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Casino Royale

CASINO ROYALE (1953)

Written by: Ian Fleming

Bond’s first real mission as a double O is to take down a man known only as Le Chiffre. He’s in deep with SMERSH (short for Smyert Shpionam, Russian for Death To Spies) and owes them lots and lots of money. He’s been a hero for them for far too long. If Bond and MI6 can discredit him at the baccarat tables in the titular casino, SMERSH will take him out for them.

At least, that’s what I got out of the whole thing. It’s a little bit convoluted and seemed as if Fleming was throwing everything in including Bond’s bathroom sink.

But the real story here is between Bond and Vesper Lynd, the young lady who MI6 sends to help Bond in France. She’s a junior member of the company, but they think that she can bring something to the table.

At first, Bond doesn’t see anything of value in her. Why would they send a woman to help him?! But soon enough he sees her as a woman of means. And when she is kidnapped, although he begins by thinking how stupid it was of her, he ends up thinking that she was very strong. But is there more to her than meets Bond’s roving eye?

Vesper is Bond’s first real love and the reason why he became the misogynist that we all know and love.

We also meet a Bond friend who will show up occasionally throughout the series. Felix Leiter is a US CIA man. He is from Texas and will show up most often as an ally to Bond. He’s a very likable fellow and fun to read.

But even more so is Rene Mathis, Bond’s French agent friend who introduces him to Vesper. Mathis seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone, even M, the head of MI6.

The book is pretty fast paced, even though most of the “action” takes place in a casino. There’s an entire chapter explaining how to play baccarat which was WAY over my head. I just kind of read through it and didn’t retain very much. It’s not a game that a) seems very interesting or b) seems like it should have lasted much past WWII. And, really, it didn’t.

Even though Fleming is often cited as starting the whole modern spy genre (there were many before him, but none as stylish or cool), he was still very much a Cold War writer. That means that women are treated as objects (at one point, Bond is so miffed at Vesper that he feels an urge to spank her), there is a lot of drinking and smoking and sex is something that must be taken, not given. And, like many people of the age, Fleming had no idea what the effects of marijuana actually were.

“He had something of Lennie in Of Mice And Men, but his inhumanity would not come from infantilism but from drugs. Marihuana, decided Bond.” Huh? When was the last time a pot head had an urge to kill? And, even if they did, they would be too lazy to do anything about it.

But he is a very good writer with some pretty amazing descriptions: “…the Greek’s pale, hairy hands which lay inert like two watchful pink crabs on the table. The two crabs scuttled out together and gathered the cards…” It’s hard to argue with that. I’m not so sure that Stephen King could have done better.

Throughout the book I kept going back and forth between Sean Connery and Daniel Craig as Bond. And, actually, I think it was only the time period of the book that had me thinking of Connery. Craig, as hard as it is for me to say, is probably closer to this Bond than Connery ever was.

I can pretty highly recommend the book as long as you can look past the overt misogyny. Considering the times, that’s the way things were. A friend of mine told me (just today, actually) about the tv series “Mad Men.” It’s probably the most sexist show on television today…but it gets away with it because it takes place in the early 60s. The Bond books (at least the ones written by Fleming) are from the same time period and should be read with that in mind.

GLOBE HOPPING: Royale-Les-Eaux, France

CONQUESTS: 1 (Vesper Lynd)

CASINO ROYALE on CLIMAX! MYSTERY THEATER (1954)

Directed by: William H Brown Jr
Written by: Charles Bennett/Anthony Ellis
Based on book by: Ian Fleming

Just a year after the novel was finally published, Fleming was approached to adapt it for American television broadcasting company, CBS. They were actually talking about doing a series of 32 episodes and Fleming wrote a few treatments for later installments that never materialized. Three of those treatments turned into short stories and collected in For Your Eyes Only in 1960.

All that remains of the series that never was is this Kinescope of the live broadcast from October 21, 1954 of the only episode ever shot. You can find it on the special features of the 1967 spoof.

The plot of the novel is pretty much intact, although ALL of the action takes place in the casino and the hotel. There is, of course, no ball-ripper chair, but Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre perfectly cast) does torture the hell out of Jimmy Bond (Barry Nelson).

Wait…Jimmy Bond? Yep. Bond is an American spy. “Clarence” Leiter (Michael Pate) is a British agent. And Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian) stands in for both Vesper Lynd and Bond’s French friend, Mathis. Instead of a bomb going off almost killing Bond, he is nearly shot at the very beginning of the story. He then meets Leiter, finds out all he needs to know about Le Chiffre (in a rather unconvincing scene where they try to play an information exchange off as learning baccarat) and is re-introduced to old love, Valerie, who is now working for Le Chiffre.

It’s all rather boring, but it’s kind of interesting to see where Bond would have been if they had kept up in the vein. Somehow, I don’t think it would have taken off so well.

GLOBE HOPPING: Monte Carlo, Monaco

CONQUESTS: None…this was television in the 50s!

CASINO ROYALE, aka CHARLES K. FELDMAN’S CASINO ROYALE (1967)

(‘Cause they couldn’t call it Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale.)

Directed by: Val Guest/Kenneth Hughes/John Huston/Joseph McGrath/Robert Parrish/Richard Talmadge
Written by: Wolf Mankowitz/John Law/Michael Sayers/Woody Allen/Val Guest/Ben Hecht/Joseph Heller/Terry Southern/Billy Wilder/Peter Sellers
Based (kinda) on book by: Ian Fleming

James Bond (David Niven) isn’t who we thought he was. He was actually a spy during WWII and believes that a good spy is a pure spy. He never dabbled in sex or any other kind of extracurricular activity like that. When he retired, they gave someone else his name in order to keep the world on its toes. But the current James Bond (Peter Sellers), who is all about sex and gadgets, is in danger. So now it’s time to bring the original out of retirement.

Actually, all of the spies in the world are in danger. They’re disappearing one by one and SMERSH is thought to be involved. And now M (John Huston) is dead.

45 minutes later, Original Bond gets to meet Vesper Lynde (Ursula Andress in a bit of stunt casting that has almost never been equaled–at least she has her real voice in this one). And so does current Bond. And hilarity ensues! (It takes nearly an hour and a half for Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) to actually show up.)

Ok. Maybe not. The “jokes” come fast and furious. (M’s toupee being called “an hair loom.” Moneypenny’s daughter testing out new spies by kissing them…the one who impresses her the most says “the void has been filled” and has sex with her.) And, of course, there’s Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond, original Bond’s nephew. “I have a very low threshold of death! My doctor says that I should never have bullets enter my body at any time!” (Later he does a pretty good Harpo impression.)

Oh, yes. There is a point where “Yakkety Sax” breaks out. AND “What’s New, Pussy Cat?” (You see, it’s the same team. Peter O’Toole even has a pretty funny cameo.) Sigh.

What’s interesting is that, after nearly an hour and a half, they manage to tell the entire story of Casino Royale in half an hour. Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) finally shows up, they play baccarat, Vesper betrays Bond, Le Chiffre tortures Bond (nearly complete with the ball-ripping chair) and then is killed by SMERSH all in that short amount of time. And I guess that’s why MGM never made a serious Casino Royale film until 2006. There just didn’t seem to be enough story.

It is sad to see Welles stooping to this…for money? To work with Huston? Well, he wasn’t in any scenes with Huston or that he directed, so it must have been for money. He was doing a lot of that at the time.

Written and directed by a cast of thousands (including Huston, Sellers, Allen, Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, Billy Wilder, Terry Southern and Val Guest), this movie is one of the biggest messes to hit Hollywood in a decade of mess. There are musical numbers, failed comedy bits, Picassos and, of course, lots and lots of flesh on display. (No, not THAT much. It’s rated PG.) If Ian Fleming had been alive when it was released he would have rolled over in his grave…and sued.

At two hours seventeen minutes, Casino Royale is FAR too long. And there’s FAR too much going on for a comedy. Even a spoof of a James Bond. It’s just over the top and overly silly. The end is even sillier than you could ever imagine. There, strangely, is no pie fight. But there are Indians, a cavalry, seals, dogs, Keystone Kops and a sequence in Heaven.

And somehow this movie has an Oscar nomination. (Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “The Look Of Love” was up for Best Original Song.)

But there’s a certain 60s charm to it. And it’s kind of fun to see all of these people do all of these silly things. (Especially Niven, who wasn’t known for being silly at all except for a small role in The Pink Panther. And he really wasn’t silly there. Sellers had the monopoly on that.) Between this and What’s New, Pussycat? we see everything that was wrong with Hollywood comedy in the 60s, when they thought that psychedelic meant crazy. But both movies (especially Pussycat) have their moments. And here Woody Allen has most of them.

Watch for George Raft and William Holden in small roles. Oh, and Jacqueline Bisset as Miss Goodthighs.

The DVD has a special feature called “Psychedelic Cinema,” which is basically an interview with Val Guest, writer/director of the Woody Allen sequence in the film. He tells us that Welles hated Sellers and didn’t want to work with him, so they never shot any of their scenes together. And Sellers pissed off producer Feldman by not showing up for a shot. So his contract was terminated and they had to finish the film without one of their main characters.

Val is a charming old man and has a lot of insight into the crazy-ass production of this movie. He realizes that the movie makes no sense and is perfectly fine with it. He even explains why. It’s definitely worth seeing if you’ve seen the movie and wondered what the hell was going on. (Stuff like moving “belly laughs” around in the film at Feldman’s request.)

GLOBE HOPPING: Scotland; Berlin; France…possibly more?

CONQUESTS: Um…depends on which Bond you’re thinking about. The “real” Bond got none. Sellers’ Bond got quite a bit. The rest were all in between there somewhere.

CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Paul Haggis/Neal Purvis/Robert Wade
Based on book by: Ian Fleming

Daniel Craig is definitely the best thing to happen to this movie franchise since they hired Judi Dench to take over as M. (Oh, and there’s that Pierce guy, too. He was pretty damn cool.) I reviewed this movie once, but here it is again: This very well could be the best Bond movie ever made.

It’s also probably the most faithful. The entire story from the book is here, from Le Chiffre (here played by Mads Mikkelson) owing money to a bunch of terrorists (this time not SMERSH since the Russians aren’t our enemies anymore) to Vesper Lynd (Eva Green being even more seductive than she was fully naked in The Dreamers) working for MI6 and bringing Bond the money to beat Le Chiffre at cards. There’s a drink that Bond names The Vesper…possibly the exact same drink, actually. Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) is just as charming as he is in the book and I’m glad he’s coming back for the next film, Quantum Of Solace. And Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) is introduced to Bond for future jobs together. And, yes, our old friend the ball-ripper chair is here, too. (And Bond is MUCH harder here than in the book. In the book he’s almost crying and finally blacks out…as any actual man would. In the movie, he’s hurting, but he’s laughing at Le Chiffre saying, “I’m going to tell everyone that you died scratching my balls!” Awesome.)

A few subtle difference reared their heads this go round. No one knows what the hell baccarat is anymore, so they changed it to the more socially acceptable hold ’em. (They never called it Texas Hold ‘Em, damn ’em.) There is some question as to whether Mathis is on our side or not. Vesper isn’t introduced to Bond by Mathis. Blah, blah, blah. Whatever.

The most drastic difference is just the action. The book doesn’t have a lot of that going on. In fact, I think there are really only three “action” sequences in the entire book: Bond almost gets blown up, Bond’s car goes off the road while he’s chasing after Vesper’s kidnappers (the car rolls seven times–a world record) and Bond gets his balls beat in. That’s about it.

In the movie, they actually cut one of those (the bomb assassination attempt), but they add about 50 more. They also add about 45 minutes to the story before the book starts. We actually see Bond make his first two kills to become a Double O. (They only talked about it in the book.) We follow Bond running after a bomb-maker through a construction site. (Some great parkour action here. And I LOVE the part where Bond throws the empty gun at the guy.) We see where Le Chiffre has lost his money and it involves an attempt to blow up a prototype airplane to drive the company’s stock down. There’s a fight scene in a stairwell with two guys, one with a machine gun and one with a big-ass sword. And this time Vesper doesn’t kill herself quietly in the night. We get a scene where she sees a guy with an eye patch (straight from the book), but she actually goes to meet him with the money. Then Bond follows and there’s great fire fight where he sinks a Venitian building.

Bloody awesome.

If the series keeps going like this, I’m all for it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie. It’s action packed and full of everything that we need from a Bond movie. It’s a great reboot for the series for a new generation. And Craig is closer to the Bond of the book even than Sean Connery was. He’s cold. He’s ruthless. And he’s a fucking killer.

Vesper is a different story, though. In the book, she’s a little weak. Almost window dressing. She doesn’t do very much except give Bond money, fall in love with him and then betray him. In the movie, she is much stronger. Yes, there’s a moment where she cracks after watching Bond kill the two guys in the stairwell. (And it gives us a very tender moment for Bond when he gets into the shower with her, fully clothed, just to comfort her.) But she sees things that Bond doesn’t think that a woman would see. If she was more of a killer, she would be him.

This may be one of the few times that a movie betters a book by a LONG shot.

The extras on the second disc are the typical “making of” documentaries, but as the action was so good, it’s kind of cool to see how they were all made.

One thing about them, though: in the doc “James Bond: For Real,” they talk about how the truck stunts at the airport were reminiscent of the stunt in License To Kill. Well, I remember a little movie called Raiders Of The Lost Ark where a guy was beating the shit out of Indy just like the guy is beating the shit out of Bond here. Not a complaint. Just an observation. It works just as well here as it did 25 years before.

Another extra is the 2003 documentary Bond Girls Are Forever, hosted by Bond Girl Maryam d’Abo. It was originally given out as a free disc at Best Buy when Die Another Day came out. It’s pretty good. Maryam interviews Bond girls from Ursula Andress to Halle Berry and gets them to talk about how they felt on the set and about their role in Bond’s and women’s history. It’s even updated to include Eva Green on Casino Royale. Good for them.

The Chris Cornell video for the theme song is a little lackluster. It’s really just scenes from the movie interspersed with shots of Chris singing the song. Every once in a while, Chris almost looks like he’s getting a little bit of action, but he’s really just getting ready to sing. Blah. So very 00’s. So very unremarkable. The song is alright, though. Not the best, but not the worst.

GLOBE HOPPING: Prague; Uganda; Madagascar; Montenegro; Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy

CONQUESTS: 1 1/2: Vesper Lynd and nearly Solange (Caterina Murino)