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This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Even judging by the standards of odd James Bond movies — and there have been a few doozies — 1967’s Casino Royale is in a class of its own.
Royale was meant to be a sendup of spy films with a plot focused on an elderly James Bond (David Niven, then 57) coming out of retirement. The film had the same title as Ian Fleming’s 1953 Bond novel that in 2006 was made into a film more characteristic of the genre with Daniel Craig — who also stars in Spectre, opening Nov. 6. But the resemblance ends with the title. In 1960, producer Charles Feldman paid $75,000 for rights to what was Fleming’s first novel. After six years of failed negotiations with Albert Broccoli, who owned the rights to most Bond books, Feldman decided to go it alone. To help his Bond movie stand out from a crowded field of espionage films, he made it an over-the-top spoof — but no one expected just how over-the-top he’d go.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s review called the two-hour, 17-minute Royale “over-long, undisciplined, formless, confusing, misfiring and a threat to the coccyx.” The film had five credited directors; one star (Peter Sellers) who believed the film shouldn’t be done as a spoof and acted accordingly; a slew of celebrity cameos (Jean-Paul Belmondo and Peter O’Toole among them), plus a cast that included Woody Allen (who played both Jimmy Bond — James Bond’s nephew — and Dr. Noah, the evil head of Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH), Orson Welles and John Huston, who also is credited as a director.
“The movie didn’t make sense, but they didn’t want it to make sense,” says co-star Daliah Lavi, now 73. “It was supposed to be a spoof. But when they showed the scene at the end where the Indians are riding horses in a casino, everyone in the studio said: ‘What are the horses about?’ ” Royale, which cost $12 million to make, was an unlikely hit: It earned $41.7 million worldwide ($300 million today) and was 1967’s 13th highest grossing domestic film.
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