On Day 5, I watched the “original” Casino Royale, one of the unofficial Bond movies. Read below to see what I thought of the spoof.
Even before I began watching Casino Royale, I wondered to myself how I would make it relevant to the Bond canon as a whole, being that it’s not really a Bond movie in the traditional sense. At the same time, it suddenly occurred to me that I had assumed most contemporary audiences were incapable of spotting the inherent absurdity of these movies, which I now see as someone far removed from the era. Casino Royale showed me that, even back then, there were more than a few people who stopped to guffaw or scratch their heads during a Bond film, which basically reduced 007’s wild tales to something like the delusional ramblings of Baron Munchausen.
I thought the way they set up this film was pretty clever. The “original” James Bond, played by David Niven, is retired and living in a sprawling mansion surrounded by lions. He is visited by M and three other international spy representatives who have come to pull him out of retirement, because their existing agents are either dead or missing. Bond’s reply, at first, is simply to criticize the “current” 007 (i.e. Connery’s interpretation) for being a shameless womanizer who relies on ridiculous gadgets and leaves mass destruction in his wake. I happened to notice this telling scene took place at the 0:07 mark. Strategic timing, or mere coincidence?
That’s the only direct reference to the earlier Bond films that I can recall in Casino Royale, but the comedy is littered with subtle and not-so-subtle allusions to recurring Bond themes and plot conventions. The beautiful women (and yes, even here, they are all gorgeous), the amazing toys of Q branch, the nonsensical plot for world domination are all present, and stretched by hyperbole to an extent that only a spoof movie can. It almost worked for me, but some of the scenes are just so loony that they feel forced and unnecessary. I mean, early on, the movie is actually kind of intriguing, but in the end, everything devolves into an orgy of cowboys, seals, bubbles, Frankenstein’s monster, and Woody Allen belching animated clouds of gas. When a UFO resembling something out of Centipede showed up, I decided it was too much, even for me.
Now, let’s talk about the star power involved here. David Niven, of course, plays the original James Bond who trains up a handful of new 007s, one of whom is Peter Sellers. Throw in a young Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, John Huston as M, and cameos from the likes of Peter O’Toole and Jean Paul Belmondo, among others, and all I have to say is wow! Part of me felt like their involvement in the project was their way of saying, “I can’t believe you people buy into this crap.” Even Ursula Andress shows up in a prominent role as a smarter, less Nell-like Bond girl, so to speak, almost as if she wanted to prove she wasn’t really the idiot she portrayed as Honey Ryder in Dr. No.
I’ve never really been a huge fan of parodies like this, but there’s something a little classier about the older ones. Yes, Casino Royale did occasionally stumble into “unwatchable” territory for me, but when the jokes were based in clever, witty dialogue, as opposed to ineffective slapstick, I thought they worked pretty well. It was never bladder-busting, but it wasn’t terrible either. Frankly, I was enjoying the normal Bond films so much that I’m actually looking forward to leaving this behind and moving on to You Only Live Twice.
Favorite line: “I’m beginning to think you’re a trifle neurotic.” Peter Sellers, master of the obvious, says this to Woody Allen.
Favorite moment: At one point, a lackey standing in a telephone booth located on the western side of the Berlin Wall is blown to bits, taking a portion of the wall with him. Immediately dozens of East German refugees come pouring through the gap.