Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Casino Royale

All this talk of James Bond this week has me so excited. Have you listened to the Skyfall podcast yet? No? Go do that now.

Our last Weekend Weigh-In asked for your favorite and least favorite Bond films. I was surprised that Casino Royale is one of our listeners’ favorite James Bond films. Because Casino Royale stinks! It stinks on ice.

Then I realized: all of you must mean the OTHER Casino Royale.

The ORIGINAL Casino Royale was released in 1967, and it is one of the worst movies ever made. I have deliberately revived “Shitting on the Classics” just to shit on this misbegotten movie. While no one in his right mind would ever call this atrocious waste of precious celluloid a classic, I take issue with the fact that the 1967 Casino Royale takes a major dump on the classic James Bond.

Break out your toilet paper, baby wipes, and a bidet—this is going to get messy.

THE PLOT IN BRIEF: There is no plot; this film is a fever-dream of psychedelic and disturbing things.
Casino Royale was the brainchild of Charles K. Feldman, once one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood, who ponied that fame into a job producing movies. He started his new career producing three home runs: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Seven Year Itch, but as the sixties wore on, he began to produce bigger and bigger films with smaller and smaller results. The turning point for Feldman was 1965’s awful and obnoxious What’s New, Pussycat?, which (though it gave Woody Allen his first screenwriting gig and boasts a title song you can not get out of your goddamned head no matter how goddamned hard you try) is one of the worst comedies ever made. The following year, Feldman bought the rights to the first James Bond novel and, realizing he could not compete with the Sean Connery films that were then such a sensation, decided to do a “send up” of Bond instead.

Big mistake. The original three Bond films are already sly, subtle send-ups of the whole spy genre. One cannot engineer a “send-up” of a “send-up.” One cannot “top” something that is already “over the top.”

Casino Royale is so bad, in so many ways, that it is hard to know where to start:

•    The three credited screenwriters (and four uncredited ones) decided that if one James Bond in a James Bond movie is good, then SEVEN JAMES BONDS in a James Bond movie would be GREAT. You read that right: seven James Bonds. David Niven is the “real” James Bond, brought out of retirement (a trope designed to explain away Niven’s advancing age.) Terence Cooper pretends to be James Bond, but he is only there to train other James Bonds. Ursula Andress (Honey Rider in Dr. No) is Vesper Lynd, who at one point pretends to be James Bond. Peter Sellers is expert card player Evelyn Tremble, who pretends to be James Bond so that he can beat Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at baccarat. Daliah Lavi spends most of her screen time strapped nude to a big table, but she too takes a turn pretending to be James Bond (and why not? Everyone else is doing it.) Joanna Petit plays Mata Bond, the daughter of James Bond and Mata Hari. Academy Award-winner Woody Allen plays Jimmy Bond, James’s evil nephew. Whew!

•    The film used four credited directors. Each helmed a different Bond segment, and when the cobbled-together film made no sense, Feldman talked Val Guest into writing and directing additional framing material so that it would at least kind of make sense. It doesn’t.

•    The film subscribes to the “more is more” aesthetic, so the filmmakers throw in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink to invoke a spirit of crazy mayhem. The resulting film is a festering fondue pot of shit, brimming with half-finished production design, garish lighting, ludicrous costumes, baffling editing, and a finale featuring cowboys and dancing Indians, celebrity cameos by Jean-Paul Belmondo, George Raft, and William Holden, and a bubble machine. Because a bubble machine makes everything (nothing) funnier.

•    Apparently, a troubled Peter Sellers (was there ever any other kind?) hated working on this film. He despised the fact that it was a spoof, insisting that he wanted to play the real James Bond in a “real” James Bond film, not a “send-up.” Co-star Orson Welles so intimidated Sellers (Welles called him “the amateur” on set) that Sellers insisted on filming his big scene with Welles on a different day than Welles. Sellers and Welles (sounds like a brand of English biscuit!) were never on set at the same time, and their scene together at the casino table is a triumph of film editing and sightline matches.

Bond films are famous for their fabulous over-the-top theme songs, and Casino Royale does not disappoint. You might remember the instrumental version of the song as what Will Forte danced to in a goofy SNL sketch about a coach trying to inspire his team at half-time. It is even more bat-shit when you hear the lyrics. Check it out:

This film also includes “The Look of Love,” a pretty song featured in the Peter Sellers segment. Supposedly, hearing this song was one of the things that inspired Mike Myers to write Austin Powers. (So you can hate the movie for that too if you want.)

Actually, one of the few reasons a sane person may want to watch Casino Royale is to explore where so much of the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery universe came from. It seems to me that Austin Powers takes the central problem of Casino Royale and amplifies it two-fold. If one reason that Casino Royale does not work (and could never work) is that it parodies something that is already a sort of parody, then Austin Powers goes Casino Royale one worse, being a (tired) parody of a (shitty) parody of a (sort-of) parody. Austin Powers points at Casino Royale and asks, “Isn’t that ridiculous?” but Casino Royale already knows that it is ridiculous. I agree that it is ridiculous, and I would like to add another adjective: shitty. Which makes the original Casino Royale shiticulous.

A lot of our listeners and readers love the 2007 Casino Royale, and they should; it is a terrific movie. It only makes it better to consider that in a very real sense, it is the single greatest REMAKE in all of cinema history.

And it features just ONE Bond. Go figure.


  1. The "Look of Love" is my favourite Dusty Springfield song. I didn't know it originated from this movie so it may be this unwatchable piece of shit's only saving grace.

    I like the Austin Powers films fine. There's diminishing returns as the series progresses and retreads the succussful gags from the previous films but to one degree or another they each have their moments. The James Bond films may have had some tongue in cheek humour but there was still opportunity for parody.

    1. I like the first Austin Powers movie, too. Haven't seen it in a few years, but I remember it fondly. And yeah, the sequels suck balls. But that first one is great! To each his own, I guess.

  2. The original Austin Powers, at least in my mind, is a comedy classic (the sequels, less so to not at all). At the very least, I'm sure it could be considered way better than 1967's Casino Royale. I mean, multiple James Bonds in the same movie? I've never seen it, but that in itself sounds ridiculous, to say the least.

  3. I've watched this movie 3 times. I can't begin to tell you anything about it beyond a few images. I can't even watch it as a fan of bad movies. It makes my head hurt just to think about it.

  4. So, like Bond in "Skyfall," is JB making 'resurrection' his hobby? Look out, Herbert West, you've got company. :-)

  5. Interesting thing is that this movie was a major box-office success. Orson Welles, who hated the movie, would always give credit singularly to the poster.

    I'm a big Peter Sellers fan, and I actually used to enjoy this film when I would just fast-forward to his and Woody Allen's scenes. However, I recently watched this from begin to end for the first time, and boy, it is a dog.

    Woody Allen is the highlight of the film, but he's clearly just making it up as he goes along.

  6. I've seen a lot of movies, and this is probably the worst one I've ever endured. It makes Ghostbusters II look like Citizen Kane.

  7. Great theme song, wonderful poster art, horrible movie.

  8. I like 1967 casino royale the best of all 007 movies because this post-modern story was far beyond what a single author can make up in any novels. Perfect in watching in DVD so that one can reply any unclear scenes to follow the story (it was not possible in 1967, though). So, I could understand why this movie has so bad rating from professionals even after Austin Powers was released.