Jan 30, 2015

Review: Casino Royale (1967)

For the longest time, I've never understood how Casino Royale got made. I mean, by 1967 the James Bond series was well-established with four films already having been produced. How was it that another studio could put out a Bond film and not get into legal trouble? Was it EON or one of their partners who put it out? Was this another situation like what happened with the rights to Thunderball which lead to a remake in 1983 with Sean Connery himself?

Well the answer's pretty simple. Ian Fleming sold the rights for Casino Royale in 1955 until they fell into the hands of producer Charles K. Feldman. He wasn't able to develop the book into a film quick enough though since Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman beat him to it with Dr. No in 1962. When you've spent $550,000 of your own money on a project, you don't typically want to give up on it and Feldman did not. After trying to co-produce a straight adaptation with EON which fell through, he settled on creating a spoof of the James Bond series.

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Genre: action, adventure, comedy
Directed by: Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, etc.
Produced by: Jerry Bresler, Charles K. Feldman, John Dark
Written by: Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers, etc.
Music by: Burt Bacharach
Running time: 131 minutes
Production company: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Famous Artists Productions
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Columbia Pictures, Columbia-Bavaria Filmgesellschaft m.b.H., etc.
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Language: English, French
Budget: $12,000,000
Box office: $41,700,000

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Barbara Bouchet, Deborah Kerr, Jacqueline Bisset, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, Terence Cooper, Bernard Cribbins, Ronnie Corbett, Anna Quayle, John Huston, William Holden, Charles Boyer, Peter O'Toole

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Synopsis


Accomplished agent James Bond (David Niven) retired from service some twenty years ago and is quite content. However, the villainous organization SMERSH has been eliminating secret agents left, right and center no matter what their allegiance. Visited by the heads of MI5, the CIA, KGB and Deuxième Bureau, James is pressed back into service. SMERSH is of course on to him and aren't about to make his return any easier. Good thing James has some tricks up his sleeve.

Review


Casino Royale is just weird. Like really really weird. Clearly a lot of money was spent on what ends up being nothing more than a lot of noise and head-scratching. There are a few laughs to be had, but those times are few and far between. The story seems to just jump around quite chaotically a lot of the time and the big reason for that is due to the many directors responsible for their own sections. I don't think there was a lot of collaboration because if there was, CR would've been far less of a confusing mess.

There are a couple of scenes that I did find funny though. Probably the best scene of all is with Peter Sellers posing as James Bond playing against villain Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in a game of baccarat. It's amazing that these scene works as well as it does since Sellers and Welles apparently had a huge falling out and hated each other. They weren't even on set at the same time to film this scene, but it somehow works and it's funny.

There are a few other funny scenes sprinkled here and there, but definitely not enough for what is an enormous 131 minute run time. I suppose I do like how David Niven's James Bond character is worked in and it's also pretty amusing how he doesn't think too highly of his successor's love for women, gadgets and drink. He's likes to think of himself as far more serious, focusing on the task at hand. It's important to note that his drink of choice is jasmine tea. None of this shaken or stirred nonsense here.

But really though, Casino Royale hardly even feels like a spoof of James Bond at all. It barely even focuses on the character at all, sometimes going through segments where female characters such as Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) or Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet) are doing all the heavy lifting. Mata is indeed James' daughter if you're curious and yes it's weird that she performs an extended exotic dance for him.

Not that there's anything wrong with focusing on female characters, but that's not the James Bond way now is it? If spoofing James Bond was truly the goal here, Casino Royale is a lost opportunity. There are on occasion some scenes that properly take a page out of classic James Bond such a car chase scene, a gadget scene as well as scenes with lots and lots of scantily clad ladies. Most of these scenes fall pretty flat though.

I do think that David Niven is quite good though as the elder James Bond coming out of retirement and Peter Sellers isn't bad either. Woody Allen is another story though in what is his second acting credit. He clearly needed a bit more polishing because he's a little hard to take seriously in Casino Royale. I know that he gets there eventually, but it's just weird seeing a poor performance from Woody Allen. Besides these three I've named, there are a ton of other actors vying for your attention as well as some pretty high profile cameos.

Casino Royale features the song "The Look of Love" which went on to be nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards. It's a nice song I suppose, but it doesn't do anything to help the scene it's used in. The soundtrack was composed by Burt Bacharach and I'd say that his compositions in general are pretty memorable in an overly happy kind of way. By the middle of the film his music started to get a big grating however and my complaint is that it's leaned on way too heavily.

There's no other way to describe Casino Royale as anything else but a large, confused mess. What else do you expect when you have multiple directors working on different segments who clearly haven't talked to each other at all? Val Guest was the one who ended up splicing this movie together and he must've felt like that person in a university group project putting together everyone's parts on the eve before it's due. It's a thankless job and I think he did an admirable job given the circumstances.

Casino Royale is all the same a part of the James Bond experience and should be seen at least once by fans. Yes it's long, and it's mostly unfunny. At the same time though, it's fascinating to watch in a train wreck kind of way. I couldn't help but be lightly amused the whole time and the few gems that are thrown your way really aren't that bad.

Rating


5.5/10