Operation Amsterdam (1959)


Directed by Michael McCarthy
Peter Finch, Tony Britton, Eva Bartok, Alexander Knox, Malcolm Keen, John Le Mesurier
Music by Philip Green
Based on the novel ‘Adventure In Diamonds’ by David E. Walker

Operation Amsterdam is a solid British film from the Rank Organisation. I found this movie on a budget 3 DVD pack (with A Town Like Alice (1956) and The Silver Fleet (1943)) at my local supermarket. All three disks came it at under $10.00 (Aus), so I didn’t expect a great deal from the package. But as so often happens with movies that time has forgot, Operation Amsterdam is a pretty good movie.

I often debate, what is a war film, and what is a spy film, because frequently the genres cross over. But generally the nature of the mission helps separate the films into their appropriate categories. For example there is no mistaking that Saving Private Ryan and The Great Escape are solely war films. Whereas films such as Where Eagles Dare and The Counterfeit Traitor, belong to the spy genre. So too does Operation Amsterdam.

The film opens in May 1940, and German troops are invading Holland. In England a mission is organized to get all the industrial diamonds out of Amsterdam before the city falls. The Nazis want the diamonds for metal-cutting to make planes, tanks, etc. It’s up to a team of three men to retrieve the diamonds before they fall into German hands. The three men are Major Dillon (Tony Britton), who is a cool headed military intelligence officer; Jan Smit (Peter Finch), a Dutch diamond merchant, whose father holds a lot of sway in Amsterdam; and Walter Keyser (Alexander Knox), who is also a diamond merchant. As it is a race against time (they have fourteen hours), the men are hurriedly dispatched on a naval destroyer to Holland.

The mission isn’t quite what you’d expect, and I think this is the interesting thing about the movie. The Holland we see is a surreal place. The docks are flooded with people trying to leave the country. It is pandemonium. It is a human crush to get a position on the few remaining boats. Contrasted to this are the streets of Amsterdam, which are all but deserted. It’s almost like a haunted ghost town. Throw into the mix some sporadic gunfire, and aerial raids, and you have an unusual backdrop for this mission.

Complicating matters further is that nobody can really be trusted. In this film, we barely see a German soldier. Sure there presence is felt with the gunfire in the distance and the planes flying overhead. The menace comes from fifth columnists in the Dutch army. Every Dutch soldier that our trio meet could either be a loyal to the English or loyal to the Germans. This is highlighted in a roadblock scene. Rather than stopping to find out if the soldiers guarding it are loyal, they simply, put the put foot down, in the car they are travelling in, and run the roadblock.

This distrust of the locals applies to Anna (Eva Bartok), who is a Dutchwoman who helps the men on their mission. Not only does she provide them with a car, she has some pull with the local authorities. But once again, the question is raised, ‘can she be trusted’?

Operation Amsterdam is a solid wartime spy film. There are car chases, explosions, gun battles in the streets, and a race against the clock to fulfil the mission. But the film isn’t an action film. It is a film about choices. The diamond merchants have to decide wether to give up their stocks of diamonds for the greater good. If the Nazis find out, the merchants will be punished. Some of the merchants are Jewish, and the diamonds may be the only bargaining power that they have. Giving them up, may be signing their own death warrants. At the same time, holding on to them, and passing them onto the Nazis, only empowers the regime that is (will be) oppressing them (and there’s a subtle euphemism, if I’ve ever written one). As I said, it is about choices. If you like old-fashioned wartime dramas, this film is well-worth seeking out.

Operation Amsterdam (1959)

Bulldog Drummond In Africa (1938)


Director: Louis King
Starring: John Howard, Heather Angel, H.B. Warner, J. Carrol Naish, Reginald Denny, Anthony Quinn, Michael Brooke
Music: Milan Roder (and various others – stock music)
Based on the book, Challenge by Sapper

Bulldog Drummond in Africa is a fun entry in the series. This episode starts off with Drummond (John Howard), and his manservant, Tenny, (E.E. Clive) trapped in their own house. Not quite trapped! Because Drummond has had to postpone his wedding so many times, after unexpected incidents pop up, he has placed himself in self-imposed exile. He has had the guns removed from the house, and he has even had all the trousers removed. He figures, he can’t leave the house without trousers. As a final safeguard he even cuts the cord to his telephone. That way, news from the outside world cannot filter through, and he cannot be led off on another foolish adventure. This time the wedding is going to take place.

It seems good in principal. But this time it is Phyllis Clavering (Heather Angel), Drummond’s fiancée who get’s caught up in a mess of trouble. She arrives at Colonel Nielsen’s home to pick him up for the wedding. But things go wrong. Richard Lane (J. Carrol Naish), a traitor and a spy has secretly returned to London, and in particular to Nielson’s home. Lane kidnaps Nielsen, because he has information on a new radar defence weapon that the English are working on. Lane intends to sell the military secret for a great profit. Naturally, Phyllis stumbles in on the kidnap and watches as Lane and his accomplice, Fordine (an early role for Anthony Quinn) bundle Nielsen into a car.

Drummond cannot be contacted on the phone, so Phyllis drives to his home, and relays the story to him. Both Drummond and Tenny, without trousers (they have wrapped tartan blankets around their waists, so that they look like kilts), join Phyllis as they try to stop the kidnappers from spiriting Nielsen out of the country. They are too late, and Nielsen is flown to Morocco.

Naturally, Drummond and co. (including Drummond’s best friend Algy (Reginald Denny), who was late on the scene), have boarded a plane are off to Morocco. There’s not too much point outlining the plot of the movie, as this adventure doesn’t even run an hour – and I don’t want to spoil the fun. But Drummond, who’s intervention and investigation is never welcomed by the authorities, has to deal with incompetent police in England and in Morocco as well as a vicious masterspy, who keeps a pride of lions in his courtyard.

For fans of the series, there are a few casting departures. Firstly, H.B. Warner has taken over from John Barrymore as Colonel Nielsen. And secondly, Heather Angel replaces Louise Campbell as Drummond’s love interest…but this is not the first time she has played the role. She had been in an earlier Drummond feature, Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937), with Ray Milland.

Despite the lack of a decent budget, this entry in the Bulldog Drummond series is great fun. It’s a boys own adventure in the style they don’t make any more. And it is incredibly fast paced. Believe me, you wont have time to be bored. If you love those old serials, this is one to check out.

Bulldog Drummond In Africa (1938)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Sean Connery, Jill St John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, Bernard Lee as M, and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny
Music by John Barry
Title song performed by Shirley Bassey.
Very loosely based on a novel by Ian Fleming.

Diamonds Are Forever is the seventh film in the EON James Bond series. As with most Bond movies, the pre-production of Diamonds Are Forever is quite a tale in itself. George Lazenby left the series after one film. Actor John Gavin was consequently signed for the role of 007. And finally, at the last minute, Sean Connery was enticed back to the role of Bond for a hefty sum of money. As there are many good books and even a documentary, Inside Diamonds Are Forever on the DVD that recount the events leading up to the making of Diamonds Are Forever, I’ll leave it to the experts to tell the tales, but if you are interested, as I have said before, may I suggest, that you track down a copy of the book ‘Martinis, Girls And Guns’ by Martin Sterling and Gary Morecambe. It is a well researched overview of the series from Dr. No to The World Is Not Enough and fleshes out many of the production dramas that have happened throughout the series.

But onto the movie itself. The previous Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, left us with a distraught Lazenby Bond cradling his dead wife. Diamonds Are Forever makes no obvious reference to the proceedings of the last film, other than, Bond is determined to track down Ernst Stavro Blofeld – his wife’s killer. Bond’s motivation for being so desperate to hunt down Blofeld isn’t specified either. It is almost as if the previous film did not exist.

WELCOME TO HELL BLOFELD. The film starts with Connery Bond rough-housing a few informers to get to his nemesis, Blofeld (this time played by Charles Gray, who co-incidentally played Dikko Henderson two films earlier in You Only Live Twice). Bond’s investigations take him to a plastic surgery clinic, where Blofeld is attempting to make clones of himself. Bond intervenes, and finally kills Blofeld, sending his body into a pool of boiling mud.

The titles roll; Maurice Binder’s graphics twirl, and good old Shirley Bassey belts out one of the classic theme songs. Does life get any better than this?

Diamonds Are Forever has a tortuous plot, which I wont outline too heavily. Put simply, Bond has to investigate a diamond smuggling operation, which move diamonds from South Africa to Holland, and finally to the United Sates. Bond infiltrates the gang, posing as a smuggler, and follows the diamonds to Las Vegas and the casino of a reclusive millionaire, Willard Whyte.

Along the way, Bond encounters a few Bond girls. The first is Tiffany Case, played by Jill St. John. Tiffany is the bad girl who turns good, but only after Bond has bedded her. Next we have Plenty O’Toole played by Lana Wood. Naturally with a name like Plenty O’Toole, there is a Bondian quip that goes with the characters introduction. And finally a special mention should go to Bambi and Thumper, played by Lola Larson and Trina Parks respectively. These lethal ladies give poor old Mr. Bond a hard time when he crosses their path.

I like Diamond Are Forever. It is one of the wittiest of the Bond films, but the story is a bit of a mish-mash in places, and has some large gaping plot holes. But most people don’t go to a Bond film for the story. They go for a few hours of escapism, and on that level Diamonds Are Forever delivers. And, of course, it was great to see Sean Connery back in the role he was born to play. But Diamonds Are Forever is a bit of a step down from the Bond films of the sixties, and the injection of humour was a forerunner of things to come. Many people blame Roger Moore’s ascendancy to the role of James Bond as the turning point in the series. From then on, the films were played for laughs. Well that isn’t the case. Diamonds Are Forever is played totally for laughs, and as such the blame cannot fall solely on Roger Moore’s shoulders. It was obviously a decision by the film-makers, and co-incidentally it happened to suit Moore’s acting style…but more of that when I review Live And Let Die.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Dr No (1962)


Directed by Terence Young
Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, Anthony Dawson, John Kitzmiller, Eunice Gayson, Zena Marshall, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell
Music by Monty Norman
James Bond theme played by John Barry
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

I don’t think I am giving too much away when I say that I am a child of the seventies and eighties. The first Bond film I saw was The Spy Who Loved Me, and I absolutely loved it. Soon after, I started on a quest to try and watch all of the James Bond films. It wasn’t so easy back then. There were no video tapes, let alone DVDs. Basically all I could do was wait until a Bond film showed up on network TV, Over the years I ticked off each of the films as they were shown, but Dr. No remained steadfastly hidden from view. It wasn’t until the video age swept the world in the mid eighties that I finally got to see the first Bond film. And as a teenager, I must admit I wasn’t too impressed. It wasn’t like the other films. The start was different; where was the pre-title sequence? And where were the one-liners and double entendres?

But still, it was a Bond film and almost religiously I would watch it once a year. And now here it is twenty (plus) years later and you know what? I have truly grown to love this film. I think it is one of the best of the series. Anyway, that’s enough reminiscing; let’s look at the film!

There are conflicting opening dates for the first Bond film. The James Bond Interactive Dossier lists it as October 5,1962, but Raymond Benson in The James Bond Beside Companion writes that the film opened on the 7th. Either way Ian Fleming’s superspy James Bond 007 made his first big screen appearance. By this I mean cinematic appearance. James Bond had appeared before in an American TV movie of Casino Royale in 1954, but to most people, that doesn’t count. Dr No was the first official James Bond movie made by EON productions, the company most people associate with the Bond franchise.

For the part of James Bond, Ian Fleming wanted David Niven or even Roger Moore, but he was contracted to the television series The Saint. The Studio’s wanted Cary Grant but he would only agree to do two films. Finally they settled on little known actor Sean Connery and the rest, as they say, is history.

Despite it’s age, Dr No is one of the most violent Bond movies. From full-blooded fist fights, cold- blooded killings, flash-cubes being thrust into the head, this films depiction of violence is more realistic, and less stylised than later films in the series. Towards the end, after Bond has been given the ‘treatment’ by Dr No’s henchmen and struggled through an obstacle course, he is pretty badly beaten up and not the suave, unruffled hero we are used to.

In it’s day Dr. No was quite blatant in its depiction of sex. These days it would be considered quite mild and even teen films like Agent Cody Banks and If Looks Could Kill are almost on par with the shenanigans that go on. But still, there are quite a few conquests for Bond along the way. Firstly, Eunice Gayson’s character, Sylvia Trench (the girl Bond picks up at the Casino at the beginning). Originally the character was intended to appear in every film but the idea was dropped after From Russia With Love. It is alluded to that Bond beds her before heading off on his mission.

Next is Zena Marshall, who as Miss Taro is the most ruthless and conniving of the ladies Bond beds. She deliberately lures Bond to her cabin in the mountains for a romantic interlude. All the while it is a trap, where a team of assassins in a hearse try to run Bond’s vehicle of the road. After the assassins fail, she arranges for Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) to finish the job. He is not too successful either.

Last but not least, is Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, who was cast after the producers saw a picture of her in a wet T-shirt. She is the first real Bond girl. Her emergence from the water, wearing a white bikini with a belt and knife at her hip, is one of the most famous and lampooned sequences in modern cinema history. Incidentally, Ursula Andress’ voice was completely re-dubbed for the films release.

The movie primarily set in Jamaica, starts with the assassination of Strangways, the top M.I.7* operative in the Caribbean, and his secretary, by three hoods working for Dr No. Strangways was investigating some destructive radio signals emanating from the Caribbean. These signals were toppling (sending off course) American missiles.

Bond is sent to Jamaica to follow up, and from the instant he arrives, he is up to his armpits with henchmen and women trying to divert him from his mission. And naturally enough, this all leads to Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). Dr. No, like many criminal masterminds, has a physical impediment. He has metal hands. He also works for an evil criminal organisation called S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which stands for Special Executive for Counter Terrorism Revenge and Extrortion.

I think that the true Bond fans love Dr. No. Maybe callow youth (hey, I was one once) and tourists to the series may not rate it too highly, but this is a bloody great film, and without it, we wouldn’t have the Bond series as we know it today.

*In Dr. No, ‘M’ (Bernard Lee) refers to his department as M.I.7. Only in later films in the series does it revert to M.I.6. But funnily enough, in vintage advertising material, ‘M’ says M.I.6. If you look carefully at the film, you can see the Lee has looped his dialogue. His lips read ‘six’, but his voice says ‘seven’.

Dr No (1962)

Spies (1928)


AKA: Spione
Directed by Fritz Lang
Rudolph Klein-Rogge, Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Lupu Pick, Fritz Rasp
New score composed by Donald Sasin

Spies is director Fritz Lang’s follow-up to the epic science fiction masterpiece Metropolis. Like Metropolis, Spies is also a silent film and if you watch the restored F.W. Murnau Foundation version, which comes in at 143 minutes, unless a student of cinema, you may find it a bit of a slog. That’s not to say that it is bad or boring, but it does take it’s time moving through the story, after branching off on various sub-plots. Despite this there are some amazing scenes – maybe not in Metropolis’ league, but impressive none-the-less. Even many of the less elaborate set designs are ground breaking, providing the blueprint for the spy films that would trail behind in the following decades.

At the centre of this film is the character Hagji, the villainous head of a criminal spy ring. Haghi is played by Rudolph Klein-Rogge who had played this type of role before for Lang, first in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, and then as the mad scientist Rotwang in Metropolis. Haghi, although a super villain in the traditional sense, is wheelchair bound and has an evil henchwoman / nurse who pushes him around and physically oversees the operation.

The other two main characters are Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch), a good guy assigned to break Haghi’s spy ring, and Sonja (Gerda Maurus), who is Haghi’s most alluring, and ultimately dangerous operative. She is an old-school femme fatale.

Because she is evil, Sonja is sent to kill Agent 326. But what should happen? The two opposing agents fall in love. From that point on, Sonja refuses to carry out any more assignments for Haghi. Haghi is not happy and imprisons her at his secret headquarters (which happens to be a bank – with current interest rates, I find the idea that a bank should house the world’s ultimate villain quite amusing!)

This leaves Agent 326 to find and capture Haghi, and to rescue his imprisoned sweetheart. I make the story sound more straight forward than it is. There are quite a few subplots involving the Russians and the Japanese. Most of these merely show how evil and malevolent Haghi truly is. The demise of Japanese agent, Masimoto (Lupu Pick) is quite moving.

At the heart of this story is the love story, and in many ways it mirrors the lovers from the different levels in Metropolis. Only in this film, the lovers are not separated by different levels of society, but are separated by different ideologies. Also, this time it is the woman who sees the error of her ways, rather than the man.

As I mentioned at the top, Spies is a good film, but it won’t be for everyone. I think the key word for this film is ‘patience’. If you have the patience and are truly interested in the evolution of the spy film then here it is – the blueprint.

Spies (1928)

Casino Royale (2006)


Directed by Martin Campbell
Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jefferey Wright, Caterina Murino, Judi Dench as ‘M’
Music by David Arnold
Title Song performed by Chris Cornell
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

This is the first official (EON Productions) version of Casino Royale, and it is the twenty-first film in the series. Before I launch into my review, I’ll state my opinion for Die Another Day, the previous movie in the series. I was incredibly disappointed – I won’t go as far as to say ‘hate’, because that is such a strong word, and there were a few good moments – but I will say it is the weakest movie in the series. Two of the many things that I didn’t like were the editing and the sloppy CGI.

That brings us to Casino Royale. Is it any good? Yes. Is it the best Bond film ever? Nearly, but not quite (for me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service still retains that title). Firstly, I’ll address my complaints from Die Another Day. The editor on Casino Royale was Stuart Baird. Baird has worked on many successful films as an editor and even as a director, and thankfully he does not take the same route as Christian Wagner (Die Another Day’s editor). There is no MTV editing in Casino Royale. Sure scenes are cut together quickly, but there is no exaggerated speeding up or slowing down of the action to create a visual effect.

And was there any CGI in Casino Royale? Probably. Most films do these days. But I didn’t notice it. So I was extremely happy about that. So all my grievances had been addressed. Let’s look at the rest of the film.

Something you will read time and time again about the Bond films, is about the amount of controversy and drama that went into making the movie. As the James Bond series has been so popular for so long, we as audience members almost feel that we have a stake in the direction and the casting of each film. Casino Royale is no exception to that rule. In fact the gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale may be one of the most tumultuous in Bond history. And fans loudly vocalised their opinions throughout every step of the production process.

First we had the poorly handled dismissal of the Billion Dollar Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Fans were not happy, and Brosnan was not happy.

Next, rumours began to circulate that the next film would be Casino Royale, and that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct. They were half right. The film was indeed Casino Royale, but Tarantino was never going to be allowed to direct.

When the first stories of the script crept out to the public, it was said that this was a new younger Bond. This film was going to tell the back story of how Bond became Bond. As it was the first book written by Fleming, they figured it must have been Bond’s first mission too.

Adding to the confusion slightly, was that author, Charlie Higgson had released a series of Young Bond books. It was hinted at in some quarters that this film may in fact not be a younger Bond, but Young Bond, and that they were trying to capture the Harry Potter market. Thankfully this rumour turned out to be rubbish.

Then came the long wait to find the successor. Many names were bandied about the press. Some were genuinely in the running and others were just rumours. Names included Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Timothy West, Orlando Bloom, Sam Worthington, Russell Crow, Daniel Radcliffe (as Young Bond), and Goran Visnjic. One rumour I got a chuckle from (and it was repeated in various articles) was that Colin Salmon was in the final running to play James Bond. No racism intended, but Colin Salmon is the black actor who had played Robinson in the past three Bond movies. Apparently Salmon would fill in for Brosnan when they were testing actresses for their roles. I wonder who started the rumour, Brosnan or Salmon himself?

When the announcement came that Daniel Craig was to be the new Bond, it met with a strong, mixed reaction. Those who had seen Craig in Layer Cake, Arch Angel, and Munich were quite pleased to see him get the role. But many others believed he was too short, and too blonde. His appointment met with such a strong reaction that a website ‘craignotbond.com’ was set up, and angry posters got to express their annoyance and opinions online.

But after all the discussion and distraction the film was underway. Martin Campbell, who had directed Goldeneye was called back to helm the movie. Eva Green was cast as Vesper Lynd and Mads Mickelson landed the role of Le Chiffre.

Believe me when I say that the background information I have given you is a seriously condensed version of the events leading up to the release of this film. But that’s history, how did the film end up?

The film opens in Prague, and James Bond is sitting in the dark, in an office belonging to Czech Republic Section Chief Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair). Dryden has been a bit naughty and been selling state secrets. As Dryden enters his office, he is surprised to find Bond waiting for him. But Dryden isn’t concerned. After all, if he were in trouble, ‘M’ would have sent a Double ‘O’ agent to kill him. Bond isn’t a Double ‘O’. Dryden pulls a pistol from his desk and tries to shoot Bond. But this new guy, Bond is no dummy. He had retrieved the magazine from the pistol earlier. Bond then reveals that in tracking Dryden, he in fact has killed Dryden’s contact man. It takes two kills to become a Double ‘O’ and Dryden’s time is up. Bond shoots Dryden and the titles roll. So the rumours about this film being Bond’s first mission are true. It may throw the continuity of the series out the window, but what the heck, let’s just ride with it!

Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence is one of the best in ages. Since taking over from Maurice Binder, generally Kleinman’s titles have been too busy and too high tech. I have nothing against the technology, but there has been a tendency to throw every special effect in the book at the titles, rather than create a ‘mood’. This time, Kleinman nails it.

After the titles we really launch into the action. Bond is now a ‘Double-O’ and on assignment. Indirectly, his mission is track down and stop Le Chiffre (Mad Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre is an international banker who launders money for military and terrorist organizations. After one of his schemes goes wrong, he has to quickly recoup a large amount of money. He intends to do this by winning a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. And this is where James Bond comes in. Apparently he is the best card player MI6 have. And they send him to beat Le Chiffre. If Le Chiffre doesn’t win, the terrorist organization that owns the money that he has squandered will come looking for him. Naturally enough, this is a Bond story, so it isn’t all as simple as that, and becomes quite convoluted in parts. But after forty-four years of Bond movies, picking over the plot holes is pointless really.

Along the way Bond has encounters with two Bond girls. And so he should. He is still James Bond, after all. The first is Solange (Caterina Murino). I don’t think her character name is even mentioned in the film, so that probably shows you how important to the story she is. But she looks great, and lends a bit of elegance to this production.

The other Bond girl is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). She is the girl that ‘matters’ to Bond. I’m sorry, Eva doesn’t do it for me. She seems like a school girl. At least she can act, unlike some of the previous Bond girls. But I didn’t really feel the chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green. I would suggest that any emotion we feel for Vesper as a character is created by Bond’s reaction to her actions.

As I mentioned earlier, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the appointment of Daniel Craig as Bond. So how does he stack up? Quite simply, he is great. There’s a bit of soccer hooligan about him that works really well. You actually believe the man is dangerous, and isn’t that what Bond is all about? His only (slightly) jarring sequence is a torture scene. It appears to be softened with an injection of humour, which seems a bit incongruous. But then, the filmmakers had to get it past the censors. A full-blooded torture scene may have got the film a harsh rating and eliminate much of the younger viewing audience. Quite simply, Craig makes a fantastic debut as James Bond.

A quick word about Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter. All I can say that he is under used, and when he does speak it is verging on seventies cop show ghetto speak – he refers to himself as a ‘brother’, and calls Bond ‘man’. If Wright does not turn up in the next few Bond movies, then this deviation from the character is unforgivable. And let’s face it; Leiter is the least consistent character in the series with six actors having played him (eight if you count Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again, and Michael Pate as Clarence Leiter in the TV version of Casino Royale). But if Wright continues with the series, and his character is re-imagined as they like to say these days, then the stylised performance can be forgiven.

Casino Royale is essentially a four act play. The first act is how Bond got to be a Double ‘O’, which I have described briefly above. The second act concerns a terrorist strike in Miami. The third is the confrontation with the villain, Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale in Monte Negro. And the final act ties up all the loose ends and shows us how Bond became the man we all know so well. Shifting between these four very distinct parts creates a little unevenness throughout the film. The changes in tone and pace don’t always sit well next to each other, and this is particularly noticeable at the end of the film. But having said that, on the whole I think it works quite well as a Bond movie, and if you are a hard-core Bond fanatic, there are plenty of cameos and references to past Bond films to keep you happy for days trying to spot them all.

I have a few minor criticisms, and this applies for a lot of the recent Bond films, not just Casino Royale, is that the Bond series used to be the originators – not copiers or followers. In Casino Royale many of the set pieces appear to be borrowed from other recent spy films. The ‘Free Running’ (or Parkour) sequences, as good as they are, owe a lot to the French films Crimson Rivers 2 and District 13. The sequence on top of the crane can be tracked back to the Jackie Chan film, The Accidental Spy. There’s a scene, which is very similar to the ending of Mission Impossible 3, where a defibrillator has to be used to revive one of the characters (I won’t say which one). And finally there’s a scene that duplicates a tense moment in The Bourne Supremacy – I won’t describe it, as it will spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it, but as I said, many elements appear to be borrowed from other films within the genre. In the sixties Bond was the originator and everyone else followed – whereas today Bond feeds off its many imitators.

It must be very hard for the Producers and the Directors of Bond films to come up with stories and screenplays that give the very broad Bond audience what they want. Some people want swinging Sean Bond; some prefer light hearted Roger Bond, or any of the other actors. Some people even want Fleming’s Bond. You cannot please every one. As I have said, this is one of the better Bond films. But, in some ways is the least Bond-like and may upset some fans. They have kept ‘M’ but have left out ‘Q’ and Moneypenny, and the Bond theme is not used until the final minutes of the film. Also there are no gadgets. So when you take away all the elements that make a film, a Bond film, what are you left with? Just another spy film! It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here. Will the Bond family of characters be re-introduced, or have they had their day?

So there it is, Casino Royale, the twenty-first official Bond film, and a pretty darn good one at that. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and check it out.

One final comment. If ‘Q’ is to return in future Bond films, I want to put forward my suggestion on who should play the character. Alan Rickman. He is already regarded as the best Bond villain that we never had. But I would like to see him as ‘Q’. Maybe he’d bring a bit of vitriol to the role. No more cheap gags. Hey, I only start the rumours!

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jefferey Wright, Caterina Murino, Judi Dench as ‘M’
Music: David Arnold
Title Song: performed by Chris Cornell
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

This is the first official (EON Productions) version of Casino Royale, and it is the twenty-first film in the series. Before I launch into my review, I’ll state my opinion for Die Another Day, the previous movie in the series. I was incredibly disappointed – I won’t go as far as to say ‘hate’, because that is such a strong word, and there were a few good moments – but I will say it is the weakest movie in the series. Two of the many things that I didn’t like were the editing and the sloppy CGI.

That brings us to Casino Royale. Is it any good? Yes. Is it the best Bond film ever? Nearly, but not quite (for me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service still retains that title). Firstly, I’ll address my complaints from Die Another Day. The editor on Casino RoyaleCasino Royale was Stuart Baird. Baird has worked on many successful films as an editor and even as a director, and thankfully he does not take the same route as Christian Wagner (Die Another Day’s editor). There is no MTV editing in . Sure scenes are cut together quickly, but there is no exaggerated speeding up or slowing down of the action to create a visual effect.

And was there any CGI in Casino Royale? Probably. Most films do these days. But I didn’t notice it. So I was extremely happy about that. So all my grievances had been addressed. Let’s look at the rest of the film.

Something you will read time and time again about the Bond films, is about the amount of controversy and drama that went into making the movie. As the James Bond series has been so popular for so long, we as audience members almost feel that we have a stake in the direction and the casting of each film. Casino Royale is no exception to that rule. In fact the gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale may be one of the most tumultuous in Bond history. And fans loudly vocalised their opinions throughout every step of the production process.

First we had the poorly handled dismissal of the Billion Dollar Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Fans were not happy, and Brosnan was not happy.

Next, rumours began to circulate that the next film would be Casino Royale, and that Quentin Tarantino was going to direct. They were half right. The film was indeed Casino Royale, but Tarantino was never going to be allowed to direct.

When the first stories of the script crept out to the public, it was said that this was a new younger Bond. This film was going to tell the back story of how Bond became Bond. As it was the first book written by Fleming, they figured it must have been Bond’s first mission too.

Adding to the confusion slightly, was that author, Charlie Higgson had released a series of Young Bond books. It was hinted at in some quarters that this film may in fact not be a younger Bond, but Young Bond, and that they were trying to capture the Harry Potter market. Thankfully this rumour turned out to be rubbish.

Then came the long wait to find the successor. Many names were bandied about the press. Some were genuinely in the running and others were just rumours. Names included Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, Timothy West, Orlando Bloom, Sam Worthington, Russell Crow, Daniel Radcliffe (as Young Bond), and Goran Visnjic. One rumour I got a chuckle from (and it was repeated in various articles) was that Colin Salmon was in the final running to play James Bond. No racism intended, but Colin Salmon is the black actor who had played Robinson in the past three Bond movies. Apparently Salmon would fill in for Brosnan when they were testing actresses for their roles. I wonder who started the rumour, Brosnan or Salmon himself?

When the announcement came that Daniel Craig was to be the new Bond, it met with a strong, mixed reaction. Those who had seen Craig in Layer Cake, Arch Angel, and Munich were quite pleased to see him get the role. But many others believed he was too short, and too blonde. His appointment met with such a strong reaction that a website ‘craignotbond.com’ was set up, and angry posters got to express their annoyance and opinions online.

But after all the discussion and distraction the film was underway. Martin Campbell, who had directed Goldeneye was called back to helm the movie. Eva Green was cast as Vesper Lynd and Mads Mickelson landed the role of Le Chiffre.

Believe me when I say that the background information I have given you is a seriously condensed version of the events leading up to the release of this film. But that’s history, how did the film end up?

The film opens in Prague, and James Bond is sitting in the dark, in an office belonging to Czech Republic Section Chief Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair). Dryden has been a bit naughty and been selling state secrets. As Dryden enters his office, he is surprised to find Bond waiting for him. But Dryden isn’t concerned. After all, if he were in trouble, ‘M’ would have sent a Double ‘O’ agent to kill him. Bond isn’t a Double ‘O’. Dryden pulls a pistol from his desk and tries to shoot Bond. But this new guy, Bond is no dummy. He had retrieved the magazine from the pistol earlier. Bond then reveals that in tracking Dryden, he in fact has killed Dryden’s contact man. It takes two kills to become a Double ‘O’ and Dryden’s time is up. Bond shoots Dryden and the titles roll. So the rumours about this film being Bond’s first mission are true. It may throw the continuity of the series out the window, but what the heck, let’s just ride with it!

Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence is one of the best in ages. Since taking over from Maurice Binder, generally Kleinman’s titles have been too busy and too high tech. I have nothing against the technology, but there has been a tendency to throw every special effect in the book at the titles, rather than create a ‘mood’. This time, Kleinman nails it.

After the titles we really launch into the action. Bond is now a ‘Double-O’ and on assignment. Indirectly, his mission is track down and stop Le Chiffre (Mad Mikkelsen). Le Chiffre is an international banker who launders money for military and terrorist organizations. After one of his schemes goes wrong, he has to quickly recoup a large amount of money. He intends to do this by winning a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro. And this is where James Bond comes in. Apparently he is the best card player MI6 have. And they send him to beat Le Chiffre. If Le Chiffre doesn’t win, the terrorist organization that owns the money that he has squandered will come looking for him. Naturally enough, this is a Bond story, so it isn’t all as simple as that, and becomes quite convoluted in parts. But after forty-four years of Bond movies, picking over the plot holes is pointless really.

Along the way Bond has encounters with two Bond girls. And so he should. He is still James Bond, after all. The first is Solange (Caterina Murino). I don’t think her character name is even mentioned in the film, so that probably shows you how important to the story she is. But she looks great, and lends a bit of elegance to this production.

The other Bond girl is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). She is the girl that ‘matters’ to Bond. I’m sorry, Eva doesn’t do it for me. She seems like a school girl. At least she can act, unlike some of the previous Bond girls. But I didn’t really feel the chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green. I would suggest that any emotion we feel for Vesper as a character is created by Bond’s reaction to her actions.

As I mentioned earlier, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the appointment of Daniel Craig as Bond. So how does he stack up? Quite simply, he is great. There’s a bit of soccer hooligan about him that works really well. You actually believe the man is dangerous, and isn’t that what Bond is all about? His only (slightly) jarring sequence is a torture scene. It appears to be softened with an injection of humour, which seems a bit incongruous. But then, the filmmakers had to get it past the censors. A full-blooded torture scene may have got the film a harsh rating and eliminate much of the younger viewing audience. Quite simply, Craig makes a fantastic debut as James Bond.

A quick word about Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter. All I can say that he is under used, and when he does speak it is verging on seventies cop show ghetto speak – he refers to himself as a ‘brother’, and calls Bond ‘man’. If Wright does not turn up in the next few Bond movies, then this deviation from the character is unforgivable. And let’s face it; Leiter is the least consistent character in the series with six actors having played him (eight if you count Bernie Casey in Never Say Never Again, and Michael Pate as Clarence Leiter in the TV version of Casino Royale). But if Wright continues with the series, and his character is re-imagined as they like to say these days, then the stylised performance can be forgiven.

Casino Royale is essentially a four act play. The first act is how Bond got to be a Double ‘O’, which I have described briefly above. The second act concerns a terrorist strike in Miami. The third is the confrontation with the villain, Le Chiffre at the Casino Royale in Monte Negro. And the final act ties up all the loose ends and shows us how Bond became the man we all know so well. Shifting between these four very distinct parts creates a little unevenness throughout the film. The changes in tone and pace don’t always sit well next to each other, and this is particularly noticeable at the end of the film. But having said that, on the whole I think it works quite well as a Bond movie, and if you are a hard-core Bond fanatic, there are plenty of cameos and references to past Bond films to keep you happy for days trying to spot them all.

I have a few minor criticisms, and this applies for a lot of the recent Bond films, not just Casino Royale, is that the Bond series used to be the originators – not copiers or followers. In Casino Royale many of the set pieces appear to be borrowed from other recent spy films. The ‘Free Running’ (or Parkour) sequences, as good as they are, owe a lot to the French films Crimson Rivers 2 and District 13. The sequence on top of the crane can be tracked back to the Jackie Chan film, The Accidental Spy. There’s a scene, which is very similar to the ending of Mission Impossible 3, where a defibrillator has to be used to revive one of the characters (I won’t say which one). And finally there’s a scene that duplicates a tense moment in The Bourne Supremacy – I won’t describe it, as it will spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it, but as I said, many elements appear to be borrowed from other films within the genre. In the sixties Bond was the originator and everyone else followed – whereas today Bond feeds off its many imitators.

It must be very hard for the Producers and the Directors of Bond films to come up with stories and screenplays that give the very broad Bond audience what they want. Some people want swinging Sean Bond; some prefer light hearted Roger Bond, or any of the other actors. Some people even want Fleming’s Bond. You cannot please every one. As I have said, this is one of the better Bond films. But, in some ways is the least Bond-like and may upset some fans. They have kept ‘M’ but have left out ‘Q’ and Moneypenny, and the Bond theme is not used until the final minutes of the film. Also there are no gadgets. So when you take away all the elements that make a film, a Bond film, what are you left with? Just another spy film! It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here. Will the Bond family of characters be re-introduced, or have they had their day?

So there it is, Casino Royale, the twenty-first official Bond film, and a pretty darn good one at that. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and check it out.

One final comment. If ‘Q’ is to return in future Bond films, I want to put forward my suggestion on who should play the character. Alan Rickman. He is already regarded as the best Bond villain that we never had. But I would like to see him as ‘Q’. Maybe he’d bring a bit of vitriol to the role. No more cheap gags. Hey, I only start the rumours!

Casino Royale (2006)