Casino Royale (1967)

Directors: John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath
Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Daliah Lavi, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Joanna Pettet
Music: Burt Bacarach
Title song by Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass
Song, ‘Look of Love’, sung by Dusty Springfield
Inspired by the novel by Ian Fleming

“Casino Royale is either going to be a classic bit of fun or the biggest f*ck up since the Flood. I think probably the later.”

David Niven – ‘The Moon’s A Balloon’

Please do not confuse this version of Casino Royale with the 2006 version starring Daniel Craig. There was also an episode of Climax Theatre based on Casino Royale. It was made in 1954, and starred Barry Nelson as ‘Card Sense’ Jimmy Bond. This is the 1967 version, which is one of the worst examples of sixties excess and indulgence. The story of this production is an oft told one and I’ll leave it to the experts to elaborate (For those interested, may I suggest that you track down a copy of the book ‘Martinis, Girls And Guns’ by Martin Sterling and Gary Morecambe. It is a well researched overview of the series from Dr. No to The World Is Not Enough and fleshes out many of the production dramas that have happened throughout the series). The simple points are: this is not an official entry in the Bond series, and it is a comedy.

Where do you start when reviewing this film? I could do a synopsis of the plot, but there is not much point really – the film is all over the place – probably the result of having multiple directors. I could outline the characters, but each character gets renamed James Bond, so that would be confusing. Then what has the film got going for it? The cast, maybe. Although most of them probably cross Casino Royale off their resumés when looking for other work.

• David Niven plays Sir James Bond, a retired secret agent who is called back into service, when ‘M’, the head of M.I.6 is killed. At the start, Sir James stutters and as the film progresses, he becomes more youthful, and loses his speech impediment – I am not sure why?. The film also intimates that Niven is the real ‘James Bond’, and upon retirement, his name and number (007) were passed on to keep the legend alive. Sir James is not pleased about his successor’s womanising – most probably a dig at ‘Connery Bond’. I am not making any groundbreaking comments when I say Niven made a lot of shit. This is one of his greater follies.

• Then we have Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, who is one of the many characters who is renamed ‘James Bond’ in this film. It’s a ploy designed to confuse the enemy. It’s so effective, it confuses the viewing audience as well. As with Niven, it is no secret that Sellers made a lot of shit. Apparently Sellers was going through a prima-donna phase when he made this movie and refused to work with Orson Welles. Their scenes were shot separately.

• As mentioned above, next we have Orson Welles. He comes off relatively unscathed, as his role is essentially a cameo. One wonders what he could have done with the character of Le Chiffre if the film had been played straight.

• Ursula Andress pops up in the film. Revered as the first Bond girl, from Dr. No, it’s a shame to see her in this trash. She looks great though. She plays Vesper Lynd (also renamed James Bond).

• Then we have Daliah Lavi. I am a big fan of Miss Lavi, who appeared in a swag of spy films in the sixties – The Spy With A Cold Nose, Some Girls Do, The High Commissioner, and The Silencers to name a few – but here she is reduced to just another ‘James Bond’ in this massive ensemble cast.

• Deborah Kerr plays Agent Mimi, who also happens to be M’s wife, Lady Fiona McTarry. Apparently she is an agent for SMERSH…but I am not really sure. She gets to put on a Scottish accent and be silly.

• Joanna Pettet plays Mata Bond. If you haven’t all ready guessed she is the offspring from Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

• And after all that, we have Woody Allen. Woody is Jimmy Bond, Sir James Bond’s nephew. Jimmy is so scared of his famous uncle, he is rendered speechless whenever he is in his presence.

What else can I tell you? The film has everything thrown at it: cowboys, indians, the French Foreign Legion (represented by Jean Paul Belmondo), American Gangsters (well, George Raft standing by the bar tossing a coin), and even Frankenstein’s monster. Despite all this, it just isn’t funny and isn’t that the point of comedy, to raise a laugh?

SPOILER AHEAD: At the end of the film, all of the major characters die. It is supposed to be funny, but it really is a final insult by this truly awful film. I know the Bond fans who have not seen this film will be strangely drawn to it, but don’t do it. It is not a Bond film, and really, it would be better if it were just forgotten.

This review is based on the MGM/UA Australia DVD.

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