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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
"Casino Royale" was author Ian Fleming's problem child. To date no one has made
a sastisfactory adaptation of the first James Bond novel. The disc I'll be
reviewing covers the first two versions. It's the MGM standard edition disc that
has the nude sillouette on the cover which was a variation of the art work on the
poster and vinyl soundtrack album.

In the suppliments is a kinescope of the live B&W TV version starring the most unlikely
actor in the role, Barry Nelson (the co-pilot in "Airport"). Nelson was a Glenn Ford
type of mild mannered leading man. In this one hour copy he has an American
accent and CIA operative Felix Leiter has a British one. How could they get it
so wrong? The only interesting thing is Peter Lorre as the villain. Otherwise it's
a terrible screenplay and sorely miscast although the fact that they found a dupey
old kinescope (filmed off a TV screen) at all is interesting. I can see why it took
another ten years before Fleming would allow someone to adapt his popular novels
and he insisted on having some input into the casting and final result.

Since Fleming sold the rights to this single book but retained control of all of the others
(except for Thunderball where he only owned the novel rights), the property
was available for resale and agent Charles K. Feldman bought it and decided to
do a send up of the series in 1967. Fleming was dead by then (he passed away
after "From Russia with Love") but he must've rolled over in his grave over the
final results.

The problem with spoofing a series that was already tongue in cheek is it
seems like overkill from the start. And suffice it say, agents may have some
abilities in packaging stars with certain projects but that doesn't necessarily
mean they know how to produce a movie. This
film cost $12 million (which was more than the official versions by Saltman and
Broccoli) and was made in a state of chaos. The 'joke' if you want to call it
that was to have seven actors play James Bond and multiple directors handling
separate plots and sequences. Now some of the humor and set design is quite
imaginative and amusing. There's a sequence when they try to simulate the
German expressionist sets from Caligari and the climax uses the type of spiraling
rooms later utilized in "Laugh In" the next year. The problem is, the film comes
across like a series of unrelated black-out skits spliced together without any
connecting storyline. It makes absolutely no sense although
there are some entertaining bits. Woody Allen apparently wrote most of his material
and he's funny in his second screen appearance. When he's about to be shot he
says, "My doctor said I cannot have bullets enter my body at any time" which made
me laugh. Peter Sellers uses his real British accent although he does a few impressions in a one scene. But he seems so bewildered as to what he's doing in the movie that he quit the production and disappears from the final reel. Welles had to be optically combined with Peter Sellers in the casino game and never appeared together on set.
Other famous actors wandering around aimlessly in other scenes include Orson Welles, William Holden, George Raft and John Huston.

From what I gather from this mess is that "Dr. Noah" (rather than Dr. No) has been
kidnapping world leaders and replacing them with his doubles. That unto itself is
a funny premise but it not revealed until the last reel and they don't do anything
with it. M (Huston) visits David Niven (Fleming's original choice for 007) as the retired
agent and persuaded to return to the field to save the world. Considering the
world leaders in power in the sixties, he shouldn't have bothered and the planet might
have been better off with the doubles. In any event, Niven returns and to confuse the enemy (along the audience) he trains six new agents to be sent out
as "007" to investigate. So there are seven agents
called 007 all in separate plots. The movie ends with the kind of chaotic
anarchy later utilized in "The Magic Christian" feature from 1969 and since Jospeh McGrath was one of the directors, I suspect he handled that scene. The casino blows up and all of the James Bond imitators as well as the real one end up in heaven while Woody Allen goes below. And that's the movie. What this had to do with Fleming's story
or characters is unknown. To spoof something there has to be some links
to the original premise but there's none here.

So those are the negatives of this movie. Curiously, there are some rather
astounding attributes. The Technicolor/Panavision cinematography is spectacular
and it's one of the most colorful movies of the sixties. The anamorphically enhanced
widescreen looks great on this DVD. The 5.1 sound, derived from the 6 track
70mm blow up version is good. The set design is quite wacky and unique.
And the film's major plus is the score by Burt Bacharach. While it has nothing
to do with spy music as developed by John Barry for the Connery series, Bacharach
was in his prime and it's one of the catchiest soundtracks of all time. The theme tune
features Herb Albert who was also in top form. "The Look of Love" is one of the
tunes. The vinyl soundtrack album was better received and more popular than the feature and original copies are real collector items going for top dollar on ebay. I had the album before I saw the movie and used to play it on my stereo back in the day. So I highly recommend the music score and if you're curious you might want to sit through the film to see how it was used...but don't say you weren't warned.

The suppliments are pretty good. Val Guest, one of the surviving directors, is interviewed
and discusses the production madness. He not only supervised some scenes but tried
to link the separate stories (unsuccesfully). It's clear Feldman was in way over his
head and had no idea what he was doing. The production became a money pit as
the budget kept increasing and the multiple directors shot unrelated footage on many
soundstages in England. MGM included the old kinescope
as previously mentioned along with a 'making of' documentary under the general
term of 'psychedelic' cinema which certainly applies to this movie. I guess it works best
if you watch it under the influence.

The third version of "Casino Royale" was the first appearance of Daniel Craig in the
Bond role. While it contains more of the Fleming novel, I didn't like this actor in
the part at all. He has the toughness but none of the suave demeanor of
Connery. He came off more like a hitman than a super spy in my opinion but
contemporary audiences seem to enjoy his portrayal. The other problem I had
with this version was the over reliance on CGE stunts and action which always looks
artificial and cartoonish to me. I prefer the real stuntmen in the Connery series.

In Summary: Picture quality A, sound design A, Cinematography and Set Design A,
Performances, story and screenplay...F but it you see it after a few
drinks maybe it will upgrade to C.
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