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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Comedy > Satire > Casino Royale (1967/MGM DVD)

Casino Royale (1967/MGM DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Film: C-



Sometimes a feature film production goes so out of control behind the scenes that it becomes as noted for its off screen antics as does the content of its narrative, especially when the result is not the big home run hit (critically and commercially) that should have happened.  We have seen this with epic productions that nearly bankrupted (Fox’s Cleopatra) or more or less did bankrupt (United Artists’ Heaven’s Gate) an entire studio, no matter how much talent was involved.  Charles K. Feldman was at the peak of his producing powers when he had secured the rights to the only James Bond novel not owned by the producers of the still-huge feature film series.  Casino Royale was the first Bond novel and though parts of it sort of surfaced in the first few actual Bond films, it was not (at the time) part of the books Fleming sold the rights to for the series.


Originally, Feldman approached the series co-producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, but when Feldman wanted 4/5ths of every dollar earned, they passed, in addition to being weary after issues with co-producing Thunderball with Kevin McClory.  Sean Connery passed in being in the film when Feldman would not pay him $1 Million, an amount he did oddly pay Peter Sellers and when Feldman saw his film go overbudget, he realized that was a mistake.  Unfortunately, it was only the beginning of the long road of endless mistakes he and many other would make as the long road to getting the film made wound its way into history.


Feldman then decided to make it a comedy.  Then he decided to have several characters play James Bond.  Then in the middle of production, decided it should be a psychedelic counterculture trip film somewhere within the many incompatible plots he greenlit.  With over a dozen writers (often uncredited, often big names) working on hundreds of pages of script, he then deiced to make it a larger-scale version of his big hit What’s New Pussycat? while still retaining the other ideas.  He also thought having a huge cast ala It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World would help and was going to spend whatever money he felt should be spent to make it.  That included getting a good director to handle it all.


This may very well be the biggest high profile production to sport the most directors including John Huston, Ken Hughes (The Trials Of Oscar Wilde), Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish (classic Twilight Zone episodes), Richard Talmadge and Val Guest (the original Quatermass films) all unknowingly helping to chop it hopelessly up.  All around, people were hired and kept on for longer periods of time than they ever expected.  As well, it had more than one big star permanently walk off of it never to return to shoot another scene.  Even post-production as still being funded as the film played in theaters, reportedly including model work for a scene that was never made.


The cast includes Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Joanna Pettet, Deborah Kerr, Daliah Lavi, William Holden, Charles Boyer, George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Barbara Bouchet, Terence Cooper, Angela Scoular, Anna Quayle, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Cribbins, Vladek Sheybal, Jacqueline Bisset and John Huston.  No, they or other star cameos cannot save the film either, though some of their scenes in microcosm show possible directions the film could have gone into, i.e., into coherency and Peter Seller’s performance singularly inspired Mike Myers’ Austin Powers more than any other element in this or any other film.


So what is the film about?  Well, it is not about the young agent James Bond and his tenuous relationship with Soviet spy Vesper Lynd.  It is not about a SPECTRE plot to take over the world, as they did not own the rights to that material and it is not about telling a story of any kind.  Instead, it is about waiting for something good to happen in 131 minutes and becomes about failed expectations, seeing how many stars (big & small) you can spot and identify.  It is about jokes that are hardly ever funny or amusing.  It is also, in the most pandering way, about every intertextual reference Feldman could stuff into the script to anything James Bond, the films, books and anyone connected to either.  That is called a hack job and this is called a mess.


However, like any big budget train wreck, you have to suffer… see it to believe it and as you watch, a few thoughts will cross your mind, like “what a wasted opportunity” or “what an amazing waste of talent” or “this is all they could come up with” or “how much did this all cost (in adjusted dollars) or “could this have been stopped” or “boy, this looks like a bad Austin Powers movie” or “what were they thinking” or one that recently expired: “imagine if they did this as a serious film.”


Yet, the actors do give some good performances when they can cut through the clutter, the music score is a classic (the classic the film should have been) and as much as ever, it is one of the all-time film curios.  Well, don’t have any expectations and make sure you are very awake before you try to sit through this, because sitting through it is a challenge and it remains one of the poorest James Bond features, though Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough remarkably managed to succeed it as winners of The Worst Bond Film Of All Time award showing how unambitious they were.  They were also big hits, but at an artistic price to the series.


To say Feldman was lax as a producer is an understatement and the failure of the film artistically is his fault 100% but because he believed (shockingly correctly) that I would be a hit no matter what they did set the worst possible precedent for the kind of overblown, shallow mall movies and Action garbage we have been getting today made for a quick buck and is as soulless as it is disposable.  It hurt You Only Live Twice a little at the box office by coming out a few months before, but Twice was the bigger hit and this was 1967, a watershed year for the arts and entertainment.


Feldman, all involved and Columbia Pictures simply avoided disaster with their off-screen timing.



The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot in anamorphic Panavision by Jack Hildyard (Anastasia (1956), 55 Days In Peking, Battle In The Bulge, Hitchcock’s Topaz) and mixes several styles, in part because of the changes in the script, in part because of some very talented camera people (including no less than Nicolas Roeg, Alex Thomson and Anthony B. Richmond) added to the pallet.  The money is often on the screen and sets are much imitated and very 1960s.  This is the first James Bond film of any kind to have 70mm blow-up prints and it was issued in three-strip dye-transfer Technicolor prints like all official Bond films until 1971.  You can see that color quality in many shots here, but this transfer is still too soft and has too many moments of softer footage.  Hildyard took his time doing many of his shots, which made the producers unhappy, but may have helped save the film in the long run commercials.  When it looks good, though, it looks good.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a little better than the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono versions, but not my much.  The problem is that the cleaner, clearer music audio is too much in the center channel, as if the source material was mis-transferred and/or the five behind-the-screen channels were folded down to three the wrong way.  Being blown-up to 70mm, it is also the first Bond of any kind to feature multi-channel sound; 6-track magnetic stereo (five speakers behind the screen, as is always the case then with the older Todd-AO configuration) likely sounded good.  As noted in the commentary, the Burt Bacharach music soundtrack (with lyrics by the also-great Hal David) was a sonic landmark recorded at higher levels than any recording had been before.  That includes The Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, Motown or The Rolling Stones.


It should sound better, but I still like it over the Mono and for the record, the information on the commentary is correct about its audiophile status as a big favorite, especially stereo first pressing of the vinyl LP 33 1/3 album.  Yes, the master tape is fading, but missed a new series of audiophile versions on the market that Classic Records has issued on vinyl and 192 kHz/24bit HDAD (High Definition Audio Disc DVD) that audiophiles are comparing favorably to the original stereo vinyl and even reel-to-reel stereo tapes!  More on that soon.



Extras include repeats of extras from the 2006 DVD except the unfortunate omission of the 1954 TV version that was made for the CBS-TV dramatic series Climax! with Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond and Peter Lorre.  You do get a five-part making of featurette, still galleries, a long widescreen original theatrical trailer (though many others, including teasers that exist, were not added) and an amusing and usually informative feature-length audio commentary by Steven Jay Rubin and John Cork is also included.  An error (one of a few) on the commentary says Ian Hendry, who was cut from this film, had Honor Blackman as a co-star on The Avengers.  That is wrong.  Blackman, who was Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, replaced him on the show instead.  They also seem to be forcing themselves to praise the film at times in a “look at the bright side” way that is obvious.  This film could use another commentary.  The DVD case included card-sized reproductions of posters featuring each of the lead actors.



For more on Bond, try these links:


Casino Royale (2006)



James Bond Blu-ray Wave One



Austin Powers Blu-ray Trilogy




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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