulate you!
In all seriousness, James Bond films and books have been a love of mine since I was just a wee shaver. And this was nothing if not a labor of love these past weeks. I thank you for taking this adventure and indulging my hobby. Now I will take a step back and attempt to enjoy a medium dry vodka martini, shaken, not stirred…which is just about as vile as it sounds. And as always, you’re quite welcome!