Examining Hollywood Remakes: Casino Royale

Normally in these articles, we examine remakes of good movies to see if they’re worthy of their predecessor. Today, however, the original film is a dud while the remake is a winner. James Bond movies are generally hit-and-miss. Some are excellent and some are weak. The two adaptations of Casino Royale represent one of each. The 2006 remake with Daniel Craig is great. The original however…ugh!

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The original version of Casino Royale (1967) bore very little relation to the actual book. While it started out as a straight adaptation (the first draft was written by Ben Hecht) it underwent a metamorphosis into a comedy/parody on the Bond films, and spy movies in general. Columbia Pictures acquired the rights to the Ian Fleming James Bond novel “Casino Royale”, and tried to make their own Bond film to compete with the popular, established series starring Sean Connery, and produced by Eon Productions. Soon, however, they got cold feet, fearing they would embarrass themselves trying to out-Bond Connery, so they decided to rewrite the script as an action comedy/spoof.

The project went through several directors (six directors are credited for the final screenplay) and writers. Legendary director Billy Wilder briefly toyed with the idea of taking on the project for a while and suggested some ideas which were rejected. The most notable idea he came up with was the concept that James Bond would be a codename handed down from one agent to another. This idea made its way into the final script. (The whole idea of Bond as a codename has taken on a like of its own and become an idea that is hated by many Bond fans and even the producers of the canonical Eon series.)

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The Plot of the original: SMERSH is killing of Double-0 agents, so MI6 seeks out the retired Sir James Bond (Played by David Niven) for help. Bond is resistant, enjoying his retirement, having succeeded the mantle of 007 to a “sexual acrobat” (A reference to Connery’s Bond, who is not in this film). When his old boss ‘M’ is killed, Bond returns to take over M16 as the new ‘M’. Bond learns that the Double-0 agents have all been killed by female SMERSH assassin because they were unable to resist sex. The old Bond, who is now celibate, begins training his agents to all become immune to the allure of hot women. He also comes up with the idea that all the remaining Double-0 agents should call themselves James Bond 007 to confuse SMERSH.

Bond recruits his estranged daughter Mata—whose mother is infamous spy/dancer Mata Hari–to infiltrate SMERSH. She foils a plan to blackmail world leaders with incriminating sex photographs. This setback causes SMERSH agent Le Chiffre (played by cinema icon Orson Welles), who has been embezzling from his bosses at SMERSH, to have to enter a high-stakes game of Baccarat to win some money to pay SMERSH back. Bond wants Le Chiffre to lose so that his desperation to repay his superiors would cause him to switch sides.

Bond sends one of his female agent named Vesper Lynn (Ursula Andress, who played the very first Bond girl Honey Ryder, opposite Sean Connery in Dr. No) to recruit expert Baccarat player Evelyn Tremble  (Peter Sellers, best known for playing Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films) to become yet another James Bond and play against Le Chiffre. Complications and wackiness ensues, and Vesper turns out to be a double-agent working for SMERSH. At the conclusion of the film, we learn that the mastermind behind SMERSH is Bond’s nephew Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) who has an inferiority complex. He has a bizarre plan to make all the woman in the world beautiful and kill all the good-looking men. He is tricked by Mata into swallowing an atomic pill. During the climactic battle between SMERSH and an international assault team, Jimmy hiccups, causing the atomic pill to explode, killing the entire cast of characters. The closing credits show the whole cast playing harps in heaven, except for Jimmy who is dropped down to hell. (It’s all as bad as it sounds.)

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The remake, on the other hand, was a giant step up. (Almost anything would have been an improvement.) The 21st Bond film produced by Eon Productions was a reboot of the canonical series and began Daniel Craig’s run as Bond. This was a serious, professionally executed and extremely entertaining film. Craig is probably the second best Bond ever, after Connery. This version of Casino Royale earned over $600 million globally, becoming the highest grossing Bond film, until it was topped by Skyfall (2012).

This remade version tells us about the beginning of Bond’s career in MI6, just as he is earning his license to kill. His recklessness does not ingratiate him to his boss ‘M’ (Judi Dench) but she still sees potential in him. Bond then prevents a terrorist attack at a Miami Airport, which causes a financial crisis for terrorist financer Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who had arranged the attack because he short-sold stock in the airline and tried to make it fail. The money he lost belongs to a mysterious organization represented by ‘Mr. White’. He must now win the money back by playing cards. Bond is sent in undercover because of his skill at cards. Bond meets Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) the treasury employee assigned to provide the money he needs to bankrupt Le Chiffre, by beating him in a high-stakes poker game. After beating Le Chiffre, Bond plans to resign and live happily-ever-after with Vesper, who he’s fallen in love with. However, Vesper is being blackmailed by the bad guys into stealing the money. She is killed in the final action sequence. Bond devotes himself to going after Mr. White’s organization. (The story is continued in Quantum of Solace.)

The remake was a critical and box office success, and it jump-started a franchise which had gone stale. It remained generally faithful to the Ian Fleming novel, with some modern updates. It stands at 80% on Metacritic and 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. The action sequences are excellent, and Craig makes a sufficiently complex and screwed-up Bond. He earned widespread praise for his work in the role, including complimentary remarks from former Bond actor Roger Moore. The remake was directed by Martin Campbell, who had directed the earlier Bond film Goldeneye, the first film starring Pierce Brosnan as 007.

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The original pales in comparison to the remake. It’s not even close. It started off as a serious attempt to make an action film and degenerated into the mess it finally became. The whole thing was silly and senseless, which would be have been okay if it had actually been funny; but it wasn’t. Very few of the jokes work. The disjointed nature of the film (with different directors and writers working on different scenes) made it all very awkward and inconsistent. The tone and style changed constantly and even a talented cast of actors like Niven, Welles, Sellers and Allen couldn’t save it. Sellers actually walked off the production halfway through, hence the quick killing off of his character. The one and only good thing about it was the catchy theme song by Burt Bacharach, who got an Oscar nomination for Best Song. While the film somehow made a profit, it was poorly received by fans and critics. It has a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Don’t bother seeking this one out. Watch the 2006 remake instead.

So that’s all for this week’s look at remakes. We’ll be back next week with another one, and in the meantime, feel free to look up our previous articles Examining Hollywood Remakes.