Casino Royale (1967) (Blu-ray Review)7 Feb, 2012 By: John Latchem
Stars David Niven, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, John Huston, Terence Cooper, Barbara Bouchet.
This movie is profoundly stupid, and anyone who claims to understand it is lying.
The plot, involving multiple agents named James Bond, is all over the map, with way too many starts and stops, the result of an out-of-control production involving five directors and a star (Peter Sellers) who walked out before he finished all his scenes, allegedly resulting from a dispute with co-star Orson Welles. All of this is rather fully spelled out in the Blu-ray extras.
The origins of this film are well known. Producer Charles K. Feldman had acquired the rights to Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel after after the "Climax!" TV production of Casino Royale failed to make an impact in 1954. Feldman hoped to strike a deal with Eon Productions for an official adaptation, as was done with Thunderball, but the sides couldn't come to an agreement.
Rather than attempt to compete with the Eon series, Feldman decided to make a spoof in the style of his What's New, Pussycat?
The main gag is that Sir James Bond is actually a retired spy played by David Niven, whose name is being sullied by a new agent obsessed with sex and violence. When an enemy agency starts killing spies, Sir James takes over MI6 as the new M and assigns all agents with the code name James Bond 007 to confuse the enemy.
This includes a Baccarat expert played by Sellers, recruited to bankrupt Le Chiffre (Welles) in the only part of the film that comes close to resembling the novel. And then a flying saucer shows up, and Woody Allen gets involved, and the story jumps from one point to another with the flimsiest of connections.
Niven is effective enough as the glue trying to hold all of this together, and the movie, while mostly unfunny or groan-inducing, actually manages a few laughs, especially during a zany finale that seems to involve every gag the filmmakers can think of throwing at the screen.
The highlight is the music by Burt Bacharach and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which fits the material and still sounds great.