My Bond rewatch takes a sidestep this time, for the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. It isn’t part of the Eon Productions series – but it is a legitimate adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, so let’s give it a go… How so many talented people can contribute to such sludge is beyond me. This is a limp, flabby, disjointed, episodic, haphazard, scattergun, often perfunctory, almost always unfunny mess. Even without reading up on the filming’s history, it’s obvious the production was a nightmare: there are five credited directors, some key scenes are clearly missing, and the tone is all over the place. In the plus column, there are a handful of laughs, the Berlin scenes are a real treat (German Expressionist sets! Anna Quayle and a pre-fame Ronnie Corbett hamming it up!), and we get a few bonkers dream sequences. But on the whole, watching this simply makes me want to see the Austin Powers movies again. Three Orson Welles magic tricks out of 10.
Bond: David Niven plays the real – and now knighted – Sir James Bond. The ‘plot’ also involves several ersatz Bonds: Peter Sellers (aka baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble), Woody Allen (little more than a cameo as James’s nephew Jimmy) and Terence Cooper (who was seemingly added to the film when Sellers walked off the project halfway through). Niven and Sellers are both quite entertaining and seem to get the tone better than anyone else.
Villains: Orson Welles plays Le Chiffre. He sits behind a card table, performing magic tricks for no readily apparent reason and – frankly – taking the piss. From Charles Foster Kane to this: Welles wasn’t wrong when he once said, “I started at the top and worked my way down.”
Girls: There’s character-free 1960s totty everywhere. M’s Highland retreat is populated by a gaggle of seemingly nympo teenagers (actually undercover agents). We meet Moneypenny’s daughter (but not Moneypenny herself). A bevvy of beauties try to distract the Cooper-Bond in a training session. One of them is dressed as Ursula Andress from Dr. No – Andress herself plays Vesper Lynd. Bond’s daughter, Mata, features quite a lot. We get a few leather-suited car-wash attendants. Peter Sellers has the privilege of a scene with Miss Goodthighs (Jacqueline Bisset). And there’s an obscure and scantily clad character at the end called The Detainer. (Caroline Munro, who later takes your breath away in The Spy Who Loved Me, is an extra in one scene.)
Regulars: A moot point, given that this is not part of the ongoing series. But there are versions of M, Moneypenny and Q. Mathis, a character from the novel who will later be in two official Bond movies, crops up too. His first appearance is the film’s opening: an inexplicable one-gag scene with Peter Sellers that’s been tacked on the front for some reason.
Action: A few fights, obviously played for laughs – chiefly the epic and gleefully surreal final battle.
Comedy: Of course, the whole thing is one big joke. Sadly, much of it is painfully unfunny. The humour highlight is Bernard Cribbins as the taxi driver who takes Mata Bond from Whitehall to West Berlin: “That’ll be £482, 15 and ninepence…” The various illogical comedy cameos – Peter O’Toole, Stirling Moss, George Raft – get tiresome very quickly. A fucking UFO lands in Trafalgar Square.
Music: The one truly successful aspect of the whole endeavour. Burt Bacharach’s charismatic, light-touch score is a constant joy, while his song The Look of Love (sung by Dusty Springfield) outclasses everything we see on screen.