Casino Royale (1967)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/9/13
Director: Val Guest, John Huston, and four others
Music: Burt Bacharach
Cast: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Joanne Pettet, Woody Allen, Barbara Bouchet, Orson Welles, John Huston, William Holden

A truly bizarre spoof on James Bond, showcasing the pinnacle of 1960's madcap lunacy. Secret agent James Bond (David Niven) has been retired for twenty years and is living comfortably as an eccentric recluse. But when various secret agents start disappearing across the globe at an alarming rate, MI6, the CIA, and the KGB come to Bond to plead for his assistance and expertise in the matter. Bond plans to confuse the enemy by enlisting card player Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) as the new James Bond, and pitting him in a card game against a desperate criminal named Le Chiffre (Orson Welles). Niven employs Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) to seduce Tremble and coerce him into doing their bidding, which she does effortlessly. There are numerous other side plots involving sexy enemy agents and Bond's own illegitimate daughter, Mata (Joanne Pettet), but they're mostly pointless filler material. The whole thing ends up with a completely over the top brawl at the Casino Royale, including cowboys, Indians, horses, monkeys, French Legionnaires, clowns, singing, dancing, laughing gas, bizarre cameos, and other assorted lunacy.

It's an overly indulgent and extravagant production, exceeding the budgets of all the previous Bond films as well as several that came after it. It was also one of the most expensive films made at the time, and its runaway budget was even compared to the disastrous "Cleopatra" (1963). Regardless, the film looks great, and the sets and locations are marvelous. David Niven and Ursula Andress are charming throughout and are responsible for holding the film together. Unfortunately, they disappear for the majority of the second half, while Peter Sellers and Woody Allen take over. Beautiful women are scattered throughout the picture, showcasing a bygone era of amazing 60's glamour. Adorable Joanne Pettet has an unbelievably tight body, while Barbara Bouchet's turn as Moneypenny is drop-dead gorgeous and incredibly sexy. The acting is pretty decent for the most part, but the writing is simply awful. The slapstick humor is dry and forced, and only one super lame photography joke got a half chuckle out of me. As a parody, it simply doesn't work because it's neither funny, coherent, or serious about the source material. Often times it's not even clear what the film is supposed to be poking fun at, and just comes across as wacky psychedelia.

The film had its fair share of production problems, which I found much more interesting than the film itself. The filmmakers had originally intended to make a serious adaptation of Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale", but they couldn't get the rights to it and ended up having to settle for making a parody. Peter Sellers dealt a vicious blow to the project when he inexplicably walked out of the production a few weeks early, forcing the filmmakers to splice together an unfinished film. David Niven and Ursula Andress were used to link the various pieces together, with limited success. Having six directors on the film also resulted in utter chaos and inconsistency across the film. There was reportedly considerable tension between Peter Sellers and Orson Welles, and the two of them refused to work on the same set (Welles referred to Sellers as "that amateur"). The eccentric Welles also insisted on performing magic tricks for his role, which comes across as nothing short of awkward and baffling, making you question his sanity. Definitely a crazy film, and an interesting reflection of the attitudes and pop culture of the time.