Few movies have wasted as much talent as the first film adaptation of CASINO ROYALE. Let’s see, we have David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr and William Holden and behind the scenes Wolf Mankewicz scriptwriting and Val Guest and John Huston directing (rights to poster image reside with current holder).
Fleming had sold the film rights to Casino Royale back in 1955; nothing came of that until producer Charles Feldman bought them. Feldman didn’t have Connery so rather than try to compete with a straight film, he turned it into a send-up (well, he tried). The premise is that after the real James Bond (David Niven) retired, British intelligence kept the super-spy legend alive by handing his name and 007 number to Connery. Or as Niven calls him, ]”that sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of beautiful women like dead roses behind him.” Now SMERSH (a Russian counterspy agency, but here it’s an international crime cartel like SPECTRE), under the leadership of Dr. Noah, has launched attacks on spies of all nations; with Bond’s replacement missing, will Niven return to the field?
After M (John Huston) dies, Niven-Bond does indeed return and takes over MI6. He escapes several SMERSH attempts on his life, including a long plodding sequence where a SMERSH agent (Kerr) tries to seduce or kill him. After that, plot goes out the window — or alternately, there are just too many plots lying around undeveloped.
•Bond’s nephew Jimmy (Woody Allen) narrowly escapes a firing squad (probably the funniest bit in the film) then vanishes until the film’s finish.
•As SMERSH uses women to trap spies, Bond trains a man to resist the charms of any woman, then the film forgets he exists.
•Bond recruits his daughter Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet) to spy on Le Chiffre, but that plot goes nowhere too. And how can Bond have had an affair with Mata Hari, a WW I spy, when neither he nor Mata Bond are old enough?
The main plot, to the extent there is one, involves Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) recruiting baccarat expert Evelyn (Peter Sellers) to beat Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) who’s been embezzling SMERSH funds (unlike the book, it’s hard to see how this block’s SMERSH’s plans). But this plotline plods along too, with long stretches of Andress/Sellers flirtation, lengthy bits where Welles performs some stage magic, then a psychedelic, surreal sequence in which Le Chiffre tries to break Evelyn’s mind and get the money back.
None of which has any connection with the climax. First it turns out that Jimmy is Dr. Noah; his evil master plan is to replace the world’s leaders with robots and to unleash a bioweapon that makes all women beautiful and kills any man taller than he is. However one of his uncle’s agents (Daliah Lavi) slips a super-bomb in pill form into Allen’s glass … and before it blows up we get a madcap climax which includes George Raft, Frankenstein’s monster, cowboys, Native Americans (it’s like the climax of Blazing Saddles but it isn’t funny), then everyone dies and goes to Heaven except for Jimmy (he goes to The Other Place).
It’s bad on every level with almost every scene a clunker (Allen manages to be funny in his brief bits, which are pure Allen). The most interesting idea is that Niven despises womanizing spies and spies who use gadgets, but like everything else, there’s no payoff. We still get the Q-and-gadgets scene that’s now part of the Bond formula, and as Niven gets squeezed out by all the extraneous goings on, there’s no way for him to really show how different his Bond is. Of course they did try having Niven fend off a bevy of sexy SMERSHers during his run-in with Kerr, and that fell flat, so I doubt it makes a difference.
There are films so bad you have to see them. This one is so bad you should avoid it like the plague.