Casino Royale (1967) (part 10 of 13)

And so we come to the only part of the movie that’s even partially related to the source novel. As luck would have it, it also happens to be the best part of the film. Granted, that’s a little like saying the fall was the best part of being tossed through a window, but still, it’s far less psychedelic and bizarre than anything else in the movie. Which I could qualify with another disclaimer, but we’d be here all night if I go down that road.

An interesting bit of information before we begin: The two principles in this scene, Peter Sellers and Orson Welles, appear in the same shot exactly once in the whole movie. This was the result of some possible insecurity on the part of Peter Sellers in regards to Welles. One of the few things this scene gets right is to make this inconvenient situation between the two actors not overly noticeable, via some good editing choices. Pity they couldn’t afford the same courtesy to the rest of the movie.

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Anyhow, we go to the floor of the Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre is in the process of winning with considerable regularity. That is, if the gargantuan stack of chips in front of him is any indication. An off-screen woman remarks, “It’s amazing, he never loses!” It’s a line that will be looped in a few times over the scene. Evidently, the film’s rather outsized budget didn’t allow for much additional dubbing.

In the middle of all this, Le Chiffre breaks for an impromptu magic show [!!]. This is something Orson Welles insisted on, and a rather bizarre overindulgence that will be matched for outlandish weirdness by Peter Sellers later in the scene. His first trick requires the assistance of a young lady (But really, what magic trick doesn’t?), whom he orders to look him in the eyes. This results in an extreme close-up of Welles’ rather large face, with a spotlight centered mainly on his eyes. Hey, we don’t write this stuff, folks. We just report it.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Is this a pork roast I see before me?”

He says this trick is known as the “Levitation of the Princess Aysha”, which he claims was taught to him by an ancient vegetarian in Tibet. (Did this Tibetan vegetarian also occasionally let down his intestines?) Well, we’re well into the realm of strangeness, so might as well do an impression of Dennis Hopper high on coke while we’re at it. (And this is just my section we’re talking here!)

Anyhow, the trick is basically your standard levitating gag, with the woman being put into a trance and placed on the table. The blonde twins behind him whip the claret-colored blanket from his lap and place it over the woman. Which at least explains the blanket (I think).

He asks everyone to put their hands on the table, which then levitates. Orson should seek help from Time Wasters Anonymous. They’re here to help. Really. (And I’m almost 99% sure that among the spectators in the crowd is Jacqueline Bisset. So much for Vesper “taking care” of her, I guess. Or maybe Vesper just made sure Goodthighs got her parking validated.)

The table lowers itself, and the enshrouded woman rises up. After a bit where her hand falls out from under the shawl, Welles (at this point, one really has to call him by the actor’s name, since this was his dumbass idea to begin with) pulls the shroud down to reveal the woman has vanished. This ends the trick, and Welles bursts into boisterous laughter. Well, at least he’s enjoying himself. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here wondering when aliens came and stole his brain. What was he thinking, doing a magic trick in a movie? The camera cuts away from him several times during this, so it’s obviously all just camera trickery. I mean, he might as well be doing magic tricks on the radio while he’s at it.

Are you starting to understand how the man who began his career directing one of the greatest movies ever made (more or less) ended it doing voiceovers for frozen pea commercials? (The outtakes from those recording sessions are comedy gold, by the way.) Though, I will grant you, it’s ironic that Welles’ last role was as the voice of a cartoon planet, when he himself had become roughly the size of one.

At long last, Sellers-Bond and Vesper-Bond enter the casino and go to the cashier. And the cashier is played by long-time Sellers cohort Graham Stark, who’s now a Three Strikes Repeat Offender. Stark is stunned when Sellers drops off Vesper’s suitcase full of cash. He then asks for a name, and Sellers says, “Bond. James Bond.” Stark is even more awestruck. He pulls out an autograph book [!] and ask Sellers to sign it. Boy, is he going to disappointed when he tries to hawk that on eBay and finds out there are like, five hundred guys running around claiming to be James Bond.

Caption contributed by Jessica

“I’m sorry, sir, but you cannot pay in Archie’s Digest back issues!”

Next, Sellers and Vesper head for the casino director’s office. In the office is our old friend Inspector Mathis, who informs the director of Bond’s arrival. Curiously, the director orders the staff to be placed on high alert.

In the office, after an odd joke involving a tiger skin rug, Sellers observes Le Chiffre through a window, playing baccarat and wearing a rather conspicuous pair of dark sunglasses. Sellers ducks out of sight, but is assured by Vesper that it’s a one-way mirror. Sellers amusingly asks, “Which way?” To his credit, Peter Sellers does a nice job of playing an uncertain fish out of water, pretending to be a spy. In another, much better movie, this would be the ideal role for him. Here, though, it’s what Inspector Clouseau would call just another bimp in the road.

Caption contributed by Ed

Throw rugs made possible by the Roadkill Café.

As Sellers-Bond observes Le Chiffre, he produces a pair of dark glasses of his own, expositing that the man is using infrared glasses to cheat. Vesper remarks that if Sellers wins, Le Chiffre will try to kill him, a fact which doesn’t do much for his confidence. As they exit, Sellers asks the casino director to excuse them, and he replies, “Willingly.” All throughout this scene, the casino director has a huge stick up his ass when it comes to Bond, but of course, it’s never explained.

They head down to the gaming tables. Sellers sits down nervously, and again introduces himself as James Bond. As he and Le Chiffre talk, Vesper secretly switches the infrared glasses for a pair of rather garish glasses that one would expect to see on the face of Dame Edna. Le Chiffre remarks that this ploy was noticed by him, but of course, only after he puts the glasses on for comedic effect.

Caption contributed by Albert

Man, Elton John really let himself go.

Le Chiffre says he sees everything that goes on at the table. Sellers replies with this line, during which he decides for some odd reason to slip into an Indian accent (as in India Indians—we’ll see the other kind of Indians later):

Sellers: We mustn’t forget that: “The beggar who is sitting in the marketplace is completely deaf insomuch as far as listening to the song that is coming from the mockingbird is concerned.”

Le Chiffre is puzzled as to what Sellers means, and so am I. It seems that, once again, Sellers has lapsed into doing his own shtick, completely unrelated to anything going on in the movie. Say what you will about Robin Williams, but at least he only stops the movie once to do his John Wayne impersonation.

Le Chiffre continues with yet another magic display. This time, a balloon inflates out of a champagne bottle, popping to reveal a card. This self-indulgence continues with a handkerchief trick, which involves a long string of flags, along with sparklers, doves, different colored gels passing over the camera, and the blonde twins chanting “Hip-hip, hooray!” And yes, this does really happen, and no, I’m not on drugs right now. I can’t speak for the writers of the script, but I’m clean. I’d say this is all cinematic excess the likes of which we’ll never see again, but I think that really goes without saying. Admittedly, it’s all mildly entertaining, but a little of this crap goes a long way.

Caption contributed by Jessica

The long-awaited ABBA reunion went fatefully awry.

Sellers goes on for what feels like an hour, applauding and making a show out of himself until we finally get back to the actual scene. Jesus, we’ve only had about two minutes worth of actual content since I started. That’s gotta be some kind of record.

The game finally gets underway. Sellers mentions that he uses the Evelyn Tremble method, and Le Chiffre makes a dig at Evelyn’s book. This part actually plays fairly close to the novel, in an abridged, rushed sort of way. In the novel, Bond loses quite badly before receiving more money from his associates, and staging a great comeback. It’s maybe the best part of the book (and in a book that’s pretty much nonstop quality, that’s really saying something), and it’s rendered very nicely here. The only problem is there really is no humor to be found in this situation, a point made clear by the fact that most of the scene is Orson Welles dicking around, while Peter Sellers shifts around nervously, acting rather unconvincingly Bondian, and changing accents whenever he damn well feels like it.

Another accent change comes when Sellers loses the first hand. He suddenly starts using a stereotypical Asian accent.

Sellers: Yes, but the beggar who sit in marketplace are deaf to song of nightingale.

Ugh, it’s like the film just wants to be a pain in the ass!

Another hand goes by with Sellers losing. He then ups the bank to fifty million francs, but Le Chiffre scoffs at this, pointing out he doesn’t have any chips. Sellers says he believes his credit is good here, leading to a bizarre shot of the casino director leaning into his intercom simply to say, “Bond credit good.” And how are T-bills looking these days?

A casino employee delivers a huge stack of chips to Sellers, and Le Chiffre accepts the challenge with the line, “Very well. Goodbye, Mr. Bond. It’s been nice knowing you.” And I’d like to say that for a comedy, this scene is played far too straight in terms of the actual game play. Granted, with this script there’s as good a chance of finding humor as there is of Chevy Chase ever being funny again, but still.

Anyhow, Bond gets a 3 and a deuce, but stands on it. Le Chiffre also gets a 3 and a deuce, but pulls another card. He lays down a 5—Baccarat! Just in case you don’t understand the rules to baccarat (and really, who in the hell does?), this means Bond has just won and cleaned out Le Chiffre. So, apparently, the famed Evelyn Tremble Method can be boiled down to four words: Get very, very lucky.

Sellers throws the “nice knowing you” line back at Le Chiffre, and tells the croupier to credit the winnings to his account. He quickly makes his leave, and so do I, because this is the end of my segment. Good luck to the rest of Team Agony Booth!

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Casino Royale (1967)

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