Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)
Very seldom does one character define a subgenre. But that is precisely what James Bond 007 has done with spy/espionage fiction. Since making his film debut in 1962, Bond has appeared in over 20 movies. Moreover, the character has only been portrayed by a mere six actors (officially, anyway). Now that the 25th (official) Bond installment, No Time to Die, is finally slated for release on November 20th, I think now is a better time than any to look back at 007’s dossier. I’ll be examining the James Bond franchise to see how these pictures evolved over the decades with each new leading actor. Today’s top secret, unofficial mission: Casino Royale (1967)!
Before I delve into today’s review, I’d like to address the latest news regarding the eventual release of the 25th official Bond installment, No Time to Die. After being moved earlier this year, the film has been re-positioned yet again. The final Daniel Craig outing is now slated for US release on November 20th. A move I imagine MGM/UA and EON Productions made to capitalize on what will be the Thanksgiving holiday — after all, turkey day is wrapped up at the movie theater for a lot of Americans.
Of course, this newest release date assumes that the ongoing global pandemic will have mellowed enough for moviegoers to feel comfortable making the trip. I, for one, don’t plan to go to the theater until this Fall at the earliest, depending on circumstances on COVID-19 at that point. Otherwise, it’d be a dirty shame to have to watch No Time to Die at home; especially since I will have reviewed all the previous entries in this franchise by then. For now, though, let us take a respite from modern stressors, and go back to the 1960s to take a look at the original Casino Royale (1967)!
Unlike the rest of the 007 novels, Ian Flemming‘s Casino Royale was the only book in the series to which EON Productions did not have the rights. He sold those off to another party almost immediately after the novel’s publication in 1954. The move was so quick, in fact, that Casino Royale was adapted as a one-off TV episode of the CBS anthology series Climax! the same year the book debuted! A decade later, James Bond movies were the freshest and most popular thing on the block. And by this time, a producer named Charles K. Feldman held the movie rights to Fleming’s first Bond book.
As such, Feldman intended to make Casino Royale an official entry in the franchise with a plan to co-produce the picture with EON and have it star Sean Connery. Alas, Connery and producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli were both experiencing burnout, albeit, ever so briefly. The producer and actor had just wrapped production on Thunderball (1965); on which they were forced to work with Kevin McClory, who was himself engaged in a bitter legal battle with Broccoli and EON over Thunderball‘s story (for more of this, take a look at my mission report on the film).
Thus, the choice was made by Feldman to make Casino Royale an unofficial Bond entry and a spoof at that. This way, he would still be able to capitalize on the Bond franchise at the time. Moreover, MGM agreed to distribute this satire of their series, insuring some of the profits would stay in house.
Feldman’s idea was to hire individual filmmakers to shoot different portions of the movie with all the different story threads still coming together into one giant, cohesive lark. Thus, six different directors were hired to bring this satirical vision into fruition: Val Guest, Kenneth Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, and Richard Talmadge.
Such a novel approach attracted an all-star cast of the day; both comedy giants and serious actors. Although, it is worth noting that, supposedly, many of the cast members initially thought this film would be a legitimate adaptation of the novel. Thus, much of the cast — including the original Bond girl, Ursula Andress (Dr. No), signed onto the project — sight unseen. Therefore, many of the actors were none-too-thrilled to find that they were participating in a send-up.
The spy spoof required six screenwriters (half of whom go uncredited) and numerous (also uncredited) rewrites by legendary director Billy Wilder and cast members Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. Together, this group of writers unceremoniously cobbled together a loose narrative out of what is essentially a string of disconnected, long-form comedic vignettes.
In any event, Casino Royale finds a reserved and seemingly celibate Sir James Bond (David Niven) retired from MI-6. His name lives on, however, via various secret agents who have taken on his identity and 007 moniker. But, when a notorious criminal known as Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) and a dastardly organization dubbed SMERSH pose a global threat, Sir James Bond is forced back into the field to lead his fellow 00s.
As you might imagine, such a parsed out approach to making a film with a massive cast proved to be a challenge. Allen dubbed the production “a madhouse” — so much so that he vowed to write and direct his films from that point forward. Meanwhile, Wells thought the film was only successful due to its marketing campaign.
The on-set chaos only increased following two significant issues while shooting. McGarth was fired from his section of the film and replaced by Robert Parish. Meanwhile, comedic genius Peter Sellers was living up to his difficult working reputation. See, Sellers wanted to deliver a sincere take on his role as Bond. He also wanted his work to show up that of Wells and Allen. (No doubt, part of Sellers’ motivation was his dislike of Wells.)
Eventually, the division between what Sellers wanted versus what he had been hired to do came to a boil and he abandoned the production once it was halfway to the finish line. The actor’s abrupt exit left the writers to patch together scenes that still needed to be shot despite his depature.
Ultimately, an intially novel approach became a disastrous production. Nevertheless, the ridiculous film was a financial success. Originally allotted a production budget of $6 million, Casino Royale ended up overspending and skyrocketing to a final budget of $11 million — more than the first four official 007 installments put together! Despite the overrun, though, it grossed $41 million at the box office.
As you might imagine, such a troubled production did not result in the best of films. I commend the producer and the five directors for taking such a novel and original approach to making a spoof. In the end, however, all this flick has going for it is its cinematography and great cast; who, sadly, have very little to work with.
I understand that comedy and humor are subjective — perhaps more so than any other aspect of film. For me, however, Casino Royale is one of the dullest satires I’ve ever seen, and I have a soft spot for spoofs! This picture has about four jokes that gave me a chuckle, but that was it. Otherwise, Casino Royale ’67 is a slow and messy picture that feels almost interminable and is absolutely a Franchise Implosion! I can only recommend this unofficial entry to you if you’re a die-hard 007 fanatic or a huge anglophile for comedy. However, unless you fall into one of those two categories, I strongly suggest finding a best of scene compilation on YouTube. I assure you, that will be a better use of your time.
Thankfully, we will eventually get to a straightforward adaptation of Casino Royale. In 1999, MGM finally acquired the film rights to Casino Royale from Sony and Columbia Pictures for a sum of $10 million. Oddly enough, by the time MGM and EON Productions made their official, straightforward adaptation of Casino Royale in 2006, Sony was involved in the distribution of the series!
Next time around, though, I’ll be covering the only other unofficial James Bond installment.
Casino Royale (1967) is Available on Home Video
James Bond Will Return For Another (Unofficial) Installment of Franchise Expansion or Implosion with Never Say Never Again (1983)!
007’s Newest Mission, No Time to Die, Will Be in Theaters on November 20th!
Read About Bond’s Past Franchise Endeavors-
From Russia with Love:
You Only Live Twice:
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:
Diamonds Are Forever:
Live and Let Die:
The Man with The Golden Gun:
The Spy Who Loved Me:
For Your Eyes Only:
A View to a Kill:
The Living Daylights:
Licence to Kill: