(Charles K. Feldman's Casino Royale)
United Kingdom, 1967
Directors: John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joseph McGrath
Production: Famous Artists, Charles K. Feldman, Columbia Pictures; Panavision, Technicolor; running time: 131 minutes. Released March 1967. Location scenes filmed in England, Ireland, and France; interiors at Shepperton Studios and Pinewood/MGM Studios England; cost: $12,000,000 (approximate).
Producers: Charles K. Feldman, Jerry Bresler; screenplay: Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers; suggested by the Ian Fleming novel; assistant directors: second unit, Richard Talmadge, Anthony Squire; assistants, Roy Baird, John Stoneman, Carl Mann; photography: Jack Hildyard; additional photography by John Wilcox and Nicholas Roeg; editor: Bill Lenny; sound: John W. Mitchell, Sash Fisher, Bob Jones, Dick Langford, Chris Greenham; production designer: Michael Stringer; art directors: John Howell, Ivor Beddoes, Lionel Couch; costume designers: Julie Harris; additional by Guy Laroche, Paco Rabanne, Chombert; music: Burt Bacharach; main title performed by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass; titles and montage effects: Richard Williams; special effects: Cliff Richardson, Roy Whybrow, Les Bowie; choreography: Tutte Lemkow.
Cast: Peter Sellers (Evelyn Tremble/James Bond 007); Ursula Andress (Vesper Lynd, 007); David Niven (Sir James Bond); Orson Welles (Le Chiffre); Joanna Pettet (Mata Bond); Daliah Lavi (The Detainer, 007); Woody Allen (Jimmy Bond/Dr. Noah); Deborah Kerr (Agent Mimi alias Lady Fiona); William Holden (Ransome); Charles Boyer (Le Grand); John Huston (M); Kurt Kasznar (Smernov); George Raft (Himself); Jean-Paul Belmondo (French Legionnaire); Terence Cooper (Cooper, 007); Barbara Bouchet (Moneypenny); Angela Scoular (Buttercup); Gabriella Licudi (Eliza); Tracey Crisp (Heather); Elaine Taylor (Peg); Jackie Bisset (Miss Goodthighs); Alexandra Bastedo (Meg); Anna Quayle (Frau Hoffner); Stirling Moss (Driver); Derek Nimmo (Hadley); Ronnie Corbett (Polo); Colin Gordon (Casino Director); Bernard Cribbins (Taxi Driver/Carlton Towers, F.O.); Tracy Reed (Fang Leader); John Bluthal (Casino Doorman/M.I.5); Geoffrey Bayldon (Q); John Wells (Q's Assistant); Duncan Macrae (Inspector Mathis); Graham Stark (Cashier); Chic Murray (Chic); Jonathan Routh (John); Richard Wattis (British Army Officer); Vladek Sheybal (Le Chiffre's Representative); Percy Herbert (First Piper); Penny Riley (Control Girl); Jeanne Roland (Captain of the Guard); Peter O'Toole (Scottish Piper); Bert Kwouk (Chinese General); John Le Mesurier (M's Driver); Valentine Dyall (Voice of Dr. Noah).
Awards: Academy Award nomination for Best Music and Best Song, 1968; BAFTA nomination for Best Costume (color), 1968.
McCarty, John, The Films of John Huston, New York 1987.
Parrish, Robert, Hollywood Doesn't Live Here Anymore, New York, 1988.
Benson, Raymond, The James Bond Bedside Companion: The Complete Guide to the World of 007, London 1990.
Lax, Eric, Woody Allen: A Biography, New York, 1992.
Lewis, Roger, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, New York, 1996.
Baxter, John, Woody Allen, A Biography, New York, 1999.
Variety (New York), 19 April 1967.
Crowther, Bosley, in The New York Times, 29 April 1967.
Crist, Judith, in New York World Journal Tribune, 29 April 1967.
Time, 12 May 1967.
Knight, Arthur, in Saturday Review, 20 May 1967.
Dassanowsky, Robert, "Casino Royale Revisited," in Films inReview, June/July 1988.
* * *
Casino Royale was a coup that Columbia Pictures had banked on: the one 007 property that got away from Broccoli and Saltzman's cash cow series. Producer Charles K. Feldman had hoped to equal or better the popularity of his Woody Allen scripted "mod" bedroom farce of two years earlier, What's New Pussycat? and trotted in a dozen stars and their star friends for the occasion. David Niven had already suggested cinematic mayhem in Life's 1966 multi-page color spread by admitting that it is "impossible to find out what we are doing," and the magazine claimed the film was a runaway mini-Cleopatra at a then outrageous twelve-million-dollar budget. Despite all the rumors and delays, the film seemed to have its finger on the pulse of psychedelia and the "swinging London" myth. It would beat a real James Bond entry, You Only Live Twice, to the box office in an early 1967 release.
In his provocative expose, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, author Roger Lewis insists that the actor's career decline was first signaled by his self-indulgence in Casino Royale. His lack of discipline and his demands caused several more rewrites in an already plot-du-jour concept that had employed Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, and Michael Sayers as credited writers (with uncredited fragments by Woody Allen, Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, John Huston, and Billy Wilder, among others) and five directors to helm the various segments of the film. The multitudinous talent here did more than mimic the Bondian shifts in plot and locale. What emerged was a kaleidoscope that utilized the original "serious" Ian Fleming novel, already given television treatment in 1954, as the core of a fabricated frame of plots and subplots which reduce the showdown between Bond (Sellers) and Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at Casino Royale into the single dramatic moment of the opus.
Bond purists have always loathed the film, while others have preconceived notions of a spy parody and miss the point. The mistake has been to buy into the publicity propaganda and the original sell of the film as a new "trippy" Bond, a funny Bond. This was bound to cause dissension, since a parody can not be parodied, and the series was already there. The film is also an ill fit among Bond imitators like the Flint series or Matt Helm, or even Saltzman's own Harry Palmer. Casino Royale's relationship to Bond is only emblematic; it is a prismatic translation of Fleming's milieu, not a linear adaptation. And it remains, even today, a wry and provocative sociopolitical satire. The often criticized inconsistencies of the film's multiple James Bonds, including the banal 007 of Terence Cooper, brought in to cover Sellers' unfinished characterization, intentionally work to confuse the issue of Bond, to overwork the paradigm until it has no value. Like Andy Warhol's canvas of multiple Marilyns, the original is mythic and its copies are but a poor stand-in fantasy.
The subversion of the modern Übermensch is already apparent before the credits, when Bond films customarily feature a spine tingling mini-adventure on skis or in the sky. Sellers' Bond, however, is simply picked up by a French official in a pissoir. Casino Royale enshrines the icon of David Niven as the retired, legendary Sir James Bond. "Joke shop spies" is how Sir James reacts to the technology of Cold War agents. Indeed, Vesper Lynd's (Ursula Andress) billions and Dr. Noah's (Woody Allen) confused kitchen-sink attempt to gain global control are no match for Sir James' stiff upper lip. Like a demonstration of the failed theories of limited nuclear war, the power-hungry are annihilated in attempting to make the world safe for themselves. Woody Allen's sex-hungry schlemiel persona may have already been a stock figure in 1967, but here, garbed in a Mao suit, he suggests the infantile psychosexual complexes behind the vengeful modern warlord.
To understand Casino Royale as a courtly adventure with Niven's Sir James as a poet-knight who is fated to lead the world to a new golden age, is to see the chivalric genealogy of the James Bond phenomenon. Sir James is resurrected to save a blundering world with its collective fingers on the nuclear button, but extinguishes himself in the final battle. The film has a heavy medieval, even biblical feel: the brilliance of Richard Williams' illuminated-manuscript titles; the testing of Sir James' purity at the debauched castle of M's impersonated widow (Deborah Kerr); the Faustian redemption of Vesper because she has "loved"; the representatives from the world's Superpowers (here it is the four Kings) who beg for the grace and wisdom of a knight of the (black) rose. The film, with all its ideas, directions, and visions, seems to relish its own sprawling, about-tofly-apart structure, folding over and under itself as medieval epics do and reflecting the serpentines of the art nouveau so present in several of the film's sets.
The mythical French casino itself provides a semiotic mapping of the film's subversion of the modern establishment. Besides the bourgeois finery of the palatial building and an art collection spanning the century, a female army garbed in Paco Rabanne's gladiator uniforms relates the modern power structure to the barbarism of ancient Rome. With their leader, Dr. Noah, acting on behalf of a vaguely Soviet SMERSH, but interested only in his own gratification, the static Cold War ideologies become reflections that turn on themselves. The film also features the music of Burt Bacharach and Debussy as well as Michael Stringer's wide catalogue of sets ranging from a Palladian estate to an East Asian temple, all linked by heraldic tones of orange/pink and blue/green, to house the goings-on. So much art, so much architecture, so many sideswipe references to high-culture. Too rich for a simple spy saga, this stylistic puzzle instead implies what is at stake in the battle between the "immaculate priesthood" of the individualistic and genteel Sir James and the false promise of social Darwinist technocrats.
There is a definite trajectory in the development of the sociopolitical satire of the 1960s from Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961) to the indulgence of Candy (1968) to the burn-out of The Magic Christian (1970), which locates Casino Royale as the mainstream cinematic apex of the era's anarchic impulses. It is never claimed as an inspiration or influence, yet Monty Python, the subversive parodies of Mel Brooks, the manic visuals of 1960s inspired music videos and the Generation X and Y films they inspire ranging from The Fifth Element to The Avengers, are all heirs to Casino Royale. Their creators would have had to invent the film if it had not existed. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is case in point. Like Casablanca, Casino Royale is a film of momentary vision, collaboration, adaptation, pastiche, and accident. It is the anti-auteur work of all time, a film shaped by the very Zeitgeist it took on. As a compendium of what almost went too wrong in the twentieth century done up as a burlesque of the knightly epic, it may still frighten the modernists, but those who follow should consider it to be quite sagacious.
—Robert von Dassanowsky