Bond Girl: Re-Watching and Re-Evaluating Casino Royale (1967)
Welcome to Bond Girl, a new series where we’ll be re-watching and re-evaluating every James Bond film until Spectre’s release. Check out previous entries here.
Content warnings: mentions of “jokes” about incest, misogyny, slut/sex shaming, racism, my near-incandescent anger at this horrible film.
I regret bad-mouthing Sean Connery’s Bond.
I talked up the 1967 version of Casino Royale so much. I was so darn happy to be away from the official James Bond’s casual misogyny that the idea of a comedy seemed like the best thing in the universe.
I don’t know what happened. Maybe my brain turned off at the sight of Orson Welles’ name in the casting list, or when I read that Ursula Andress would return as a Bond Girl, but I wasn’t prepared for the utter train wreck of a film that is the 1967 version of Casino Royale.
It was bad and it was weird. The plot – as it existed – was disjointed and ridiculous with the whole main thread was derailed with a third of the film to go. It was misogynistic, racist, creepy, and just plain rude. Now, I really have a dark and often uncomfortable sense of humor, but there were parts of the film where I couldn’t even make that obviously fake laugh of discomfort as I watched it. It was that horrible.
Normally, I try to give a quick blurb about the plot before tearing the film to shreds but I’m honestly not sure what the film was about this time around. It certainly only paid the barest of homages to Ian Fleming’s original story for Casino Royale, with Bond going up against Le Chiffre and his gambling addiction. The characters are mostly unrecognizable, like this is supposed to be satire, a parody of Fleming’s work in the same way that the later Austin Powers films were, but the connection is flimsy. And that’s a problem when your film has the same names and characters as those from a popular franchise, and viewers can barely make the connection between the satire and its source.
This movie has a large cast of female characters. Unfortunately, most of those women are used as punch lines. Hilarity comes at their expense, because they’re all sexually starving for James Bond and other men.
It starts early on in the film, with David Niven’s James Bond locked up in a house where a good dozen female SMERSH pretend to be the widow and daughters of the late M in order to seduce Bond and ruin his reputation.
Right off the bat, I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy these scenes very much. The jokes are highly sexual with Bond having these young women come on to him at every opportunity. What really made me uncomfortable is that there’s a scene with Bond and one of the SMERSH agents pretending to be M’s seventeen-year-old daughter. She’s sexually forward and gets Bond into the bathtub with her all the while making these creepy comments about how she used to do the same thing for her dad.
Like… NOPE much?
Of course, since she’s not really M’s daughter we’re just supposed to laugh it off. She’ll say anything to get Bond in the tub with her and it’s funny, she’s cute. Nah. It’s just incredibly creepy. That’s really the tone for this movie: A creepy and sleazy wreck that hinged more on poorly timed and badly written jokes about how women are sexually available and uneducated.
Miss Moneypenny in particular gets the short end of the stick as far as jokes go and she isn’t even in the movie. Her daughter is, and so we’re treated to endless “jokes” about how Moneypenny is just like her mother in how she’s willing to sleep with any and every man out there for the good of queen and country.
If her daughter (also Miss Moneypenny) is in a scene, there’s no doubt that some smart remark is about to be made concerning her sexual availability. For instance, there’s a scene where Moneypenny is standing in front of a line of men set to be considered for the role of 007. You’re expecting her to quiz them or something professional.
She kisses them and then checks off the marks on a clipboard. It could’ve been a genuinely funny scene if not for the pervasive attitude that there’s something hilarious about Moneypenny having sex. It’s framed as if the only thing that she’s good for, like her mother, is having sex with men and serving coffee.
And that’s not Moneypenny.
Not in the slightest.
As Moneypenny is my actual favorite character in the series so far, I can’t stand how this version of Casino Royale turns her and her daughter into a joke. They could’ve done anything else, but no, the easiest way to a few cheap laughs is to demean women for sex.
The “jokes” continue on until we get to Mata Bond, the daughter of Mata Hari and James Bond. In Mata’s character we get a double dose of racism and misogyny with a smattering of incest jokes thrown in to keep things fresh.
Joanna Pettet plays Mata Bond, and the first time we see her it’s in a temple in what I am 90% sure is Thailand, where she’s the focus of a very lovely dance that reeks of cultural appropriation. Then we get a heavy dose of the white savior, another way that Mata is just like her dad, in the way that she talks about and to the Thai people who literally treat her as a god.
It’s annoying and it’s racist. I was almost glad when Niven’s Bond asks Mata to follow in her mother’s footsteps and head to East Berlin to ruin Le Chiffre’s plans to raise money for SMERSH. It was a break from the weird jokes.
At least it was, until Mata Bond kind of hit on her dad. She looks him over and gives him a sultry look before saying something along the lines of, “You know, if you weren’t my dad I think I could fancy you.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but trust me it was just… cringe-worthy. Because James Bond is so attractive, so virile, and so tempting to sex-starved women of all ages that even his own daughter is tempted. And it’s all played for laughs.
There’s also a “joke” about how Mata Hari’s bed was so big “because the German army was very large in those days” because it’s funny to suggest that Mata Hari did all of her work while sleeping with people. Ugh.
Ursula Andress’s Vesper Lynd is somewhat better treated but there’s still a lot hinging on her beauty and how attractive she appears to Sellers’s Bond.
I mean overall, this was just a bad movie for female characters. With the Eon Production James Bond films I can often point out one or two female characters that have agency or that break out of trope-y molds. I couldn’t do that with this movie and it makes me so angry.
At several points during watching this movie, I just had to stop and go do something else.
The humor is so bad. It’s all largely focused on women being sexy and slinky and not really good for anything aside from having sex with a man (or multiple men). There’s also a huge weight placed on “women as objects,” especially when Woody Allen’s Dr. Noah shows up and is a general creepy loser. (Seriously, he objectifies women and has essentially created a form of germ warfare that’ll turn all women beautiful and kill all men taller than he is, so that women – who apparently only want tall men – will gravitate towards him. Again, ew.)
The only good thing about this movie was Orson Welles as Le Chiffre. That’s it. The nicest thing that I can say about this horrible movie is that Orson Welles was in it and he didn’t suck in the role he played. I’m hard-pressed to hate anything that Orson Welles is in (primarily because of The Shadow, but partially because I’m pretty sure that he’s my big brother’s namesake) but, oh, did I hate this movie.
Orson Welles is the actual only good thing about it.
I don’t care about the rest of it. It’s a mess of a movie with tangled plots, poorly developed characters, and only the barest nod to Fleming’s actual canon. Satire and parody are supposed to punch up. You’re not supposed to leave a parody longing for the original material. Unfortunately, it seems as if the directors for the film had no idea what they were doing and so we got this horrible movie.
I take back every single thing that I said about looking forward to the 1967 version of Casino Royale. This is me eating crow and regretting the thought that 1960s satire for Bond would be better than the Eon Productions. I thought that I was getting a funny version of Bond that would make up for Sean Connery’s lady-mistreating ways and um… no. No I wasn’t. I didn’t get anything close to that. In fact, I wound up missing Connery’s Bond because he’s annoying at times but I don’t outright hate him the way I do Niven’s and Sellers’ 007.
There’s a reason why I’ve never seen anyone campaigning for the 1967 version of Casino Royale to be included in the James Bond film canon and I absolutely can’t blame anyone for thinking that this movie was bad.
What I’m looking forward to:
I’m looking forward to familiarity. You Only Live Twice is the next Bond film on my roster and the second to last Sean Connery film with Eon Productions. As much as Connery and his Bond aggravate me at times, they’re familiar and a fair bit predictable. Casino Royale felt like a horrible fever dream. Nothing made sense and all of the characters were over the top in the worst way. You Only Live Twice isn’t going to be perfect, and I’m actually prepared for that this time around, but it’s got to be better than the movie I watched for this week.
I’m also looking forward to George Lazenby’s lone James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This was a man that played James Bond once, chosen for how much he looked like Sean Connery than for his acting chops or his grasp of the character. Despite how well the movie performed, Lazenby decided not to come back for any more films in the franchise and I thought that was so weird to me. I’m looking forward to the ridiculously awesome skiing scene but I’m also a bit grouchy because I remember how our main Bond Girl for the film (and Bond’s wife!!) winds up killed and then is never mentioned again.
Zina Hutton writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories. Find her on her blog or on Twitter.
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