19 November, 2006

CASINO ROYALE: The Jess Franco Version!

They should have hired Uncle Jess to play the role of Le Chiffre in the new CASINO ROYALE, that would have taken REAL imagination and guts. I'm not going to comment on the actor who actually does play him or the film itself. In fact, given its hook-em-until-the-next-installment ending, I'll call it a clever business decision rather than a movie. And I'm better at discussing movies than the movie business. Nothing I can say will stop you from seeing the film. But there are some interesting connections to our subject beginning with the presence of Tsai Chin whom not only was a previous Bond girl but was directed by Jess Franco in his two Harry Alan Towers produced Fu Manchu features, where she played Lin Tang. She would also be in my fantasy version. And Lina Romay would play M.

According to my fantasy, they let Franco direct a digital movie version which saves them about $100,000,000, the approximate cost of the version now garnering big bucks and seemingly universal critical praise. I'd love to see my Jess directs Jess as Le Chiffre version with all his usual suspects in key roles, like the estimable Antonio Mayans as the master torturer (he's played that role for Jess before). Jess would have saved them money but they knew that you have to spend money to make more money than Jess Franco could ever imagine, and they will. It's ALL about money and the fact that they change the big game of Baccarat to Texas Hold-em kind of ticks me off. I have a theory about that which I won't state here. Fans of the novel and the classic Bonds will understand. And, by the way, don't listen to anyone who tells you that the 1953 novel, the first in a series of 12 Bonds written by Ian Fleming, is bad. I'll give Daniel Craig points for literary criticism, he's on the spot when he says that it's lean and mean. It's that... and more.

BTW, I just watched the 1954 US telefilm of CASINO ROYALE, with Barry Nelson as "Jimmy" Bond. Although Nelson looks like JFK with an Ozzie Nelson haircut it's efficient, sleazy and gritty, featuring an excellent supporting cast including the always creepy Michael Pate (who should have been cast as Bond) and the immortal Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Lorre sweats, squirms and suggests a catalogue of censorable aberrations. This is on the MGM disc of the All Star 1967 spoof version, which wins points from me for having Daliah Lavi, Barbara Bouchet in the cast along with former Jess Franco creative partner Orson Welles (CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, TREASURE ISLAND) as Le Chiffre. The telefilm has the enforced minimalist aesthetic of a live television broadcast which gives it an automatic electrical charge. The 1967 spoof has those marvelous Op-Art sets as wallpaper. They are products of their respectives eras.

I conclude by wondering if James Bond, at least Fleming's Bond, can ever exist outside of the post cold war late 50s to late 1960s context. For my money, the last good one was ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE in 1969, which even the notorious Pauline Kael liked and where seemingly cursed George Lazenby was a splendidly ambiguous 007. As for Fleming's Bond we must remember he was the ultimate in what would become to be considered Politically Incorrect, he did smoke at least three packs a day (I'll be doing a blog and Jess Franco and Cigarettes soon) and he played Baccarat, dammit! If I want to watch Poker, I'll turn on the TV or go online...

Doesn't the framing and lighting of the above-right poster suggest one of Franco's "Black Cinema" images from LOS BLUES DE LA CALLE POP or LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS? If you've seen those 1980's neo-noirs you'll know where I'm coming from. If not, they're both highly recommended.



Mirek said...

Franco as Le Chiffre. That would have been inspired casting!

I'm somewhat frustrated by the very positive reaction this film has garnered, yet I can understand why a contemporary audience would go for something like this.

Robert Monell said...

It's targeted for a wider contemporary audience than ever before and not so much for the hold out fans of the older, classic bonds. It's a very clever business strategy and it's working. It will be the biggest Bond worldwide gross ever I believe. Jess was friends with the original Bond producers and got them to put up completion money for CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. He was a big Bond fan and wanted to make one at the time, but Welles got angry at them and Franco. And Franco was never that good with big action sequences. His spy spoofs are small scale comic book parodies and quite amusing (ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS, LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE).