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Casino Royale - comment

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The List’s Gay editor Robin Lee reckons the 1967 film version of Casino Royale is the best Bond of all. He explains why.

‘How many actors have played James Bond on screen?’ goes the old chestnut of a pub quiz question. Barry Nelson was first to play him, on US TV in 1954, and Bob Holness played him in a radio adaptation two years later. Then Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Dalton, Brosnan - and now Craig. The sixth ‘official’ 007 agent is Bond in this year’s Casino Royale. But haven’t we seen that film before?

The original, 1967 film is a glorious dog’s breakfast of a picture - and one that trumped every Bond film that followed it. Arriving in the same year as You Only Live Twice, it’s an overlong, ridiculously plotted, stupidly camp farce, full of groaningly bad jokes and dripping in ham (which makes it exactly the same as every Bond film that followed it). Being an unofficial Bond flick, the only surviving part of Ian Fleming’s eponymous book is 007’s card game with Le Chiffre , except that here it’s Peter Sellers being baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble being James Bond. In fact, the cast drips with familiar faces in a way that comments on stardom and top billing: every actor here has a licence to kill.

What lifts the film past mere critical appraisal is its evocation - both on the screen and behind the scenes - of the tangled disaster that is the human condition, a theme that Monty Python riffed on for several decades, and which forms the basis for Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s books. And how did I come to such a bold conclusion? Take the six official Bonds, multiply them by the seven in Casino Royale and divide by the one Barry Nelson, and you get 42. Which is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

The other Casino Royale is on general release from Fri 17 Nov.

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