By 1967, Bondmania had reached -- and, perhaps, gone past -- its peak. Thunderball had been a massive success, and in an attempt to grab some of that cash that was evidently lying around at the bottom of Bond fans' pockets, Columbia decide to launch a second series of Bond films. They owned the film rights to the original Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royale, and put an adaptation of it into production.
Somehow, it all ended up as a bizarre comedy somewhat in the style of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
For obvious reasons, this version of Casino Royale is not considered to be part of the actual James Bond series, but many Bond purists object to the notion of it being considered a James Bond film in ANY way. My view of that is simple: it was an adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel, produced by people who had EVERY legal right to do so. It IS a James Bond film; how the film turned out, tonally and in terms of its content, is irrelevant to that fact. And after all, it is arguably a stricter adaptation of its source material than is, say, The Spy Who Loved Me, and you don't see anyone trying to claim that that film shouldn't be counted as a Bond movie.
So, for the purposes of this blog, yes, the '67 Casino Royale counts.
But what does it count for?
Read on and find out.
(1) Bond ... James Bond
It's been entirely too long since my last post here -- half a year has gone by, in fact, which is an embarrassingly long hiatus -- but perhaps you recall that what I'm doing is assessing the Bond films by scoring them in what I've determined are key categories. Is this the best way to judge -- and, ultimately, rank -- the Bod films? I don't know. I'll get back to you on that once I'm finished.
Either way, as long as I'm following the system I set in place, it means I've got to ... well, follow it. I mention this as a way of pointing out a fact about Casino Royale '67: in order to figure out what grade I want to give in the "Bond ... James Bond" category, I've got to first figure out which of the characters I want to count as actually being James Bond. If Wikipedia and my memory are not failing me, there are seven characters who are given the designation "James Bond" during the course of this movie. So ... am I counting all of them?
Ultimately, I've decided that that would be ridiculous. It's probably ridiculous to worry about being ridiculous in talking about this movie (which is UTTERLY ridiculous), but there you have it.
So, for the purposes of this particular blog entry, "James Bond" is being defined as the character played by David Niven.
|Barbara Bouchet and David Niven in "Casino Royale" (1967)|
It's difficult to figure out exactly what to say about that character. He's patently almost nothing like what we think of as "James Bond," and while that seems to be part of the satire this film is trying for, it makes a bit difficult to figure out what score to give Niven's Bond. I think the only solution is to grade him based on what I think the filmmakers were going for: an anti-Bond, a prototypical superspy whose name has been sullied and perverted by the crasser, less dignified spies who have appeared in his wake.
Leaving aside how odd an idea that is, does it work? I don't think it does. Niven gives it his all: he is funny at time, and charming at times, and befuddled at times, and in all of those individual moments, he is doing good work. However, none of it adds up. On the one hand, Niven's Bond is the type of fearless character who keeps what appears to be an entire pride of pet lions just lazing freely about his estate, and on the other hand, he stutters like mad around women. Yes, I get it: that's the joke. It's not funny, though.
That's not to say there aren't occasional humorous moments that involve the character. There's a comment early on about how part of his daily regimen is to let down his intestines and wash them by hand. That's insane on a level that I can appreciate.
All in all, I've got to give Niven credit for trying, but I don't have to go overboard in doing so. Points awarded: 002/007
Main Villain: I suppose it should hardly be a surprise that in a comedy, the villain should end up being a punchline. So here, our main villain is none other than Woody Allen, playing Dr. Noah, aka Jimmy Bond, the nephew of David Niven's character. Jimmy is mad at his uncle, I think, or is trying to engineer a plot to make himself the tallest man in a world full of beautiful women. Obviously, this is a silly idea, but of all of the ideas in the movie, this is one of the ones that comes the closest to working. These scenes feel like near-direct antecedents of the Austin Powers films, which, depending on how you feel about those uneven satires, is either a good thing or a really bad one.
Allen is really quite funny in the movie, and his performance here is probably one of his best in terms of slapstick comedy. There is a scene with a firing squad which I think still works extremely well, and Allen also gets a few solid laughs later when he's lusting after Daliah Lavi. (Hard to blame him for that, really.) This is semi-inspired work, and given how bad a movie it is overall, that's worth celebrating a bit. But only a bit. Points awarded (Main Villain): 004/007
Henchmen: What madman had the idea to cast Orson Welles as Le Chiffre? Welles, like Niven (though in a much smaller role), gives it his best shot, and does credible comic work playing things mostly seriously. It's hard not to feel sorry for the man, though, who once directed Citizen Kane but by 1967 was stuck in a piece of crap like this one.
Also appearing: Vladek Sheybal, who played Kronsteen in From Russia With Love. It's a mildly amusing appearance at best. Points awarded (Henchmen): 001/007
Total points awarded (SPECTRE): 002.5/007
(3) The Bond Girls
Main Bond Girl: I suppose that you have to consider Vesper Lynd to be the "Bond girl" of this particular movie, and so it is that Ursula Andress becomes the first actress to appear in this category twice. (Maud Adams was a Bond girl in two later 007 films, but only the lead in one of them.)
Andress, of course, is devastatingly beautiful in Casino Royale, and as an exciting bonus, we even get to hear her voice (she was dubbed in Dr. No)! Her scenes with Peter Sellers are amongst the best in the film, and it's amusing to see her self-consciously playing the role of "Bond girl" against Sellers as he plays a very un-Bondian character who is trying SO hard to be like Bond. That's what the whole film was going for, I think, and in some of these scenes, it actually gets close to achieving it. For that, points awarded (Main Bond Girl): 003/007
Secondary Bond Girls: Well, there certainly are a lot of them, and while I think I promised at some point that this category wouldn't be judged on the sweetness of the eye-candy alone, it's difficult not to do so with this movie, because that's front and center in the movie's intentions. In some cases, it's also trying to show how ridiculous the idea of a "Bond girl" is, but most of that satire fails to hit home in any way.
|Joanna Pettet as Mata Bond|
Joanna Pettet plays Mata Bond, the daughter of James Bond and Mata Hari. That's a moderately silly idea, and Mata Bond's introductory scene -- an Old Hollywood-style dance number -- is even sillier. Pettet does her best, though, and is lovely.
|Daliah Lavi, captured by Dr. Noah|
Daliah Lavi plays a British agent. She's really quite hot, and has a funny scene with Woody Allen.
Deborah Kerr plays another British agent, one who was apparently married to M. Kerr plays her comic scenes for all they've worth ... which isn't much, sadly, but don't blame her.
Barbara Bouchet plays Moneypenny. She's delectable. Bouchet was also in "By Any Other Name," a fine episode of the original Star Trek, playing an alien. Because it amuses me to do so, I'll post a screencap of that:
|Star Trek: By Any Other Name (season 2, episode 22) -- Warren Stephens and Barbara Bouchet|
It seems like Bouchet ought to have had a better career, but she's hardly the only actor you can say THAT about.
|"Jacky" Bisset as Miss Goodthighs|
Jacky Bisset -- better known as Jacqueline Bisset -- plays Giovanna Goodthighs. Was the name Ivana Schtupya taken?!?
All of these are lovely ladies, and all of them have good moments to play. Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls): 004/007
Total Points Awarded (Bond Girls): 003.5/007
(4) "Oh, James..."
Action/Stunts: There is very little to speak of in the way of action and stunts, excepting the big casino fight at the end of the movie. Since the film is a spoof, it probably ought not to be judged too harshly ... but I'll do it anyways. The casino fight is utterly ridiculous (it adopts a kitchen-sink mentality and tosses in donkeys, chimps, seals, a flying/exploding roulette wheel, parachuting Indians, golden girls, Keystone Kops, etc.), and while the ridiculousness of it gets a couple of chuckles, it also completely fails as both satire and spoof. It is so far removed from what it is spoofing that even the next legit 007 movie, You Only Live Twice (which has a big ridiculous action scene at the end) looks sedate by comparison. This isn't comedy; it's just silly. Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 000/007.
Editing: The editing is abysmal. At one point, Peter Sellers gets into a racecar, ostensibly for a chase scene, and then, seconds later, is Le Chiffre's captive. This may have been due to Sellers leaving the film prior to filming all of his scenes. That explains the editing; it doesn't excuse it. This is an incomprehensible film. Points awarded (Editing): 000/007.
Costumes/Makeup: I've got nothing bad to say about the costumes or the makeup in this movie. Many of the costumes are gorgeous, especially (almost) everything worn by Ursula Andress. My only complaints would be that there's nothing iconic in the movie, and that it doesn't have any real unified aesthetic. Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 004/007
Locations: James Bond goes to Scotland and stands in a field at one point. Otherwise, there are no locations to speak of. Points awarded (Locations): 000/007
Total points awarded ("Oh, James..."): 001/007
(5) Q Branch
Bond's Allies: Just as it is littered with Bond girls, this film is also littered with supporting characters, most of whom I'm going to just lump into this category. Some of them, technically, don't qualify as Bond's allies, but frankly, I'm tired of pretending to be interested in this movie. So let's just move things along, shall we?
Here's Peter Sellers playing Evelyn Tremble, a gambling expert who is recruited to pose as James Bond. Sellers is quite good here, which should be a surprise to nobody. He famously abandoned the production before all of his scenes were filmed, though, so he shares no small portion of the blame for how poorly the movie turned out overall.
William Holden plays Ransome, the CIA man. He has virtually nothing of note to do, but he's William Holden, and William Holden is always cool.
John Huston plays M in the first scene of the film. He gets killed in an explosion, and I'm sure Huston was glad his end came quickly.
Terence Cooper plays a character called, um, Cooper. The real Cooper never managed to make much of a career for himself in the movies, which seems a bit of a shame, as he's got the right looks and seems fairly charming on-screen. Apparently, he was up for the role of the actual Bond at some point, presumably when George Lazenby won the role.
|Terence Cooper with David Niven|
None of these fellows makes much of an impact. Points awarded (Bond's Allies): 002/007
Direction: The movie was directed by a grand total of six people (Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, and Richard Talmadge), and it shows. There are occasional decent scenes -- such as the ones between Sellers and Andress -- but overall, the movie is just a jumbled, incoherent mess. Points awarded (Direction): 000/007.
Cinematography: Filmed by Jack Hildyard, the movie is fairly undistinguished visually. I'll say this for Hildyard's work, though: it's consistent, and in this movie, that feels like a major achievement. Points awarded (Cinematography): 003/007
Art Direction: Of all the film's elements save one (we'll get to that later), the art direction is probably the most successful. There are numerous lovely sets, including Vesper's flat and Mata's palace. There is also a TON of beautiful throwaway design that gets very little attention (such as the all-red coderoom within the spy school).
Points awarded (Art Direction): 005/007
Special Effects: There is a UFO toward the end of the movie that is scarcely more successful than something one might have seen on Doctor Who during this era.
|a UFO in London|
Points awarded (Special Effects): 000/007
Gadgets: There is a remotely-controlled dairy truck, and a robot, and that's about it. You'd have thought the movie would've made more hay out of lampooning the gadgets, but gosh does it not. Points awarded (Gadgets): 000/007
Opening Title Sequence: Consisting of big, gaudy letters, within which scenes from the film appear, the opening titles are striking in a highly '60s kind of way, especially with the awesome Burt Bacharach music accompanying them.
However, they don't work as spoof in really any way (more on which momentarily); Spy Hard, a terrible movie, got that right decades later. Points awarded (Opening Credits): 002/007
Total points awarded (Q Branch): 001.71/007
(6) Mission Briefing
This was a troubled production, famously so. However, its worst problem was one which could -- and should -- have been avoided: the screenplay is utter shit. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of a spoof of James Bond movies: in the late '90s, Austin Powers was able to mine some gold out of them there hills, and in some ways those three movies -- uneven though they are, individually and as a collective -- fulfill the promise of Charles Feldman's Casino Royale.
"Written" by Wolf Mankowitz, amongst many other contributors, there is no unifying theme here. It simply doesn't work, almost as if there was no ability to discard scenes; once they were written, they were sent straight to be filmed, with no callbacks or revision possible. This was not actually the case -- probably -- but feels as if it was. How else to explain weirdo elements like the extended sojourn to Scotland, or the bizarre fashion show Tremble puts on for Vesper, or Le Chiffre's magic tricks? Sure, there are occasional jokes that land successfully (I'm quite amused by "tactic 33A," which apparently involves walking briskly so as to confuse one's captors, then falling down and allowing them to trip over you), but for every one that does, a dozen more fall flat on their face. For fuck's sake, Frankenstein's monster shows up at one point with no explanation whatsoever. And if THAT -- the lack of explanation -- was the joke, it might've worked, but it wasn't, and it didn't.
A final note: the writers here introduced the idea that James Bond was not James Bond at all, but was actually "James Bond," a code-name given to agents who assumed the "Bond" title along with their jobs. It's not all that uncommon nowadays to find hipsters who posit the notion that that's what is going on in the Bond series overall: in other words, Roger Moore is playing a different agent altogether, one who assumed the name/title of "James Bond" when he was brought into HMSS. This is a patently ridiculous notion, one that ignores ample evidence within the films themselves that directly disproves the idea. It's fitting that the idea seems to have come from an utter failure of a comedy.
Points awarded (Mission Briefing): 000/007
(7) The Music
Title Song: Technically speaking, there is no title song, so I'm going to do what I did in the same situation for Dr. No (and will do again for On Her Majesty's Secret Service): I'm going to focus on a song that is used prominently within the movie itself. Here, we're talking about "The Look of Love," which has gone on to become a genuine classic. Dusty Springfield sings it with breathy passion, and the scene in which it appears -- Evelyn Tremble's entrance into Vesper Lynd's flat -- is maybe the best in the movie, a beautiful slow-motion sequence that is ostensibly spoofing the "romance" (let's call it fauxmance) of Bond films, but actually ends up being quite romantic. This is one of the best songs ever written for a Bond film, and is one of the most successful elements of the film. Points awarded (Title Song): 007/007
The Score: As much as I love "The Look of Love," I love the rest of Burt Bacharach's music for the movie just as much. It's goofy, but also insanely peppy, bizarrely sweet, and fun in a way that the rest of the movie just can't match. How Bacharach managed to craft something that feels so unified from a movie that is so disjointed is a mystery to me, but he did it. In part, I'd imagine it's because he did not in any way attempt to parody John Barry's Bond scores; there's no heroic theme, there's no overt attempt at being cool and stylish, there's just Bacharach (along with Heb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass) having fun. Everyone else in the movie was obviously trying to tell a joke about James Bond, but with no idea how to go about doing it; Bacharach seems to have ignored that and just written a comic symphony of sorts.
It's a terrible movie, but Bacharach's contributions to it are proving to be timeless classics. Points awarded (The Score): 005/007, and it would be higher if it played as well in the film as it does on its own.
Total points awarded (The Music): 006/007.
Double-0 Rating for Casino Royale: 002.38/007
We have a new dweller in the cellar, and it was obviously ONLY the excellent scores I gave the Burt Bacharach music that kept this flick from plummeting even further downward; but since I do unreservedly love that music, maybe that's appropriate.
Here are all of the scores so far:
006.37 -- Thunderball
006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
004.76 -- Dr. No
002.55 -- Climax!: Casino Royale
002.38 -- Casino Royale 
You Only Blog Twice will return (more quickly this time!) in ... You Only Live Twice.