Jun 28, 2016
Casino Royale (1967) (part 1 of 13)
The Cast of Characters:
James Bond 007 (David Niven). The one, the only, the original James Bond. Until he orders every MI5 agent to take the name of James Bond to “confuse the enemy”. Suave and debonair, yet strangely prudish and foppish. Forced out of retirement to fight the evil forces of SMERSH.
Evelyn Tremble AKA James Bond 007 (Peter Sellers). Shy, mousy fellow who’s the world’s leading expert on baccarat (out of a field of ten). Gets recruited by MI5 to defeat the villainous Le Chiffre at bacarrat, and to act like a dick all across Europe.
Vesper Lynd AKA James Bond 007 (Ursula Andress). Sexy former spy and high-powered wheeler and dealer. Once had a fling with Bond (Niven version), and now has a fling with Bond (Sellers version), whom she pimps—I mean, recruits to face off against Le Chiffre.
Ms. Moneypenny AKA James Bond 007 (Barbara Bouchet). The daughter of the previous Moneypenny, she somehow inherits the role of Bond’s assistant. Has an inexplicable American accent and mesmerizing blue eyes. Does very little, but I’d watch two hours of her reading the phone book. The #1 reason to watch this film.
Mata Bond AKA James Bond 007 (Joanna Pettet). The illegitimate daughter of Bond (Niven version) and Mata Hari (a slight anachronism, there), Bond enlists her in the fight against SMERSH. Does little besides squeak out lines in an overly precious British accent, and look damn good in a belly dancer costume. The #2 reason to watch this film.
Lady Fiona AKA Agent Mimi (Deborah Kerr). The widow of this movie’s M (well, sort of), and a SMERSH agent who tries to seduce Bond (Niven version). Embodies every cliché about the Scottish ever uttered in history. The primary reason this film ran over budget is because Deborah Kerr chewed up all the scenery.
Le Chiffre (Orson Welles). This movie’s heavy (in every sense of the word). A SMERSH agent who desperately needs to recoup his baccarat losses. Instead of simply filming more wine commercials, he goes up against James Bond (Sellers version), which doesn’t say much for his chances.
Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen). Nephew to James Bond (Niven version). The most neurotic spy ever. Reveals a dark side in the movie’s final act. Not “marrying your stepdaughter” dark, but still pretty dark.
(Note: A couple of the images in this intro come from the Casino Royale pictorial in the February 1967 issue of Playboy. Ted Strong at tedstrong.com has done the entire world a favor by scanning most of that pictorial. Check out his site for the rest of the images and much more about this movie.)
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Welcome once again to another Agony Booth Mega Recap! Our fifth one, in fact.
This time around, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time setting things up here. Because, basically, we’ve gone off the charts here, as far as length goes. What you’re about to read, essentially, is a novel. A novel where the protagonists are eight brave recappers who sit through the 1967 version of Casino Royale, scrutinize it closely, and in the end live to tell the tale.
This Mega Recap will make Don DeLillo’s Underworld look like bathroom reading. All that I ask is that you do not print this one out in its entirety—My soul cries out for all the trees that would need to be sacrificed.
I’m also not going to spend a whole lot of time explaining what a Mega Recap is, since I’ve done that four times already. Suffice to say, every page of this recap is written by a different recapper. But also, throughout the recap, everybody on Team Agony Booth will be chiming in, mainly in the form of adding their own captions to the screenshots from the movie. As always, remember to hover over each image to find out who wrote the caption.
This time around we have:
Mark “Scooter” Wilson again (page 5), a last-minute replacement for someone who had to drop out,
Jessica Ritchey (page 9) again,
Myself (page 11),
And finally, myself again (page 13), bringing it home once more.
I also have to make special mention of Jet, who recently wrote a recap of the animated Lord of the Rings, for helping to contribute several captions.
And a shout-out to Mark “Scooter” Wilson, who not only jumped in at the last minute to take on a section, but also helped out with a lot of the proofreading and editing of the recap as a whole. Without him, I doubt there’s any way I could ever have gotten this thing finished on time.
Some of you might be wondering what exactly the 1967 Casino Royale is all about, what it has to do with the James Bond franchise, why it ended up as a spoof, and what (if anything) it has to do with the new version of Casino Royale coming out this week.
But first, let’s jump back a bit, to early 2005. Following the mediocrity of 2002’s Die Another Day, speculation swirled about the next James Bond film. Would Pierce Brosnan appear again as Bond? Would Quentin Tarantino direct a raw, scaled-down version of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, as he openly told any reporter who would listen? And would EON, the production company behind nearly every Bond film made since 1962, stay the course with empty spectacle, or take the franchise in a rawer direction?
No surprise, the new Bond film lies somewhere in the middle of all of the rumors. Brosnan is indeed out, and Daniel Craig is in, becoming the sixth actor to portray James Bond—at least, in an EON production (and, like, the 1000th actor to play Bond when you throw in all the non-EON material, but let’s not go there just yet). And Craig’s debut will indeed be Casino Royale, an adaptation of Fleming’s first Bond novel, playing (reportedly) a rougher-edged James Bond.
Of course, this retroactively makes Die Another Day, recapped here on this very site, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as Bond. Which puts it in a special class of film: Just like Batman & Robin, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, both also recapped here, it exposed a franchise as being so out of steam that there was little choice but to put it to rest, and begin again from scratch with a totally new actor in the lead role. Batman Begins came out last year; Superman Returns came out this summer. Now it’s Bond’s turn.
It’s obvious that James Bond was much in need of a gritty makeover. Unfortunately, the jury is still out as to whether we’ll be getting that in Casino Royale. While there is a new actor in the role, and the film does show us James Bond’s first mission, before becoming a 00 agent, it’s not a pure reboot: Judi Dench returns as M, and the screenplay is supplied by the same writers who gave us Die Another Day and The World is Not Enough. Also, the director is Martin Campbell, who also helmed Goldeneye. While I’m hopeful that this will be a fresh take on 007, the smart money says it’ll be probably be more of the same.
I will say this, though: selecting Casino Royale as the source material for Craig’s debut was a smart move all around. For one thing, the fact that Casino Royale was the very first Bond novel already puts people in the mind of a “prequel” of sorts. Secondly, Casino Royale was never adapted by EON until now, because of a number of murky, labyrinthine legal issues. Back in the ’60s, EON co-founders Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman secured the film rights to almost all of Ian Fleming’s novels, but for various convoluted reasons, Casino Royale was the one that got away.
This might partially have something to do with Casino Royale being the first Bond story adapted to the screen, long before EON even existed. In this case, the TV screen, as an installment of the CBS series Climax! Back in 1954, a jowly, broad-faced actor named Barry Nelson assayed the role, only there he was an American CIA agent known as “Card-Sense Jimmy Bond”. You can read all about the episode right here on this site, thanks to Amanda’s Agonizer mini-recap.
Via a series of complicated events, producer Charles K. Feldman eventually ended up with the rights to Casino Royale, and envisioned himself making the greatest Bond film ever. He approached Broccoli and Saltzman to co-produce, but they turned him down. Feldman then tried to secure John Barry’s famous theme, but was unsuccessful. He even attempted to get Sean Connery to play Bond in his film, but couldn’t meet his $1 million salary demands (later, when the budget of Feldman’s film spiraled out of control, he would lament that it would have been cheaper just to pay Connery the 1 mil).
Feldman realized that there was little chance, with a different actor in the role, that his Casino Royale would be a success as a straightforward Bond film. So for that reason, and also to avoid opening himself up to all sorts of litigation if his film was too similar to EON’s Bond movies, he chose to turn the whole thing into an insane parody of the James Bond franchise, and of spy films in general. And thus came 1967’s Casino Royale, a sprawling, demented, loopy, psychedelic headtrip of a movie, with an all-star cast featuring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, and Woody Allen.
For some reason, Feldman thought it would be a smashing idea for the film to have several different directors. Val Guest, Kenneth Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, and Robert Parrish all directed different segments of the movie, all working independently of each another. And also, not a single one of them was working with a finished script.
And then there were the multiple screenwriters: Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, and Michael Sayers. And those were just the credited screenwriters. Many, many others, including Terry Southern, Billy Wilder, Joseph Heller, Ben Hecht, and co-star Woody Allen all contributed to the screenplay. Hell, perhaps you are one of the uncredited writers. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
As you might imagine, the film shifts radically in tone throughout. Sometimes slapstick, sometimes dry wordplay, sometimes lush and romantic, sometimes hallucinogenic freak out, sometimes madcap comedy, the film is pretty much a grocery list of every type of movie that was popular back in the late 1960s. Except in this case, not at all entertaining.
And one man, Val Guest, was faced with the arduous task of binding everything together, and even finishing some segments that the other directors didn’t bother to complete. (Only in the swinging ’60s could film professionals get away with that kind of behavior.) For his efforts, producer Feldman wanted to give Val Guest the credit of “Coordinating Director”. But Guest turned it down, instead settling for an “Additional Scenes By” credit. Sadly, Guest died back in May of this year, and yeah, I know: The Agony Booth Death Curse has struck again.
Despite Guest’s best efforts, the film is a complete and utter mess. Trying to sum up the story has brought better writers to their knees. That’s because there really is no story; It’s just a series of barely-connected vignettes all grouped around the vague concept of James Bond. Reportedly, Feldman had a habit of first securing the appearance of a particular celebrity, and only afterwards telling his writers to come up with a scene centered around that appearance.
Feldman also got the bright idea to have a jaunty, upbeat jazz score composed by Burt Bacharach and performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band. While there’s no disputing the legendary status of Bacharach and Alpert, the score to Casino Royale is far from their finest work. I blame this mostly on the drawn-out nature of the film; The movie lasts so long, Herb and the boys had no other option but to perform the main Casino Royale theme enough times to make your ears bleed. In fact, I don’t think you can truly appreciate this analysis of Casino Royale without hearing a brief MP3 excerpt of the theme song.
But the movie’s real undoing is that Feldman’s main star either quit or was fired (depending on the source) halfway through filming. Peter Sellers was originally meant to play the film’s central character, an unassuming everyman who gets thrust into impersonating James Bond.
There are two major reasons Sellers parted ways with Casino Royale. First, it seems he was under the impression that he was to play a straight, serious versions of James Bond, and grew disenchanted when the film became a comedy. (Sellers, in fact, was one of the uncredited screenwriters.) The second reason was friction with co-star Orson Welles, mirroring the Raquel Welch-Mae West clashes of the similarly sprawling Myra Breckinridge. Like Welch and West, its rumored that Sellers and Welles were never on the set at the same time. (However, there is at least one shot in the movie that clearly shows both actors.)
But no matter the reasons, Sellers was gone—and he had yet to film several pivotal scenes. So in his place, Feldman brought aboard David Niven (coincidentally, one of Sellers’ most notable co-stars from the original Pink Panther) to take a starring role in the beginning and ending of the film. As such, the film detours wildly from scenes where Niven is the central character, to scenes focusing on Sellers, and then abruptly back to Niven. And along the way, there are brief trips down Woody Allen Lane and the Joanna Pettet Cul-De-Sac.
It should be no surprise that the story doesn’t flow in any logical fashion, and several segments seem to have been edited into the movie out of order. Huge chunks of the plot were obviously never filmed, and with the way it’s cut together, you can’t help but feel the filmmakers weren’t the least bit sorry about it, either.
But having said all that, I have to admit that I sort of… like this film? Aw, man, and after all the crap I gave the fans of Hudson Hawk. My reasons for liking it, or at least having some affection for it, are kind of hard to explain.
The best I can say is that the film makes no sense on any rational, conscious level. But on a deeper level, it’s perfectly clear. The whole thing operates according to dream logic, is the best way I can put it. The movie may be loopy, but it still almost makes sense in a way that defies my ability to put down in words. Or maybe I’m just loopy.
Keep in mind, I survived similar late ’60s fare like Myra Breckinridge, Skidoo, and The Big Cube. And the worst aspect of each of those films is that they are massively condescending. They were obviously produced by old, gray men in boardrooms trying to decide what would appeal to “today’s youth”. A youth they didn’t understand, didn’t trust, and completely resented. Casino Royale doesn’t have that kind of active hatred for its target audience.
Compare it to Hudson Hawk, the subject of the last Mega Recap, an equally bizarre, outré, and unfocused disaster. Whereas Hawk is in your face, and aggressive about its stupid humor, Casino Royale seems to lie back and say, Well, you can find me funny or not; No one’s forcing you to watch me. I’ll admit, this is not 100% true of the entire film—There are occasions where characters turn directly to the camera to utter stupid one-liners. But they’re few and far between, and nowhere near the assault on the senses that Hudson Hawk was.
Okay, look, what I’m trying to say is, it’s easier to sleep through this movie than Hudson Hawk. Are you happy now?
In all honesty, I think they were really trying for something unique and creative here. Unfortunately, they failed in a spectacular way. But an interesting failure is still far preferable to most movies recapped on this site.
So, why is it here, you ask? Because Casino Royale, with its episodic nature, and wildly shifting tone, is the perfect metaphor for Mega Recaps themselves. Much like this film, this recap was created by several recappers working independently. And at the end, it was left to me, the Coordinating Recapper, to bring it all together into something coherent. So just consider me your Val Guest for the evening (or two evenings, or five).
In addition, there are a record nine Repeat Offenders lurking around in this film. Yes, nine. Unlike previous Mega Recaps, where I called them out in the intro, I’m going to let them be discovered by whichever recapper first encounters their scenes.
And before anyone writes in, I do realize that the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Our Man Bashir” pretty heavily borrows from this movie, including an all-important baccarat game and a villain named “Dr. Noah”. But I have yet to get around to watching that episode. I’ll do that soon, provided I actually survive this recap.
So, here we go. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.