Okay, it's a little hard to talk about this without talking about its own history as to how it even got made in the first place. Basically producer Charles K. Feldman acquired the rights to make a film version of Casino Royale and he wanted to make it with Eon Productions but ultimately neither he and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman couldn't agree on the direction of the film. Realizing it'd be futile to compete with the official films produced by Eon and United Artists, he decided to retool his planned adaptation into a spoof. What followed was a mess of a production with directors getting fired left and right and each having a different vision of what do.
Not to mention tensions arose especially between Peter Sellers and Orson Welles (ironically it was Sellers' idea to bring the guy into the cast) and despite everything, they managed to get all the footage needed regardless of what and managed to make a film out of it. As a Bond fan, I was aware of the film's presence and its place in film history to a point where the DVD featurettes on the film are more fascinating than the finished film itself. And unfortunately, the very things people critcized for the film immediately show and there is a reason this isn't highly regarded. So what's the story?
Well the legendary Double-O agent (played by David Niven) is called out of retirement to tak upon the task to take on SMERSH but along the way, he decided that as the new head of MI6, he decides for any agent to be designated under the name "James Bond" to confuse the enemy.
Okay with that premise, you'd expect the film to be a straight forward spoof. Except it wasn't made that way and thus, the film is filled with random moments that are either thrown in-just because or to show some excuse for a joke or a cool psychedelic visual that grinds the film to a halt. I expected the film to be kind of crazy but that only happens halfway through and I'll be getting to one particular sequence in a moment.
Acting wise, David Niven is fine though I don't think he was on his feet in terms of comedic timing and at the start of the film, particularly the scenes of him in Scotland where he stuttered twice and he never does it again for the rest of the film. Considering he was Ian Fleming's choice to play Bond from the getgo for Dr. No, I honestly don't see why but then again, this my first time watching David Niven in action so I could be wrong and maybe Fleming saw something in him as the character and a spoof isn't really the best way to judge that. He's not bad and he tried his best especially by playing it straight so I at least give him credit. Peter Sellers, he also seemed to be trying but I don't think his comedic skills even by playing it straight just didn't help him much. Orson Welles, he was amusing and he was fun to watch but his role was just nothing more than a glorified cameo, really sad.
Ursula Andress, she was pretty good and unlike in Dr. No, her actual voice was used this time and she spoke really fine and her presence was always appreciative everytime she was on screen same with Joanna Pettet. Daliah Lavi, she wasn't bad either though she didn't have much to do until the third of the act of the film. The other actors such as Barbara Bouchet also did fine though the various actors that got roped into the film are either wasted or barely had anything to do. However, Woody Allen is probably the best actor in the entire film and seemed to have made the most out of it. He delivers some pretty funny lines, all thanks to him and he doesn't come off as obnoxious in the physical humor department.
Other bright spots include the music, I really like the main theme and the jazz score does fit every scene well enough. The production design is not bad but the second half is where it gets better as is the lighting of such colors as red, it tends to not make any sense yes due to the multiple directors but it's cool to look at, same with the cinematography with some panning shots and even ones that particuarly still hold up extremely well. The editing's alright as well though it got sloppy at one point and it's where the camera zooms in on David Niven's face and pauses for a split second before cutting to the next scene. And finally the one thing that at least makes this movie worth watching, the final act in the casino. It's where everything goes choatic with people fighting each other, a spinning tabletop as well and get this, a barrage of cowboys and indians swooping down on the entire place. The scene took various stuntmen even the most noted men in particular basically giving everything they got for what's essentially a mess of a spoof. I mean, you have indians skydiving out of an airplane and firing arrows at random bystanders in a casino, how is that not awesome?
Too bad I can't say the same for the rest of the film.
Structure wise, especially in the script and humor departments, it fails miserably. Playing things straight can help a satire but it doesn't work in this film's favor. Really the only laughs and even the few chuckles I got out of the film were in the visual department. For instance, in the 007 Training Room, there are archers dressed in diving suits as well as a guy dressed up as Robin Hood firing a guy as well as a security guy dressed up in a Santa's elf costume. See, that's particularly funny especially for a Bond fan such as myself given that I've seen kung fu fighting monks and a man with bagpipes testing out Q's various weapons and gadgets. And Jimmy Bond being Dr. Noah, the head of SMERSH the entire time does not really add up.
First off, when they introduced the guy, he was set to be executed but managed to escape and there wasn't even some sort of hint, it just flat out comes out of nowhere. Really, it can lose concentration as to what it's supposed to satirize. If it wants to say something about the direction the official series was heading with Thunderball, say something about that. But what can you do, I shouldn't judge it by what I would have done, my mistake. But really, the random moments are funny on their own-I mean, chop the segments for an in-between clip for the commercials like as little short films, they're not that much of a problem as little skits which is essentially what they are. Hell, there's a dance number with Joanna Petett and yeah, it's cool and well chroegraphed although admittedly, that's a rather exotic way of introducing a new character.
The direction by the various tends to vary. They can be controlled but the changing of hands is very evident by the time you get to the second like for example, the psychedelic stuff, that was Val Guest and some of the scenes in the casino were Joseph McGrath's. Like the actors they tried but the script is what pretty much dragged them down, heck, John Huston, whose works I heard good things about couldn't save something like this although I assume one the action scenes in the third act were his since that was at least pretty cool and amusing at the same time.
Overall, this was a film that had huge potential especially as what could have been the greatest spoof of James Bond ever made but a variety of factors simply prevented that, it's a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. The entire film was disorganized from the getgo and I really wish more could have been done.