Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Casino Royale (1967)

He wanted to be James Bond.  They wanted him to be Peter Sellers.
1967 gave us 'Casino Royale', a bizarre and extremely uneven psychedelic comedy.  It suffered under five directors seemingly unaware that they were making the same movie, and its star Peter Sellers walked out half-way through after realising the film was a comedy, meaning the remainder had to be substantially reworked to fill the gap left by the main character.  The thing's a wild mess, a terrible film brimming with excellent moments.  It's also one of my favourite films, though I hardly feel I can defend it.

So Sir James Bond (a magnificent David Niven, in a lead role that was meant to be a cameo) has turned his back on the world, but the combined intelligence forces of the international community try to persuade him out of retirement, and when he refuses they blow up his house for some reason.  There follows an interminable half hour in Scotland before we get to either the plot or the memorably funny parts.

Mata Bond in East Germany, with a young Ronnie Corbett.
What ensues is an increasingly trippy series of antics and escapades in which many agents, all of them dubbed James Bond 007, adventure around the world.  I particularly like the sequence in East Germany, which is shot to resemble expressionist cinema with its extreme angles and outlandish lighting, and the all-too-brief part of the film starring Sellers, even his awkward encounter with Orson Welles and his card-tricks.

The first time I saw 'Casino Royale' I genuinely thought I'd fallen asleep and was dreaming. It was about the time the horse gallops onto the spaceship in Trafalgar Square, though my brain had been struggling to keep up with the pictures ever since Le Chiffre's torture of the mind, a sequence in which Peter Sellers is bombarded by hundreds of illusory bagpipers, one of whom is Peter O'Toole but doesn't know it.  Peter Sellers tries to cry for help but the only thing to come from his mouth is an animated speech-bubble.  I tend to assume that this is what hallucinogenic drugs are like.  If it isn't, then they aren't worth taking.

Sir James Bond escapes from one of the great sixties evil lairs.
I'm sorry to have missed 1967, but I was years too late.  To think that in Britain this and 'The Prisoner' and 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' were all in simultaneous production boggles the mind.  We won Eurovision, too.


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