Wednesday, January 16, 2002


This is surely no classic, but it has such a weird reputation that I had to jump at the chance to see a letterboxed print of this on TCM. It's a satire of the James Bond genre and there are some good moments, especially in the first 15 minutes or so, when the head honchos of the world's spy organizations (including John Huston, William Holden, and Charles Boyer) try to talk James Bond (David Niven) out of retirement. It turns out that the British have substituted a younger man (presumably Sean Connery, although he's never seen or mentioned) to keep Bond's legend alive. Niven is a chaste teetotaler who just wants to stay in retirement, but he eventually returns to the fray to help fight SMERSH, agreeing to train other spies to be passed off as Bonds. After this satiric opening, it's all downhill--four different directors put this together and it shows in its wild and episodic incoherence. It's a bit like a Mel Brooks movie (especially the ending, where cowboys and Indians are thrown surrealistically into the scene), if Brooks were an unmedicated schizophrenic.

A lot of money was spent on this and it shows in the elaborate costumes and colorful sets, and the actors all look like they're having fun, but at over two hours, it really drags. Woody Allen is criminally underused and Peter Sellers is surprisingly ineffective; Niven, Ursula Andress, and Deborah Kerr come out relatively unscathed. Ultimately, it seemed like an overdone Austin Powers film, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Mike Myers actually based the look and feel of the Powers movies in part on CASINO ROYALE. The two jokes I remember most vividly are music-cues involving "What's New Pussycat" and "Born Free." This is a real oddball flick, recommended only to curiosity seekers, or fans of David Niven.

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