I've been a film buff since childhood, and I love writing about and reviewing my favorites.
Casino Royale (1967)
Produced by Charles K. Feldman
Starring: Woody Allen, David Niven, Orson Welles, Barbara Bouchet, Jacqueline Bissett
Directed by ... LOTS of people!
About ten years years ago I decided to re-visit the James Bond film series in chronological order. I already owned a good portion of the series on DVD at that time, but I utilized my local public library to provide the ones I was missing.
When I reserved the library's copy of Casino Royale, I thought that I would be receiving the 2006 film starring Daniel Craig, not the "unofficial" parody from 1967...but that's what I got. I was slightly annoyed at first, but I figured I might as well give the '67 "Casino" a look as I've read and heard much about it but had never seen it. What transpired was one of the strangest film-viewing experiences I've had in many a moon. I seriously think sitting through this two hour, ten minute monstrosity hurt my brain!
The 1967 Casino Royale is a very odd film, produced under a very odd set of circumstances. When producers Harry Salzman and Albert Broccoli's Eon Productions purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in the late 1950s, the only title that wasn't available was 1953's "Casino Royale," because it had already been sold to American producer Charles K. Feldman. He had "Americanized" the story and turned it into a 1954 episode of the TV action/adventure series Climax! starring Barry Nelson as a U.S. agent who went by the name "Jimmy Bond." Several years later, of course, Eon's "official" series of Bond films starring Sean Connery became a global box office phenomenon... and Feldman saw an opportunity to cash in on his suddenly-very-valuable property.
Apparently, Feldman originally wanted to produce Casino Royale as a "straight" Bond film, even approaching Sean Connery to star in it as 007. Legend has it that Connery demanded a $1 million salary, which was an astronomical sum of money for the mid 1960s. Feldman realized that even if he'd been successful in hiring Connery away, he likely would've faced legal challenges from Eon Productions. Theerefore, rather than take that risk, Feldman made the decision to turn Casino Royale into a screwball comedy similar to one of his previous hits - 1965's What's New Pussycat? - that would spoof the Bond series and the spy movie craze in general. He spared no expense to bring this idea to fruition, hiring an all star cast that including Peter Sellers, David Niven, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, and Orson Welles.
By the time Casino Royale finished shooting, it had gone through numerous script re-writes, at least five directors, massive cost overruns, and the defection of Sellers midway through filming. When the movie hit cinemas in 1967, it was a loud, indulgent, confused mess, but it made no difference at the box office -- James Bond-Mania was in full swing at the time, so the picture still became a modest hit. To this day, Casino Royale maintains a cult audience among Bond fans and aficionados of weird cinema.
The best way to describe this film might be to imagine if the producers of the 1960s Batman TV series teamed up with the writers of Laugh-In and the members of Monty Python to produce a satire of the James Bond series...but they forgot to make it funny. That's Casino Royale in a nutshell.
The story (and I use that term loosely) chugs along in fits and starts, plot holes abound, characters appear and disappear at random, and though everyone seems to be having fun onscreen, the audience is likely to scratch their heads and say "What the hell is going on?"
As the film opens, the now-retired "original" James Bond (David Niven) is approached at his palatial estate by his former boss "M" and representatives from the Russian, French, and American intelligence agencies. They beg Bond to return to duty to help battle the evil organization SMERSH, whose operatives have been killing spies all over the globe. When a mortar shell suddenly destroys his house and kills M, Bond has no choice but to take over his former superior's position as the head of the British Secret Service.
Bond's first act as the head of MI6 is to re-name all active agents - male and female - "James Bond 007," so that SMERSH will be so confused by all the "James Bonds" running around that they won't know which is the "real" 007.
This group of "new" Bonds includes Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers), a world class Baccarat player; tough guy Coop (Terence Cooper), who has been specially trained to resist the charms of women; millionairess Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress); and Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), 007's illegitimate daughter with the legendary spy Mata Hari. The good guys learn that SMERSH's financial wizard "Le Chiffre" (Orson Welles) will be playing a high stakes game of Baccarat at the famed Casino Royale to replenish the funds he's embezzled from the organization. Evelyn/Bond (Sellers) is sent to play against him, with orders to make sure he loses by any means necessary. Eventually the team learns that Le Chiffre is not the only threat, and that SMERSH's head man - the mysterious "Dr. Noah" - has nefarious plans of his own.
If that plot sounds random, it is... and mind you, I've left out the parts about the deadly, remote-controlled duck decoys that attack Niven at M's funeral, the art auction at an East German spy school, the flying saucer that kidnaps Mata Bond in the middle of London's Trafalgar Square, and a finale that takes place in both Heaven and Hell...all set to a swingin' '60s soundtrack by cocktail music demigod Burt Bacharach! Throw-away gags are shoehorned in wherever they'll fit (I'm still trying to figure out why there's a pair of sea lions wearing "007" medallions in the casino scenes), some of which work, but most do not. The film is lushly photographed, the women are gorgeous, and Woody Allen and Peter Sellers each have some good moments on screen that produce a few chuckles. Unfortunately, unless one of them is on screen, the film practically slows to a crawl. As a long time Bond fan, this "parody" only gave me a headache. If I'm in the mood for a spy spoof, I'll take Mike Myers' Austin Powers series (which were very obviously influenced by this Casino Royale) any day.
The Swingin' Main Title Theme
Casino Royale might have been funnier if I'd seen it in 1967 while trippin' on mushrooms, but it certainly hasn't aged well at all. Fans of the "official" Bond series might want to give it a look out of curiosity, but if Casino Royale didn't have the 007 connection, it probably would've been forgotten long ago. I am amazed that so much money was spent on this many gifted performers so they could all be unfunny in the same film.
Now I have to re-visit the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale, and hope that it will erase the memories of this turkey from my brain!
© 2012 Keith Abt
Jason Mackenzie from Perth WA 6000 on March 05, 2017:
I regard this as being the best among all of Daniel Craig's Bond movies. And his chemistry with Eva Green was superb!!
Robert Sacchi on November 01, 2015:
Yes, the 1967 Casino Royale was a mess. The movie does serve as an example of the mess that was the late 60's. Your question about what the filmmakers were on when they were making this movie is a good one. Tip one when getting a CD, check to see the cast or the copywright date. Anyone who is curious about this movie should be in the mood to see a movie that makes no sense.
Tim from Netherlands on September 04, 2015:
yeah really nice review, thanks for that
Okwuagbala Uzochukwu Mike P from Anambra State, Nigeria on March 17, 2015:
What a nice film review. Keep on flying high in publication.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 17, 2015:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 22, 2014:
Yeah, it was pretty painful, wasn't it Geekdom?
Geekdom on October 22, 2014:
I had such high hopes for this film before I watched it
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 21, 2014:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on February 07, 2014:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 29, 2013:
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 22, 2012:
Thanx for stoppin' by Rob. I've heard the same stories about Welles and Sellers not getting along. I've even read that Sellers was P.O.'d because at first he was led to believe that he was going to be in a "straight" Bond film ... then wasn't very happy when he realized what he'd signed up for. Haha
Rob from Oviedo, FL on March 22, 2012:
This film was a perfect example of a missed opportunity. Two misses opportunities, in fact. They had a chance to make a straight adaptation of "Casino Royale" and chose not to; then they tried to make a parody and screwed it up till it wasn't funny, despite having a great cast. Talk about a major misfire. there are no big laughs here at all. I got a grin out of Woody Allen's firing squad scene, but other than that...nothing!
I've heard that Peter Sellers and Orsen Welles hated each other. Apparently, Sellers didn't like the royal treatment and boot-licking people were doing when Orsen Welles showed up on set, which caused Sellers to be deliberately rude to Welles, and Welles was too much of a Diva himself to put up with it. I've read that they had to film their card playing scenes separately and edit it together to look like they were playing together but they weren't on the set at the same time.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 20, 2012:
I salute your bravery, Manny, but I don't think anything could make this movie "more groovy." Never before have I seen so much talent going to waste in the same film!!
manny on March 20, 2012:
I am almost curious to see this film considering it has film greats Peter Sellers and Orson Welles, if I do watch it, I will fire up my lava lap, sit on some shag carpeting and drop some LSD, might make the movie a bit more groovy