During the 1960s, determined producers Charlie Feldman and Jerry Bresler set out on a saga that left even Hollywood astonished. They wanted to film the first of the Ian Fleming Bond books, Casino Royale, but they were contractually unable to use the actual story. Therefore they decided to make a spoof Bond film years before Roger Moore actually starred in a whole series of them.
There was plenty of money. Every Hollywood studio had a branch operating in England. They decided to get scripts written by famous names like Wolf Mankowitz and John Law. At the same time they planned to get Woody Allen to doctor the scripts daily to suit the galaxy of stars invited to join the circus.
David Niven would be Sir James Bond (retired secret agent); Deborah Kerr would be flown in from her Swiss home with her husband and family so she could play ‘Agent Mimi’. Orson Welles would give his version of ‘Le Chiffre’. Peter Sellers would be ‘Evelyn Tremble’, Ursula Andress ‘Vesper Lynd’, Woody Allen ‘Jimmy Bond’; joining in the jamboree at very high fees would be William Holden, Charles Boyer, John Huston, Daliah Lavi, Kurt Kaznar, Jacqueline Bisset, Derek Nimmo, George Raft, Ronnie Corbett, Peter O’Toole, Jean-Paul Belmondo etc. etc.
Release was fixed for 1967, so filming started in 1966. The writers wrote the ‘script’, which was then re-written by Woody Allen in his suite in a West End hotel. The new daily script was then taken by Daimler to Pinewood Studios where it was rubbished by Peter Sellers. Deborah Kerr only did the film because her old friend David Niven was in it. But she was Deborah Kerr, so the film company installed her (all part of the budget, old boy) in the Connaught Hotel with her family, plus a couple of domestics as well.
The frantic producers and the directors (John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Bob Parrish, Joe McGrath and Richard Talmadge) called for reinforcements from the United States. They soon arrived, in the shape of the most famous Hollywood fixer of all time, known in the business as ‘Speedy Gonzalez’. This character was instructed to go to the Dorchester where Woody Allen was re-writing the script, and sort him out. ‘Speedy’ got to the Dorchester where he spotted a small, wiry man in glasses and went straight across to him. “Woody!” he shouted in recognition. “Yes,” replied the little man. ‘Speedy’ then explained how he knew that Peter Sellers waited at the studios to tell everybody that the script re-written by Woody Allen was garbage, and proceeded to explain how they, the producers and himself, were going to ‘fuck’ Peter Sellers, get him off the movie, and get on with the filming, which was costing millions of dollars per day.
The little man in spectacles nodded his head in glee. ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ left the Dorchester in high spirits. His expensive trip across the pond had been worth it. He telephoned Charlie Feldman. “Charlie?” he said; “Right,” said Charlie. The celebrated agent then explained how he had told Woody Allen at the Dorchester exactly how he planned to deal with Peter Sellers. Feldman interrupted: “Who were you talking to?” he demanded. ‘Speedy’ said he had been talking to Woody. “That would be difficult . . . at the Dorchester,” said Feldman a little waspishly, “because Woody Allen is in the London Clinic with a breakdown, no visitors, and maybe he’s off the picture for a month!” “Oh hell!” said ‘Speedy’, “then who the hell was I speaking to?” “Maybe Peter Sellers . . .” said Charlie Feldman sadly.
The movie got made finally, millions over budget. Some of the stars discussed taking their names off the billing. Deborah flew off to Switzerland, as did her neighbour David Niven, both enriched by colossal fees. Stars like George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Peter O’Toole appeared on screen for a few seconds. The film kept people from going to the cinema. The public stayed away in millions.
The film was so dreadful the critic Judith Crist said, ‘the dialogue is witless and unhampered by taste, and the interminable finale is a collection of clichés in a brawl involving the cavalry, parachuted Indians, every variety of mayhem, and Woody Allen burping radiation as a walking atom bomb’
Cinemagoers had to wait until 2006 for a decent re-telling of the Ian Fleming original, starring Daniel Craig and directed efficiently by Martin Campbell, with a spellbinding ‘Le Chiffre’ played by Mads Mikkelsen. In it there is a one-liner for Craig that should enter film history, after so many Bond films and so many different Bonds. When asked by a waiter if he wants his Martini shaken or stirred, Craig replies, “Do I look like I give a damn?”