Casino Royale (1967) dir. John Huston, Val Guest, Ken Hughes, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish
Starring: Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Orson Welles, Woody Allen
Before Daniel Craig got really serious as the rebooting tough and coarse James Bond, there was this British swinging 60’s sex romp spoof of the iconic character.
Explaining the plot is completely unnecessary, because it barely uses Ian Fleming’s original material. Instead it serves as a jumping off point for the myriad detours, set-pieces, skits, sketches, cameos which befit a variety show like “Laugh In”.
The basic outline goes like this… James Bond (David Niven) is secretly in retirement, but his name has been assumed by other agents in an effort to confuse their enemies. But when a number of other double-O agents are killed the real Bond is recruited back in action. Like the novel and the Daniel Craig version Bond plays cards against Le Chiffre in Monte Carlo, but this seems to be a minor footnote to various meandering plot detours. The end result is as coherent as an acid trip.
The comedy is of the swinging 60’s variety, and though this bloated psychedelic extravaganza will barely cough up a giggles with modern audiences, it isn’t without merit. Firstly it’s perhaps the best example of how precisely on the mark Mike Myers was with his Austin Powers series. No matter how ridiculous and repetitive the Austin Power movies got it doesn’t compare to the overindulgences and zany antics in “Casino Royale”.
So was “Austin Powers” spoofing a spoof movie? In many ways “Casino Royale” isn’t a spoof movie. While it makes reference to and exaggerates the hallmarks of the Bond series – the silly double entendre Bond girl names, the silly gadgets (which by 1967 had already becomes joke) etc. – its comic set pieces including food fights, hallucinogenic acid-trip sequences, the sexual innuendos and double-entendres are played as serious comedy.
Perhaps the most attractive and noteworthy element of “Casino Royale” is the fact that two of cinema’s great icons Orson Welles and Peter Sellers share the key set piece in the film. In the climatic baccarat game, we get to watch a great game of deception on and off screen. The behind-the-scenes conflict between Welles and Sellers are legendary. Welles reportedly had no respect for Sellers, referring to him as “that amateur” and he insisted his character ,Le Chiffre, perform magic during the game, further annoying Sellers. Sellers apparently stormed off the set for days, leaving Welles to do his coverage alone. When Sellers returned, he completed his portion of the scenes without Welles present.
Modern audiences will recognize the music of Burt Bacharach. His “Look of Love” song, which is kind of an anthem for the swinging 60’s, is front and centre as well as the fluffy theme song, which SNL fans will recognize as the music Will Forte’s flaky high school football coach character plays to pump up his teammates.
Since this was Ian Fleming’s first novel, this film always seemed like a stain on the franchise. Back in 1967, at $12million, then an astronomical sum of money for a feature film, it was a flop. Now thanks to Daniel Craig and the Bond producers, the “Casino Royale” title has its respect back. But don’t forget that this 1967 version still exists, and though it’s a complete disaster, think of it as a time capsule of swinging 60’s and an ironic accompany-piece to the Austin Powers series.
"Casino Royale" is available on Special Edition DVD from MGM Home Entertainment