Casino Royale
directed by John Huston, Ken
Hughes, Val Guest, Robert
Parrish & Joe McGrath
(Columbia TriStar, 1967)

It was with a sense of pain and resigned duty that I slipped Casino Royale into my VCR for my ongoing rundown of films in the James Bond milieu. While not an official part of the series, it does use the Bond character, as well as M, Q, Moneypenny and other familiar names, so it seems to belong from a completist's perspective.


Perhaps it's a matter of too many cooks. The film boasts five directors, and the result is a mishmash with little to no sense about it. Even the movie's large cast of well-known and, in some cases, widely respected actors can't save this embarrassment from happening. It's billed as a spoof, but too much of it is just plain not funny; it's obvious the cast and crew are trying too hard. If it's a Bond spoof you want, watch Austin Powers.

The nut of the plot actually has potential; this could have been a good movie, had someone had the vision to take the helm and direct it properly.

David Niven is "the true, one and only, original James Bond," dubbed "the greatest spy in history" by a quartet of world espionage leaders who assemble to beg, then force Bond's return from retirement. To preserve the legend, we learn, British Intelligence always has a James Bond, 007, on the roster, and Niven's Bond is disdainful of his current namesake, whom he describes as a womanizing bounder relying on gadgets and leaving a trail of beautiful corpses in his wake. The real Bond, it seems, is distinguished, low-tech and celibate.

I suppose that explains the efforts of the faceless head of SMERSH to shatter Bond's self-image by ordering a castle full of gorgeous spies, led by Mimi (a.k.a. Lady Fiona McTarry, played by Deborah Kerr) to either seduce or kill him. (They attempt the latter with a set of large Scottish balls and a flock of radio-controlled grouse bombs.) Of course, they fail.

After the between-scenes murder of M (director John Huston), Bond takes charge of Intelligence with the aid of Moneypenny (or, rather, Moneypenny's daughter, played by Barbara Bouchet), who tests potential agents in a negligee. To throw their nemesis off-track, Bond orders all agents, including the women, at least one dog and a trained seal, to assume the Bond name and number.

And it keeps getting worse.

Recruited as a faux Bond is Peter Sellers as Evelyn Trimble. Although he receives top billing, even above Niven, his purpose in the film isn't entirely clear. Basically, he becomes James Bond solely because he can play baccarat well. He's seduced into service by Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress, the original Bond girl from Dr. No), gets equipped by a lackluster Q (Geoffrey Bayldon) and has a pointless encounter with the treacherous Miss Goodthighs (Jacqueline Bisset) before squaring off at the card table opposite Le Chiffre (Orson Welles). Meanwhile, Bond (Niven) recruits his illegitimate daughter with Mata Hari, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), to infiltrate a spy training school in West Berlin run by the scar-faced Frau Hoffner (Anna Quayle) and the android Polo (Ronnie Corbett).

Another fairly pointless 007 is Cooper (Terence Cooper), who's mostly on-screen to fill space, although he does provide an entrance for a female 007 (Daliah Lavi), who plays a crucial trick near the end of the film. William Holden plays CIA agent Ransome. The movie also includes uncredited appearances by Peter O'Toole as a Scottish piper and David Prowse (the body of Darth Vader in Star Wars) as Frankenstein's creature -- for no apparent reason.

Continuity is nonexistent and the plot is muddled at best. There are a few gems scattered here and there, but they're fairly rare. The final scene obviously provided inspiration for the climax to Mel Brooks' 1974 comedy classic, Blazing Saddles.

Woody Allen provides most of the humor, although he's only on-screen for a short time. He plays Bond's nephew, the bumbling Jimmy Bond, as well as the evil Dr. Noah. Perhaps if they'd used him more, they could have saved this otherwise useless film.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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