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Casino Royale

A convoluted, giddy mess of a movie, 1967's Casino Royale is something of a guilty pleasure for many movie lovers despite its numerous flaws. As a Bond title not controlled by Albert Broccoli, Casino Royale was originally conceived by producer Charles Feldman as a straight spy story. Hoping to cash in on Broccoli's success with Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball, Feldman believed he could make the best Bond film of all time. But when he was unable to secure either Sean Connery or James Barry's theme music, he decided to turn it into a parody. With a total of five directors and a diverse army of contributing writers that included Joseph Heller, Woody Allen, Terry Southern, and Billy Wilder , the resulting film is a highly entertaining train wreck that starts as a straightforward spoof and gradually degenerates into something surreal, absurd, and completely incomprehensible. The first part of Casino Royale concerns the genuine Sir James Bond (David Niven), who's quit the business and retired to his estate in the English countryside. He's been replaced by a number of "James Bonds" who use his name and number — and, frankly, he's disgusted by the outlandish antics of his current namesakes, calling the new breed of Cold War secret agents "joke-shop spies." M (John Huston) visits Bond and tells him that agents all over the world are being killed by the organization SMERSH. Bond declines to lend assistance, preferring to spend his time growing roses and listening to Debussy. But when M is killed and the Bond estate blown up, 007 swings back into action. This opening portion of the film is the best part of Casino Royale, happily mocking the weapons, gadgets, and girls of the Bond films. But it devolves into something far less coherent as the story veers off in bizarre directions and various James Bonds come and go — including Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, author of a book on card-playing, who's recruited to be the latest Bond. Sellers' casino scene with SMERSH baddie Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) is brilliant; Sellers' self-indulgent hamming throughout the remainder of the film is not. One well-known story about the making of the film claims that Woody Allen was furious that Sellers took it over the way he did — Allen, who wrote one of the dozen versions of the script and plays a pivotal character at the end of the movie, had signed on for a much larger part, only to watch it get whittled away to almost nothing as Sellers rewrote the script to expand his own role. Casino Royale is, indeed, a mess of a movie — Feldman's method of producing was to talk high-profile actors like Peter O'Toole, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and George Raft into doing a day's work and then writing a scene for them on the spot — yet it manages to be extremely entertaining in an annoying, head-scratching sort of way. Frankenstein's monster, UFOs, performing animals, and a pointless dream sequence with pipers are all thrown into the mix. But the soundtrack — which includes Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" and Burt Bacharach's horn-heavy, sexy theme music — is so much fun that it makes the script's off-key notes more palatable. MGM's DVD release of Casino Royale features a sharp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. On board are a 20-minute "making-of" remembrance by director Val Guest, the original theatrical trailer, and — as an interesting curiosity — the hour-long 1954 "Casino Royale" episode of the American TV show "Climax! Mystery Theater," transferred from the original kinescope. Adapted from Ian Fleming's novel, it stars Barry Nelson as Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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