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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

CASINO ROYALE (1967) IS TOO MUCH … FOR ONE JAMES BOND. IT’S A BIT MUCH FOR MOST MOVIE-GOERS AS WELL 

From You Only Live Twice, we have to go backwards in time a bit. Casino Royale opened in April 1967 and You Only Live Twice opened in June. The spy craze was still going strong and the 1960s were still fun, fun, fun! (Until 1968 came along and ruined everything with a reality check! Lousy 1968!)

For some reason, EON Productions, the producers of the "official" Bond series, did not have the rights to Casino Royale. So while EON was working on You Only Live Twice (the fifth Bond film with Sean Connery), another group was toiling away to bring Casino Royale to the big screen. The producers of Casino Royale had a problem: Connery. They knew that Casino Royale would be competing with the Connery Bond. And they know that could be risky because Sean Connery IS James Bond. So they figured out a way to avoid competing directly with Connery.

They would play it for laughs. They wouldn't take it seriously. They would get five directors and an army of script-writers. They would throw in some great music from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Dusty Springfield and Burt Bacharach. They would get a whole gang of well-known actors and beautiful actresses. And they would pre-empt Connery with the spoofiest spy spoof of all.

And they would render a nearly incomprehensible mess.

Hey, I love this movie, but I am not so delusional that I don't notice that it has a few flaws. Plot holes, continuity problems, bizarre edits, and an awful lot of jokes that fall flat.

I don't care. You elitist movie snobs and your continuity and your common sense just would not understand. I sneer at you!

I am not alone. This movie has quite a following of admirers. It also has a dedicated cadre of determined detractors. (By far the largest group is made up of people who don't much care either way as they scratch their heads over the Casino Royale Civil Wars that break out at the James Bond fan conventions.)

Casino Royale is flashy and fun, with lots of great music, silly action, weird gadgets, beautiful women and even an occasional funny joke. And it features the talents of: David Niven, Ursula Andress, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, Woody Allen, Joanna Pettet, John Huston, Jackie Bisset, William holden, George raft, Barbara Bouchet, Daliah Lavi, Peter O'Toole and a few people I forgot about.

The plot (such as it is): A mysterious organization is killing the operatives of the intelligence agencies of the major powers. The leaders of the American, British and Russian spook organizations seek out the REAL james Bond (David Niven), who is retired and living on an estate where lions run free and Bond raises orchids and plays Debussy on the piano

One of the things I love about the movie is how the REAL James Bond is pissed that his name is being used by a sex maniac. MI-6 assigned the name to another operative when James Bond retired because of the legendary awe that the name projects in spy circles. It scares enemy agents and it boosts the morale of friendly organizations. And that simple explanation is all you need to know to defuse any debate about which Bond is the truest Bond.

It's like this: Roger Moore is James Bond just as much as Sean Connery or Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan is James Bond. They are ALL James Bond, in the sense that the name has been assigned to each new James Bond in succession. (Wouldn't THAT be a great Bond movie? Two top MI-6 agents competing to be the next James Bond?)

And, in another sense, NONE of them is James Bond. Not even Sean Connery! (Gulp!) James Bond retired long ago. By now, 2005, he is probably long dead. Every different actor playing James Bond is a different agent, the best MI-6 has to offer, who assumes the Bond identity until he retires or is killed.

(A lot of fans have probably thought of this, but Casino Royale is the ONLY movie that acknowledges it. Love it or hate it, you have to give Casino Royale credit for that.)

Anyway, the spy-masters have a little trouble convincing Bond to help them. The REAL James Bond refuses to help them until his estate is blown up and he is forced to cooperate.

There are several plots running through the rest of the film. James Bond goes to Scotland to console M's widow Mimi (Deborah Kerr) after her husband is killed. A horde of beautiful girls (all operatives of SMERSH, the super-secret organization run by the mysterious Dr. Noah that is causing all the trouble) tries to kill him. Bond's nephew Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) has disappeared, but he is shown briefly about to be executed by a Latin American firing squad. The REAL James Bond becomes head of MI-6 and, with the help of Miss Moneypenny (a gorgeous Barbara Bouchet) assembles a new squad of agents, all code-named James Bond (to confuse the agents of SMERSH). (Everybody is James Bond in this movie, even the women. It should be confusing, but the movie is such a mess, it doesn't make you any more (or less) confused.) Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress (hubba hubba)) recruits the baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) to join MI-6 and to help defeat Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at the baccarat table at Casino Royale. (Ursula and Peter both become James Bond. Orson does not.) The REAL James Bond goes to India to recruit Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), his daughter by Mata Hari. (There is a very nice dance number at the temple where David Niven finds Mata Bond. My favorite scene in the movie.) She also becomes James Bond and travels to East Berlin to infiltrate a dance school that is a front for SMERSH. Then, all the characters meet for the big finale at Casino Royale, and what a finale it is! Robot doubles of world leaders, Daliah Lavi in peril, Woody Allen as the villain, a dozen James Bonds, a random spaceship, cowboys and Indians, George Raft and at the end …

… the world blows up!

If you don't like this movie, try Tarkovsky!

Next: My original plan was to review On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the only James Bond movie with George Lazenby. However, my local video store does not have it on DVD! So it will have to wait. Which is too bad. I rather like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which we used to call On Her Majesty’s Secret Cervix when I was a kid.) Lazenby's Bond is not bad at all. Terry Savalas as Blofeld is just wrong, which is why it's great! Also, Diana Rigg is in it, as well as (in a very small part) Joanna Lumley (Patsy Stone of Absolutely Fabulous).

Instead, we will jump ahead to 1985: Roger Moore, Duran Duran, Grace Jones, Christopher Walken and Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill.

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