Casino Royale is the first of two films to adapt Ian Fleming’s character James Bond under a production company other than EON Productions. The film is a spoof of the genre that its lead character helped to popularize. In it, Bond (David Niven) is long retired, and is approached by an international array of spy organization leaders–including John Huston as Fleming’s MI6 head M–who attempt to goad him out of retirement.
All the while, global terrorist organization SMERSH vie to ruin Bond. The shadowy leader of the organization states boldly that “Sir James Bond is back with his morals, his vows, and his celibate image. We must destroy that image.” This, a direct attack at the Fleming and EON image of Bond, is a good place to start a parody of such a character. However, as the movie progresses, we get little in the way of smart comedy.
Gags fall flat early on in the film. In one instance, a dead man’s toupee is presented to his widow (Deborah Kerr) by a stuttering Bond, who asks if she would like it properly buried, to which she replies that it is simply an “hair-loom.”
Niven’s Bond is the foil to the EON Bond portrayed by Sean Connery. He stumbles through his sentences, lacking any suave coolness, and he is put off by sex, despite it being pressed upon him tirelessly. To fans of the 1960s Bond films or the novels, this opposing characterization is humorous, but it also leads to sexual gags that grow tired before they even get off the ground.
Casino Royale does parody certain tropes of the straight Bond films with more subtlety, particularly the absurd level to which women fall for the super spy. In one early scene, Bond is challenged to “wrestle” the widow’s guards after he angers her. The scene itself carries on for far too long with little comedic payoff from men stumbling around with heavy cement balls. But, upon Bond’s victory, the widow instantly falls for Bond, and even scales down a building to save him in a later scene.
Other digs at the Bond name are too subtle for audiences that aren’t die-hard fans, such as Bond’s nephew Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) using an impractical gadget–an exploding cigarette–that actually makes an appearance in the EON film You Only Live Twice. It also pokes fun at the flirtatious relationship between Bond and the MI6 secretary Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet, in this film), references that only Bond fans would understand.
The narrative thread of Casino Royale is disastrous. The various “Bonds” in the film move from setting to setting with no cohesion. Clearly, the film does not follow its source material, aside from carrying the same character names and featuring baccarat in one scene. This is purposeful, but that doesn’t mean the adaptation brings anything more worthwhile than the novel that shares its name.
The non-universality of the comedy doesn’t help the narrative any. Neither does the cast, despite it being colored by many Oscar-worthy stars. Niven gives a fine performance, as does his Bond counterparts Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress–the original Bond girl from Dr. No whose performance was dubbed over–but the comedy itself does not pull through to give their performances any meaning.
For a James Bond fan, there are some gags to enjoy with Casino Royale. But, as a general spoof of the spy genre, it falls sharply flat. Acting talent is sorely wasted on a glorious emptiness. Some consider the sheer imperceptibility of the narrative to be an effective satire of the zany plots of the straight Bond films, but I find it only to take away from any semblance of comedy that might be found in the film.
Casino Royale (1967): D+
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Casino Royale? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
- Casino Royale (1967): D+
- You Only Live Twice: C+
- Thunderball: C-
- Goldfinger: A-
- From Russia With Love: A-
- Dr. No: B
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)