The monster finally gets a DVD release. More complex and surreal than the "Thunderball" / "Never Say Never Again" saga, "Casino Royale" was the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming. Adapted into a one-hour teleplay in 1954 for NBC's "Climax" show, the novel's film rights were ultimately purchased by top Hollywood agent Charles K. Feldman, yet it took years before a feature film could finally be made. By that time, Sean Connery had already debuted as James Bond, and the first wave of spy spoofs were beginning to leave the studio gates and saturate theatre and television audiences.
Feldman conceded the only usable bits of the novel were the brief scenes in the actual casino, and decided to go for comedy, engaging initially four directors to make separate segments, and have the whole lot wrapped together with some cohesive "sleigh," ending with a big slapstick finale at the casino (Royale). The legendary production was ultimately co-ordinated (cleaned and wrapped up) by veteran Val Guest, an able craftsman in various genres, and the beast was unleashed to audiences in 1967, where it did make a kind of impression.
It's an aberration in the Bond filmography (and not part of the Official List, no Broccoli here), but for many it's a guilty pleasure, boasting extraordinary sets, a magnificent roster of stars - many in one-shot cameos - and arguably Burt Bacharach's best film score. The album sold and continues to sell well, partly due to the immortal perfection of "The Look Of Love," and its audiophile quality. (Yes, there's even new vinyl pressings out there.) The cover art (blotted out on the DVD but present in the featurette) is classic 60s psychedelia - that latter word being a key instruction from agent/producer Feldman to his directors: make weird and wonderful.
MGM's transfer is luminous, capturing the lush colours of the diverse sets and locations - stuffy English estates, Kafkaesque East Berlin, Ursula Andress' expansive boudoir, Woody Allen's lair under the Playboy Club - and exotic costumes for the lead characters and oddball villains (heavily spoofed by Mike Myers in his Austin Powers series).
Originally released in mono, "Casino Royale" has been given a Dolby 5.1 retrofit, placing mono music tracks (with slight pseudo-stereo warming) in the front surrounds; dialogue, sound effects and music in the centre speaker; and rear surrounds offering panning effects with slight reverb/echo; and a few sound effects processed for explosions. It's one of the better remixes, in part because each of the stems hasn't been drenched in reverb.
A commentary from co-director Val Guest would have immortalized the production's history (his recollections regarding "The Day The Earth Caught Fire" are highly informative), but his comments in the included featurette certainly paint vivid images of working with John Huston and some of the film's main cast - Niven, Lavi, and Allen in particular - and offers a concise history lesson of Feldman's efforts to get Bond onscreen for almost a decade. Guest, spriteful at 91 years, mentions his upcoming memoirs, though the more curious can glean brief production anecdotes from John Huston's 1980 autobiography, "An Open Book," and volume 2 of Robert Parrish's memoirs, "Hollywood Doesn't Live Here Anymore."
Along with an original trailer, MGM has included a real treat for Bond fans - the original 1954 "Climax" teleplay, starring Barry Nelson as the first James Bond (here, Americanized for TV), with Peter Lorre as the villainous Le Chiffre, Linda Christian as the babe, and Michael Pate as Leiter. This legendary live broadcast, adapted by Antony Ellis & Charles Bennet, is typical of the era: a tight distillation of the book's card battle, fifties tough talk, and some roughing up at the end before Bond wins the day. Besides archival value for Bondphiles, fans of live TV will no doubt be delighted to add one of the few surviving kinescopes to their collection. MGM's transfer is quite good, showing no visible artifacting from a decent 16mm print, with straightforward mono sound. (Before the widespread use of videotape, Kinescopes - filming off a special monitor - was the only way to record and preserve a live TV broadcast. The filmed copies were also used to broadcast programs in different time zones, since it was impractical to repeat live productions hours later.)
The more formal tone of Ian Fleming's novel was properly revisited in the 2006 film version of "Casino Royale."
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan