Casino Royale is a 1967 comedy spy film originally produced by Columbia Pictures starring an ensemble cast of directors and actors. It is set as a satire of the James Bond film series and the spy genre, and is loosely based on Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel.
The film stars David Niven as the original Bond, Sir James Bond 007. Forced out of retirement to investigate the deaths and disappearances of international spies, he soon battles the mysterious Dr. Noah and SMERSH.
The film's slogan: "Casino Royale is too much… for one James Bond!" refers to Bond's ruse to mislead SMERSH in which six other agents are designated as "James Bond", namely, Baccarat master Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers), millionaire spy Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress), Bond's secretary Miss Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet), Bond's daughter with Mata Hari, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), and British agents "Cooper" (Terence Cooper) and "The Detainer" (Daliah Lavi).
Charles K. Feldman, the producer, had acquired the film rights and had attempted to get Casino Royale made as an EON Productions Bond film; however, Feldman and the producers of the Eon series, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, failed to come to terms. Believing that he could not compete with the Eon series, Feldman resolved to produce the film as a satire.
The story of Casino Royale is told in an episodic format and is best outlined in "chapters". Val Guest oversaw the assembly of the sections, although he turned down the credit of "co-ordinating director".
Evelyn Tremble/James Bond 007 (Peter Sellers) and Inspector Mathis meet in a pissoir (public urinal), where Mathis presents his credentials—in a shot suggesting a display of Mathis' genitals, and setting the tone of the film by satirizing the dramatic opening sequences in the EON Bond films.
Sir James Bond, a legendary British spy who retired from the secret service 50 years previously, is visited by the head of British MI6, M, CIA representative Ransome, KGB representative Smernov, and Deuxième Bureau representative Le Grand. All implore Bond to come out of retirement to deal with SMERSH who have been eliminating agents: Bond spurns all their pleas. When Bond continues to stand firm, his mansion is destroyed by a mortar attack at the orders of M, who himself gets killed in the explosion.
Bond travels to Scotland to return M's remains to the grieving widow, Lady Fiona McTarry. However, the real Lady Fiona has been replaced by SMERSH's Agent Mimi. The rest of the household have been likewise replaced, with SMERSH’s aim to discredit Bond by destroying his "celibate image". Attempts by a bevy of beauties to seduce Bond fail, but Mimi/Lady Fiona becomes so impressed with Bond that she changes loyalties and helps Bond to foil the plot against him. On his way back to London, Bond survives another attempt on his life.
Bond is promoted to the head of MI6. He learns that many British agents around the world have been eliminated by enemy spies because of their inability to resist sex. Bond is also told that the 'sex maniac' who was given the name of 'James Bond' when the original Bond retired has gone to work in television. He then orders that all remaining MI6 agents will be named "James Bond 007", to confuse SMERSH. He also creates a rigorous programme to train male agents to ignore the charms of women. Moneypenny recruits "Coop", a karate expert who begins training to resist seductive women: he also meets an exotic agent known as the Detainer.
Bond then hires Vesper Lynd, a retired agent turned millionaire, to recruit baccarat player Evelyn Tremble, whom he intends to use to beat SMERSH agent Le Chiffre. Having embezzled SMERSH's money, Le Chiffre is desperate for money to cover up his theft before he is executed.
Following up a clue from agent Mimi, Bond persuades his estranged daughter Mata Bond to travel to East Berlin to infiltrate International Mothers' Help, a school for spies that is a SMERSH cover operation. Mata uncovers a plan to sell compromising photographs of military leaders from the US, USSR, China and Great Britain at an "art auction", another scheme Le Chiffre hopes to use to raise money: Mata destroys the photos. Le Chiffre's only remaining option is to raise the money by playing baccarat.
Tremble arrives at the Casino Royale accompanied by Vesper, who foils an attempt to disable him by seductive SMERSH agent Miss Goodthighs. Later that night, Tremble observes Le Chiffre playing at the casino and realizes that he is using infrared sunglasses to cheat. Vesper steals the sunglasses, allowing Evelyn to eventually beat Le Chiffre in a game of baccarat. Vesper is apparently abducted outside the casino, and Tremble is also kidnapped while pursuing her. Le Chiffre, desperate for the winning cheque, hallucinogenically tortures Tremble. Vesper rescues Tremble, only to subsequently kill him. Meanwhile, SMERSH agents raid Le Chiffre's base and kill him for his failure.
In London, Mata Bond is kidnapped by SMERSH in a giant flying saucer, and James and Moneypenny travel to Casino Royale to rescue her. They discover that the casino is located atop a giant underground headquarters run by the evil Dr. Noah, who turns out to be Sir James's nephew Jimmy Bond. Jimmy reveals that he plans to use biological warfare to make all women beautiful and kill all men over 4-foot-6-inch (1.37 m) tall, leaving him as the "big man" who gets all the girls. Jimmy goes to check on The Detainer, and tries to convince her to be his queen, she apparently agrees, but foils his plan by poisoning him with one of his own atomic pills, which will cause him to hiccup till he explodes.
Sir James, Moneypenny, Mata and Coop manage to escape from their cell and fight their way back to the Casino Director's office where Sir James establishes Vesper is a double agent. The casino is then overrun by secret agents and a battle ensues. Eventually, Jimmy's atomic pill explodes, destroying Casino Royale along with everyone inside. Sir James and all of his agents then appear in heaven and Jimmy Bond is shown descending to hell.
Cast & Characters
Casino Royale also takes credit for the greatest number of actors in a Bond film either to have appeared or to go on to appear in the rest of the Eon series — besides Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Vladek Sheybal appeared as Kronsteen in From Russia with Love, Fred Haggerty, who played Krilencu, appeared as a background character in the casino, Burt Kwouk featured as Mr. Ling in Goldfinger and an unnamed SPECTRE operative in You Only Live Twice, Jeanne Roland plays a masseuse in You Only Live Twice, and Angela Scoular appeared as Ruby Bartlett in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Jack Gwillim, who had a tiny role as a British army officer, played a Royal Navy officer in Thunderball. Caroline Munro, who was an extra, received the role of Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me (and also modelled for the cover of the US and UK film tie-in editions of the On Her Majesty's Secret Service novel). Milton Reid, who appears in a bit part as a guard, opening the door to Mata Bond's hall, played Dr. No's Guard and Stromberg's underling, Sandor, in The Spy Who Loved Me. John Wells, Q's assistant, appears in For Your Eyes Only as Denis Thatcher.
Major stars like George Raft and Jean Paul Belmondo were given top billing in the film's promotion and screen trailers despite the fact that they only appeared for a few seconds in the final film sequence.
Well established stars like Peter O'Toole and sporting legends like Sterling Moss were prepared to take uncredited parts in the film just to be able to work with the other members of the cast. Stunt director Richard Talmadge employed Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin, to appear in a brief Keystone Kops insert. The film also proved to be young Anjelica Huston's first experience in the film industry as she was called upon by her father, John Huston, to cover the screen shots of Deborah Kerr's hands. The film also marks the debut of Dave Prowse, later to find fame as the physical form of Darth Vader in the Star Wars series (in Casino Royale, he appears dressed as the Universal films version of the Frankenstein Monster; he later played two other versions of the creature for Hammer Films). Many of the actors mentioned above, such as Caroline Munro and Milton Reid, also did not receive screen credit for their small roles.
The production proved to be rather troubled, with five different directors helming different segments of the film, with stunt co-ordinator Richard Talmadge co-directing the final sequence. In addition to the credited writers, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Val Guest, Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, Terry Southern, and Billy Wilder are all believed to have contributed to the screenplay to varying degrees. Val Guest was given the responsibility of splicing the various "chapters" together, and was offered the unique title of "Co-ordinating Director" but declined, claiming the chaotic plot would not reflect well on him if he were so credited. His extra credit was labelled "Additional Sequences" instead.
Val Guest (additional sequences) (scenes with Woody Allen and additional scenes with David Niven)
Ken Hughes (Berlin scenes)
John Huston (scenes at Sir James Bond's house and scenes at Scottish castle)
Joseph McGrath (scenes with Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress and Orson Welles)
Robert Parrish (some casino scenes with Peter Sellers and Orson Welles)
Richard Talmadge (uncredited as co-director of the final sequence)
Ben Hecht's contribution to the project, if not the final result, was in fact substantial. The Oscar-winning writer was the first person whom Feldman recruited to produce a screenplay for the film. He created a number of complete drafts with various evolutions of the story incorporating different scenes and characters. All of his treatments were “straight” adaptations, far closer to the original source novel than the spoof which the final production became. The first, from as early as 1957, is a direct adaptation of the novel, albeit with the Bond character absent, instead being replaced by a poker-playing American gangster.
Later drafts see vice made central to the plot, with the Le Chiffre character becoming head of a network of brothels whose patrons are then blackmailed by Le Chiffre to fund Spectre. The racy plot elements opened up by this change of background include a chase scene through Hamburg's red light district that results in Bond escaping whilst disguised as a lesbian mud wrestler. New characters appear such as Lili Wing, a brothel madam and former lover of Bond whose ultimate fate is to be crushed in the back of a garbage truck, and Gita, wife of Le Chiffre. The beautiful Gita, whose face and throat are hideously disfigured as a result of Bond using her as a shield during a gunfight in the same sequence which sees Wing meet her fate, goes on to become the prime protagonist in the torture scene that features in the book, a role originally Le Chiffre's.
Hecht never produced his final script though, dying of a heart attack two days before he was due to present it to Feldman in April 1964. Time reported in 1966 that the script had been completely re-written by Billy Wilder, and by the time the film reached production almost nothing of Hecht's screenplay remained. The one thing that did endure, and indeed became a key plot device of the finished film, was the idea of the name “James Bond” being given to a number of other agents. In the case of Hecht's version, this occurs after the demise of the original James Bond (an event which happened prior to the beginning of his story) which, as Hecht's M puts it “not only perpetuates his memory, but confuses the opposition."
Peter Sellers hired Terry Southern to write his dialogue (and not the rest of the script) in order to "outshine" Orson Welles and Woody Allen.
The studio approved the film's production budget of $6 million, already quite a large budget in 1966. However, during filming the project ran into several problems and the shoot ran months over schedule, with the costs also running well over. When the film was finally completed it had run twice over its original budget. The final production budget of $12 million made it one of the most expensive films that had been made to that point. The previous Eon Bond film, Thunderball, had a budget of $11 million while You Only Live Twice, which was released the same year as Casino Royale, had a budget of $9.5 million. The extremely high budget of Casino Royale caused it to earn the reputation as being "a runaway mini-Cleopatra," referring to the runaway and out of control costs of the 1963 film Cleopatra. The film was due to be released in time for Christmas 1966 but premiered in April 1967.
The film is notable for the legendary behind-the-scenes drama involving the filming of the segments with Peter Sellers. Supposedly, Sellers felt intimidated by Orson Welles to the extent that, except for a couple of shots, neither was in the studio simultaneously. Other versions of the legend depict the drama stemming from Sellers being slighted, in favour of Welles, by Princess Margaret (whom Sellers knew) during her visit to the set. Welles also insisted on performing magic tricks as Le Chiffre, and the director obliged. Director Val Guest wrote that Welles did not think much of Sellers, and had refused to work with "that amateur".
Some biographies of Sellers suggest that he took the role of Bond to heart, and was annoyed at the decision to make Casino Royale a comedy as he wanted to play Bond straight. This is illustrated in somewhat fictionalized form in the film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, based upon a biography by Roger Lewis, who claims that Sellers kept re-writing and improvising scenes himself to make them play seriously. This story is in agreement with the observation that the only parts of the film close to the book are the ones featuring Sellers and Welles. In the end, Sellers' involvement with the film was cut abruptly short.
Sellers left the production before all his scenes were shot, which is why Tremble is so abruptly captured in the film. Whether he was fired or simply walked off is unclear. Given that he often went absent for days at a time and was involved in conflicts with Welles, either explanation is plausible. Regardless, Sellers was unavailable for the filming of an ending and of linking footage to explain the details, leaving the filmmakers to devise a way to make the existing footage work without him. The framing device of a beginning and ending with David Niven was invented to salvage the footage. Val Guest indicated that he was given the task of creating a narrative thread which would link all segments of the film. He chose to use the original Bond and Vesper as linking characters to tie the story together. Guest states that in the originally released versions of the film, a cardboard cutout of Sellers in the background was used for the final scenes. In later versions, this cardboard cutout image was replaced by a sequence showing Sellers in highland dress, inserted by "trick photography".
Signs of missing footage from the Sellers segments are evident at various points. Evelyn Tremble is not captured on camera; an outtake of Sellers entering a racing car was substituted. In this outtake, Sellers calls for the car, à la Pink Panther, to chase down Vesper and her kidnappers; the next thing that is shown is Tremble being tortured. Out-takes of Sellers were also used for Tremble's dream sequence (pretending to play the piano on Ursula Andress' torso), in the finale (blowing out the candles whilst in highland dress) and at the end of the film when all the various "James Bond doubles" are together. In the kidnap sequence, Tremble's death is also very abruptly inserted; it consists of pre-existing footage of Sellers being rescued by Vesper, followed by a later-filmed shot of her abruptly deciding to shoot Tremble, followed by a freeze-frame over some of the previous footage of her surrounded by bodies (noticeably a zoom-in on the previous shot).
So many sequences from the film ended on the cutting room floor that several well-known actors were cut from the film altogether, including Mona Washbourne, Ian Hendry and Arthur Mullard.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and George Raft received major billing, even though both actors appear only briefly. Both appear during the climactic brawl at the end, Raft flipping his trademark coin and promptly shooting himself dead with a backwards-firing pistol, while Belmondo appears wearing a fake moustache as the French Foreign Legion officer who requires an English phrase book to translate 'merde!' into 'ooch!' during his fistfight. Raft's coin flip, which originally appeared in Scarface (1932), had been spoofed a few years earlier in 1959's Some Like It Hot.
At the Intercon science fiction convention held in Slough, England in 1978, Dave Prowse commented on his part in this film, apparently his big-screen debut. He claimed that he was originally asked to play "Super Pooh", a giant Winnie The Pooh in a superhero costume who attacks Tremble during the Torture Of The Mind sequence. This idea, as with many others in the film's script, was rapidly dropped, and Prowse was re-cast as a Frankenstein-type monster for the closing scenes. The final sequence was principally directed by former actor and stuntman Richard Talmadge.
Columbia Pictures distributed this version of Casino Royale. In 1997, following the Columbia/MGM/Kevin McClory lawsuit on ownership of the Bond film series, the rights to the film reverted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (whose sister company United Artists co-owns the Bond film franchise) as a condition of the settlement.
Years later, as a result of the Sony/Comcast acquisition of MGM, Columbia would once again become responsible for the co-distribution of this 1967 version as well as the entire Eon Bond series, including the 2006 adaptation of Casino Royale. However, MGM Home Entertainment changed its distributor to 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in May 2006, and MGM Television started to self-distribute again. Sony still controls the 2006 adaptation and theatrical rights to this version.
Alongside six other MGM-owned films, the studio posted Casino Royale on YouTube.
Release and reception
The "chaotic" nature of the production was featured heavily in contemporary reviews, while later reviewers have sometimes been kinder towards this. Roger Ebert said "This is possibly the most indulgent film ever made," and Variety said "it lacked discipline and cohesion."
Some later reviewers have been more impressed by the film. Andrea LeVasseur, in the Allmovie review, called it "the original ultimate spy spoof", and opined that the "nearly impossible to follow" plot made it "a satire to the highest degree". Further describing it as a "hideous, zany disaster" LeVasseur concluded that it was "a psychedelic, absurd masterpiece". Robert von Dassanowsky has written an article on the artistic merits of the film and says "like Casablanca, Casino Royale is a film of momentary vision, collaboration, adaption, pastiche, and accident. It is the anti-auteur work of all time, a film shaped by the very zeitgeist it took on."
Writing in 1986, Danny Peary noted, "It's hard to believe that in 1967 we actually waited in anticipation for this so-called James Bond spoof. It was a disappointment then; it's a curio today, but just as hard to get through." Peary described the film as being "disjointed and stylistically erratic" and "a testament to wastefulness in the bigger-is-better cinema," before adding, "It would have been a good idea to cut the picture drastically, perhaps down to the scenes featuring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. In fact, I recommend you see it on television when it's in a two-hour (including commercials) slot. Then you won't expect it to make any sense."
Despite the lukewarm nature of the contemporary reviews, the pull of the James Bond name was sufficient to make it the thirteenth highest grossing film in North America in 1967 with a gross of $22.7 million and a worldwide total of $41.7 million ($291 million in 2012 dollars).
Orson Welles attributed the success of the film to a marketing strategy that featured a naked tattooed lady on the film's posters and print ads. Since its release the film has been widely criticised by a number of people. For instance, Simon Winder called Casino Royale "a pitiful spoof", while Robert Druce described it as "an abstraction of real life". In his review of the film, Leonard Maltin remarked, "Money, money everywhere, but [the] film is terribly uneven - sometimes funny, often not."
Conversely, Romano Tozzi complimented the acting and humour, although he also mentioned that the film has several dull stretches.
- The film plays fast and loose with historic dates and character ages, primarily with regards to Sir James Bond and his daughter, Mata. Although Sir James is depicted as elderly, Mata is depicted as only being in her early 20s. However, the film establishes that she is the daughter of Sir James and famous spy Mata Hari, who died in 1917. Assuming Casino Royale takes place in its year of release, 1967, Mata should be no younger than 50 years of age.
- Casino Royale shares some overlap with What's New Pussycat? released a couple of years earlier, these include the producer Charles K. Feldman, and a soundtrack partly by Burt Bacharach. Apart from the similarities in its psychedelic tone and slapstick humour, the following cast members can be found in both films - Ursula Andress, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Peter O' Toole, and a number of supporting actresses and extras can be spotted in both films.
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- Gerber, Gail & Lisanti, Tom. Trippin' with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember, McFarland, p. 48. 07/07/2009
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- "YouTube to stream Hollywood films", BBC, 17 April 2009. Retrieved on 3 September 2011.
- Ebert, Roger. Casino Royale, review by Roger Ebert (1 May 1967). Rogerebert.com. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
- Casino Royale, review by Variety (May 1967). Variety.com. Retrieved 29 May 2007.
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- Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Simon & Schuster, 1986) p. 84
- Casino Royale - Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information. Retrieved on 5 September 2007.
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- Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide (Plume, 2008) p. 219
-  p. 130