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Casino Royale (1967) Review

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Casino Royale (1967)

Time: 131 Minutes
Cast:
David Niven as Sir James Bond
Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble/James Bond
Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd/James Bond
Joanna Pettet as Mata Bond/James Bond
Daliah Lavi as The Detainer/James Bond
Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond
Barbara Bouchet as Miss Moneypenny/James Bond 007
Terence Cooper as Coop/ James Bond
Deborah Kerr as Agent Mimi/Lady Fiona McTarry
Orson Welles as Le Chiffre
William Holden as Ransome
Charles Boyer as Legrand
John Huston as M/McTarry
Kurt Kasznar as Smernov
Jean-Paul Belmondo as French Legionnaire
Director: John Huston, Ken Hughes, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath, Val Guest

James Bond, a secret retired agent, sets a plan to take down SMERSH. Later, James Bond renames a group of agents with the same name in order to hide the real one.

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I had watched all the James Bond movies, including the unofficial Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery. But one Bond film I hadn’t gotten to yet was the 1960s Casino Royale. Casino Royale was the first novel in the James Bond book series, there were attempts to adapt it in the 60s with Sean Connery, but from what I could tell, there was issues with the rights. Eventually it was made as a spoof of the James Bond movies, and most nowadays people don’t really know about this film (especially after the 2006 film). Despite the reviews, I went in open minded and was hoping to enjoy it on some level. However, it ended up being worse than I thought it would be.

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The movie is titled Casino Royale, it features characters named Le Chiffre and Vesper Lynd, and there is a card game that takes place at Casino Royale. But that’s as far as the similarities to the original James Bond story go. The movie is pretty much a James Bond spoof, unfortunately it doesn’t really succeed as that. The script really is a mess, and its not surprising that 11 scriptwriters had worked on it. It just felt like they had thrown a lot of different ideas at the wall and saw what stuck. The plot is bizarre and absolutely incoherent, even spoof movies are at least comprehensible. The setup is that a retired James Bond played by David Niven returns from retirement to take on SMERSH (parody of SPECTRE) which involves giving multiple agents the name of James Bond. That’s as far as I can describe the plot. As for the spoof/satire aspect, it largely deals with the themes of sex and womanising in the James Bond franchise, and this is established very early on. Eventually it forgets that, and very little of the overall humour is based on Bond tropes. Most of the jokes aren’t funny and really miss the mark, and it only grows more tedious to watch as the movie progresses. I won’t say that its completely unfunny, there are some moments which are so absurd that I did find them funny, the ending is particularly insane. But those take up a very small part of the movie, and with the unfunny and annoying humour and the prolonged sections, Casino Royale is quite boring and a slog to sit through. The worst part of this movie might be the length. Had this just been 90 minutes long, I think I wouldn’t have minded the movie as much. It would’ve been a weird and trashy 60s James Bond spoof that would’ve been somewhat enjoyable in its weirdness. However, Casino Royale is over 2 hours and 10 minutes long, there’s just so much pointless and random padding, and it makes the experience even more insufferable.

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There is a weirdly large cast, filled with known names from the 60s. Unfortunately, they are all wasted here. I did somewhat enjoy David Niven, in this movie he’s playing the original James Bond. His stuttering and flustered Bond was amusing to see, even if you can easily call him the worst on screen James Bond. For the most part though, the cast are just wasted and given bad parts. There are a couple of exceptions. For examples, Woody Allen is in this movie and while his character is bad, his presence makes the whole movie even more annoying when he appears on screen. This is the first time I’ve seen Allen act in a movie and I’m very content with never seeing him again. That being said, his final scene did actually make the viewing worth it in the end. The other exception is the surprising addition of Orson Welles. In this movie he plays Le Chiffre, and for what its worth he was one of my favourite parts of the movie. He is good in his scenes, unfortunately he’s not in this movie as much as I would’ve liked. Its just a shame that out of all the James Bond movies he could’ve been in, he ended up in this one.

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As if 11 screenwriters for one movie wasn’t enough indication that Casino Royale was going to be a mess, its also directed by 5 people: John Huston, Ken Hughes, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath and Val Guest. Just by looking at the movie, you can easily tell that its from the 60s and the direction is really a mixed bag. For what its worth though, there is some creativity on a visual level, from the production design to the colours and lighting. There’s even some German Expressionist inspired visuals in the Berlin segment. I also liked the score, its very 60s and probably deserves to be in a better movie than this.

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1960s Casino Royale is easily the worst movie with the James Bond character, but also one of the most ill-conceived films I have seen. I do like some of the actors, and there were a few moments of absurdity I did enjoy. On the whole though, it is really bad. Most of the humour misses, it fails to be a solid spoof or satire of James Bond, and its just dull to sit through. The troubled and messy production certainly comes across in the end product. If you are looking for a good parody or spoof of James Bond, Austin Powers and Johnny English deliver on that much better. I’d only recommend Casino Royale (1967) to those who are very curious or want to watch all the James Bond movies, but you really aren’t missing out if you don’t watch this.