“Casino Royale” (1967)
This extravagantly produced spy comedy seems literally compulsive about the concept of creative gestation by way of vulgar quantitative excess: the film’s physical production comprising hundreds of sets, thousands of costumes and even an infinite number of James Bonds (the idea is to stick every agent with the 007 monikker to confuse the enemy, yet the gambit is so indiscriminently haphazard in execution- as the grand design includes enemy agents as well -it is unclear as to whether or not the ruse is to include the members of the audience, any one of whom would be able to imagine a better plot than the one this movie offers), though when the pattern of infelicitous hoarding of resources extends to the directorial chair, it is clear that a clear and purposeful vision is something producer Charles K. Feldman never considered adding to his shopping wish list.
If too many cooks spoil the broth, “Casino Royale” ups the ante by having too many soups spoil the appetite; the film is continually altering its tone from one sequence to another, shifting gears in mid-sentence without a semblance of acknowledgement that a clear and consistent sensibility might be prudently consulted in the execution of a narrative fabric that intends any coherence in the forward, sideways or backwards momentum in it’s plotted details. The central conceit of Fleming’s novel- the geopolitical confrontation of the Cold War essentially personalized into a clash over a baccarat table between Bond and SMERSH paymaster Le Chiffre -is carelessly introduced and quickly discarded while unrelated, lengthy segments introduce dozens of characters who contribute nothing to the plot and are unceremoniously forgotten only to emerge in unexplained cameo length roles. The films is, in fact, one lengthy expository introduction without a second act, occasionally reverting back to a momentary gossamer thin suggestion of Fleming’s plot reemerging without any relationship to the action with which it is bookmarked, but seemingly only due to the fact the producer owned and felt compelled to make use of the rights to the novel. Upon the available evidence, there was never any intention for the film to follow something as bourgeois as a linear narrative- nor as a close representation of Fleming’s conception- neither with dramatic fidelity nor imbued with a relevant sardonic comedic point of view -but simply to construct a hodgepodge of disparate satiric targets which by the circumstance of their lack of subjective commonality fail to merge into a viable creative direction: the film neither presents a parodying alternate to the existent Bond series, nor is it an editorially humorous (if ill-timed) take on the already sated spy spoof genre.
The climactic melee at the Casino Royale provides a useful demonstration of the film’s desperate throw everything including the kitchen sink thinking with the sudden irrelevant participation of several major movie personalities (George Raft and Jean-Paul Belmondo, in appearances so brief they’re might be accurately regarded as subliminal) including a puzzling reprise by William Holden (who in a spectacular error of continuity, was presumed to have been killed in the first reel- oops!), none of whom have a thing to do with any resemblance to the barest traces of anything resembling a plot, but merely act as spot-the-star distractions intended to divert the audience away from the fact that at this point the film has descended into a shapeless mess resembling the confused notes of a late night story conference rudely influenced by an excess of mescalin, the results of which were mistakenly filmed instead of being more properly discarded into the nearest dust bin. The script, attributed to Michael Sayers, John Law and Wolf Mankowitz, also features rumored contributions by Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Val Guest, Billy Wilder, Joseph Heller, Ben Hecht and Terry Southern- hardly a slouch in that group -so it is doubly troubling that there emerges nary a moment of coherence nor even a line of dialogue which either funny (surely the intention of the film) or memorable. Now, it is possible to grant critical dispensations (if one wishes to be analytically arcane) to a film in such a state of unfathomable disorder, presuming that this must be part of a greater purpose; to raise a rather fundamentally formulaic genre-type into the arena of greater experimentation with cinematic form commensurate with the nouvelle cinema movements occurring about the globe at the time, but if producer Feldman’s approach (and it clear this film is a product indelibly molded by Feldman’s singular vision/folly) is a sincere attempt to dislocate the audience from a subjective perspective (à la an Alain Robbe-Grillet novel), this would suggest an occasion of intelligent design by which the kaleidoscopic maelstrom indeed has a basis in artistic purposefulness. On the other hand, it is healthy to be reminded that occasionally trash is simply trash.
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