The poster says, ‘Casino Royale is too much for one James Bond’, but is this shambolic spoof too much for Mel?
I don’t let on to Mel that there’s anything unusual about this month’s Bond adventure. I even go to the lengths of taking the DVD from its box and hiding it in the ‘official’ Bond movies 50th anniversary box set.
The credits don’t register a reaction until the title appears. “Why does it say Casino Royale?!” Because that’s what the movie is called, I reply. I tell Mel there’s three reasons why I think she’ll like this one:
1. It’s the same source material as her beloved Daniel Craig Casino Royale.
2. The producer wanted to destroy the Bond franchise.
“A noble quest,” Mel interjects.
3. Sean Connery isn’t in it.
I give her a potted history of the production, largely cribbed from the comprehensive James Bond: The Legacy by John Cork and Bruce Scivally (Boxtree, 2002). Charles K. Feldman obtained the rights and wanted to make a co-production with EON. But he wanted too big of a cut, so they knocked him back. Feldman made his own film, but when he asked Connery to play Bond, the Scotsman wanted a million dollars to star. Originally it was going to be a straight adaptation of the novel, but eventually became a monstrous, bloated, weak comedy. Woody Allen is quoted in James Bond: The Legacy as saying, “Charlie Feldman is lavish in the Egyptian tradition of lavish. What he’s really trying to do is eliminate the Bond pictures forever.”
The representatives of various countries are on their way to Sir James Bond’s house, waxing lyrical about the legendary spy. Bond has lions in the grounds of his home. “Lions! I love it. They’re so beautiful.” One of the climbs onto the car’s roof: “I like that.”
Mel enjoy’s David Niven as Bond describing Sean Connery’s incarnation as “a sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of beautiful dead women like blown roses behind him.”
“See, people at that time were talking about the way women were treated in the Bond movies. You always say, ‘It’s a sign of the times.'”
Bond saunters off to play Debussy, as he does at this time every day. “He’s a bit pompous isn’t he?”
After M blows up Bond’s house and is killed in the exercise, Bond goes to visit his widow, unaware that the castle has been infiltrated by SMERSH agents posing as M’s family, the MacTavishes. He hands over M’s earthly remains, his ginger toupee, and Mel laughs at the ‘heirloom’ gag.
She’s not laughing moments later when the sacrificial goat is carried past though, bleating plaintively. “I don’t like it,” Mel says as ‘M’s widow’ describes what they will do with the goat. “Although I do quite like haggis.”
Bond retires for the evening and goes for a bath. “That’s the kind of dressing gown I want for the wedding morning, and I can’t find one,” laments Mel.
As Bond undresses, Mel points out, “There’s obviously someone in the bath, because he hasn’t turned round.” The girl in the bath informs Bond that she used to get in her father’s bath to check the temperature for him. “That’s a bit seedy isn’t it?” Sadly, it’s not the only occasion this film will unsuccessfully mine the idea of an inappropriate father/daughter relationship for humour.
“Why has she got a shower cap on when all of her hair isn’t in it? That’s a bit stupid.”
If only this was as stupid as Casino Royale gets.
Agent Mimi, posing as M’s widow, comes into Bond’s bedroom. Mel asks, “Is this supposed to be soft porn?”
“It’s just ridiculous. Nothing like a James Bond film. More like Carry On.”
I agree that it’s like no other film ever made. I ask Mel if she’s not impressed that this version of Bond rejected a woman’s advances. “Yeah, James Bond would definitely have slept with her. He would have slept with all of them… had an orgy.”
When Bond has to compete with the pipers, one of them puts his back out with an unpleasant snapping sound trying to lift the stone balls. “Urgghh. Yuck. I felt sick with that.”
I ask Mel if she is enjoying this more or less than Thunderball. “Less. Even less, surprisingly. I would rather watch James Bond.” She’s not even thinking of David Niven as James Bond at all, but I begin to realise that it doesn’t matter. Casino Royale might serve a me well here, in making the ‘official’ Bond movies seem like a blessed relief. At this rate, You Only Live Twice could win her over next month by virtue of not being this.
Bond arrives in London to take over M’s job. He kisses Miss Moneypenny in greeting.
“Finally they get together!”
The action then shifts to Bond’s nephew, Jimmy Bond, who is being taken before a firing squad.
“That’s Woody Allen,” says Mel. I express surprise, I didn’t think she’d ever seen a Woody Allen film.
“I recognise him from Rob Brydon’s impression of him in The Trip.”
Moneypenny is assessing various agents to make them female-proof. “I do like that night dress.”
I make a mental note to try and get one for Mel as a Christmas present as a priority.
The next morning Bond has to wake Moneypenny by clicking his fingers. “Don’t click at women. Wankface.”
When Vesper Lynd arrives, Mel recognises her. I gently quiz her, to see if she remembers which story we’ve seen her in. “I know! Dr. No. I hate it when you test me!”
“She looks a bit like Beyonce.”
Burt Bacharach’s song The Look of Love strikes up.
“I love this song,” says Mel.
I tell her that it won an Oscar for this movie. Actually the only one it managed to win.
“Really!?!” She doesn’t seem that surprised.
“How long’s left?”
About an hour, I estimate, conservatively.
“It’s just shit. What a waste of my weekend.”
We agree to take a short break and finish it a bit later.
Three weeks later…
“Come on them, let’s get it over with.”
I tell Mel it’s no picnic for me either. I had to actually buy this DVD for us to watch.
She actually does think I’m joking. I got it off eBay for £3.75, free postage.
“We’ve got a wedding to pay for!”
Vesper Lynd and Tremble are getting amorous.
“As if she would ever go with him… his nose looks fake.”
For some reason Tremble is doing press-ups while Lynd jumps about on her bed in slow motion.
Mel tells me, “I’m going to get you a onesie like that.”
Unlike in Dr. No, Ursula Andress is not dubbed in this movie.
“She sounds like The Duchess from The Aristocats, ‘Marie, darling, Marie you must stop that. That’s really not lady-like.'” Mel does a pretty good impression of Eva Gabor.
Having been re-named James Bond, Tremble reports to Q-Branch. He’s warned against signing with a pen that releases poisonous gas. Tremble: “Ideal if you want to send a -” Q’s assistant finishes “…poison pen letter, yes, all our agents say that, sir”
Mel says, “That is quite funny. I like the way they’re taking the piss out of all those SHIT jokes.”
Sir James Bond goes to meet the daughter he sired by Mata Hari, Mata Bond. Disturbingly, Mata strokes his chin and tells her father, “You know, if you weren’t my dad, I think I could fancy you.”
“Urrgghhh! That is minging! Absolutely minging. What were they thinking?!”
Sir James reassures his daughter that she is up to the job of being a spy, “Your mother wiped out three divisions of infantry, five brigades of cavalry and, well frankly, she had much less… equipment than you have”.
Not for the first time over the next hour or so, Mel says, “This is so weird.”
I tell Mel that Hari was a real person, a spy for the Nazis who was shot by a firing squad in 1917.
Sh reacts to this interesting insight with, “Right… Oh, Greek Muller Lights are on offer for £1.50 in Tesco at the moment.”
A familiar face appears on the screen as Mata Bond enrols in spy school. “It’s him… the little fella… Ronnie Corbett!”
Mata asks Ronnie who Le Chiffre is. He replies, “Nobody knows. Not even Le Chiffre.”
Mel shakes he head sadly, “It doesn’t make any sense.”
It all kicks off as an auction Le Chiffre is holding to raise money descends into a fight between the various nations who are bidding. I ask Mel if she recognises the auctioneer, but she doesn’t. “Who is Bond compared to Kronsteen?” I ask in a Russian accent. Still nothing. I thought she might recognise Bernard Cribbins from Doctor Who. She doesn’t, but I suppose he is about forty years younger here.
“This is actually unwatchable. What the hell am I wasting my life for? I will never get these two hours back.”
One of the frustrating things about Martin Feldman’s movie is that it could all have been so different. Early drafts of the script were for a traditional Bond movie, written by Ben “The Shakespeare of Hollywood” Hecht. There is an excellent ebook called Rogue Royale by Jeremy Duns that analyses these drafts, which I heartily recommend (see link below). It’s one of the great Bond movie what-ifs, and at time of going to press is a steal at just 77p.
Meanwhile Tremble-Bond has been drugged by Miss Goodthighs, and when he comes to Vesper Lynd shoves him in the shower, revealing a magnificent, masculine back.
Mel points out, “He’s got a hairy back like you.”
I smile, but don’t write anything down.
“Put that in! Let the world know what a hairy man-beast I’m marrying.”
Tremble-Bond and Le Chiffre face off over the baccarat table. Tremble wins.
“When you think how good this scene is in Casino Royale. So tense. What did Ian Fleming think of this?”
I tell Mel he has sadly died before this movie was made.
“I’m glad for him that he didn’t have to see it.”
In scenes closest to the 2006 film, Vesper Lynd is kidnapped, Tremble-Bond chases them in a car, then gets captured and tortured and by Le Chiffre. But this time the torture involves women and Scottish pipers.
“Why do all the women in this have pointy boobs?”
Lynd kills Tremble-Bond, and SMERSH kills Le Chiffre. Mel is so fed up by this point that she doesn’t even react when a flying saucer unexpectedly lands in Trafalgar Square and kidnaps Mata Bond.
Woody Allen’s Jimmy Bond is revealed to be Dr. Noah, the evil genius behind everything. He can’t speak in front of his Uncle James Bond due to crippling hero worship. His plan is to unleash a gas that makes all women beautiful and kill all men taller than him.
“How long’s left now?”
About fifteen minutes.
“It’s bloody awful.”
We fast-forward through the seemingly endless battle between spies, cowboys, Indians, and Keystone Cops. Eventually Woody Allen blows up, having taken a pill that turned him into a hydrogen bomb, destroying Casino Royale and everyone there.
“That was the worst film I’ve ever watched.”
I ask where it fits into her Bond movie rankings.
“Worst! Literally the worst thing I’ve ever watched.”
I say I’ll put it back on eBay tomorrow night.
“Do it tonight.”
Mel will return watching…. You Only Live Twice
Original trailer for Casino Royale:
Order Casino Royale (1967) on DVD from Amazon:
Rogue Royale for the Kindle:
James Bond: The Legacy