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Casino Royale (1967)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

CASINO ROYALE (1967)

Starring: David Niven, Joanna Pettet, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress

Written By: Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers, Ian Fleming (novel)

Directed By: John Huston, Val Guest, Ken Hughes, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish

The Short Version

What if James Bond wandered into a Monty Python movie?

It’s wacky, it’s bizarre, and it makes next to no sense… but that’s part of the fun.

Hidden amidst the foolishness are some very fine performances.

And hey!  Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!

You know you’re curious.  Watch Casino Royale, have fun, and have several drinks.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SWISS ALMOND SPREAD.

Surprisingly consistent and delicious despite the questionable provenance of some of the elements that go into it.


Pairs Well With...

A WAGONLOAD OF VODKA.

Who am I to argue with the KGB?

“Dr. Noah's bacillus is highly contagious.  This germ, when distributed in the atmosphere, will make all women beautiful and destroy all men over 4'6".  Please handle these capsules with care.”


Once upon a time, former intelligence officer turned novelist Ian Fleming was looking to build on the literary success of his fictional hero, James Bond, by selling the rights to his stories to whatever film or television producer wanted to have a go.  Several years after a false start with an extremely disappointing CBS television adaptation of his first novel, “Casino Royale,” Fleming finally made good by selling the rights to the rest of his work to Albert Broccoli and Eon Productions…

…which left lonely little “Casino Royale” to float on its own for while.  Enter producer Charles K. Feldman, who acquired the rights after making a deal with the previous rights holder’s widow.

Initially, Feldman hoped to co-produce an “official” big Screen Casino Royale film with Albert Broccoli and his Eon partner, Harry Saltzman, but Broccoli and Saltzman were still sore from their Thunderball experience with Kevin McClory and therefore declined.  It’s said that Feldman’s next thought was to make a straight-up adaptation on his that still starred Sean Connery as 007, but that when Connery demanded a million for role, Feldman balked at the cost.  (It’s further said that Feldman would later lament that Connery’s demand would have been cheap in hindsight.)  Deciding then that no audience would accept a different man in the role of a serious Bond so long as Connery was around, Feldman moved on to “Plan C” – a spoof.

The result is the utterly ridiculous, absurd beyond description instant classic that we all know of today.

Casino Royale is a film that defies logic at every turn.  Three writers are credited with putting together the script; the real number hovers around ten.  Five directors get screen credit; there were at least six.  The results should be a disjointed, incoherent mess, and they are… but thanks to the amazing talent involved, they’re an outstandingly funny disjointed, incoherent mess, especially if you’re already a James Bond fan.

Don’t ask the plot to make sense… at least not while you’re sober.  (You’ll have much better luck if you’re drunk.)  In the world of this story, Sir James Bond (David Niven) was the world’s greatest secret agent… circa World War I or thereabouts.  But when it came time for him to retire – which he has happily done in favor of afternoons playing the works of DeBussy on his piano – the British Secret Service felt the need to keep his legend alive, hence the other man you’ve seen in other movies gallivanting about from adventure to adventure and bed to bed, much to the horror of his very gentlemanly and very chaste predecessor.  But now there’s a crisis: secret agents all over the world are being assassinated by the dozen, and none of the world’s intelligence agencies can figure out who’s behind it all.  That’s why the British Secret Service, the KGB, the CIA, and France’s Deuxieme Bureau have all come to Bond’s residence to beg him to come out of retirement and do what he does best.  Bond, of course, says “no”… and that’s when things get weird.

“M” (John Huston) retaliates by blowing up Bond’s house… and apparently killing himself in the process.  Bond then feels honor bound to return to London to take M’s place, with a stop off at M’s family castle for the funeral, where M’s widow – who is an enemy agent – tries to seduce him, figuring that by doing so, she’ll ruin his chaste reputation and make him feel so awful that he can’t effectively continue his mission.  (What?)  And hey, if she fails, there are roughly eighteen horny virgin girls – allegedly M’s daughters – who’d be happy to seduce him, too.  Somehow, Bond resists temptation… and that’s when things get extremely weird.

How weird?  Meet the secret love child of James Bond and Mata Hari, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), who must infiltrate as German Expressionist museum that doubles as the enemy training ground, conveniently located in Berlin’s red light district.  Meet also Vesper Lynd herself… played by none other than Ursula Andress.  Trumping even that bit of amazing casting is Orson Welles as Le Chiffre… adding his own unscripted touch to the proceedings at the casino by performing a magic show that drove his costar Peter Sellers so batty that Sellers refused to work with Welles at all, thus forcing the crew film film the action on each side of the card table on different days.  Want more?  How about Woody Allen as “Jimmy” Bond?

Crazy enough yet?

How about tossing in some flying saucers?  Cowboys and Indians, maybe?  What if nearly everyone in the movie – including the women – ended up being renamed “James Bond”?  And how about a mariachi style soundtrack scored by Burt Bachrach and performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass?  Arriba!

(Bonus: along with the mariachi music, Bachrach also throws in – at no extra charge – the surprise genesis of one of the great post-WWII jazz standards.  Yes, folks, this is where “The Look of Love” was born.)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, folks, Casino Royale is completely, unabashedly, insanely ridiculous.  Any attempt to truly describe it all play by play is an exercise in facepalms and double takes… and laughing so hard that one is ready to cry (or at least feel as though one has done a thousand sit ups) especially if one is already a James Bond fan.  Because that’s the beauty of a well-done spoof: it doesn’t have to make sense to be funny.  Hell, the more bonkers it gets, the more hilarious it gets.  That, my friends, is something on the cusp of genius.

I do say “on the cusp,” mind.  Casino Royale is funny, but it doesn’t quite hit the level of Mel Brooks at his best.  (SpaceBalls, History of the World Part I, etc.)  It does, however, beat any of the Naked Gun flicks any day of the week, and as far as those other Bond spoofs involving Mr. Myers go… I suppose that depends on the answer to which one is older: you, or “Beavis and Butthead.” 

Not that the comparisons really matter, of course.  At the end of the day, funny is funny is funny, and Casino Royale is absurdly funny.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a laugh, what are you waiting for?  Cue up the Tijuana Brass and behold the insanity that is Casino Royale!

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2013


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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