Rewatching the James Bond films chronologically. In 1967, there were two James Bond movies in theaters, an official one and an unofficial one. The latter was released first, in April of that year, so it’s next on the list. It’s Casino Royale, a Bond movie that was made by different producers than the Connery Bonds. The legalities of how and why this happened are well documented online, so there’s no need to get into them here. Also, I must admit this is my first time ever seeing this one, so there’s no nostalgia – this post is my gut reaction.
Bond blurb: I am so confused! David Niven plays an older, retired James Bond, who is called back into action to take on the evil organization S.M.E.R.S.H. He attends M’s funeral in Scotland, where everyone in M’s household has been replaced by enemy agents. After escaping them, Bond becomes the new M. He recruits a group of new agents and decides that they’ll all be renamed “James Bond,” including the women. This includes an expert card player (Peter Sellers), and Bond’s nebbish nephew Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen).
Bond background: We meet Bond at home, inside his giant mansion (could it be Skyfall?) where he picks apart all the Bond clichés after officials ask him to come out of retirement. The rest of the movie has him taking over as the new M. There’s a good idea somewhere in here about an older spy mentoring a crew of new agents, one of whom is his daughter. This movie is too silly and weird to explore this concept, though.
Bond baddies: The legendary Orson Welles plays the villain Le Chiffre. Welles is all eccentric, as expected, but at least he commits to the part. Later, we meet the real leader of S.M.E.R.S.H., Dr. Noah. I won’t spoil who it is, but the reveal leads to a lot more comedy shtick.
Bond babes: A running joke has to do with the forces of evil always trying to seduce Bond with beautiful women. As such, there are hotties everywhere, as part of the gag. Most notably, Ursula Andress is back! As the sneaky, seductive Vesper Lynd, she’s the opposite of the naïve wild child she played in Dr. No. Also prominently featured is Mata Bond, the daughter of Bond and the legendary Mata Hari, who is recruited by her father as another “James Bond.” I really liked Mata, in that she was not only sexy and charming, but she got to be the hero in her scenes, without some dopey man having to rescue her.
Bond best brains: The Niven Bond says he’s outgrown gadgets, so of course there’s a running joke of practically everything being a gadget. I especially liked the fishing pole that’s also a telephone.
Bond bash-ups: This is a comedy, so there’s not a whole lot of action. A car chase uses too much rear projection but it ends in a neat explosion, and Mata Bond’s escape from the bad guys is a fun little getaway sequence. The big fight scene at the end is a reverse Blazing Saddles, with cowboys and Indians crashing through the wall and joining the fight for no reason whatsoever.
Bond baggage: Bond was so huge in the ‘60s that along came a ton of Bond spoofs and low-budget ripoffs. The Flint and Dr. Goldfoot movies, for example. This movie is one of those, more interested in goofing on Bond than actually being a Bond movie. Also, 1960s psychedelic culture makes a grand appearance in a scene where Le Chiffre tortures the Sellers Bond with all kinds of bizarre imagery.
Bond babble: This is the movie equivalent of someone explaining to you the weird dream they had last night. Some scenes have that dry, deadpan English wit, other scenes have broad, cartoony slapstick, and others are just weirdness for the sake of weirdness. It never comes together with any consistency, though. It’s just throwing craziness at the screen with no rhyme or reason. And it’s two and a half hours long! At 90 minutes this could have been cheeky fun, but there’s only so much random weirdness one guy can take.
Next: I’m turning Japanese, I really think so.
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