For the uninitiated, can you describe Casino Royale and some of its best features?
The sixties Casino Royale is a psychedelic, multi-storylined extravaganza packed with star names, including Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, David Niven, Ursula Andress and Orson Welles, which included some James Bond 007 content. Based on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, the film came about when the movie rights passed to American film producer Charles K. Feldman and after a couple of years of negotiating with Eon Productions and United Artists, he failed to come to an agreement to make it as a co-production. This resulted in Feldman decided to spoof Bond and he recruited seven directors (including two second unit directors), working from a screenplay credited to three writers, although known to have had input from at least nine other people including Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. These writers were encouraged to write and almost constantly rewrite the screenplay, with the film coming across as an extravaganza of epic proportions featuring several storylines and set pieces that converge towards the conclusion of the movie.
Most of the jokes and the humour in the movie still stand up today, with the leads in the form of Sellers, Allen, Niven, Andress and Welles giving excellent performances. The highlights for me are Evelyn Trimble’s (Sellers) confrontation with Le Chiffre (Wells) over the Baccarat Table in the casino, where despite the fact that their dialogue fails to match up (because they were filmed on different days) the scene plays well in a surreal way. Other highlights: the sequence where Little Jimmy Bond (Allen) held The Detainer (Daliah Lavi) prisoner in his underground headquarters prompting their humorous exchanges of dialogue; the whole Scottish storyline where Sir James Bond visits the McTarry Castle. Another is when Vesper Lynd (Andress) scolds Trimble, who is pretending to be James Bond: “James Bond does not wear glasses!” To which he replies, “It’s just I like to see who I’m shooting.’ Likewise, more amusing dialogue when Little Jimmy Bond is being escorted to his apparent execution, Woody Allen came up the brilliant line to his jailers, “My doctor says I shouldn’t have bullets entering my body at any time!”
When did you first see the film? Were you a fan growing up?
The first time I can remember watching Casino Royale (1967) was in 1987 and I have to admit I wasn’t that impressed. I think I made the same mistake that a lot of people do, which is I tried to make it fit into the Eon Productions world of James Bond. When it failed to conform to what I considered to be a James Bond film, I dismissed it. However, several years later the movie was screened on UK television again, once in 1990 and again in 1991. When visiting my friend Andrew Pixley, he mentioned the movie and we started attempting to work out the various storyline threads. Researching further, we discovered how the production had endured various problems, including how difficult Peter Sellers had been while he worked on the film.
Yes, I can image the movie becoming more interesting when one starts to uncover the story behind it! How was Casino Royale reviewed at the time?
I don’t think this film has ever had a great deal of good press. However, it has gained cult status and almost 50 years after being produced the elements that originally worked against the sixties Casino Royale, such as the lack of a coherent storyline and the sending up of James Bond, are now considered to work in its favour and have assisted in making it a cult movie.
Tell us about how the project started. What inspired you to research the film's history?
Andrew and I became very interested in the movie. At one point we used to watch it every week and then telephone each other to discuss what new revelations we had discovered about it. This in turn led to additional research and my searching out and collecting more and more information on the film for a period of about 25 years. When I had completed my book on The Avengers and The New Avengers television series, Bowler Hats and Kinky Boots, I already had a production schedule in place for Casino Royale (1967) and I began writing.
That must have been so fun to compare notes with Andrew every week. You had access to a lot of company records when you wrote your history of The Avengers TV series. What kind of resources did you draw on for this book?
Unfortunately, all my emails to Sony/Columbia Pictures, including their archive department, were ignored. They did not even acknowledge me and so there was no access of any official paperwork, with the exception of a daily call sheet I managed to obtain for a day’s filming at Shepperton Studios (dated 22nd February 1966). However, I have over the years obtained a large amount of detailed information from other sources regarding Casino Royale (1967). Further to which, I also exchanged a number of faxes and spoke with Val Guest regarding the movie some years ago.
What are some of the things you learned about Casino Royale that fascinated you?
Having failed to come to an agreement with Eon Productions regarding a co-production, I was amazed at the lengths Charles K Feldman was prepared to go when obtaining the services of Peter Sellers for the movie. Having previously worked together on What’s New Pussycat, which had gone onto become the most successful comedy film up to that time, Feldman obviously saw Sellers' involvement as essential when putting together the Bond spoof. The producer approached Sellers on various occasions before finally getting him to sign a contract only weeks before filming. Hence, when Sellers wanted Joe McGrath, a director who had only worked on videotaped television productions for the movie, Feldman allowed him to take control of a multi-million dollar feature film. When Sellers wanted Terry Southern brought on board as a gag writer to mainly furnish him with funny lines, Feldman agreed. Likewise when Sellers wanted comedy writer Michael Law brought on board because he considered the screenplay was not funny enough, Feldman agreed.
Feldman believed that Sellers would weave his magic like he had on What’s New Pussycat and make Casino Royale a tremendous hit. When Sellers began being absent from filming and then playing mind games with Orson Welles, Feldman dispatched associate producer John Dark to deal with the problems, rather than taking the responsibility personally. In short Feldman did not wish to risk offending Sellers, who was given a free hand to do more or less whatever he wanted and he took advantage of that.
Based on my viewing of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, starring Geoffrey Rush, Sellers seemed like a real handful. Were there other big surprises?
Various dates for the start of filming came and went, with the beginning of production being delayed before principal photography on the movie finally got underway in January 1966 at Shepperton Studios. Actress Shirley MacLaine was responsible for one of these when she simply up and flew back to the United States, without informing anyone only days before filming was due to have begun. On What’s New Pussycat, Feldman did not get his main cast to actually sign contracts until partway through filming, thus, its thought that he had nothing more than a verbal agreement with MacLaine. There were various big names from both sides of the Atlantic who were lined up to appear in the film, but for one reason or another failed to do so, Frank Sinatra, Bridgette Bardot and Avengergirl Honor Blackman to name three. Other directors such as Blake Edwards were approached and declined to become involved for various different reasons.
I've always loved the costume design, which is linked to Paco Rabanne and his (then) contemporary experiments with moulded plastics and linked metal fashion. Some of the women wear gladiator-style outfits in the movie. Did Rabanne play a direct role or were the costumes just inspired by his designs and the zeitgeist of the time?
Not only did Paco Rabanne design the Guard Girl gladiator outfits, but he also attended MGM Borehamwood Studios in Hertfordshire during the filming there, working together with costume designer Julie Harris.
The Casino Royale soundtrack has been a long-time favourite among audiophiles. Does your book go into the score, as well?
Yes, during August 1965 Burt Bacharach was given a complete Casino Royale screenplay to assist in him composing the incidental music. However, by April 1966 the screenplay had changed so much that the songs Bacharach and lyricist Hal David had written failed to fit the film and were written off. Filming dragged on so long that it was October 1966 before Bacharach and David returned to London and attended a meeting with Feldman, where the composer informed him that it would take ten weeks to write all the incidental tracks. This effectively scuppered the proposed Christmas release date. The book also outlines the various singers who were considered to sing the theme song, before a decision was made to go with an instrumental version.
What else can you tell us about your book?
Chapter one begins with Fleming getting his novel Casino Royale published and then how he sold both the television and film rights, and how, after the Dr No feature film, these rights became extremely valuable. The book then proceeds to outline various attempts to bring a straight Bond/Casino Royale to the cinema screen, amidst years of development and the writing of a huge amount of scripts and adaptations. Initially, Feldman wanted to make a co-production, but two years of negotiations failed to reach an understanding.
Realising that he would have to proceed without Bond actor Sean Connery, Feldman crammed his picture with as many famous names as possible: Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, David Niven, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, Daliah Lavi, Joanna Pettet, Barbara Bouchet, William Holden and Jean Paul Belmondo to name but a few. The cast also included several unbilled cameos such as: Peter O’Toole, Caroline Munro, Dave Prowse, John Le Mesurier, Fiona Lewis and ex- Formula 1 racing driver Stirling Moss. Further to this I have also managed to identify over a hundred unbilled extras who appear on screen, plus a further forty-five who documentation proves were involved.
All aspects of the production are explored, including subsequent screenplays, the casting choices, pre-production, filming at three British film studios, location filming in England, Ireland, Scotland and France, plus publicity and merchandising. This gives an overall picture of how this strange psychedelic pop art movie was assembled from several different storylines that evolved to include a connecting plotline and work practices that made for extremely slow progress. The book also pieces together what material was filmed and then discarded from the movie, by using reference sources such as production stills, portions of scripts and anecdotes about the making the film. Overall this outlines the story of a major blockbuster movie, which got out of control to become one of the most complicated productions ever filmed and the most bizarre James Bond film ever.
Interesting story, Mike! I can see why you and Andrew became so fascinated with the move. Casino Royale is such a rare bird in terms of production, it reminds me a bit of Douglas Adams traveling the world to track down odd, endangered species in Last Chance to See. Where can readers find your new book?
At the moment The Making of Casino Royale (1967) is available to pre-order (paperback and e-book editions) from Telos Publishing via their website. Publication date is October 31st. However, upon publication it will also become available from Amazon.
Great! I will let Spy Vibers know when the Amazon links are up. In the meantime, folks can order it directly from Telos. Thank you Mike for spending time in the Spy Vibe lair to tell us about your project! Mike and I (and Andrew) spent many days together last summer traveling with fellow fans and scholars to many spy TV locations around Elstree and Borehamwood. Stay tuned for some of my photographs from the trip. Relates posts: Avengers Interview: Mike Richardson, UK Satire/Surrealism: Sellers to Lennon, Fear and Fashion, Agent Woody. Enjoy!
Selected Spy Vibe Posts: Early Saint Box Set, Lost Diana Rigg Interview, Diana Rigg Event, Ian Fleming Letters, New Gillette 007 Covers, Pirate Radio, Spectre Advanced Poster, Honor Blackman at 90, UNCLE School, Ian Fleming Memorial, Radiophonic Exhibit, Portmeirion Photos, Doctor Who Exhibit, Farewell Steed, Pussy Galore Returns, Diana Rigg birthday, Sherlock at 221B, Invisible Agent, Saint Interview: Ian Dickerson, Saint Doppelgänger, Fleming's Typewriter, Rare Fleming, Fleming's Music, Ian Fleming's Japan, Jim Wilson Corgi Interview, Fantomas Design, Jeremy Duns on Bond, John Buss interview, Avengers Season 5 Titles, Saint Volvo, Mod Tales Interview, Agente Secreto Comics, Danger Man Comics 2, Danger Man Comics, John Drake Comics, Der Mann Von UNCLE, Golden Margaret Nolan, Man From UNCLE Rocksteady, Pussy Galore Calypso, Cynthia Lennon R.I.P., Edward Mann Fashion, Leonard Nimoy Tribute, Shatner at 84, Bob Morane series, Thai Bond Design, Bond vs Modernism, Art of Modesty, Tokyo Beat 1964, Feraud Mod Fashion, Green Hornet Manga, No 6 Festival, Avengers Interview: Michael Richardson, Ian Fleming: Wicked Grin, Jane Bond Hong Kong Records, Ryan Heshka Interview, Comics Week: Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E., Comics Week: Archie, Comics Week: Robots, Comics Week: Cold War Atomic, Comics Week: SPYMAN, Comics Week: Jimmy Olsen, Shakespeare Spies: Diana Rigg, Shakespeare Spies I, Rodney Marshall Avengers Interview, Richard Sala: Super-Enigmatix, Cold War Archie, Playboy Bunny Interview, The 10th Victim Japanese and Kindle, U.N.C.L.E. Japanese Books, Trina Robbins Interview, Catsuits, Batman '66 Green Hornet Interview: Ralph Garman Ty Templeton.