Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
CASINO ROYALE (1967)
CASINO ROYALE (1967). Directors: John Huston; Ken Hughes; Robert Parrish; Joe McGrath; Val Guest.
Bizarre parody of James Bond movies features David Niven as the original 007 who's brought out of retirement after M and his corresponding officials in other countries are blown to bits (along with Niven's estate). He takes over M's position and is furious how “secret agent has become synonymous with sex maniac” since that new fellow took over. He enlists all the top agents to battle the threat of Dr. Noah, head of Smersh. These include: Agent Cooper (Terence Cooper), who is trained to resist the advances of gorgeous women; Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), the daughter of Niven-Bond and Mata Hari; Evelyn Tremble (a subdued Peter Sellers), a baccarat master who must pose as Bond to outwit Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in the only scene reminiscent of the novel; and Niven's nebbish nephew Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen). [Mata Bond is sexy and audacious in early scenes, but later on seems innocent and virginal, a victim of jangled continuity?] Gorgeous Ursula Andress -- at this time she was one of the most beautiful women in the movies [and is still pretty hot today] -- from Dr. No is cast as Miss Lynn Vesper, who helps train Sellers and has a body disposal unit in her bedroom. Dahlia Lavi is good as another saucy agent, and Jackie Bisset appears briefly as enemy spy Miss Goodthighs.
SPOILER ALERT: Woody Allen – who is very funny – turns out to be the nefarious Dr. Noah. He plans to replace all the world's rulers with doubles under his control, and has a bacillus that will make all women beautiful and kill all men over four foot six! He has also invented – and is tricked by Lavi into swallowing – capsules with “tiny time pills” that will turn a person into a walking bomb. After a wild fight at the casino where the cavalry literally appears (as well as Jean-Paul Belmondo and George Raft in cameos) Woody blows up himself and the rest of the cast. Everyone goes to Heaven – except Woody.
Although this picture is very silly and plays like a bad Batman episode at times, it does have great sets and scenic design, terrific music by Burt Bacharach [the rousing theme played by Herb Alpert; "The Look of Love"], and many inspired and amusing sequences. Five directors gives it an episodic feel as well as some muddled continuity. The Art Deco spy school with Frau Hoffner (well played by an amusing Anna Quale) is quite striking; there's some great, sweeping cinematography and good FX work; and the memorable guest stars include Deborah Kerr, who is quite good in a comedic turn as a spy posing as M's wife who tries to tempt Niven into immorality. Other guest-stars include co-director John Huston, William Holden and Charles Boyer. Barbara Bouchet makes a delectable Miss Moneypenny. There's an amusing (if highly stereotypical) gay tailor who outfits Sellers with new spy clothes and creates a few questionable gags. The funniest moment: Woody Allen climbs up a wall to escape a firing squad, only to drop down on the other side – where there's another firing squad! NOTE: To read a review of Ian Fleming's original novel, click here. To read a review of the remake click here.
Verdict: Although Casino Royale is certainly not on the level of the “serious” Bond films, it isn't that awful – but it's nothing spectacular either. **1/2.