Thursday, December 07, 2006

Casino Royale (1967)

Now this really is a funny egg. I was curious to see what a 1960's comedy version of James Bond could offer, and to be honest, after watching it, I'm really not sure... inspiration to Mike Myers perhaps? If you're looking for either a good James Bond movie, or a good comedy though, I'd have to say you're not likely to find either in this version of Casino Royale.

The 1967 version features David Niven as a prissy aristocratic Bond caricature, a really very large Orson Welles as the original 'le Chiffre', and Peter Sellers as one of a number of Bond impersonators... Woody Allen even turns up as Jimmy Bond, James's american nephew, and John Huston plays a Scottish M, replete with novelty comedy accent dyed ginger hair, and a surname of McTarry... at this point, Ricky Gervais might claim someone was having a laugh.

But that's kind of the point with this one. It looks like the film-makers really enjoyed themselves making this. David Niven is a class act, and he does well with the odd version of Bond that the numerous scriptwriters and no less than five directors concocted in this truly bizarre Bond parody. Casino Royale starts as a farce, and eventually degenerates into a python-esque slapstick finale that resembles a cross between Blazing Saddles and Austin Powers. This finale sequence goes over the top and then further again, I'm not sure if it was the red indian dance sequence of the monkey in the wig blowing bubbles that pushed it over the edge into the surreal for me...

The spirit of this movie is warm-hearted, and there is a lot of budget on display on screen. And it must be said, it has its moments.. Nicholas Roeg, of 'Don't Look Now' notoriety, cut his teeth as a filmographer on this one, and I'm not sure which scenes bear his hallmarks, but the scene where Niven's Bond is introduced to his daughter is a viaually stunning dance sequence that even briefly evoked memories of 'House of Flying Daggers'. In addition, there are certain sequences in Doctor Noah's lair where the cast are subjected to a sequence of rooms resembling optical illusions, and these are very nicely done. Also, Orson Welles! Well, he's his usual charismatic self here, but a little too larger than life unfortunately. He was already deep into Marlon Brando territory as far as his size by the time this movie was made. Even still, his card game with Peter Sellers in the Casino of the title is quite a good sequence.

Unfortunately, despite the warm heart of this movie, it's really quite confusing in parts, possibly due to the large number of directors involved (five in total). I'm currently in college, working quite a lot on group projects, and this movie smacks of a collaborative effort that was broken into pieces at the outset, and then hastily assembled together in an attempt to derive a narrative thread... to be honest, the plot is largely irrelevant to this movie. It's a spoof, and is probably in the same genre as Airplane, Blazing Saddles or Austin Powers, all of which are far better than this.

The problem is, despite cameos from Peter O'Toole and Jean-Paul Belmondo, even Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress and Orson Welles can't save this. There simply arent enough jokes, the soundtrack is camp and annoying (Burt Bacharach, who also did the Austin Powers soundtrack) and the plot just doesn't make sense. Honestly, unless you're a Bond completionist (I'm shifting embarassingly in my seat as I type this..) or someone who watches a lot of movies and has time to kill (ahem..) you won't get much from the 1967 version of Casino Royale.

The verdict: a curiosity, nothing more. Movie buffs may enjoy, most people wont.
The rating: 5/10


Dave said...

I think Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre was probably the original, but I think that was just a TV episode. Still he was quite convincing.

Paddy C said...

Now that you mention it, Mads Mikkelsen from the latest remake has a bit of Peter Lorre about him.. perhaps that's a nod to the version you're talking about?

Not to be a Hollywood gossip or anything, but I heard since watching this version that Orson Welles and Peter Sellers shot their Casino Royale scenes separately because they couldn't stand to be in the same room as each other... wonder if they're both still avoiding each other in some Celestial Celebrity Get-together... hmmm...

Welles: "Ah, jaysis Marlon, here comes Sellers"
Brando: (sizing up another hors d'oeuvre) "Huh?"
Welles (irked): "Clou-seau bloody annoying. I'm off, see you later."
(Welles moves off in his golf buggy as Sellers approaches)
Sellers: "Oh.. hey Marlon. Orson mustn't have seen me.. thank.. well, (to an approaching figure resembling George Best) thank you."
God: "Welcome... what did I do now?"

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