Casino Royale’s 45th anniversary: Oh no, 007!

April Fool’s Day is as good as any occasion to note this month marks the 45th anniversary of Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale, the producer’s 1967 send-up of 007.

Feldman, one-time agent (Albert R. Broccoli was one of his employees) turned producer, was nobody’s fool. He had produced films in a variety of genres such as 1948’s Red River (uncredited), 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1965’s What’s New Pussycat.

So, when he acquired the film rights to Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel in the early 1960s, Feldman recognized it had commercial potential even as the film series produced by one time associate Broccoli and Harry Saltzman was getting underway in 1962. (CLICK HERE for a post on Jeremy Duns’s Debrief blog for a more detailed history.)

Feldman tried to entice director Howard Hawks, his one-time colleague on Red River. Hawks was interested but the director backed out after seeing an early print of Dr. No with Sean Connery.

Feldman pressed on, signing distinguished screenwriter Ben Hecht to come up with a screenplay. Details of Hecht’s work were reported last year by Jeremy Duns in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper. Hecht died in 1964, while still working on the project.

By now, Eon’s series was reaching its peak of popularity with 1964’s Goldfinger and 1965’s Thunderball. Broccoli and Saltzman agreed to a co-production deal with Kevin McClory, holder of the film rights for Thunderball. James Bond, The Legacy, the 2002 book by John Cork and Bruce Scivally, presents a narrative of on-and-off talks between Feldman, Broccoli, Saltzman and United Artists, the studio releasing the Broccoli-Saltzman movies. In the end, talks broke down. (Behind the scenes, Broccoli and Saltzman had their own tensions to deal with, including Saltzman’s outside ventures such as his Harry Palmer series of films.).

So Feldman opted to go for farce, but not in a small way. His movie had an estimated budget, according to IMDB.com. of $12 million. The Cork-Scivally book put the figure at $10.5 million. Either way, it was more than the $9.5 million budget of You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Broccoli-Saltzman series. Twice’s outlay included $1 million for Ken Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set.

Feldman’s film didn’t have that kind of spectacle. But he did pay money (or Columbia Pictures’ money) for talent such as John Huston (one of five credited directors), David Niven (playing the “original” James Bond, brought out of retirement, who implies the Sean Connery version of the Broccoli-Saltzman series was assigned the James Bond name by MI6), Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress (now famous because of Dr. No), William Holden, Woody Allen and….well CLICK HERE to view the entire cast and crew.

Casino Royale, however, was less than the sum of its impressive parts. The humor is uneven, it doesn’t really have a story, despite employing a number screenwriters, including Wolf Mankowitz, who introduced Broccoli and Saltzman to each other. (For a more sympathetic view, CLICK HERE for a long essay on the subject.)

The’67 Casino managed a reported worldwide gross of $41.7 million. That was good in its day, though less than a third of Thunderball’s $141.7 million global box office.

Much has been written since 1967 about the stressful production, including reported feuds between Sellers and Welles. Perhaps all that took a toll on the film’s producer. Feldman died in May 1968, a little more than 13 months after Casino Royale’s premier, at age 64.

M by the numbers, 1962-present

With the news that Dame Judi Dench says she’s returning as M, it got us to thinking about the actors who’ve played M, James Bond’s boss. Our tally is as follows:

Bernard Lee (Sir Admiral Miles Messevry): 11 films, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker. Trivia: First name (Miles) mentioned by KGB General Gogol in The Spy Whgo Love Me. Cameo (sort of): Portrait at MI6 emergency headquarters in The World Is Not Enough (1999), 18 years after Lee’s death.

Judi Dench: 7 films, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Bond 23. Conjecture: the Dench M since Casino Royale is another character (perhaps in a parallel universe) given the Daniel Craig films are a “reboot.”

Robert Brown: 4 films, Octopussy, A View To a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill. Possible 5th film: The Spy Who Loved Me Real name: Admiral Sir Miles Messevry (if you assume he succeeded Bernard Lee as M) or Admiral Hargreaves (if you assume Hargreaves succeeded Messevry as M). In any event, Brown appeared as an admiral in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Edward Fox: 1 film, Never Say Never Again (not part of official 007 film series). Implied that Fox’s M is successor to the Bernard Lee M, as least as much as can be implied without starting off a lawsuit between official 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli and Thunderball film rights holder Kevin McClorry.

John Huston: 1 film Casino Royale (1967), spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. Huston, an important American director, was one of five credited directors on the Feldman-produced spoof.

Only 007 film without an M: For Your Eyes Only (1981). Bernard Lee had died in early 1981. He had been unable to work on the 12th 007 film. Producer Albert R. Broccoli opted not to cast a replacement. Actor James Villiers played chief of staff Bill Tanner, who subbed for M, who we were told was on leave.