Feb 11, 2016
Casino Royale (1967) (part 8 of 13)
Mata has apparently been convinced that she has all the “equipment” she needs (Daaa-aaaad!), because it’s back to London. Mata and Hadley exit MI5, where apparently she’s just been briefed on her assignment. She’s taking a Columbo tack, wearing a trench coat for her detecting duties. But I bet not even Peter Falk ever thought to wear a pink head scarf!
She peers over her huge Jackie O sunglasses, glancing at the street around her. And yeah, that’s not obvious at all. Hadley asks her if she has any questions, and Mata has only one: “How do I get to Berlin?” She’s going to make for quite the spy, no?
“Oh-ho! Dear silly me,” laughs Hadley, who then proceeds to flag down a taxi.
| Taxi Driver: Where to?
Driver: East or West?
Mata: West, of course!
Driver: Oh, that’s alright, then.
Ignoring the very, very subtle joke there (so subtle, I’m not even sure if it was meant as a joke), what I’d really like to know is what happened to Fiona/Mimi’s statement (already heard twice) that International Mother’s Help is in East Berlin? I suppose we can safely ignore it, much like anything else in this movie that happened more than ten minutes prior to the scene you’re watching. Mata gets in the taxi, with Hadley wishing her luck.
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The next scene opens in downtown West Berlin at night, in what I can only term the “blue light district”. Someone apparently got a heck of a deal on blue neon signs. One sign reads, “Der Sexy Blaue Engel”, while a smaller, competing sign reads, “Blauer Engel”. This (shaky at best) Marlene Dietrich reference established (Myra Breckinridge would be proud), the taxi pulls up near the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.
The driver honks his horn and yells at everyone to get out of his way, in what I guess was supposed to be a joke on typical London cabbie behavior. Forcing your audience to play “spot the joke”, now there’s a novel concept in moviemaking.
But the excitement of cheap, diseased sex with a hooker in West Berlin is contrasted over the Berlin Wall, where red lighting on the streets and buildings denote that this is Communist country. Oddly, Burt Bacharach decided to score this with melancholy Jewish Russian immigrant music—the likes of which I haven’t heard since Don Bluth’s An American Tail—to signify “pathos”. We see the East Germans stand guard in their vacant section of town. This one’s a tough call, but I’ll have to go with “joke” on this one, Bob. Can’t wait to find out if I guessed right!
Back on the fun side of the wall, Mata gets out and the cabbie tells her, “That’ll be 482 pounds, 15 and 9 pence.” She tells him he’ll have to wait, because she doesn’t have any change [?]. He says he’s been caught like that before. Ah, so he’s evidently driven people all the way from London to Berlin before without demanding the cash upfront. But don’t you dare skip out on the fare, because then you’d just be making him look foolish.
The Cabbie yells after Mata, but she ignores him. Finally, he gives up and asks a passing American soldier if there are any “fish and chip shops” around. That’s how you know he’s English. If he had asked for haggis, then you’d know he’s Scottish. It’s great how easy it is to detect ethnicities in this movie. Jokes, on the other hand…
Meanwhile, Mata puts on her sunglasses—yes, in the dark—and goes into a building marked in big neon letters, “Die Striptease Raserei”. Two hookers who look like renegade Air France stewardesses stand outside in matching outfits, chatting. Judging by their blue skirts, I’m guessing they’re either Blue or Bluer Angel employees. Apparently, “International Mothers’ Help” meant something completely different than I thought it did.
Mata walks into one of the goofiest sets ever designed. If Alfred Hitchcock had cast Nosferatu in the dream sequence of Spellbound instead of Gregory Peck, you’d be watching something similar to this. In a nod to German expressionism, all the walls are black and gray and sit at weird angles to each other. The paintings on the wall are trapezoidal, and the figures in them are foreshortened. A grand staircase has one sweeping curved banister, while the other banister juts out at different angles. If you ever wanted to design a living room with the sole purpose of making the occupants feel uncomfortable, look no further.
Mata opens the door to a room that’s pitch black, save for a lighted portrait of her mother Mata Hari in a pink belly dancer/gypsy/fortune teller costume. Of course, it adheres to the Terrible Painting Done By A Fifth Grader Rule, wherein no painting seen in a bad movie has any artistic merit whatsoever.
In close-up, we see how much Mata looks like her mom. Because, naturally, it is a portrait of Mata. And every move Mata makes is accompanied by a bizarre piano glissando and a boing-thwack on the soundtrack, which actually does sound amazingly like the “Manos” soundtrack. Oh, and you’re going to want to get used to this sound effect. Trust me on that one.
A light turns on, and we meet the school’s proprietor, Frau Hoffner, in extreme close-up. Also there is her pathetic diminutive henchman, Polo. Frau Hoffner asks, “Who are you? Vhat do you vant?” Mata replies that she’s come to enroll as a student. “Vhat are your qualifications, hmm?”
Mata says she’s the daughter of Mata Hari, which makes Polo nearly wet himself. Frau Hoffner calls her a liar, so Mata takes off her trench coat and scarf, revealing she’s wearing the same outfit as Mata Hari in the painting. (And here’s where my misguided Columbo allusions send me running to therapy.)
Frau Hoffner’s eyes grow wide as Polo becomes even more hyperactive and ecstatic. He yells that “little Mata Hari” has returned. I’d say he definitely needs a change of pants right about now. Frau Hoffner warns Polo, “Qviet! Or I vill svitch you off!” Polo grabs at his chest, and inside his jacket is an old cardboard Bell battery, which is apparently all that keeps him alive. He fiddles with it as it makes noises like it’s about to short out. Ha. Ha. That’s. Hilarious.
Frau Hoffner weirdly touches a scar on her own face [?] while telling Mata she’s even more “fascinating” than her mother. That really doesn’t say much for her mom, does it?
Mata says Frau Hoffner must have been her mom’s teacher, even though the actress playing Frau is only 41 years old. Polo gets all excited again when Mata says she remembers him. Frau Hoffner welcomes her home, and Polo echoes the sentiment, causing Frau Hoffner to whisper, “Shtop!” Man, Colonel Klink and Sgt. Shulz wouldn’t feel out of place with these two at all. I was about to say they could all get together for bridge games, but maybe slapjack would be more their speed.
Frau Hoffner says they run the Mata Hari School of Dancing (What happened to International Mothers’ Help? Have we switched directors and writers again?), the only true international school of espionage in the world. She says that some of the greatest spies in the world have graduated from this school. “The greatest,” Polo chimes in. Frau lists, “Von Drudenhoff, Malenvoisky…” and Polo adds, “Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi…” I’m just reporting the jokes, people. I didn’t write them.
Next, Frau Hoffner opens a door to show Mata the decoding and cipher class, which must be top notch, because it’s currently decoding Frau’s German accent into a British one. Inside is a room all in red, with at least ten girls wearing identical blonde wigs and red outfits working on codes. This is evidenced by a large flashing letter and number board, a similarly patterned floor, a typewriter, dial telephones, and a reel-to-reel tape recorder. High tech stuff, baby!
Two girls are even standing on boxes with a letter or number on them (the kind every poor high school kid gets a senior picture taken beside), and they’re practicing semaphore signals with ping pong paddles.
And as if all that wasn’t far out enough, as the door closes, Polo tells Mata, “We are even training animals as espionage agents!” Are there bees or ostriches involved, by any chance? Just wondering.
“At this moment,” Frau says, “we have in the Kremlin a Russian-speaking parrot who is in constant radio communication with the Pentagon!” I can only hope that the animals have to go through the same rigorous screening process as Mata. It is Mata Hari’s cat come home at last! Velcome, Snickers! You are going undercover in Red China. Bevare of the Tongs!
Frau Hoffner opens another door to the karate and self-defense classroom. This room is all a dirty white color, including the breakaway chairs, except for strange black perspective lines on the floor. The girls in this room are all dressed in black with black wigs and hilariously* (*Not at all, even ever.), they’re doing their fighting in super-fast speed. Sadly, no Keystone Kops music accompanies this part. Because then I would have known it was meant to be tongue in cheek, and we simply can’t have that. It’s really all so stupid, so let’s just move on. I mean, after Peter Sellers at the 007 school, did this movie really need another sequence based around the (very thin) joke of a “spy training school”?
Frau Hoffner excuses herself to attend an important conference. She hands Polo the key to Mata’s room and he shows her up the odd staircase. Nearly at the top, Polo suddenly clutches at the railing and opens his jacket, beating on his battery. He tells Mata it needs recharging. Mata says, “Might be your head needs examining.” Polo says no, because he had it examined last week. Again, I’m just reporting the jokes as they come at me.
Polo unlocks a door and tells Mata, “This is your mother’s room. It has not been opened since she left here in 1916!” Okay, look. It’s 1967. Everywhere in this movie, 1967 is screaming at the top of its lungs, “Hi, I’m 1967!” So Mata Bond, at the very outside edge, couldn’t have been born before 1937. But the real Mata Hari was executed in 1917 for spying on Germany. Which at the very least would put Mata Bond in her early 50s. Meanwhile, David Niven is only 56 in this thing! (I’m reminded of how Sir James retired shortly after Mata Hari was executed. So I guess we’re to assume he retired at the ripe old age of 9.)
So, all told, the fact that they’re trying to pass this Mata Hari lovechild storyline off on us is just stupid in the extreme. I mean, would it have been that hard to make this believable? They could have used Tokyo Rose instead, or somebody. I’d believe that, and the stupid timeline wouldn’t be generations off! Alright, now I’m just angry.
So Polo opens the door to Mata Hari’s bedroom and, of course, everything’s covered in cobwebs and thick dust. And naturally, the whole place is ridiculously overdecorated, with about 75 throw pillows on the bed. Mata remarks on how large the bed is, and Polo tells her, “The German army was very large in those days.” These “jokes” are like Chinese Movie Torture. And I still have nine more minutes to recap. Man, this movie hurts.
Polo is still creaming his pants over Mata Bond, so she plays on this by asking what this secret conference of Frau Hoffner’s is all about. Naturally, Polo tells her everything, explaining how a representative of Le Chiffre is coming to sell a unique art collection. She asks who Le Chiffre is and (sigh, here it comes) Polo says, “Nobody knows. Not even Le Chiffre!”
He also tells her Le Chiffre is selling his art collection because he needs funds for his compulsive gambling habit, and he’s been using SMERSH funds to gamble. Wait. SMERSH funds for gambling? I don’t believe it. How did an actual storyline from the book get into this movie? Somebody dropped the ball.
Polo ends by saying that if Le Chiffre does not pay off his debts, it’s liquidation time for him. Every Le Chiffre must go! Polo makes a clumsy attempt to bed Mata, but she blows him off and asks him to leave. But before he goes, he makes her promise not to tell anyone what she knows. What an idiot.
Mata walks into her bathroom and flips on the light. The switch is all covered in cobwebs, so she grabs a tissue to wipe off her hand. She then drops the tissue in the toilet [?] and pulls the chain. What, there were no trash cans in 1916? Or maybe she just now noticed that mom forgot to flush.
Anyway, this is just a transparent reveal that the chain is really a secret mechanism that works a revolving door in the wall, leading to a hidden passageway. Which is about the stupidest idea imaginable for a SECRET mechanism. No one will ever think to pull that chain! Cue Guinness guy: “Brilliant!” In turn, it seems this bit was for the sole purpose of allowing Mata to say her next line directly to the camera: “This is the first john I’ve ever gone ’round with!” Who wrote this?! You’re on my list!
Another thwack-boing is heard as Mata ends up in the secret hallway. It has a locked jail cell door at one end and a weird, not-exactly-spiral staircase at the other. Mata descends the stairs, opens the door a crack, and peeks in at a man turning on the light in a projection room. At least, I think so. It’s edited so strangely that I’m not sure if she peeked into the same room the man was in, or if she thinks she was seen, or what. But she must have thought so, because she scurries back upstairs to her room.
The mystery man in the projection room carries a small wooden box over to a table and sets it down. He switches on the projector and an oversized switch on the wall labeled REMOTE CONTROL. I sure hope he’s going to use that to show us a different movie.
Mata leaves her room and is surprised by a dusty, cobweb-covered WWI German soldier in a chair, motionless. His eyes and mouth are wide open, and his hand is clutching a gun. Mata stares at him as Frau Hoffner appears. She sees the soldier and says, “Nnnn! It is little Otto!” Apparently, “he vas one of your mother’s lovers. Ve often find him lying around!”
Mata asks if he’s dead. Frau replies, “Hard to tell. He always looked like that.” I can’t quite empathize, because I’ve only looked like that since the movie started. But I’m getting there.
Then she tells Mata to come with her, because the auction is about to begin. Is that wise? A complete stranger, more or less, walks in off the street to join your organization and immediately you let him/her in on your big top secret schemes? Sure, that makes sense.
She tells Mata they’re selling off one of the finest art collections in Europe, and Mata blurts out, “Le Chiffre’s collection!” So much for the promise she made to Polo, which was all of, what, two minutes ago? This leads to the following inane dialogue:
| Frau: Who?
Mata: Le Chiffre.
Frau: Who’s Le Chiffre?
Mata: The man who owns the art collection.
Frau: What art collection?
Mata: The one that’s about to be auctioned.
Frau: Who said anything about an auction?
Mata: You did!
Frau: Who am I?
Mata: Frau Hoffner.
Frau: Never heard of her. You’re insane my child. Qvite insane.
Mata: [to the camera] I think she’s right.
Inside the room where Mata Hari’s picture hangs, rows of chairs have been set up with an aisle down the middle. Polo and the man from the projection room stand at the front of the room. In front of them is a desk with a line taped down the middle, and a greenish-gray phone on one side, and a red phone on the other.
Various military personnel from Communist and non-Communist countries mingle and mill around. The Communist side of the room is bathed in red light, because we haven’t quite had that gag shoved far enough down our throats yet. Frau Hoffner walks up to the desk, bangs a gavel down and yells that “the auction vill commence!”
“Thank you,” says the projection room man, who turns out to be Le Chiffre’s representative. He addresses the group and asks if there are “any specific bidding instructions?” A man from the Russian contingent stands and says, “Our instructions are, when we are sitting, we are bidding. When we are standing, we are not bidding.” An American officer stands and says, “We’ll do our bidding sitting down. When we’re standing up, we’re not bidding!” ‘Cause real Americans use contractions, son!
A Chinese officer gets up. “We stand, we bid! We no stand, we no bid!” And the Chinese officer is, of course, Repeat Offender Burt Kwouk, best known as Cato from the Pink Panther series. I say “of course”, because he’s also famous for playing roughly 85% of all roles for Asian actors in the ’60s and ’70s, including henchmen in the actual Bond films Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice.
Le Chiffre’s representative asks, “And, eh, the British representatives?” Oh, here we go. One of them stands and says, “Well, I, I don’t know actually. A sort of a bit of both, I suppose, really. Is that all right with you, chaps?” Pretending to make sense of that, Le Chiffre’s agent begins the proceedings. Mata sneaks in, still in her ridiculous gypsy get-up. Er, didn’t Frau Hoffner just tell her that the auction was about to start? So what’s with all the sneakiness?
Le Chiffre’s agent puts the first slide up on the screen, which is a photograph of five military guys partying with four less than fully clothed women. The men all start murmuring amongst themselves. Le Chiffre’s agent… oh, I can’t keep calling him that, so I’m just going to call him Kronsteen, the character this actor, Vladek Sheybal, played in From Russia With Love. Kronsteen tells them this is a picture of extreme importance, and one of the classic blackmail items of all time. And so much for this being an auction of one of the finest art collections in all of Europe, I guess. Did we just change directors again?
“What are my bids for this priiiiiceless picture?” Kronsteen asks. All the groups proceed to bid in different currencies [?] while sitting and standing at random. At one point, Burt Kwouk screams, “2 million Chinese dollars!” Chinese dollars? Kronsteen tells them they can do better than that. Just then, the taxi driver, who’s apparently been waiting outside the whole time, pokes his head in the door and whispers to Mata, “Here, what about my fare?”
She tells him to get out. He pulls her out of the room and warns her not to let Le Chiffre raise the money. This tips her off that he’s not just a simple cab driver. He says, “I’m Carleton Towers of the F.O.” I’ll spare you the pain of not explaining the beleaguered joke they’re trying to make here. Enlightened, she tells him to wait outside with the motor running, and runs upstairs to her room.
Back at the auction, everyone’s getting carried away with their bids. “A wagon load of vodka!” “70 million tons of rice!” “60 pounds of caviar!” “30 million trucks!” Guess which group says what! I bet you can’t.
The image on the screen goes black. Mata has killed the projector, and she empties the slides back into the box. She then switches off the REMOTE CONTROL and switches on the BATTLE COURSE switch. On the screen, war footage starts playing. Makes perfect sense, really. This sends all the military men into a panic, and one of the Americans eagerly cries, “Hey, it’s war!”
They all put on helmets and run for cover under the banquet tables, grabbing phones and calling headquarters. Except for the British guy. He calls his wife to say he won’t be home for dinner. “A sort of war has broken out,” he explains. Oh, those droll Brits.
My favorite sound effect in the whole wide world returns as we follow Mata back through the secret passageway to her room. Instead of oh, I don’t know, keeping all the slides and handing them over to the British government she works for to use or destroy as they see fit, she dumps them into the toilet and shuts the lid. She then throws the empty box on the floor beside the toilet and runs for the door. Yeah, no one will ever figure that out.
But just as she reaches the door, Polo opens it. He tells her, “You should not have done this thing. Now I will have to kill you!” She pretends she’s going to seduce him again, then pulls out the wires on his (why am I even writing this?) battery pack. As he struggles to put the wires back in, he accidentally reverses the polarity. Or perhaps I should say, the “Polo-rity”? (Dear God! Do you see what only ten minutes of this movie have done to me?!)
Having reversed the wires, Polo goes on a undercranked, sped-up reverse course around the room to Alvin and the Chipmunks-type sounds, until he finally ends up sitting on the toilet. He pulls the chain, spinning around and around at lightning speed. Can’t say I’m too surprised by this outcome, frankly.
Mata runs for the door again and opens it to find Frau Hoffner standing there. She tells Mata, “Give me those films!” Mata slams the door in her face, causing Frau to fall backwards into the lap of Otto, the WWI soldier. This in turn causes Otto’s hand to fall down and shoot her in the abdomen. That’s a bad way to go. Unique, but bad.
Meanwhile, the “war” is still going on in the bidding room. Kronsteen alerts all the panicking soldiers that Mata has stolen the films, so they all tear out of the bidding room. Kronsteen leads the charge up the stairs in the main hall to get her, but Mata grabs a chandelier and kicks Kronsteen, which causes a domino effect down the stairs. Man, I hate this movie.
Mata fights them again with a fire extinguisher, and Carleton from the F.O. enters down below. A big brawl ensues, with bits of “Yakkity Sax” thrown in here and there. Thanks again to Mr. Bacharach. As if I needed another level of hatred aimed at this movie, now you throw Benny Hill music at me. Great.
Rest assured, it’s all really stupid, everything that’s happening right now. And yet, it’s not even the biggest fight of the movie, so I’m not going to waste a bunch more time on it. I do notice that for whatever reason, Carleton now has the Union Jack on his back [?], and astute viewers might even notice he has it on upside down [!]. I’ll have to guess “not a joke” on this one, Monty.
Mata and Carleton fight their way out. And it’s very hard to tell, but it appears this building somehow straddles East and West Berlin, because a sign in the doorway has an arrow pointing the way to the “West”. But it’s all so poorly staged and edited that I have no idea if that was the intention or not.
They get outside and Mata says, “Ooh! This way!” She opens a manhole cover, and strains of “What’s New, Pussycat?” drift out and Carleton runs back shouting, “No! No, down. No.” And I know that What’s New, Pussycat? was also produced by Charles K. Feldman and also starred Woody Allen, Ursula Andress, and Peter Sellers, but it really feels like there should be a bit more to an inside joke than simply mentioning the title of your other movie.
They get in the taxi, and Carleton actually asks Mata, “Where to, miss?” She replies, “London!” What? Was that really necessary? Are these two getting paid by the word? Kronsteen runs out after them and starts shooting at their receding car. An Allied MP walks over to him and gives him a look, so Kronsteen sheepishly puts his gun down and goes to a nearby phone booth.
In a room far, far away, Jabba the Hutt sits smoking a cigar surrounded by women in black and white dresses. What? It’s not? Let me look again. Oh! My mistake. Apparently, that’s Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, not Jabba! Wonder how I could’ve made that mistake.
For some reason, even though he’s wearing a white tuxedo, he has this claret-colored wrapping around his midsection and no, I don’t want to know in the least what that’s all about. He answers the call from Kronsteen on a phone that looks like it should belong to someone named “Dodi”.
Kronsteen tells Le Chiffre that the scheme failed. “And also, Dr. Noah knows what you’ve been up to!” Okay, way to never establish that, movie. And yes, this is the first time that the movie’s main villain, Dr. Noah, is identified by name. And only a scant ninety minutes into this thing.
Kronsteen nervously asks Le Chiffre what they should do now. Le Chiffre says he’ll “just have to raise the money. By playing baccarat.”
“But, Le Chiffre,” Kronsteen squirms, “What about me? Heh, heh. What’s going to happen to me?” You know, if you’ve gotta ask, odds are you’re really not going to like the answer.
Le Chiffre doesn’t give a damn, frankly, and reaches over to a control panel, flips a toggle switch, and it’s lights out for Kronsteen. Or at least, the Kronsteen-like mannequin in the phone booth, which promptly blows up in a huge explosion. Poor mannequin. I bet it was even on its lunch break.
Oh, I forgot to mention, the telephone booth was right up against the Berlin Wall. So when it explodes, a stream of East Germans with all their possessions come pouring through the hole. And the MPs and everyone else tries to stop them. Ha ha, hilarious! Maybe in all the confusion, I can just sneak out of this recap.