The secret services of nations from around the world are fighting a losing battle against the evil organisation of SMERSH, and try to coax veteran spy James Bond (David Niven) out of retirement to help. Bond suggests that all secret agents, including the women, be named James Bond to fool the enemy, and a Baccarat expert (Peter Sellers) is recruited to put a spanner in the works of SMERSH's scheme to take over the world...
This profligate, extravagant fantasy was based on Ian Fleming's novel - well, they kept the title - and was scripted by Wolf Mankowitz, John Law and Michael Sayers. Now when you mention Casino Royale the film which springs to mind is the Daniel Craig debut in the James Bond role, but for diehard fans of sixties kitsch it is this parody which will be, if not the definitive version, then at least the one which holds a place in their cult movie fans' heart. At the time it was intended as an expensive send-up of all things Bond, but ended up as a notorious mess with all of its talents pulling in different directions.
Now thought of, if at all, as one of the biggest flops of its day, financially nothing could be further from the truth: the fact that they could use the Bond name combined with the world's appetite for all things 007 meant it was one of the year's biggest moneymakers. It certainly has the recognisable elements of a sixties Bond adventure, with its beautiful women, pervasive villains, plentiful gadgets and quips, and watching it in light of the Craig "remake" you can identify the occasional nod to the original novel (watch out for the carpet beater, an apparent visual non sequitur yet there for good reason).
However, it might be eye-poppingly bright and colourful but its humour is self-consciously wacky and heavy-handed and the action seems to abide by the rule "If in doubt, blow it up", which may have been ahead of its time but grows repetitive if that's the best punchline they could come up with. That said, the budget was all up there on the screen as the lengths the production goes to impress you are overwhelming: for example, one scene has a flying saucer landing in Trafalgar Square to kidnap Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet) - the daughter of Bond and Mata Hari. Any other spy film would been satisfied with having her bundled into the back of a car.
The jokes will make you groan, and the innuendo has no zing; on the other hand, novelty value is strong, whether it's seeing Deborah Kerr making a fool of herself, the strange fixation with Scotland (probably due to a fascination with the obviously absent Sean Connery), the car chase featuring a deadly milkfloat or the odd psychedelic interlude. In stuffing everything they can think of into the mix, we even get Sellers doing his comedy Indian accent and Orson Welles (as supposed head bad guy Le Chifre) performing magic tricks, apparently the only way the producers could secure his services. That cast was really something to behold, not only because they hired as many of the most beautiful women available for decorative purposes, with Ursula Andress notable as one actress to play two Bond Girls and Barbara Bouchet as the most glamorous Miss Moneypenny imaginable.
As Casino Royale draws on, the plot becomes increasingly difficult to follow the more twists, new characters and set pieces are thrown up, so not even reading the source novel will help you in fathoming why any of the plot was happening, with the ending, where one incidental character turns out to be behind the mayhem, barely makes an effort to tie up all the loose ends. The funniest aspect is Woody Allen's contribution, which sounds as if he wrote many of his lines himself ("So long, suckers!"), and the best sequence is where Mata infiltrates the Berlin training school for female spies - that set design is superb. As an example of sixties mega-budget excess, Casino Royale is hard to beat, although it can also be hard to sit through. But it is more fun than some of Roger Moore's Bond movies. That huge cast includes George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peter O'Toole, Angela Scoular, Alexandra Bastedo, Derek Nimmo, Geoffrey Bayldon as Q, Richard Wattis, John Wells, Chic Murray, Dave Prowse as the Frankenstein Monster, Burt Kwouk and John Le Mesurier. Also directed by Robert Parrish. The memorable music is by Burt Bacharach, including "The Look of Love", sung by Dusty Springfield, and the seriously catchy theme tune performed by Herb Alpert.