Cast: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress, Charles Boyer, William Holden, John
Huston, Deborah Kerr, Orson Welles, Joanna Pettet, Terence Cooper, Barbara Bouchet
Directors: Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish
Producer: Charles K. Feldman
Screenplay: John Law, Wolf Mankowitz, and Michael Sayers, suggested by the novel by Ian Fleming
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard and Nicolas Roeg
Music: Burt Bacharach
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
The only James Bond story for which Albert Broccoli never obtained the rights is Casino Royale. Those are held by Charles Feldman, who, following the success of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger, decided that he wanted to make his own Bond film. After commissioning a script, he began casting. When attempts to "borrow" Sean Connery from Broccoli came to naught, Feldman decided on a radical change in tone. Instead of making Casino Royale a "straight" movie, he chose to attempt a parody.
The opening is promising. We are introduced to the "real" Sir James Bond (David Niven), a retired "pure spy" who is horrified by the outrageous activities of the agent currently assigned his name and number. M (John Huston) appeals for Bond's return to active duty. Spies all over the world are being killed, and the governments of the Soviet Union, France, the United States, and England have temporarily set aside their differences to combat SMERSH, the criminal organization suspected of the murders. At first, Bond refuses, but, after M is killed, he changes his mind and agrees to come back.
For twenty minutes, Casino Royale is clever, witty, and exacting in its satire. The conventions so popular in the official Bond movies -- the gadgets, the women, and the cars -- are skewered with relish. Bond is a reserved twit with a stutter who looks and acts nothing like the dashing Connery version, and his contempt for the "tricks of the trade" is plain.
Unfortunately, after the introductory sequences, Casino Royale begins a downhill slide. It gets progressively sillier and more incoherent until it's impossible to keep any of the plot elements straight. Worse, with only occasional exceptions, the humor ceases to be funny, and the whole production degenerates into absurdity. By the ending, just about every agent has been renamed James Bond, including Peter Sellers, Charles Cooper, Daliah Lavi, and a chimpanzee. There are other Bonds as well: the daughter of Sir James and Mata Hari, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), and Sir James' nephew, Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen).
Five directors helmed this production, and it shows. Casino Royale is poorly-paced and the transitions are largely ineffectual. Each segment has a different main character, so the overall effect is like cobbling together five short episodes, then devising a ludicrous ending to resolve them all. It doesn't work, and the viewer is left scratching his or her head, wondering what's going on.
Three "legitimate" Bond actors crossed between the official series and Casino Royale. The most notable is Ursula Andress, the femme fatale of this film, who played Honey Ryder in Dr. No. Vladek Sheybal, who has a small role here, was SPECTRE agent Kronsteen in From Russia With Love. And Angela Scoular, Casino Royale's Buttercup, appeared in On Her Majesty's Secret Service as one of Blofeld's allergy girls.
By far the best element of Casino Royale is Burt Bacharach's score. Light and upbeat, it's the perfect musical companion for a spy spoof. Neither John Barry nor the "James Bond Theme" is missed (although a Barry tune can be briefly heard -- Bacharach uses the title track from Born Free during a scene with some lions).
Despite an impressive cast that includes such notables as Niven, Sellers, Allen, Orson Welles, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Jacqueline Bisset, Casino Royale is too ridiculous and muddled to be of more than passing interest to real Bond enthusiasts. The few good aspects of this farce are vastly outweighed by the bad. Besides, given how close some of the Bond movies have come to self-parody, it's questionable whether an outright satire is warranted.
© 1996 James Berardinelli