By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer
It was a day of 2002 when my father bought me a VHS tape of the 1967 satirical version of Casino Royale, then the only film tied to Ian Fleming’s much different book that initiated the literary saga of James Bond.
That video had no subtitles in Spanish, and by then my English knowledge was good but not good enough to understand a movie. If the film’s plot was already confusing, misguided and in many aspects “incomplete,” just imagine a 12-year-old boy trying to get something out of it, barely understanding a few words and having not read the novel.
Strangely enough, I was fascinated by the movie. I still am.
The Charles K. Feldman production is a colorful, bombastic and very funny film: you won’t be laughing for hours, but there are a few humorous moments that will make you raise a smile.
It has a great score, with the legendary Burt Bacharach and the Herb Alpert trumpets for the main titles. And there’s the delicate voice of Dusty Springfield, who performed the Oscar-nominated song that has outlived the movie, “The Look of Love.”
The story, “suggested” by Fleming’s novel and written by, among others, Wolf Mankowitz, has the four leaders of the secret services begging the retired Sir James Bond (David Niven) for help after a mysterious threat has agents of every secret service killed.
Sir James refuses, disappointed by the abuse of gadgetry in the operatives and upset for “the bounder who was been given his name and number,” an obvious reference to Sean Connery’s official 007.
Failing every attempt to bring him back, a missile (actually a plan of M to take him out of retirement) blows his mansion away. Back to London, Sir James plans a strategy to confuse the enemy: to recruit a number of agents and name them all “James Bond 007,” including the girls.
What follows is an absolute nonsense. Peter Sellers is seduced by Ursula Andress and recruited to play baccarat against Orson Welles. The daughter of Mata Hari and James Bond are kidnapped by an UFO. A psychedelic mind torture replaces the infamous carpet beater from the novel.
And the evil threat behind it all… the nephew of 007, Jimmy Bond.
In the end, after an everyone vs everyone battle that includes George Raft, Jean Paul Belmondo, Geraldine Chaplin and dozens of Indians and cowboys, everything goes up in smoke.
The production of the film was messy, with the stars fighting each other almost like at the end of the movie, and Peter Sellers rewriting his scenes and hassling with Orson Welles to the point their scenes had to be shot separately.
The film was directed by five movie makers (John Houston, Ken Hughes, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath and Val Guest) not knowing what the other was shooting. Yet, I don’t think Casino Royale is a bad movie.
The best advice is to fully enjoy it would be to put the novel aside, forget every comparison to the official Bond films, sit back and enjoy an hilarious and colourful story that resembles the swinging 1960s. The structure of the story evokes another Charles K. Feldman production, What’s New Pussycat, released two years before.
The cast has a good number of very talented actors that maybe don’t show all their talents and even when their appearances are limited to a few frames, it wasn’t bad to see them. Yet, in my opinion, the ones that steal the show are David Niven and Woody Allen.
Niven, an original suggestion of Fleming to portray Bond, plays a refined 007 in his retirement. The movie shows him as a man worried about banal things like the black flower in his garden, his time to play Claude Debussy pieces on piano, and came from “a selected priesthood” to become a spy.
This Bond shows a great difference with Eon’s version. He refuses the seduction of the many young girls who laid eyes on him at McTarry’s castle and rejects his widow (Deborah Kerr), considers a spy has now became a “sex maniac” and his trademark drink is a lapsang souchong tea instead of a martini shaken not stirred. In Feldman’s vision, this is not Connery’s Bond retired but “one and only” and Connery’s Bond an impostor.
On the other hand, Woody Allen’s Dr. Noah – head of SMERSH, no reference is made to the Soviets as in the book – is seen in the shadows until his real identity is revealed: Jimmy Bond.
The nephew of Sir James can’t speak in front of him – a trauma makes his voice block upon the admiration of his uncle. Shortly after, we see him trying to impress (and ultimately falling into her trap) the captive agent Detainer (Daliah Lavi) by replicating all the abilities of his uncle: “everything uncle James does, I can do it better.”
Another special mention goes to Joanna Pettet and the late Ronnie Corbett in the Berlin scenes, where Pettet’s character Mata Bond (daughter of Sir James and Mata Hari) infiltrates the old dancing school of her mum that has become a SMERSH hideout, to find a battery operated butler who – falling into Mata’s seduction — reveals Le Chiffre is trying to make money by selling his “art collection,” actually… soldiers caught in the act having fun with hookers.
Like I said before, this movie has won my heart. I would not dare to put it next to the Eon Bond films (not in chronological order, at least) but as I get older, I understand its humor more and more.
Everytime I watch it, I feel like getting into a time machine and going back to the late 1960s. And it’s a great experience indeed!
Filed under: James Bond Films | Tagged: 1967 Casino Royale, Burt Bacharach, Charles K. Feldman, David Niven, Herb Alpert, Ian Fleming, John Hughes, Orson Welles, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Wolf Mankowitz |