Thursday, March 8, 2018
The Not-Quite-A-Bond Movie!
In the now quite deep James Bond canon the offbeat 1967 Casino Royale is a novelty of the highest order. If you like your movie adventures shaken with absurdity and not stirred by actual real suspense then this might be the Bond movie for you. I enjoy it well enough, but watching it is always more of an act of beholding a pop-art piece than falling into the throes of a sweeping spy flick. The story just doesn't cling together in any way which might allow a viewer to get swept away, the movie always brings you up short and reminds you that all of the farce which is writhing on the screen is not for a moment intended to elevate your endorphins, save for the bits which feature some beautiful dames, and the movie does that splendidly.
For those who might not know what Casino Royale is, let me try to explain. The world is threatened and all of the usual spies have been taken off the board because they have become overly consumed with sexual antics. The leaders of the spy world convene to bring back the original James Bond (David Niven) who is quite prudish and effete, the very opposite of the classic manly Bond type. He investigates the near immediate demise of the spy leaders and gets caught up in an absurd scheme to stop him which involves pretty girls (who are led by Deborah Kerr) and pheasants. He lives. Then we find out that there are other "James Bonds" in the world and we end up with Peter Sellers as a James Bond who is trying to bring down Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in a card game with the help of Vesper Lynd (a gorgeous Ursula Andress) and meanwhile the love Matta Bond (Joanna Pettit -the daughter of Niven's Bond and Matta Hari) investigates behind Soviet lines in Germany, and Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) is on the run in a South American country. Along the way we meet Moneypenny (the ravishing Barbare Bouchet) and someone called the Detainer (the lovely Daliah Lavi) and others. Add in cameos by John Huston, Charles Boyer, William Holden, and George Raft and you get the idea. Actually it all makes much less sense than the paragraph I just wrote.
The movie had at least four directors and took literally years to create. It cost a fortune as producer Charles K. Feldman lavished money and time on the project. Peter Sellers apparently cracked up during the film and was kicked off, which was what inspired the creators to make it into the exotic romp it is. The finale is an event which evokes the later work of Mel Brooks.
Casino Royale ain't really a good movie and it ain't a bad one. But it is a curiosity, a museum piece from an era when spies were all the rage and movies were spectacles. This one is all of that. I used to dislike this movie for what it wasn't, but now I enjoy it for what it is. That's one way.