21 February 2009

DVD: "Casino Royale" (1967)

Casino Royale
Directed by John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath
Screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers
Suggested by the Ian Fleming novel
Starring: Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Joanna Pettet, Orson Welles, Dalilah Lavi and Woody Allen
DVD Release Date: 7 August 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
List Price: $14.95 - Currently Out of Print

The Film
Charles K. Feldman secured the film rights to Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel prior to, and separate from, the deal that generated the film series starring Sean Connery and subsequent leads up to current star Daniel Craig.  When Connery set an unprecedented asking price of $1 million to star in this film (and betray the main series which employed him), Feldman balked and decided to use his rights to create a parody instead of a straight-up adaptation.  His idea was to enlist as many different talented directors and actors as possible, let each director have control over his segment, and edit the segments together as a comprehensive film.  In that endeavor, Feldman and his team failed miserably.

Ostensibly, the premise is that James Bond (Niven, one of author Fleming's original picks to play the role cinematically) is asked to come out of retirement when SMERSH begins targeting high ranking British officials.  Bond's decision is to recruit six different agents, codename all of them "James Bond" to confuse SMERSH and force a showdown against Le Chiffre (Welles).  Whether they ever succeeded in confusing SMERSH is a matter of debate; that they confused audiences, however, is widely accepted.  Feldman himself reportedly told Connery after the film was finished that he wished he'd just paid the million.

Val Guest narrates a feature that traces the convoluted history of this film, from how Feldman came to own the rights to the chaos of its production.  There is no shortage of material in print and online about this film, though this documentary is as clear and comprehensive as any resource that I've found.  The original theatrical trailer is also included, but the real reason to own this DVD is its inclusion of a 1954 episode of the American television series Climax! featuring the first-ever screen apperance of James Bond.  Being an hour-long, live TV episode, much of the original novel was cut for time, though the essence of the story is remarkably retained.  Some characters were consolidated for brevity's sake, but most notably, the lead character is Jimmy Bond, an American agent, assisted by British agent Clarence Leiter.  Unfortunately, the final segment of the episode is missing from this DVD (though it can be found on the Spy Guise VHS release for those who want to see it in its entirety).

The Recommendation
Some consider this the grandfather of the Austin Powers franchise and other spy parodies.  The counter-argument is that this film isn't actually very funny--and with a run time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, it's entirely too long to not be funny.  It has its fans, but most audiences will be very disappointed if they come to this expecting anything resembling the Bond series proper.  Even Bond fans will likely only want this for the 1954 version that's included as a bonus.  This version is now out of print, replaced by a 40th anniversary edition on the market; that release has a commentary track, but does not include the '54 version.

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