Woody Allen Year: Casino Royale (1967)

by Jaime Grijalba.

Remember when I mentioned (the last time I wrote one of these) that this era for Woody Allen was one filled with what you could call a messy structure, feel or overall just a feeling that something wasn’t going well, as if the structure or the way that the movie was planned was messy in the background, so much, that it ended up being messy in the foreground. Well, sometimes Allen managed to salvage some of it, as we’ve seen with ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966) who manages to create something funny and fresh from the chaos that sorrounded the postproduction of the film, and also the fact that they were practically creating a new genre, a strange genre that would survive to this day, and as pioneers, the first experiment, one must admit, is a bit of a mess, as it cuts and slashes and jumps around without much sense being made, the same thing goes for ‘What’s New Pussycat’ (1965), that while messy in its structure (and production, the kind of expenses and the rewrites it went through are chronicled by Woody Allen and other people that appeared on the film in many other books) it still manages to salvage through some quirky dialogue and smart placement of ridiculous scenes, that make the whole concept and viewpoint of the movie less serious, and thus, more enjoyable. But this time, no matter how much the people in the studio tried, they couldn’t save this comedy adaptation of a James Bond story, made before the first official series even started, and no matter how much Woody Allen induced in its screenplay (he is uncredited, but he delivered some pages, most clearly his own, maybe the best moments of the film), this flabbergasting picture that required five different directors for it to be finished, that had Orson Welles and Peter Sellers as comedic factors, as well as John Huston and Woody Allen himself in one of his most perverse and disturbing roles, how could this movie fail? I guess that the question here is how is this movie enjoyable, as the quantity of talent and the rivalry, as well as the amount of different directions the film can go (and doesn’t), can manage to bring out something decent. It’s impossible.

But let’s focus particularly in one of the few good aspects about this movie, the appeareance and the strange turn of acting that Woody Allen delivers to this mess. He plays Jimmy Bond, some kind of nephew or succesor to the original James Bond, who is old and trying to find his new wind, while this young fellow (at that time it was important to see how Woody Allen was considered for this mostly comedic role as a succesor, at that time he was seen as the most important new comic, though his style is as classic as most of the comedians at that age, he didn’t really give it any edge, he was just funnier than most in his voudevillesque acts) always got in trouble, being almost executed at the start of the film, while at the end of the film he begins to track some attention and finally becomes the most important plot element that no one expected, Jimmy Bond is evil, and he doesn’t want anything to do with the Bond brand, and has a sexual problem (like everyone else in this movie) that he just can’t get into bed with the ladies, so he goes bad when he creates a ray that will kill anyone taller than him, and thus, being the only stud around for all the ladies in the world (who he’ll also do something to, he plans on every woman in the world to be beautiful). Seeing Woody Allen play evil is strange, in hindsight that is, because at that time he wasn’t typecast, nor he had established a film persona for himself, he was just starting and any role could’ve been a good role for him, after all he was already, at this stage, planning and preparing his first live action film debut as a director (that is, besides ‘What’s Up, Tiger Lily?’ (1966) ).

Besides the strange factor given through its performance, it still surprises with its turns and how easily he could get out of a nerdy timid persona, to be a more nerdy flamboyant evil personage, that easily likeable and cringe-worthy at moments. Nevertheless, that strangeness that doesn’t salvage anything just tepid or timid that the film has done before. Because in a way this is a film that crams itself with a lot of stuff that seems (and is) desorganized, just to see if anything sticks in the end, and in that exercise is when the movie feels bloated and full of its own failure, as if they knew that the failure was part of its DNA since the beginning, as if the movie never had a chance of having some kind of beautiful conception in any second, and while filled with auteurs (Allen, Welles, Huston and even Sellers, some might say, is an auteur) this movie has been named the anti-auteur film, and actually in a lighter fashion, as if it were commendable to have something as anti-auterism (just ask the Vulgar Auterists). It really is that in the end, a lack of identity, something like recess, anything goes here, and the people here are just bored because the games in the yard aren’t well constructed. Sometimes liberty in the making of a film can derive into greatness, it is notable how many filmmakers have made films out of improvisation and whim, but when the ground in which they step seems to be so manipulated by the eccentric wants and abominable perks of an era that distinguishes something as comedy and something else as not comedy, you get a compromised picture, that just wants to please, and at the same time never reaches the pinacle of pleasing anyone at all.

At the same time, while most of the film is a chore, it’s still a wonder to see this mess, this bloated corpse of a film go around in its inflated gaseous manner through its overlong length and try to make sense out of absolutely anything that happens in the screen. In that way, it’s as fascinating as watching a car crash, it’s hurtful, and horrible, but you just can’t keep your eyes out, the problem is that this movie makes you watch the cars two hours driving before they finally crash, and seeing two cars driving isn’t really fun.


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