Skip to main content

He has enough trouble being a single agent.

Casino Royale 
(1967)

(SPOILERS) I had assumed, wrongly, that Casino Royale was a massive flop. It was massively expensive, but proved – surprisingly – a reasonably sized hit. Perhaps because this kind of unwieldy, overblown sprawl had become fairly familiar by this point in the 60s; the public knew, and presumably liked, a big mess when they saw one. It’s a movie I suspect few stick with for the duration when it’s on TV, and for good reason, as it entirely fails to grip and has no plot to speak of, by dint of production circumstance. But in its own way, this original movie version of Casino Royale is quite likeable. And one positive is unarguable: Burt Bacharach’s score is a triumph (and regarding Talk to the Animals beating The Look of Love to an Oscar; well, it tells you what you need to know about the authenticity of the Academy).

It’s also safe to say that Ian Fleming was right, and David Niven would have been a perfect James Bond. Niven was a hasty addition to the cast when Peter Sellers’ appalling behaviour saw him being let go; there was a scramble to make some vestige of sense from the footage shot. Thus, Val Guest put together linking material with Sir James Bond, and it works to the extent that this feels much more like Niven’s movie than Sellers’. Indeed, if there were more Niven and Woody Allen to fill the gaps, you could comfortably remove Sellers from the entire thing and not feel very hard done by at all.

Piper (Peter O’Toole): Excuse me, are you Richard Burton?
Evelyn Tremble: No, I’m Peter O’Toole.
Piper: Then you’re the finest man who ever breathed.

Producer Charles K Feldman opted to make a parody because he didn’t think it would be possible to compete with the official series (there were talks, it seems, of a collaboration with Eon, but this fell through). It’s said that Sellers, as deluded as ever, was keen to make a straight version, the evidence of this being that his Evelyn Tremble/Bond scenes and with Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) pretty much follow the novel. On the other hand, you’d expect that, loosely, in a parody.

Sellers’ performance is mostly a lot of nothing. Tremble, a gambler employed to play Le Chifffre, shows up properly after three quarters of an hour and shares scenes with a nondescript Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress), during which he dresses as Hitler, Napoleon and Toulouse-Lautrec. He is then nearly seduced by a young Jaqueline Bisset (as Miss Goodthighs), refuses to share the screen with Welles (Sellers was intimidated and concerned about being upstaged, it seems) and experiences a psychedelic torture when finally captured. Oh, and star cameos. Before ending up in heaven. The best part of his scenes are Welles’ magic tricks. So yes, he was upstaged.

Doubtless, Sellers’ star appeal and the investment forked out meant Feldman had no intention of ditching the Tremble footage entirely, but the consequence is the entirely inept linking material; the remainder of the picture is supported by Sir James Bond, Mata Bond (a game Joanna Pettet) and, at the end, Jimmy Bond (Allen). All this with a stew of five credited directors – Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest – and an uncredited Richard Talmadge.

Much of the Niven subplot – they’re all subplots – is pretty feeble in design, as his Bond is forced out of retirement and must return the remains of M (an inadvisably self-cast Huston, who had envisaged Robert Morley) to Scotland. But Niven being Niven, he keeps this celibate highly-capable “elder” Bond – well, Niven was only five years older than Daniel Craig is now – watchable, as Deborah Kerr’s Agent Mimi/ Lady Fiona McTarry and her harem attempt to “ruin” him. Sequences such as the challenge to wassail and the grouse shoot work reasonably well. Derek Nimmo cameos. Barbara Bouchet makes for easily the most delectable (daughter of) Moneypenny. Generally, Niven lends the picture a much-needed air of class.

It’s so long since I last saw Casino Royale, I’d pretty much forgotten Pettet’s role, and I’m not really familiar with her body of work (she reminds me a little of Blake Lively). She’s engaging throughout, though, and there’s some amusement to be had at the “art auction” of comprising photos of military leaders. After all, we see Richard Wattis being very English, and Burt Kwouk offering “Seventy million tonnes of rice!

Sir James Bond: I never should have let Nelly send him to progressive school.

There’s nothing really to “follow” in terms of story, as the progress from scene to scene is virtually random. So when Mata is kidnapped by SMERSH in a UFO and taken to Dr Noah’s lair, replete with all-seeing eye designs, it isn’t particularly phasing. Allen, at a point in his career when his purpose was strictly to entertain, is a breath of fresh air; the movie is comedically energised for the first time. There are actual laughs (earlier he got in a “Listen, you can’t shoot me. I have a very low threshold of death”). Jimmy’s plan is a hoot too: “The germ when distributed will make all women beautiful and destroy all men over four foot six”. It certainly makes more sense than the current one professed to be “on the loose”.

The Detainer: You’re crazy. You are absolutely crazy!
Jimmy Bond: People called Einstein crazy.
The Detainer: That’s not true. No one ever called Einstein crazy.
Jimmy Bond: Well, they would have if he ever carried on like this.

Of course, the picture then throws up its hands in favour of a “madcap” finale replete with explosions, Allen hiccupping atomic time pills, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Mel Brooks-esque cowboys and Indians (along with George Raft and William Holden). Nevertheless, I’d rather watch this Casino Royale than at least four or five entries in the canonical series. It’s random, sometimes dull, entirely lacking in spine, but it’s also more than willing to flaunt its era, it frequently looks as expensive as it was, and it features a string of memorable performances and cameos (others I haven’t mentioned: Bernard Cribbins, Ronnie Corbet as Dirk Bogarde, Geoffrey Bayldon and Anna Quayle). 






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.