Friday, December 13, 2019

Casino Royale (1967)

The spy world is in turmoil. Evil organistation SMERSH is killing off agents from all over the world, regardless of sides, and in a desperate bid, the heads of British, American, European, and Russian intelligence meet with the original James Bond, now retired. They plead with him to help stop this threat, but he refuses to be a part of their world again. However, events force him into action when his home is annihilated by a bombing attack. Now ready for revenge and justice, Bond sets into gear and begins rebuilding MI6 anew, to finally put a stop to SMERSH and their dastardly plans...

The first big James Bond film not to be a part of the main series, and the first parody, Casino Royale is a strange but amusing film. It's just a lot of fun, and while many see it as heavily flawed or even outright terrible (a curse on such people!), I've always had a soft spot for it. I have my own issues with it, and my own idea of what it should have been, but I still enjoy popping it in and watching again and again.

The movie's main concept is that of playing around with the idea of James Bond being used as a codename, rather than referring to just a singular man. As far as the main series go, I think that's a cute theory, but obviously not right for it. For parodies or homages though? It's perfect! And this sometimes utilises the idea well. There are many little new 007's, but the one the story focuses on the most, behind the original is Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble.

Casino Royale was truly a hodgepodge of a film, with at least 5 directors, and 10 writers! The old adage 'Too many cooks spoil the broth' is often used to describe the production, and rightfully so. Even as someone who actually likes this, I freely admit its pacing and sequencing of events can feel a bit off. The movie is pretty much broken up into several different blocks, most having their own main characters.

The Scottish castle segment is considered by many to be a low point in the film, even among those who like the [movie]. As for my opinion, it's...complicated. The section's place in the story makes total sense, and some of the humour hits the mark for me (though not all), but I think my issue with it is that there was only one scene beforehand, and an abrupt transition pulling us straight into this =, which lasts a good 20 minutes. Because it lasts so long in a part of the movie that would otherwise have been reserved for setup and building the plot up, perhaps that's why it rubs me the wrong way a bit? It also doesn't really fit in that much with the psychedelic and abstract 60s feel and set design present in ==, but I suppose that could be seen as the movie just having variety.

Other blocks include a sojourn at a Caligari-esque spy academy with trippy/surreal visuals and strange characters, and a possibly racist = against the Chinese, if not for the characters of other nationalities in that scene acting equally weird with their choices of auction bargaining. Next up is the [crux] of Evelyn Tremble's storyline, at the titular casino

Here's the really weird thing. While the rest of the movie may have =, flying saucers, Caligari-esque spy academies, and sewers containing Tom Jones concerts, the actual Casino Royale segment is perfectly straightforward, with Peter Sellers playing a straight James Bond. That's not to say there's not weirdness in this section of the movie overall, as there's a trippy hallucination sequence, and the whole mental torture scene, but Sellers' plays the role seriously, and despite the new context/the new context aside, it's not terribly unfaithful to the book, or perhaps it'd be more apt to say it's not unfaithful to that section of the book.

I have mixed feelings about the ending. On one hand it's an absolute ball, from the concept of a big casino brawl like this, to the accompanying music being perfect, however, despite the things I do like about it, it's a really downer of an ending! Like, what the hell?! And there's not even any real point to it too besides ending the film on/with a bang instead of, y'know, an ending. There's seriously no real conclusion to Casino Royale. There's just a fight scene that blows up, leading to a brief musical number, then end credits. Some elements are also a bit overboard in the randomness department, like the Cowboys and Indians, seals, chimps with laughing gas, Keystone Kops footage, the impromptu dance the (MI6?) Native Americans do right before the end, etc. A simple fight would've sufficed. Goeorge Raft's cameo is a bit weird too thanks to rather [stilted] line delivery, but is otherwise amusing. Jean-Paul Belmondo is alright, but appears only fleetingly. The rest of the cameos range from ok to decent. Overall, the end is fun as what it is, but greatly unsatisfying, and I would've preferred the fight end normally, and that we see the characters as things all wrap up.

Casino Royale cycles through many characters as the lead at any given point. David Niven gets the first half hour, then vanishes for a while as Evelyn Tremble is introduced, then we get a block where Mata takes centre stage, etc. At one point we're also introduced to Cooper. There's nearly 10 minutes of setup for this character, and he rarely appears again after that! He only shows up again in the climax, but he's just there, not really saying anything, or doing much besides punching random bad guys whenever the camera feels like settling on him (which is not often). The villain's true identity is pretty out-of-nowhere too, and that character had only appeared for like 1 minute in the first half hour and that's it. As an antagonist, they suck, but it very much feels like that's the point. This film has quite a pointed message against toxic masculinity and male entitlement, if you think about it!

As a parody, this is a bit of a missed opportunity. There are a few moments and lines of dialogue that get that point across, but most of the film just feels like a regular spy comedy rather than a spoof specifically, and some m.

a good way of describing the events of the film  "this is where the film REALLY gets weird!"   something I say a lot when showing people this

Given the scattered nature of the script, there are a few plot holes, borne not of laziness but simple overload or confusion. Like Evelyn attacking a customs agent for no apparent reason (which is mentioned by Bond,) or =. That one is the weirdest, because Evelyn actually acknowledges it, but Vesper just ignores it and the movie moves on. Then there's his drink being drugged, but = putting in an antidote pill, which doesn't work. This is brought up, then summarily ignored

A weirder moment is the segue into the psychedelic torture sequence. Vesper's just been kidnapped, and Evelyn, now dressed as a Formula 1 racedriver gets into a Lotus Formula 3, while espousing]/expositing this fact melodramatically. Then as he drives away, we immediately cut to him already having been taken prisoner. Either this part of the film was affected severely by Peter Sellers leaving, or the racecar scene was so odd deliberately, as Evelyn had already gone under. If that is the case, how much of that scene didn't actually happen? Was Vesper really even kidnapped? And why don't we ever actually see Evelyn being kidnapped? I think that Sellers' departure was the cause of this =, but it was a happy accident in my opinion, as it really aids the surreal nature of the =, and the movie overall, even if in an unwitting way.

Due to the complicated making of the film, there were a few scenes left on the cutting room floor. Apparently the corpse we see Vesper dispose of at one point actually had, well, a point! They were even played by Ian Hendry! All of that was removed though, and all we see is her randomly disposing of a corpse, just because. It's hardly out-of-character, but a little baffling as it is. Next up is the = saying/supposition that the section in Evelyn's drugged dream sequence where he's playing Ursula Andress like a piano was originally part of the hallucination torture later on, but I don't believe that. Partially because it doesn't really fit with what we see there, and they had to have some footage for this weird dream scene, which IS an actual scene, not a last minute = of extra/unused/leftover [footage/reels], and the only time we see Vesper in the torture segment is when it's the real one. I can definitely see how the final shot of Sellers at the end was unused footage from that sequence though. Quite fortuitous that it fits so well with that =! Well, that was a mouthful! Last one next, I promise.

I also hear tell that the entire plot with David Niven was only started after Sellers left the project in a huff/was fired/both. I don't buy that either. Niven's Bond is too interwoven into the plot and with too much screentime to merely be a last minute replacement for Sellers. And that plotline doesn't even begin to make sense without everything in the other parts in the movie. It's a shame the Sellers did leave, and we didn't see his character reach a proper story arc, take part in the climax, or interact with David Niven at all.

The budget to Casino Royale was pretty astronomical at the time, going overbudget from $6 million to $12 million by the end, causing the studio much strife (though the film did end up making quadruple its money back). I find it amusing that that amount of money was such a huge budget at the time, but even adjusted for inflation, $12 million dollars 1967 money is peanuts to a modern day film, and you'd get laughed out of a Hollywood studio room/board meeting for 'daring to suggest such a low pittance of a budget'. Even worse is of course how much money the latest Bond movies cost to make, despite SO not reflecting that, sinking presumably the GDP of an entire nation into an average spy caper. If ===[studio] could one day see a Bond movie costing $250 million bucks, I think they would've been more lenient on this production!

Casino Royale is a very well-made movie, and reflects its budget well, with many strange and creative sets and locations, some of which are very reminiscent of The Prisoner, and I have to wonder if this was an influence on that production in any way! One might think that unlikely given that came out only a few months after Royale,  but let's be real, The Prisoner is a British TV show. They rushed those things out on a wing and a prayer in three days, all in one take if possible!

There's a lot of acting talent on display, even if not all of players are in major roles. David Niven is great fun as an effortlessly suave and refined James Bond, while Peter Sellers is surprisingly convincing as a serious Bond too! He gets a few amusing/humorous lines, and brief opportunities for costume [dressing] and an impression, but by and large he plays the role straight, even in more comedic moments. Ursla Andress is a bit [stilted/awkward in some lines], but is mostly good as the duplicitous Vesper, getting across her character in both looks and demeanour. Barbara Bouchet is great as Moneypenny, albeit a bit underused, and Joanna Pettet is fun as Mata Bond, though the short haircut she receives offscreen near the end makes things a bit confusing. Deborah Kerr's character might be annoying to some, but I can't help but like her, as she's Deborah Kerr! I think she handles the comedy that works in that part of the film quite well, and she must've enjoyed the opportunity to finally be able to cut loose with her inner Scots! Valentine Dyall's voice is great as the villainous Dr. Noah, but he ends up vanishing come the identity reveal.

There are quite a few familiar faces of British cinema here, such as Goeffrey Bayldon, Duncan MacRae, John le Mesurier, Bernard Cribbins,  Graham Stark, Ronnie Corbett, Anna Quayle, and Burt Kwouk. Some of these only cameo, while others have more sizeable roles, such as Cribbins' taxi driver with weird priorities, Quayle playing a German (she was one of Britain's go-to English actors for playing Germans), and a bizarre turn from Ronnie Corbett.

A plethora of other big names make appearances here, like John Huston, William Holden, Charles Boyer, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and George Raft, some of whom only have minor roles and others have mere cameos, despite top billing in the [opening credits, and] the film's marketing. Cheeky buggers!

An elephant in the room is the presence of massive bastard Woody Allen, but if you're worried you won't be able to enjoy the movie because of him, never fear, because the movie doesn't like him either! His character is a pathetic villain, treated ignominiously  and more than that, Allen hated working on Casino Royale  and reportedly considered it 'beneath his talent's. Ha! Pretentious prick. Whether it was actually difficult, or just a perceived slight in his mind, I'm glad the film was an arduous experience for him. The least he deserves.

The direction here, including such talent as John Huston and Val Guest is mostly very good, but sometimes inconsistent, which is understandable given the sheer amount of Other directors. The editing is sometimes a bit confusing though, often due to disappearing actors. John Huston as M for example dies, but it's impossible to tell how.

Finally, the music! The soundtrack to Casino Royale is phenomenally good! By far the movie's best quality, it's got lots of neat tracks and leitmotifs, nice variety, and even some = tunes in there too for the more weird and experimental location, complementing them well. There's even an actual proper song composed for the film courtesy of Dusty Springfield, with The Look of Love! [Quite] a few noteworthy composers worked on this picture, from Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and the aforementioned starlet.

Casino Royale is one heck of a mixed bag, but even then it's got a lot to recommend, and I've always really enjoyed it. Even if you might not like it, I still recommend it as an interesting if bewildering artifact, but if you do like it, then great! Enjoy...

caligari, 1:38:50, 1:47:13

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