Val Guest, Kenneth Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, and Robert Parrish
Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 19 March 2005
Source MGM DVD
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
Although it was no Cleopatra, Casino Royale cost a considerable sum of money to produce in 1966, its final cost ballooning to twice its original budget due to delays, egos, and freewheeling expenditures. The first of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and the first to be sold to Hollywood, it was also the only Bond film to be produced outside of the official MGM/Eon Productions series until Never Say Never Again in 1983.
Producer Charles K. Feldman did not get around to making the film until after the Bond series had become well established. While he had originally envisioned a straight adaptation of the novel, in light of the popularity of Bond he decided that a spoof would be more appropriate. After having achieved a good deal of success with his productions of the madcap Woody Allen-scripted comedy What’s New, Pussycat?, he reunited much of the creative and talent teams from that movie to work on his Bond film. Peter Sellers, Allen, and Ursula Andress returned to work in front of the camera, and Burt Bacharach agreed to provide another swinging score.
I am not well versed enough in Bond lore to know where Feldman got the crackpot idea that the film should be directed by five different directors, but in retrospect it seems nothing but ill-advised. Though many directors, including the inestimable John Huston, directed portions of the film, Val Guest had not only to direct his own segments but also to finish up the work of his colleagues when they could not be bothered to do it themselves. This is why he receives the strange “additional scenes” credit in addition to his director’s credit.
As for the film itself, it is certainly difficult to like. It is not so much a spoof as it is a parallel Bond universe in which the Sean Connery Bond exists but is never seen. David Niven plays the “original” James Bond who has retired and whose name and distinctive 007 agent number have been given to another agent. He has a ne’er do well nephew, Jimmy Bond, who finds himself in one scrape after another. Some other plot folderol includes the training of additional “James Bonds” to be resistant to feminine charms and a lengthy diversion featuring Deborah Kerr ceremoniously setting fire to her last shred of dignity. The only portion of the book to actually make it into the film is the plot for Bond (here Peter Sellers) to win the crucial Baccarat game against Le Chiffre (Orson Welles). Legend has it that their scenes together actually had to be filmed separately, with stand-ins taking the place of the actor opposite the star because the two stars despised each other. This is not too much of a surprise as I actually hate both of them in this film, too. Welles indulges himself too much by insisting on performing his ridiculous magic tricks even though they are totally out of character, and Sellers responds with his typical loony accents bit.
Casino Royale would make for an interesting time capsule of how major studios tried to appeal to the late ’60s youth market by incorporating a “Laugh-In” visual aesthetic and sniggeringly alluding to sex every few minutes if the film weren’t so damn boring. Watching it is a serious drag. Still, Bond fans must see it, especially considering that the next new Bond film is planned to be a straightforward adaptation of the source novel. If the marvelous Bacharach score and the visual gags based on German Expressionist silent film are a small consolation for the rest of the film, at least it’s something.