DIRECTORS: Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest & Richard Talmadge
This is the second “filmed” of the three versions of Ian Fleming’s inaugural 007 novel. The first was a 1954 episode of the U.S. TV series Climax!, in which James Bond was rewritten as an American, rather than British spy. The latest is the better known 2006 Daniel Craig soft-reboot and this, well this was something else altogether.
With the rights not being included in EON’s deal for the Ian Fleming books in the 1960’s, Casino Royale was re-worked as a comedy spoof of the highly popular spy genre and James Bond franchise which were rife in the 1960’s. EON’s “official” productions of Bond began in 1962 with Dr. No (1962) and this film was to come out just months before Sean Connery’s fifth outing as the suave British agent.
But this was not the Bond which we knew. A chaotic production, which was supposedly envisioned to be a collaborative effort with several directors filming different episodes, was origianlly supposed to star Peter Sellers as Bond, but after he fell out with co-star Orson Welles, he left the production rather abruptly, prompting a bridging device be developed by co-director Val Guest.
This took the form of David Niven’s Sir. James Bond, the original incarnation of the legendary agent who is prised out of retirement. The plot is thin, the comedy is bawdy and whether or not this all star collaboration fell apart because of Seller’s exit is unclear.
What is clear however, is what ends up on the screen in a mess. Supposed to be a psychedelic romp becomes a mishmash of visual concepts, compromises and a muddled narrative structure which leaves us questioning exactly what is going on on-screen. This is not 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or some complex work of art, this a film which has been compiled from the remnants of a reasonably ambitious concept which has collapsed under its own weight and possibly the egos of those entrusted to bring this to the screen.
Niven is great, so in fact was Debra Kerr who plays her ridiculous role with commitment, as was Orson Welles, but Peter Sellers is pretty bland, being out-shined by a young Woody Allen who excels in his role as Jimmy Bond, the leader of S.M.I.R.S.H. as well as James Bond’s disgruntled nephew.
At times the comedy is fun, but most of the time the pacing so far off that it is laboured, with the odd gag surprising us with its comedic value whilst the rest of the time, the disjointed film is leaving us bemused. Characters are killed off without us being clear as to why, when or how.
This version of Casino Royale is a curio to a modern audience, as much a window in to what passed for cynical entertainment in the 1960’s as Bond was for the spy genre itself.