Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Forgotten Films: Casino Royale

With the popularity of the James Bond franchise in the 1960’s, it was only a matter of time before the spy genre became ripe for parody. Films such as Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, and Fathom mined a good chunk of material from the world of Bond and, while lighthearted and cheesy, they achieve what they set out to do: get a few laughs out of ridiculous situations and some double entendres. With Casino Royale, however, it becomes so perplexing trying to figure out its’ goal that most people would simply give up halfway through. It’s a Frankenstein monster of a film that has to be seen to be believed.

With five credited directors (plus one uncredited) it’s no wonder why the film feels completely disjointed. There are sections of this film that are radically different than the others, with elements of acting, humor, and set design changing for no apparent reason. For example, one section of the film takes place in a castle that resembles the German Expressionist movement, but then the story proceeds onto other locations that in no way resemble that style.

I’ll refrain from going into the plot seeing as it doesn’t really make sense by the end anyway. (You could start this film at the halfway point and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, story-wise.) Needless to say, it involves James Bond attempting to foil an evil villain’s plan. Beyond that, the whole thing’s just so convoluted and patched together that to try to make sense of it could only lead to intense brain trauma. The film contains next to none of the source material’s storyline and for a comedy this fractured, 131 minutes is far too long a running time.

Casino Royale was clearly a big project for Columbia (the studio who produced it) – one look at the credits will confirm it. The film overflows with talent, from its’ all-star cast to A-list directors and screenwriters. Actors include Peter Sellers, David Niven, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, William Holden, Deborah Kerr, and Woody Allen among others. I’m not sure if this is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen or if the material was ever salvageable in the first place, although I’d probably lean more towards the former.

There are, however, some elements to enjoy from this film. For one, the music by Burt Bacharach helps propel the movie along with its’ extremely swingin’ sixties sound. In fact, Bacharach and songwriting partner Hal David received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song with “The Look of Love”. Another impressive element included in the film is the set design. As disorganized as it may be, many of the sets look great and set a certain atmosphere for scenes. Oh, and this film is filled with eye-candy of the female variety, which doesn’t hurt either.

Maybe the best part about watching this film is simply watching all of the randomness and wondering how it all came together. There is something special about a film that can go from a slapstick-filled section with David Niven, to Orson Welles doing magic tricks for no apparent reason, to psychedelic dream sequences that make no sense, to Peter Sellers’ character completely disappearing from the story (apparently he got fired part way through production), to Woody Allen attempting to torture a woman, to a chaotic ending that comes across as if anyone involved just threw up their hands in defeat. It’s so goofy and so insane that the film becomes entertaining if only to see what it will throw at you next.

James Bond aficionados or fans of 60’s film and culture may find Casino Royale somewhat amusing, but it’s probably not of interest for anyone else. The most interesting thing about this film would actually be an extensive documentary on its’ production, although I don’t know that one exists at this time. As throwaway as it may seem, the film’s influence can at least be seen in the Austin Powers series. Perhaps that’s not much of a legacy, but that’s all this film could hope for. This unofficial “Bond” film has the distinction of being one of those films that is enjoyable and irritating at the same time.

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