Casino Royale (1967)

Dullsville

Casino Royale (1967)

     For a movie whose cast is made up of 10 big-name stars (0r more depending on your definition), the 1967 James Bond spoof movie Casino Royale, was one major let-down. The DVD of this flick has sat on my shelf unwatched for seven years despite my being convinced that the cast line-up promised endless laughs. But watching it this weekend with my grandmother, the convoluted plot and drawn-out nonsensical ending led her to comment, “This is kind of dumb.”

     I could not help but concur with her sentiment. Although the story borrows some of the elements of the Ian Flemming novel that contributed to the 2006 Casino Royale, it largely goes off in a strange direction in search of ways to mock the successful movie franchise.

     David Niven plays Sir James Bond who has been retired from spy work for a number of years while substitute James Bond 007 spies have been recruited to continue his work and uphold the legend. Sir James is a celibate, stuttering version of the spy who is lured back into the trade when his home is demolished and his superior “M” (John Huston) is killed by the evil organization SMERSH. His allies are played by William Holden as “Ransome”, Charles Boyer as “Le Grande”, and Kurt Kasznar as “Smernov”.

     First Sir James is seduced by M’s “widow” (Deborah Kerr) and 11 “daughters” who are actually SMERSH agents, but he easily escapes their clutches to return to his old office. He decides to continue to recruit a number of James Bonds to join his work against the evil organization to the point that we cannot keep track of all the different missions that are going on. The star also recruits his own daughter, Mati Bond (Joanna Pettet), who is his love child with Mata Hari.

     Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) is also renamed James Bond and is set on seducing and recruiting Peter Seller‘s baccarat pro Evelyn Tremble, who will become another 007. Tremble must play Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in the game and beat him to prevent the evil banker from securing more money for other unsavory organizations. Meanwhile, there is also Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen), Sir James’ nephew, who gets himself in and out of trouble throughout the picture.

     It was next to impossible to keep track of all the moving parts Casino Royale employs in its story line. Most of the excess was unnecessary and no particular attention was given to the plot, which stood merely as a means to hurl jokes at the audience. One cannot really say any of the acting was poor, it was just utterly dumb. Casino Royale simply tries too hard to make it enjoyable to watch. Not only is it exhausting, but one could easily turn it off at any juncture and feel just as satisfied as sitting through the whole thing.

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Cinematic Shorts: Gaslight

Wowza!

Gaslight (1944)

     Gaslight is one of my favorite movies of all time. I discovered it early in my classic movie foray because I was really into Joseph Cotton. The story is a wonderful mystery full of suspense and intrigue and really has all the markings of a Hitchcock film without actually being one. The director is instead George Cukor, who has more than enough experience to make such a masterpiece.

     The story is about Ingrid Berman‘s Paula and her husband Gregory, played by Charles Boyer, and the woman slow decent into madness. Paula’s aunt/guardian was a famous opera singer who was murdered by a thief hoping to seize some valuable jewels. Ten years later Paula returns to her aunt’s house with a new husband but starts having flashbacks to the terrifying past.

     Gregory presents himself as a creepy character from the start, always patronizing his wife into a submissive role. He pats her and tells her she confused when her items start disappearing. Paula has also been noticing a strange change in the gaslights in their London flat. The flames seem to go down as though someone has turned up the gas in another part of the home, except no one has. This does not help the woman’s mental state any, but she has one ally on her side: Joseph Cotton as a fan of Paula’s aunt who mistakes the young woman for her relative. He starts to gather that something sinister is afoot in Paula’s home and pokes his nose in enough to save the woman.

     The story for Gaslight is really fascinating and creative and the actual gaslights in the home make for such a cool device alluding to the answer to all of our questions. Bergman gave an Academy Award-winning performance as Paula as no one can deny how deftly she conveys a weakening of the mind. Besides Bergman, also nominated for Oscars were  Boyer and Angela Lansbury, who makes her screen debut as the cockney, sassy maid. The picture was also nominated for cinematography, writing, art direction and Best Picture.

     I think I could watch Gaslight every day and never be tired of it. Ryan and I love to imitate Boyer’s chiding utterance of “Paauullaa” in that French accent of his as it is both absurd and creepy. This movie sort of ruined Boyer for me as anything but a sinister actor, however. Watching him in Love Affair was a challenge.

"I told you, there's nothing wrong with the lighting, Paula!"

Fanny (1961)

Ring a Ding Ding

Fanny (1961)

     What is it about a story of young love interrupted by life’s challenges, leaving two people forever apart but always longing, that tugs at the heartstrings? The story of Fanny might be nothing new, merely a re-assembling of plots from other classic stories (“The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Wuthering Heights” come to mind) and a story in its third screen incarnation, but it remains a somewhat unpredictable romance as one is unsure how things will unravel. I would not say grab the tissues, but, ladies, prepare to sigh.

     Leslie Caron‘s Fanny and Horst Buchholz‘s Marius grew up together in the waterfront town of Marseilles. Fanny works with her mother (Georgette Anys) as fish mongers while Marius helps run a bar with this father, Cesare (Charles Boyer). As we enter the action, it is Fanny’s 18th birthday and she has the day off to wear a sleeveless “skimpy” dress. Marius is also secretly planning to join a ship crew transporting scientists leaving port the next day for a five-year duration. For some inexplicable reason, Marius longs for a life at sea, having overblown fantasies about what exotic islands are like. Fanny has been flirting with Marius all day, but the boy is too dense to do anything about. When the girl leads on the 58-year-0ld Panisse (Maurice Chevalier) in front of him, however, Marius puts on quite the angry show that ends with the two men strangling each other. Cesare breaks up the fight between his son and his best friend/enemy.

     That night, Fanny comes to Marius as he is closing the bar and the two sneak off to the pier (the girl’s mother is out of town). Fanny declares her obvious love for the boy and proclaims she knows he feels the same, but Marius tries to resist kissing the girl in his arms as he explains his sailor ambitions. The two eventually lock lips in an exceedingly romantic moment as Marius reveals he has thus far avoided a seaward voyage because of the young woman. The next scene is Fanny’s mother returning home to find two liqueur glasses and a man’s belt at her kitchen table, Marius in her daughter’s bed. She runs to Cesare furious and the two plot a marriage between the two. When the couple arrives, they are agreeable, but hearing his father’s plans for his life visibly upsets Marius. Fanny convinces him at the last minute to board the sailing vessel by telling him she plans to marry the rich Panisse.

     Both Cesare and Fanny mourn the fleeing of the young man, but the situation worsens when a forthcoming child is discovered. Fanny’s mother insists she marry Panisse, who is all too happy to be getting a child with the arrangement as no one in his family produced an heir. Cesare learns of the situation and becomes agreeable when he is allowed to be godfather, giving him an excuse to be involved in the life of his actual grandson. Almost two years later Marius is on leave for a few hours and visits Fanny where he puts together the puzzle of the child’s origin. He is hurt and ashamed and wants to take over –and Panisse is willing to step down– but Fanny refuses despite still loving the man. Jump about 10 years ahead where the story will end. Marius has been out of contact with everyone he once knew. The Panisse’s are living happily away from the waterfront, but the child has a longing to go to sea.

    The origin of this production of Fanny can be traced back to a French play by Marcel Pagnol, which was made into a movie in both France and then America in the 1930s. Hollywood also made an adaptation called The Port of Seven Seas, but that version varied greatly from the original story. This approach was actually a translation of a Broadway musical version with book by Joshua Logan (this film’s director) and S. N. Behrman. Jack Warner opted to delete the songs from the story, however, believing that audiences had grown tired of musicals. Ironically then, West Side Story beat Fanny for best picture in 1961. The movie was also nominated for Best Actor for Boyer, Score, Editing and Cinematography.

     Despite the Academy’s apparent favor of the camerawork, I did not care for the cinematography in Fanny. There were times when fast zooms or camera sweeps make me think I was watching a cheesey 70s horror film starring Vincent Price. Director of Photography Jack Cardiff also used a lot of close ups on Marius and especially Fanny’s face as they looked directly into the lens. It gave an intimate feel to the moment, drawing the viewer into the action, but it was sometimes employed even when the characters were not looking at one another. It was also hampered greatly, I feel, by a soft focus lens used exclusively for Caron. I have never been a fan of that approach typically used for close ups of women’s faces to make they look “more beautiful.” I always find actresses more attractive when I can see the details of their faces. Alfred Hitchcock was also an anti-soft focus guy. I seem to recall an argument with David O. Selznick over using it for Joan Fontaine in Rebecca … but that’s another story.

  • Fanny is set for 5:15 p.m. ET April 25 on TCM.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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