Casino Royale (1967)

How did a film like Casino Royale ever get released? Troubled production, over five different directors, and God knows how many screen writers (three are credited but it’s said that over six others contributed), 1967’s Casino Royale is a perfect example of an over-budget film being high on itself and a beautiful disaster. Spoofing the spy genre (as well as capitalizing on the James Bond name), the film is the loosest adaption of the Casino Royale novel ever made, featuring a loose as hell narrative, too many characters, plot holes, little context, and so on. Yet, for all its flaws, I still enjoyed the film greatly: I was entertained, had some great laughs, and was genuinely interested in what went on. It’s such a unique and of-its-time film that I can’t help but still like it (even though its infamy is well deserved).

The film’s cast list includes, but is not limited to: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Barbara Bouchet, Deborah Kerr, Joanna Pettet, and Woody Allen. A brief synopsis of the film feels almost as unnecessary as it is impossible, but: Sir James Bond (David Niven) is called out of retirement to stop SMERSH, which includes beating Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in a game of baccarat (he owes SMERSH money, if you can believe it). Along the way, Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers), a man who knows his baccarat, is recruited by Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) to play against Le Chiffre and stop SMERSH from….doing more evil doings. The character of Tremble is essentially the other big important character aside from Sir Bond, but so many characters get introduced and so many get offed that I honestly didn’t notice when one character disappeared and another reappeared. To top it all off, while each of the characters has a different name, many of the characters are given the title of James Bond 007; this is devised by Sir Bond himself as a way to confuse the enemy (as well as the audience, if they’re trying to keep up with who is being named James Bond).

While the film is a spy spoof, it has no other form of identity; scenes go all over the place, the direction is always changing (certain scenes and actors were specifically shot by certain directors), but the story is probably the biggest disaster because there almost isn’t one. To explain: The story concerns defeating SMERSH by beating one of their own at a card game. Simple enough, right? Well, being that the film is over two hours long, it feels the need to provide scenes of characters doing certain things for over twenty minutes or more. Wanna see Sir James Bond visiting M’s household? Wanna see it go on for over twenty minutes? Wanna see one of the many 007’s infiltrate a SMERSH cover operation? Wanna see it go on for over twenty minutes?

What happens is that these scenes go on longer than they need to and introduce even more characters that, more than likely, don’t need to exist as main characters, let alone as minor characters. If these scenes were cut and made tighter in their focus, this film would be so much shorter, believe me. Yet, once again, something about the film filling and wasting its own time on unnecessary length and “exposition” fascinates me and keeps me interested; the only reason I can find for why I don’t mind this or why I like it is because it makes the overall film that much more interesting to follow, giving it a slower pace than it should have. Plus, I like lengthy films. Or, maybe it being so unnecessary makes the film worse and that much more of an entertaining and sensational disaster. Who knows.

So what other problems does this film have? Well, one huge problem I noticed is that it doesn’t really care for context. How did we get form here to there? Why did this happen? Whatever happened to so and so? If you’re really paying attention, you more than likely will be asking questions about what’s going on. Of course, not like it matters, since this film barely has a story to hold onto. Still, there are moments where I’m not sure what’s going on or what happened simply because no one has provided the context. Of course, some moments do have good context, but so many others have next to none. This also goes for transitions, which this film obviously has never heard about — In fact, one moment in particular stands out above all the others: a scene transitions from a kidnapping, to one of the 007’s looking for the kidnapped, to an unrelated scene, to the secret agent having been captured. Context? A transition explaining what happened? Don’t count on it.

So what does this film do right? Well, it succeeds in being an entertaining disaster, but I’m not sure that was the film’s intention. What it did succeed most in was making me laugh. Not every scene is a hit, and many moments are more humorous than they are funny. Still, other times I was laughing out loud and enjoying what was happening on screen. Any moment something blew up, I was having a ball (the explosions truly are a highlight). As it turns out, the funniest moments for me where when certain characters were killed off. Not every single character’s death was amusing, and it isn’t the sole fact that they died that amused me: It was the way they were killed. (I won’t spoil anything for those that want to see it all for themselves.) I will also add that the acting was actually not bad and the film ended exactly the way I wanted it to.

The music is probably the biggest highlight and most positive thing one can say about the film. Composed by Burt Bacharach, the music is deliciously late ’60s, making scenes more entertaining than they should be. There’s also the song “The Look of Love” by Dusty Springfield that is surprisingly well done. 

It’s fully understandable why Casino Royale has a bad reputation: the script’s narrative is beyond loose, the direction is all over the place, and the overall feel is overly goofy, ultimately confusing the audience with a film that doesn’t know what to do with itself. I don’t blame anyone involved in this picture with disowning or disassociating themselves from it. Still, there’s something charming about this mess, something fun and entertaining. It spoofs plenty of 007 conventions well, and its erratic nature and overblown ways is something you just never see. A film like Casino Royale rarely ever exists; It’s the result of the trends, the times, and the hype of Old Hollywood before the New Hollywood age came into town. It’s the sort of film that is worth checking out for its sheer infamy alone. Whether you’re a 007 fan, a fan of the late ’60s, a fan of disasters, or you’re masochistic, Casino Royale is a rare kind of picture that will (hopefully) never come into existence again.

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