Amazon Prime, or Prime as it prefers to be known, have stuck a well-timed boot into Netflix and all other streaming services by dropping all the James Bond films into our homes at once. As always with Amazon, their bots have done it in a hopelessly careless way; the trivia section for 1967’s Casino Royale has been mistakenly filled with info about 2021’s Snake Eyes. But unlike most Bond DVD and blu-ray collections, this selection is the full kit and caboodle, including a feature-length Eon doc (Everything Or Nothing), black sheep Never Say Never Again, and this notorious 1967 smorgasbord, a regular UK tv staple in the 80’s.
Most British kids grew up on Bank Holiday James Bond films, a sexist, racist babysitter that most parents trusted without a qualm; audiences usually divide between passionate Alan Partridge-like super-fans and those who quietly reject their omnipresence in pop culture. Neither camp can quite embrace this garbled spoof; having shot about half an hour of footage of Peter Sellers as James Bond, facing off against Le Chiffre (Orson Welles), the Pink Panther star abruptly quit, leaving five credited directors with an gaping narrative gap to fill expensively with musical numbers, dance routines, psychedelic gibber and all kinds of off-message blandishments. Surprisingly, the hopelessly compromised product created was a big hit back in easily pleased 1967.
So sure, Casino Royale is a shambles, but in today’s metaverse, it’s time may finally have come. A dozen writers worked out a story in which James Bond 007 is a code-name bestowed on agents like the original (David Niven), or upstarts like Sellers or Woody Allen; at one point pretty much every character is called James Bond to confuse the enemy (SMERSH.) It’s not just SMERSH who find this tactic confusing; many a Sunday afternoon television viewer has tried to puzzle out the strange, compromised, parallel narrative here, with barely a scene in which the various stars actually interact. There’s little Bondian action, although there is a gadget scene with Q, a milk-float chase and a battle with mechanical grouse drones; not quite what a series fan would be hoping for. And if you’re hoping for car-chases and ski-stunts, winking cameos from George Raft and Jean Paul Belmondo don’t really hit the same spot. But it’s kinda fun to pick out isolated one-liners and scenes that clearly reflect the interests of major talents like Terry Southern, Joseph Heller and John Huston in whimsical List of Adrian Messenger mode; the diversion to the picturesque Scottish village of Killin even predicts the return to Bond’s roots in Daniel Craig’s best outing Skyfall.
Even more strangely, sections of the film feel more influenced by Blake Edwards than Ian Fleming, notably an anything-goes 60’s party at the end, and a couple of scenes where Sellers seems to be invoking his own metaverse, dressing up as an officious Brit soldier, a camp man, Hitler and Henri-Toulouse Lautrec, all personas he would use in later films with varying degrees of success. Casino Royale also pre-dates the late Pink Panther travesty by repurposing footage of Sellers with random star cameos; William Holden, Jacqueline Bisset, Derek Nimmo, Barbara Bouchet, Dave Prowse, Peter O’Toole, Ursula Andress, Ronnie Corbett, and more. Casino Royale was usually cut by a good twenty minutes for television screenings, and makes more sense than ever in this restored two hour plus Prime version, which is to say, not much sense at all. It’s a messy swinging 60’s spy spoof, the best of which is Burt Bacharach’s swoony score and Herb Albert’s infectiously jolly theme song. Casino Royale is far from the ‘perfect Bond’ the posters promised, but it’s certainly something.