Casino Royale 1967
Cast & Credits
Peter Sellers Evelyn Tremble (James Bond 007)
Ursula Andress Vesper Lynd (James Bond 007)
David Niven Sir James Bond
Orson Welles Le Chiffre
Original Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Directed by John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, and Joe McGrath
Looking at the credits alone, one could come to the conclusion that this was an extremely bizarre movie and how right they would be. First you have to look into the history of how it came about being made. James Bond creator, Ian Fleming originally sold the rights to his first novel, Casino Royale, for $1,000. This became a television movie starring Barry Nelson on Climax! Mystery Theater which was a 1950's American television show. After this, Fleming once again sold the rights. This time to a producer that was trying to get a film version of Casino Royale made by 20th Century Fox. This fellow died and his widow sold the rights to producer Charles K. Feldman. Originally, Feldman tried to get Casino Royale made as a joint project with Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli (the guys who produced the original Bond movies at the time). Saltzman and Broccoli originally agreed, but changed their minds later when a joint project was pitched to them by a guy named Kevin McClory that wrote an original script with Ian Fleming himself for a movie to be called Thunderball (which ironically was turned down several years before and later turned into Fleming's novel Thunderball). Saltzman and Broccoli thought that Thunderball was more marketable than Casino Royale and filmed it instead. After the enormous success of Thunderball, they didn't want to risk another joint project and decided to just let Casino Royale be.
Feldman actually approached Sean Connery about doing the movie. Word has it that Connery was becoming tired with the Bond role and was seriously considering leaving after Thunderball before being talked into doing You Only Live Twice. He said that he would do Casino Royale for $1 million. Feldman turned him down and decided that he could instead produce a madcap comedy similar to his hit What's New Pussycat? because he didn't think that he could compete with the official Bond movie coming out. He had his sights set on Peter Sellers being James Bond and approached him. Sellers told him that he was nuts and that he couldn't play the part. Feldman kept offering him more and more money until ironically Sellers said that he would do it for $ 1 million if he could choose his own director and if he was playing a character that was actually a fill in for the real James Bond. Feldman agreed. Sellers himself came up with the character of Evelyn Tremble. Things did not go well on the set of the picture. Peter Sellers and Orson Welles, who played Le Chiffre, clashed and they wouldn't even film their scenes together. Eventually, Sellers had enough of Orson Welles and depending on who's word you take he quit or he was fired after leaving the set for several days. They were left with a movie that didn't have several scenes filmed (more on that later). Feldman, out of desperation opened up his pockets and hired four more directors and decided to make it a movie with five different sequences that were kind of mini stories. He also hired as many big name stars as he could find. This was the result:
M (played by John Huston) and several others try to get the original James Bond (David Niven) out of retirement. We find out that Sir James Bond does not care for gadgets, believes in celibacy, and is upset that the British secret service has given his name and number to another guy that's pretty much the exact opposite of what he is (now he's currently doing television). When Bond says no to their proposal, his estate is blown up and M dies. Bond goes up to M's castle to give his widow (Deborah Kerr) the hair piece that was blown off of his head in death. It turns out that M's widow, Lady Fiona, is not at all who she seems and is actually an agent named Mimi that works for Smersh. The entire Scottish castle is filled with young and sexy ladies. Smersh's plan is to destroy Bond's squeaky clean image and if that doesn't work to kill him. During this segment Bond resists several passes from young cuties, has an intense match of wassleing, gets atttacked by robotic fowl with bombs in them, gets Mimi to fall in love with him (she goes to a convent and becomes a nun after telling him that there's a big meeting coming up at International Mothers' Help's headquarters), and nearly gets killed by an exploding milk truck. David Niven has fun playing the anti-Bond and generates some laughs while doing it. Ironically, when Ian Fleming was asked who should play Bond in the 1950's, he said David Niven.
Soon afterward Bond returns to London and takes over for M. He let's Moneypenny know that he's partial to jasmine tea and not alcohol in being in his office. Bond then comes up with a plan to have all agents renamed James Bond 007 including the women in order to confuse the enemy. He also tracks down ex-agent Vesper Lynd (played by Ursula Andress who was Honey Rider in Dr. No) and gets to her work under him for I believe 5 million pounds (sounds kind of like how the production for this movie went). He wants one Evelyn Tremble's help to clean out Smersh agent Le Chiffre (Orson Welles). Tremble is an expert at baccarat that plays at the Buckingham Club. Through her womanly wiles she gets Evelyn to agree to play against Le Chiffre. Oddly Peter Sellers plays the part for the most part straight which is the exact opposite of what one would expect since he was a master of accents and funny faces. Word has it that Sellers insisted on this and kept refusing to do funny stuff. Odd... Anyway, after Tremble gets the name James Bond, meets Q, and gets a few gadgets we go off to the next segment.
Sir James Bond finds out that International Mothers' Help is a cover for Smersh in West Berlin. He goes off to meet his and Mata Hari's daughter, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet). She poses as a spy in training to get information. This whole sequence is like a bad acid trip and the jokes can't even be considered hit or miss since they're almost always a miss, but it doesn't matter because Ms. Pettit is in a skimpy outfit and looks hot, right? Anyway, it turns out that Le Chiffre is having an art auction and the art is film that could be used for blackmail against high authority figures. In turn Le Chiffre uses the money to fund his gambling in order to pay back Smersh funds that he's taking. Mata Bond gets the film and gets away. Thankfully, we get away from this section of the movie.
Next, we come up on the part of the movie that has the card game. Evelyn arrives at Casino Royale and is allowed to see Le Chiffre playing Baccrat from behind a one way mirror. He figures out that Le Chiffre is consistently winning because he is using glasses with infrared lenses. Tremble sits down at the table and distracts him while Vesper switches Le Chiffre's glasses. This scene gets really bizarre because Orson Welles insisted on doing magic tricks throughout the whole thing. After levitating some things, doing a disappearing act, and making things appear out of thin air we finally get to the card game which Tremble eventually wins. Vesper is predictably kidnapped and Bond gets into a car to chase after her and Le Chiffre. Then Bond wakes up tied to a chair. That's right. No scenes in between since they were never filmed. Ugh... Then comes the torture scene which consists of Le Chiffre demanding Bond's check from the winnings, him flipping a couple of switches, and Bond seeing a crappy pre-MTV music video. Next thing you know, he's smack dab in the middle of a couple of hundred bagpipe players that Vesper blows away with a bagpipe machine gun. Then, she does something unexpected... Le Chiffre then is taken care of by the leader of Smersh.
Next thing you know, Sir James Bond's daughter Mata is kidnapped by a guy on horse, taken onto a UFO, and brought to a lair underneath Casino Royale. I swear that I'm not making this stuff up. A nun comes into Bond's office. It's Mimi from earlier on in the movie. She gives him a letter saying that they've taken his daughter to Casino Royale. Soon after getting there, Bond discovers that the leader of Smersh, Dr. Noah, is actually his nephew Jimmy Bond who is played by Woody Allen. Yes, that Woody Allen. He has engineered a bacilus that makes all women beautiful and kills all men over 4' 6". He also has doubles of all of the world's leaders ready to take over the world. There is a funny scene that happens because for some psychological reason Jimmy cannot speak in Jame's presence. Also, we find out that Jimmy has created a miniature bomb that looks like an aspirin that has the power of an atomic bomb. In the end, we have a battle royale in the casino featuring Smersh agents, British agents, American agents, laughing gas, cowboys, Indians, a monkey with a wig, and seals. Will Bond and the other Jame Bond 007's save the day?
So in conclusion, this is a movie that at certain parts is pretty darned funny, but in most it really isn't. Some individual scenes were good, but overall the movie was a disjointed and uneven mess. It made little sense, but what movie made by five directors would? I deem the movie as a disappointment considering all of the talent invoved. Peter Sellers is my favorite comedic actor of all time (no exaggeration), David Niven was an Oscar winner, John Huston and the other directors were top rate, and I'm sure pretty that many of you know about Orson Welles and Woody Allen. Furthermore, the movie had an astronomically high budget at the time of $14 million dollars. The funny thing is that it actually made this back and then some. It was the 3rd highest grossing movie of the year. Ironically, one of the two movies that grossed more was You Only Live Twice. I guess if you put the Bond name on it in the 60's, anything would sell.
I'll give it a 2/5 below average, for what it was. A sixties madcap comedy but:
I have to give it a 1/5. Poor for a Bond. This is the lowest rating I will give. I don't plan on giving a zero.
Woody Allen said that he stayed in a hotel in London for five months with all of his expenses paid doing nothing. This is how wasteful this picture was...
One positive note: The sountrack by Burt Bacharach was wonderful and almost as good as one of John Barry's scores. "The Look of Love" sung by Dusty Springfield was a massive hit and has resurfaced in several other movies including Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Bond will return next Monday (the real Bond) in You Only Live Twice.