For Fresh Eyes Only: Casino Royale (1967)
Up to this point, I’ve only been watching the mainline canonical James Bond movies, and I’ve been having a pretty great time doing it. But this is a bimonthly column intended to run until the newest film releases, and with such frequent delays, there just aren’t enough of those films. Luckily, the Bond series is pervasive as hell throughout pop culture, so there’s no shortage of parodies and direct inspirations out there for me to sink my teeth into to get a better understanding of the full relevance of the series. Luckily, the film rights to Ian Fleming’s creation took awhile to get fully tied to EON productions, so a couple of non-canonical-yet-still-kind-of-official James Bond films do exist. Casino Royale ‘67 is the first of those films, and thus the first pitstop on my journey.
And what an awful pitstop it is.
Casino Royale is purported to be a satire of James Bond, which makes total sense. There’s plenty of fun that could be poked at the character and the films up to that point. On paper it should work, but Casino Royale fails to deliver on nearly every level. The humor nearly never works. I laughed exactly one time during the absolutely excruciating 137 minutes that this film runs. The plot is utterly incomprehensible (which I guess could be said about a few of the other Bond films I’ve seen, but that’s no excuse). Worst of all, Casino Royale wastes an unbelievable cast on this garbage. David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr, John Huston, Jacqueline Bisset, even Orson Fucking Welles, all are legends in their own right and all are massively underutilized.
I’m not going to get too deep into the plot because I honestly don’t even think I could. There are so many different diversions that serve nothing to the actual plot or to the film’s comedy. It’s such a mess that it feels like it’s at least three different movies awkwardly stitched together. There are, like, 6 different Bonds, but only one is a real Bond, even though a couple of them are real Bonds, I really don’t know. There’s an entirely worthless half-hour spent in Scotland that accomplishes nothing, but does see a 57-year-old David Niven bathing with a 17-year-old, because that’s what needed to happen. It all culminates in maybe the worst climax in film history, where a casino stuffed with every stereotype you can imagine does impossible-to-follow battle. It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s way too long, and it’s insultingly stupid.
I’ve been very negative about this film so far, but honestly there are things to admire. Burt Bacharach’s score is tremendous and varied, and i might be better than any of the actual James Bond scores that I’ve heard. And that goes double for the theme song, The Look of Love, sung by Dusty Springfield. It’s a lovely song that I’ve had on repeat for a few days now and can’t get out of my head. Also great, the movie’s gorgeous art direction. There’s plenty of great shots, and the sets are breathtaking. I was bored to tears by the movie, but just seeing some of these sets was enough to perk me up for a bit every now and then. The most impressive is a house that looks straight out of an M.C. Escher drawing.
I can’t stress enough how much I disliked Casino Royale ‘67. It bored the hell out of me, it wastes an unheard of all-star cast, it’s impossible to follow, and its sense of humor is inept. There’s beautiful art and an outstanding score, but these things would be better enjoyed in still photos or pressed on vinyl. Looking at the badass poster and imagining what this movie would be like gave me more enjoyment than the movie itself. I’ve got plenty of parodies lined up for this series, but the next one of those is aways away. I can not wait to get back to real Bond next week.
Marcus will return in For Fresh Eyes Only: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service