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CASINO ROYALE is one of the truly great bad movies of all time. It is a
wonderfully weird, bold, funny and incoherent mess of a movie. What
should stink of embarrassing desperation, instead proves to cheerfully
insane, unpredictable and remarkably free of common sense.
The film was intended to be the ultimate spy spoof, an attempt to out-Bond the James Bond movies and their innumerable imitators. To this end, the untold number of writers and directors involved have opted to take the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to storytelling, mixed with a cut-and-paste style of editing. It is obvious that no one gave the slightest thought to creating a genuine spy film and instead approached the film with a devil-may-care attitude. As far as the actors are concerned, CASINO ROYALE seems to be little more than an excuse to have a multimillion dollar party at the studio's expense. As a satire of Bond films, CASINO is adequate; as a satire of the then trendy-swinging-cool-hip-with-it-now youth films of the era, it succeeds beautifully.
Basically you have a whole bunch of big name stars -- past their prime, but still with box office credibility -- ridiculing the very youth market that was squeezing them off the theatre marquees. Yet, the film has no malice; it is as bright and breezy as a screwball comedy with just a touch of British absurdity. It is amazing that a film that is so overblown, over produced and over budgeted can still be so light and airy. Despite a chaotic recipe, the film has a lot of really great ingredients. The cast is slumming in style (where else can you find Orson Welles, John Huston and Woody Allen hamming it up in the same film or Peter O'Toole, George Raft, Charles Boyer and Jean-Paul Belmondo dropping in for fleeting cameos?) And you have one of the best soundtrack albums ever, including Herb Alpert's title track and Dusty Springfield's sexy, sultry rendition of the Bacharach and David classic "The Look of Love." Plus, you get Woody Allen as an evil genius out to take over the world and Deborah Kerr dangling from the drain pipe of a Scottish castle.
And, to some extend, the film gets Bond right. As the legit James Bond series grinds on, getting ever more pompous, humorless and heavy-handed, CASINO ROYALE sees the whole genre for what it is: an absurdist lark. Indeed, if CASINO ROYALE has a soul mate, it is not GOLDFINGER, but the "Batman" TV series, another pop culture phenomenon designed to deflate pretense with overblown villains, outrageously silly situations, off-the-wall cameos and a tongue placed firmly in the cheek.
What's not to love?
Casino Royale has some outstanding elements. The production design is
worth a 10. There are beautiful, often provocatively dressed or
relatively undressed women everywhere you look. Many of its segments
are funny; it's even occasionally hilarious.
The problem arose in putting all of it together. And with at least five directors and at least ten writers, it's not difficult to see why. The whole is a mess. There is little in the way of overarching plot. Most threads are just completely abandoned after awhile.
The story, which is very loosely based on Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale (published in 1953--it's the first Bond novel), is a spoof of the typical adventure featuring the infamous secret agent. The real Bond (David Niven) went into retirement when his skills were at their peak. This Bond is quite different than the Bond we know--he is almost chaste, he's a homebody, he dedicates each evening's twilight to playing Debussy on the piano, and so on. Casino Royale has it that the Bond we know from other films is a decoy.
A group of older men, representing the secret agencies of the US, the UK, Russia and France, are on their way to the real Bond's home to ask for his assistance. It seems that someone has been trying to wipe out as many secret agents as they can. While they're pitching the idea of coming out of retirement to Bond, they're attacked. Bond's house is blown up, and he (implicitly) agrees to the assignment. Casino Royale is the story of the real Bond trying to get to the bottom of the sinister agent-wipeout plan. Part of carrying that out involves changing the identity of nearly every spy to James Bond--if the real Bond is to work unimpeded, he can't always be worrying about being killed by the criminal mastermind.
Each director worked on a different segment in relative isolation from the rest. This went so far as having their own portions of the script written. The problem was that despite Eon Productions (the production company behind most of the Bond films) not owning the rights to Casino Royale, they had used many of the "bits" in other Bond films. So there wasn't much of the book left to adapt. In addition, it was felt that a serious alternative Bond film couldn't compete against the Albert R. Broccoli/Harry Saltzman-produced films. So Casino Royale producers Jerry Bresler, John Dark and Charles K. Feldman had different writer/director teams create their own, parodic Bond segments that would be loosely tied together--it was almost a filmic version of the "Exquisite Corpse" game, in which you fold a piece of paper so that you can't see other persons' work, and you have to continue the drawing on your section with only a couple visual anchors.
Each segment features a different set of stars--the primary sets centering on Niven, Woody Allen, and Peter Sellers with Ursula Andress and Orson Welles. Those are all great actors, and great comedians in at least two cases. They all do a bit of their own schtick--in some cases, they demanded this. Woody does his neurotic New York Jew character, Peter Sellers rides the gray area between bumbling buffoon and suave playboy, with a couple generic Indian and Chinese impersonations thrown in for good measure, Orson Welles does his best Paul Masson Wine-pitching "elder statesman" demeanor, and also throws in a few of his more famous magic tricks. All of this stuff is good, but does it work as a unified film? No. And if that's not enough evidence for you, consider that the segments were further chopped up into set-pieces. There's the "M", or McTarry funeral stuff, the Niven car chase stuff, the Sellers/Andress romance stuff, and so on. Each set piece ends up being largely independent--you could almost see this as a series of skits on a similar theme. These facts make Casino Royale not quite work. It's certainly no match for a legitimate Bond film, despite the similarity of location-hopping, outrageous villains, spy gadgets and so on.
But, in isolation, the segments tend to be good to excellent. The stretch with Bond visiting the faux M widow is probably the funniest. It also presages the Sir Robin section of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), but bests it in a way, if only because of its extension. The madcap ending of the film is a lot of fun for its embrace of absurdism as a supreme aesthetic disposition--and it may have even influenced some later films. And the segments with the trippiest visuals, both in the climax, are a fantastic treat for any fan of surrealism. They're good enough to watch the film just to see them. The production design is incredible throughout the film. Not just for the surrealism, but the lush Edwardian and Victorian interiors, complete with copies and works in similar styles to unique, influential artists such as Gustav Klimt and Otto Dix.
If we felt like being overly generous, we might be able to argue that the overarching mess of a plot was part of the point. This is a spoof of Bond, after all, and Bond novels and films tend to have sprawling plots--both geographically and narratively. We do travel to many exotic locales, meet many exotic people, doing exotic things, and we receive many plot intricacies and twists in both the typical Bond story and in Casino Royale. However, Bond films aren't quite convoluted or messy enough to deserve this kind of spoofing, so excusing the messiness of the whole to parodic intent seems an over-ambitious stretch.
Casino Royale is worth seeing, particularly if you're a big Bond fan or a big fan of any of the cast, or even if you just like a lot of late 1960s/early 1970s big, madcap comedies. Just don't expect anything like a tight story.
It helps if you're able to live in Kierkegaard's unfolding moment if
you want to enjoy this movie. Or in Fritz Perl's "here and now", to
switch hoaxes in midstream.
It's pointless to compare "Casino Royale" to any of the other "straight" Bond films. There is no "plot" worthy of the name. The five disparate directors saw to that, to the extent that the writers didn't. It's a succession of gags, puns, and visual effects taking place in spectacularly designed settings, spoofs of German expressionism, psychedelic imagery, and all that. Some of the gags miss the mark. A British soldier who has been practicing karate chops on wooden boards comes to a stiff attention when his superior approaches and snaps a quivering Brit-style salute, knocking himself out with his own hand. Ha ha.
Such silliness abounds and at times the movie drags a bit, but there is always another joke around the corner. Orson Welles, with his fat cigar at the card table, performing magic tricks with flags and scarves amid flashing lights while everyone whistles and applauds. Peter Sellers trying on different costumes for Ursula Andress, including one of a gruff old general, "There's nothing wrong with the British Ahmy -- that a damned good swim won't cure."
You really can't look for logic in all of this. Listen to the score and watch the performers squeeze the most possible laughs out of their situations. Too bad the movie loses steam at the end so that what should be a climactic pulling together of all the accumulated lines of narrative and jokes is, instead, just plain silly -- clapping seals, parachuting Indians. Ridiculous, but not funny. Writers who have trouble ending absurd movies like this seem to think that a few minutes of chaotic slapstick will serve. "What's New, Pussycat" had the same problem, with people running frantically from room to room in a hotel, a Feydeau farce without laughs. "Sex and the Single Girl" thrust everybody into vehicles and sent them racing down a California freeway with nothing to say. Just about all of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" was an attempt to substitute destruction and speed for wit.
I saw this movie when it was released and laughed from beginning to end. I don't find it quite so funny now, (I don't find ANYTHING quite so funny anymore) but I watch it when I can. It's an opportunity to live in the unfolding moment.
I can't believe how many people have posted such negative comments about
this film - those who try to compare it with the serious Bond series are as
witless as those who find the plot too complicated for their tiny little
minds. I saw this first when I was about 12 years old, and it seemed clear
enough to me then - there are some baddies, and the goodies have to stop
them. With some gags and lots of style.
OK maybe with maturity I can see it has dated a little, some scenes may drag a bit and a few people may be offended by the sixties outlook on life, but hey whadda you expect from a sixties film? What it boils down to is a series of comic vignettes featuring just about every famous face in the movies at the time, bringing Sellers and Niven together again after the first Pink Panther movie, which practically founded the whole crazy sixties anything-goes genre, of which this is the pinnacle and epitome. Set to some fabulous tunes and on a collection of extraordinary sets, dozens of master mirthmakers perform a loopy little dance around the plot of Fleming's novel (this film actually contains a lot more of the novel it is named after than most of the "proper" Bond series). Some of the faces only feature for a few moments (Peter O'Toole's part is tiny, for one), others, like Sellers, Allen, Niven and Welles, do enough to create truly memorable characters despite the frantic pace of much of the film (I still cannot think of Welles' face without those scary shades). Sellers does his multi-talented thing as usual, Niven plays Bond to a tee as the quintessential unflappable Englishman (his screen persona provided much of the inspiration when Fleming created Bond), and Allen plays his nervy, sexmad little stereotype as well as in any of his own films.
I can see that this will not appeal to some people, but anyone who can lighten up, enjoy a little silliness and appreciate that 60s sense of humour will find this a hilarious jaunt round the spy genre. If you do like it, check the other installments in this classic period for Sellers - What's New Pussycat, After the Fox, the Wrong Box and of course, the awesome Magic Christian. Beats the pants off yer Austin Powers any day of the week.
Eon Production's DR. NO was a great hit in the early 1960s, and Eon
quickly snapped up the rights to the rest of Ian Flemming's novels
about super spy James Bond--except for the CASINO ROYALE, which had
already been purchased earlier by CBS for a 1950s television
adaptation. When the property wound up at Columbia Pictures, they
decided to create the satire to end all satires with a host of writers,
five famous directors, and an all-star cast led by Peter Sellers.
Unfortunately, Sellers' ego reached critical mass during the production
and he was fired mid-way into filming--and suddenly roles that were
originally envisioned as cameos had to be expanded to finish the
project. The result is one of the most bizarre films imaginable.
The story, such as it is, finds James Bond (David Niven) called out of retirement to deal with the sudden disappearance of secret agents all over the world. In order to confuse the unknown enemy, Sir James orders ALL secret agents to use the name James Bond--and before you can blink there are Bonds aplenty running wild all over the globe. Eventually all the Bonds, including (through the magic of editing) Peter Sellers, wind up at Casino Royale, where they confront the evil agents of SMERSH and a diabolical mad man with a plot to rule the world.
The plot is absolute chaos, but that doesn't prevent the film from being a lot of fun to watch. The entire cast runs wild with some marvelous over-the-top performances, and whenever the writers can jam in a gag or a weird plot turn they do precisely that: Bond (Niven) is attacked by decoy ducks; counter-agent Mimi (Deborah Kerr) swings from a drain pipe; Bond's daughter by Mata Hari (Joanna Pettet) is kidnapped by a UFO; double agent Vesper (Ursula Andress) hides bodies in the deep freeze. And that's just for starters.
At one point Niven blows up the locked door of a psychedelically decorated dudgeon with lysergic acid--better know as LSD--and in a way this is indicative of the entire film, which was made at the height of the 1960s ultra-mod movement: the whole thing has the feel of a blow-out acid trip, right down to flashing multicolored lights and swinging 60s fashions. It is visually arresting, to say the least. And then there is that famous Burt Bacharach score, easily one of the best of the decade, sporting Herp Albert on the main theme and Dusty Springfield's legendary performance of "The Look of Love." On the whole, the film is one of the most entertaining hodgepodges of talent and weirdness I've ever encountered, and it never fails to amuse. I've found that viewers tend to have extremely different reactions to this film--they either love it or hate it, so you may want to rent this one first. But it's one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and I recommend it for fans of the unexpectedly odd.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
To watch this movie, one must understand something that many appeared
to have missed. Chiefly, the mish-mashed, ridiculous, over-blown
insanity of it is the entire point. It is this that it aims for, and
this that it achieves. It is not really a story, so much as every
conceivable joke that could be thought of, thrown into an editing
studio and spat out the other end as gold. This movie will challenge
many who cannot break-out of the mold of needing a firm plot and some
commonsense, but in this regard it is much like a comedic version of a
David Lynch film, and I enjoyed Twin Peaks: The Movie even if I still
don't get it.
So watch this for the crackling one-liners, ridiculously pretty women, lurid sets and the most completely unself-conscious approach to making a comedy that I have ever seen. It goes beyond funny, and becomes a matter of being shocked into admiration for the sheer silliness of it all. And the fun of trying to explain it to someone afterwards is immeasurable.
"So then the flying-saucer kidnaps Mata Hari and James Bond's love-child, and then James Bond who's David Niven and James Bond who's Woody Allen face-off, and meanwhile James Bond is being tortured with insane hallucinations and someone has snuck into his delusions with a machine-gun bagpipe and through all this Deborah Kerr was a French Scotswoman!"
Much less a true story than very funny surrealist art. Like Salvidor Dali meets The Pythons, but odder. And lots of great satire and stuff, too. See it. Now. If only to broaden your horizons.
Occasional fun for the 60's lover, but completely incoherent as
entertainment. I should confess that as a young kid I did love the film,
just as I loved _What's new Pussycat_, and when I got a little older I
became a guilty admirer of _The Blues Brothers_ and _1941_. So I am sucker
for the comedy epic/ celebrity ensemble.
However, _Casino_ is simply over the top at being over the top. It seems impossible to create a successful film with 5 directors and 10 writers (not including Ian Fleming, but including Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, Terry Southern and Billy Wilder !!). The story lacks even a real protagonist; Niven and Sellers trade places in that role. When they run out of story, pie fights emerge, or fusillades of bullets, or tremendous explosions.
The film is certainly not without its merits. Like _What's New Pussycat_ they did manage to corral some of the most beautiful women of the time together in the same film. When Andress is not speaking, as in the "Look of Love" sequence or in Seller's "shampoo" dream she's truly breathtaking. Allen is always funny, and Welles does a pretty good turn as le Chiffre. The Bacharach score and Herb Alpert open and closing sequences are memorable.
As a DVD extra, the American dramatic version of _Casino Royale_ (1954) is included on the DVD, which predated Connery by 8 years!!
What a mess of the royal proportions - such a great cast (Peter
Sellers, David Niven, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress,
Deborah Kerr, and Jean-Paul Belmondo), the James Bond's story, plenty
of beautiful (and I mean it) girls, the music by Burt Bacharach, most
famous sets - but the movie is almost totally unwatchable. It started
funny enough - at Sir James Bond's (David Niven) home where he was
approached by four international agents that forced him to come out of
retirement and head up the operation against the evil organization
SMERSH. His mission is to destroy Topple LeChiffre (Orson Welles} at
the baccarat tables where he never loses and wins a lot of money to
supply SMERSH. Then, the movie becomes silly, stupid, pointless, and
(what is the worst) not funny. Only Woody Allen, (as Bond's incompetent
nephew, Jimmy Bond) brilliant as usual has appeared in two scenes and
made them silly and hilarious. I think that "Casino Royale" (the way it
was made) illustrates the fact that bigger is not always better -
overlong and overblown, written and directed by five or more writers
and directors, it brings to mind an old saying, "Too many cooks spoil
OT: the abbreviation SMERSH really existed during the WWII. It means "Death to the Spies" in Russian.
With the baccarat winnings of Le Chiffre giving them access to a new
funding stream, SMERSH is on the rise and only one man can stop them
James Bond. But not THAT James Bond, he is only a mere playboy with
gadgets, the real Bond retired years ago but now finds himself
approached to come out of retirement to counter the new threat. With
his pure lifestyle and impeccable reputation, SMERSH send an array of
lovely ladies after him to sully his image or, if that fails, kill him.
Things get more confusing as many other agents (also called James Bond)
With only the number of uncredited writers outweighing the number of directors, this film screams 'mishmash' and indeed, it transpires, that that's exactly what it is a silly mess which amazingly manages to be less than the sum of its parts. To waste any time here discussing the plot would be to give the film credit that it simply doesn't deserve the makers owned the rights to the actual novel and could have made a 'real' film but instead the outcome is a film that is more like a load of poorly conceived individual scenes. Some of these have funny moments but generally they are silly beyond being funny and are just daft for the sake of it. The design, 'humour', directing and script is all very 1960's and I do not mean this as a compliment in this case.
The cast list makes this film even more annoying some of the funniest men alive are in this film but yet they are given nothing to work with whatsoever. Niven is amusing at times but he does no more than play his usual personae. Sellers is a comic legend but this film has him doing a bad Bond spoof and he struggles even when allowed to ad lib. Allen is an unusual find here and in fairness he is actually funny because he brings his stand up routine to the role and seems to just be having a laugh as he goes.
Even to waste these three actors is a crime, but when you consider that the film also has Orson Welles, Ursula Andrews, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, John Huston, George Raft, Jacqueline Bisset, Derek Nimmo, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Cribbins, Peter O'Toole, Stirling Moss, David Prowse, Burt Kwouk, John Le Mesurier and a few others then you have to wonder how so many people were fooled into appearing in this. I can only imagine how good it seemed at the development stage ('Bond but with laughs') but I doubt if any of those involved are actually proud to have this on their cv.
Overall this is a pretty awful film but I suppose you may get a few laughs out of it if you can buy into the silly tone but I'm afraid I wasn't even able to get close to the mind state needed to enjoy this. The laughs come occasionally but they are too rare and the plot and actual script are not big and not clever. The end product a silly, self-indulgent mess of a film that is actually very hard to work though and not worth the handful of laughs that you might actually have.
I highly recommend this film to anyone who is an aficionado of psychedelic or 1960's film/music/art. This was the most expensive psychedelic project of the entire era to my knowledge, in any format. The sets alone make the the feature worth seeing. Having a keen familiarity with the era and culture may not be enough to prepare one for appreciating this standout curiosity. One must also be widely versed in James Bond, novels and all, to understand much of the humor. That humor is set against an invisible backdrop of the unprecedented popularity of James Bond at the time. A degree of comfort with all things psychedelic is yet another requirement to fully digest this cinematic delight. Please note that this was a very "in" movie, to coin a phrase from the era, which also explains why "Casino Royale ('67)" receives unfavorable reviews. As this lavish production was targeted for the "in" crowd of that bygone era, it is only slightly more alien to the general public today. If you are "in", this high water mark of the era is an experience not to be missed.
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