Andrew Sarris Harshes on ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Barefoot in the Park’


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June 15, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 35

By Andrew Sarris

“CASINO ROYALE” is said to be doing spectacular business despite moderately unfavorable reviews. Most of the proceedings were too esoteric for this reviewer. At times, it seemed that the only joke in the film was the impunity with which the name of James Bond was bandied about. Bond is more than a sociological artifact: he is a fiduciary property. And it’s funny to see more than one set of producers with their claws in him. As funny as Johnny Carson regaling his studio audiences with jokes about his successful raid on NBC. Or Jackie Gleason being expansive about his stature in Miami. People seem to laugh at these things nowadays without the slightest trace of resentment. Power, success, money, even conceitedness seem to be their own justification. Dean Martin doesn’t make five million a year because he’s great. He’s great because he makes five million a year. This public attitude can be attributed partly to the low-pressure realism of television, and partly to an ominous swing to the right.

Popular complicity with power and success tends to stifle feelings of injustice. If Bond and Carson and Gleason and Martin deserve to be where they are, then Negroes and migrant farm workers and poor people generally are somehow to blame for their own plight. Not that America has ever been an egalitarian society. It is just that I can’t think of a folk hero in human history with fewer redeeming qualities than James Bond. He’s not even a human being, but just a department store dummy going bang-bang. And he is beyond criticism or spoofing.

“Casino Royale” tries to capitalize both on the James Bond name and the “What’s New, Pussycat?” art nouveau nuttiness. I liked “Pussycat,” but I don’t like “Casino Royale,” particularly when John Huston is flaunting the hardened arteries of David Niven and Deborah Kerr in a Scottish castle. Things pick up a little bit when Orson Welles, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen stumble into the scene, but the total experience remains boringly incoherent. Also, this is one of the most sexless movies ever made. Of course, this reviewer is too wise in the ways of brainwashing to believe that any of his readers will believe him. So see it for yourself, but don’t blame me, like the song says.

“BAREFOOT IN THE PARK” (at the Radio City Music Hall) contains a good opening sequence that was not in the play. Jane Fonda and Robert Redford make an attractively sexy couple of newlyweds. Mildred Natwick delivers two funny lines. Charles Boyer is miscast as a grotesque continental type. Gene Saks directs his first film so clumsily that he even muffs Mike Nichol’s exploitation of the climbing the stairs gag that kept Neil Simon’s feeble farce running for 79 years on Broadway. The movie is full of physical details that I found impossible to believe. The skylight, for example, with the hole in it.Over a bed during the winter snowstorm. The hero lies there with the snow coming down. Anything for a laugh. As for the hero walking barefoot in the park to prove that he is not a stuffed shirt, let us just say that this kind of Broadway philosophizing is a quaint sample of pre-hippie humor…

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