Thursday, July 16, 2009

Casino Royale (1967, a bunch of directors)

When most folks hear the name Casino Royale they instantly think of the 2nd to last Bond film starring Daniel Craig as Bond (in his debut performance in the role). The fact Casino Royale was finally made into an "official" Bond film so long after the series debuted in 1962 is a funny story. Casino Royale was the first James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming way back in 1953 and unbeknownst to most, it was made into an American TV movie the following year, starring Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond (an American secret agent) and Peter Lorre as the evil Le Chiffre. When the Bond film series started up in the 60's, they didn't have the rights to Casino Royale so it was never made. But then, at the height of Bond-mania, the owners of the rights decided to cash in on this phenomena and make a film of Casino Royale. Though instead of making a straight forward action film like the rest of the series, they decided to make a spoof of the series featuring the top comedic actors of the time. Being the huge James Bond fan that I was, I stumbled upon Casino Royale browsing through my local video store. I had a book detailing all of the official Bond films, but it left out Casino Royale (and the other unofficial Bond film, Never Say Never Again) so I never even knew it existed. Anyway, I rented it expecting a great 60s Bond films (as the others were) but was very disappointed. I hated it so much and though I have seen the other films in the series all multiple times over the years (at least up through Goldeneye), I didn't revisit Casino Royale until a few years ago.

Casino Royale follows a retired James Bond (David Niven) returning to the secret service after the death of his boss "M" (John Huston). He decides to recruit a whole group of secret agents and have them all go by the name James Bond 007 to throw off their enemies. The main enemy of which is SMERSH and Le Chiffre (Orson Welles), a card player (and magician!?!) who is being funded by SMERSH. One of the new James Bonds, a card expert named Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) is brought in by fellow agent Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) to win against Le Chiffre. It is also discovered that a greater evil is out there in the form of James Bond's dorky nephew Jimmy (Woody Allen), who has a plot cooked up of his own.

Casino Royale is definitely not for everyone, especially fans of the more serious Bond films. It is true that the film is silly and not what you would expect, but it is still a brilliant film. What I love most about this film is the feel and the atmosphere. Never have I seen a film so "sixties" as Casino Royale. The set designs, sixties British humor a la The Pink Panther series (which also features Peter Sellers and David Niven) and the hallucinogenic camera work are all just perfect. Normally when a film is as dated as this it becomes distracting, but in the case of Casino Royale, that is what is so great about it. Watching this film almost transports you into that time like few other films can. The cast is all brilliant and the scenes with Woody Allen and Peter Sellers are particularly are hilarious. There are some great action scenes too to appeal to the average Bond fan and some of the most beautiful Bond girls as well. Ursula Andress (who was also in the first Bond film Dr. No) is probably the single most beautiful Bond girl out of the entire series. Barbara Bouchet as Moneypenny and Joanna Pettet as Mata Bond (the illegitimate daughter of James Bond and famous spy Mata Hari) aren't far behind. David Niven plays a great aging, debonair Bond and apparently was Ian Fleming's original choice for Bond. Overall this film is brilliant and easily the best of the 60's spy spoofs I have seen. There is so much going on in this film (there were 5 directors each directing different scenes) that it may take a few watches to absorb it all, but it is well worth it.


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