Wow, it took them four films before they finally got around to adapting what was the first installment in the "007" novel series, and this film isn't even an official member of the "007" film series, or at least not as far as EON Productions is concerned. Well, seeing as how this film boasts an ensemble team of skilled directors - one of whom is John Huston - and performers, - one of whom is Orson Welles - I suppose you could that this film was worth the wait, though I wouldn't particularly recommend that you say that, seeing as how this is anything but the serious piece you would expect it to be, considering the names attached. Oh yeah, you've got Peter Sellers, whose only other espionage-esque role was Chief Inspector Clouseau, so this clearly has to be hardcore serious. Speaking of serious, "seriously" though, if you was a "seriously" "serious" film take on James Bond's debut, then go out and check out the one with Daniel Craig... which showed up when we were 20 installments into the "official" EON series, alone. Boy, I tell you what, James Bond may make for a pretty good series and a really good spy, but he's anything but the most organized spy in the film industry, or at least just when it comes to organizing the order of film adaptations, because "Live and Let Die" was the second book and eight EON film, "Moonraker" was the third book and eleventh EON film, "Diamonds Are Forver" was the fourth book and sixth EON film, and, well, the list goes on. Eh, whatever, at least the order of the official film adaptations is less all over the place than this film. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this film just fine, even if Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest and an uncredited Richard Talmadge aren't quite Martin Campbell when it comes to directing an enjoyable adaptation of "Casino Royale", yet make no mistake, this film's gamblings don't always turn up in the final product's favor.
When you're dealing with a slew of different directors, with different tastes, taking on a loose, near-spoofy comic adaptation of a relatively serious novel, you're not likely to be able to keep things perfectly even, and sure enough, this film is all over the place, if in no other way, tonally, having moments where it's rather straight-faced, moments where it's almost kind of serious, moments where it's subtly satirical, moments where it's no nuttier than an average Bond filler film, moments where it's straightly comedic and moments where it's borderline, if not directly Mel Brooks, and after a while, the excessive unevenness of the tones doesn't just get to be exhausting, but considerably damaging to whichever tone stands present. There are too many people behind this project for artistic compromise, thus leaving every switch between directors to stand as far too palpable, to the point of leaving the film to feel extremely messy, not just in its level of seriousness, but overall atmosphere, with the only thing being consistent with each directorial effort being some varying degree of potent blandness. Still, the film's inconsistencies don't just end with the overwhelming number of different direcorial minds, as Wolf Mankowitz's, John Law's and Michael Sayers' screenplay is an absolute mess to begin with, being excessively episodic in its progression, - a situation made worse by more than a few glaring plot holes, some of which are unintentional and some of which are intentional, but just fall too flat for you to notice the intention - as well as drastically uneven in focus, taking out enormous periods of time to focus on a subplot or new character as a whole segment of the film, which of course leaves you to go thrown way off and lose quite a bit of investment in the film, which already does a weak job of grabbing you by neglecting to deliver on a whole lot of exposition or flesh-out. Still, even with all of the film's many failures to take the time to fill in story progression holes and exposition, the final product still clocks in at a, by the standard of comedies of this time, "whopping" 131 minutes, which is way too blasted long, as the film very much reminds you with its long periods of total filler, as well with its being just too bloated with varying tones, subplots, characters and so on and so forth, nearly none of which marry organically in the midst of such a messy conjunction of storytellers and an absolute mess of a hole-riddled, radically inconsistent screenplay. I wish I could figure out a way to fully describe the unevenness of the film, for although it's clear that this film's messiness is intentional, the final product gets too caught up in its intentions and becomes too messy for you to fully - pun... now intended, now that I think about it - "bond" with it. All the final product nearly is is a messy cascade of various tones, themes, styles and plots, all of which have more than a few glaring holes, and none of which meld together all that organically, and that's part of the reason why the film is so charming. The film is a mess of stunning proportions, but as I said, that's kind of what it's gunning for, and while such an intention is problematic to begin with, as well as overdone in the long run (Ha-ha, rhyme), it gives this film a charming - nay - pretty entertaining freneticism that makes it ultimately rather enjoyable, and it helps that, when this film does do something quite right, it really does delivers.
Being that it is both a satire on and celebration of the "007" series, as well as, of course, uneven in tone and theme, the film will sometimes feel like a "Bond" film, sometimes feel like the unofficial "Bond" film that it is, and sometimes feel quite considerably alien to the "Bond" series, yet if the film is consistent with nothing else that is distinctly "James Bond", then it's the fabulous taste in locations, as principal photography explores many neat and distinctly colorful areas, while gracefully playing up these locations' dynamicity and livliness with the fine photographic efforts of Jack Hildyard, Nicolas Roeg and John Wilcox. The set pieces often do a lot to define a "Bond" film, both official and unofficial, and do just that with this film, breathing into the final product quite a bit of livliness, made all the more potent by what is done right in the script. Among the strengths in the script stands the humor, or at least to a certain extent, as the film's sense of humor is, as I said, uneven, going anywhere from subtle to, as I also said, Mel Brooks, sometimes in a matter of seconds, and that kind of unevenness taints the effectiveness of the film's comedy, yet never crushes it, as the film delivers quite a few colorful jokes, both charmingly clever and delightfully outgoing, which further sparks entertainment value in this film. Another majorly flawed major strength found within Mankowitz's, Law's and Sayers' script is their extremely loose - and I really, really, really mean "loose"... or at least I think that I do, because I never actually read "Casino Royale", just watched its 2006 adaptation - take on Ian Fleming's original story, for although this film's story takes quite the blow from many a plot whole and oh so much unevenness in focus and themes, it remains colorful and dynamic, partially in the way many "007" fillers are and partially in its own unique way, thus making for a fun tale, made complimented by just as much color in the characterization. As I said, this film has way too many characters for its own good, and focuses on some too thoroughly, to the point of throwing the film's focus way off, while quite a few secondary or even tertiary characters stand as cuttable, and do indeed, in some cases, get that cut after a while, though perhaps too randomly, yet with all the flaws in the characterization, each character is distinct, colorful and, to one extent or another, actually pretty memorable, for although certain characters fail to go as fleshed out as they probably should be, most characters leave some kind of colorful impression, made all the stronger by the charismatic talents who bring them to life. A few performances are unintentionally bad, and a few others slip up on purpose, yet slip up nevertheless, yet on the whole, while you definately shouldn't go in expecting the caliber of acting found in the much more serious 2006 take on Fleming's novel, expect every member of the massive, colorful cast to bring some, well, color, whether it be David Niven, or Peter Sellers, or the all-too-late-to-arrive, late, great, Mr. Orson Welles, or most every other member of this hefty ensemble. Of course, when you get down to it, what helps in making this film as reasonably enjoyable as it ultimately is is simply entertainment value, for although the film's level of livliness isn't even all that consistent, there's enough of it there throughout this film to emphasize this film's right moves, of which, there aren't enough to fully drown out the many, many, many mistakes made by the film, yet still enough for the final product to ultimately stand as reasonably worth your time, even if this film does take up more of your time than it should.
When it's all finally wrapped up, the final product is left scattered all over the place, having too many directors to keep a tone that doesn't find itself thrown radically out of evenness, as well as a script tainted by many plot holes and very little flesh-out, which brings more to attention the messy episodicity and immense focal unevenness of the story, just as much as the simple fact that this film is just so exhaustingly overlong and with little bite, thus making for a final product that is nothing short of a total mess, yet one that ultimately emerges as an enjoyable mess, boasting lively locations, - complimented by handsome cinematography - as well as a script that may be considerably flawed, yet delivers on generally effective humor, as well as a colorfully dynamic story and reasonably memorable characterization, made all the stronger by a myriad of charmers within this massive cast, which helps in fueling the entertainment value that ultimately leaves Charles K. Feldman's "Casino Royale" to stand as a fairly fun piece of filler, even if it does get to be exhaustingly messy.
2.5/5 - Fair