Sunday, November 26, 2006

CASINO ROYALE (1967 dir. Joe McGrath, et al)

I'd like to talk briefly about Casino Royale - not the new one (jolly enjoyable though it was) - but the film now forever damned to a fate as "that other Casino Royale". Off the stump, let me remind you that I'm fascinated with lost, missing or generally chopped up movies - and very few come as snipped and snapped as this one.

At the vanguard of the grab-bag extravaganzas that heralded the orgiastic fall of the Hollywood studio system, it's long held a reputation as a flop of the highest order, which is rather unfair considering it made a stack of cash, ranking third at the box office in 1967. The film itself is disjointed in the extreme, but amongst the debris lay scattered fragments of a highly promising start.

The back-story is this: At the height of the Bondmania two men owned the screen rights to every 007 novel except one - his first adventure, published in 1954. Those rights were held by Charles K. Feldman, producer of the Seven Year Itch, Streetcar Named Desire and What's New Pussycat. Rather than go toe to toe with the official series in an already stuffed spy-movie marketplace he decided to mock the whole thing with the ultimate secret agent spoof - starring none other than Peter Sellers - the biggest comedy star of the moment - as James Bond himself.

So far so good - in fact so good that I'd argue it's amongst Sellers' finest work on screen. The problem is - due to a series of still undetermined problems he left the picture with only a quarter of his scenes in the can. What little remains is gorgeously set, shot and scripted - full of perfectly placed one-liners and visual gags. Drolly underplaying his role, Sellers seems at the height of his powers with a sharp and witty performance.

Rumour pins Sellers frustration on being forced to play 007 as a comic character, but for me this simply doesn't ring true. For a start, he pretty much plays the role straight anyway, in a similar fashion to his initial interpretation of Inspector Clouseau. I reckon the problem came with the twist in this tale of Bond.

Whilst Casino Royale was being made Sellers was in a creative and personal meltdown - having survived an almost fatal series of heart attacks in 1964, he was embracing a counter culture lifestyle and acting more erratically than ever before. He had always been a bit of a fantasist who completely inhabited each role, taking it home with him, often to the detriment of his family life, and here was his chance to play the ultimate fantasy character.

Except, (and here’s the twist) he wasn't playing James Bond at all. He was Evelyn Tremble, a nebbish baccarat expert hired to impersonate 007 in a card game against gambling mad bad guy La Chiffe (played by Orson Welles). If Sellers' had insurmountable hang-ups over the role surely this was the key – his dream of playing a macho hero was just as far away as it had ever been.

And that is a terrible shame. The rest of the movie, a patchwork constructed around Sellers incomplete performance, has some lovely moments (the always impressive set design, Richard Williams' animation, Joanna Pettet's extended adventure in expressionist West-Germany, Woody Allen and Barbara Bouchet) among the complete dross (David Niven's god-awful opener in Scotland) but it’s like a film without a soul.

Rather than drawing a curtain on his career as a Hollywood leading man, had the picture stayed on its original course, Peter Sellers would have owned Casino Royale.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


You've just got enough time to pop to the concession stand before the next two Bondalikes begin.

Altogether now - Oongbaggawagga Ice Cream!!

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Aces Go Places III - Our Man In Bond Street (dir Tsui Hark 1984)

We've left the Bollywood Bonds behind now - our globe-trotting trek in search of 007 doppel- gangers takes us to Hong Kong at the height of the slick, stunt-obsessed 80s. Aces Go Places III - Our Man In Bond Street couldn't be further from the film with which director Tsui Hark made his name four years earlier - the in-your-face, down and dirty Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (aka Don't Play With Fire).

The Aces Go Places series (or Mad Missions, as they were released in the West) were wild & woolly action-comedies from Hong Kong studio Cinema City, in a similar vein to the later Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung Lucky Stars movies. They owed a huge debt to Western blockbusters such as Cannonball Run (which featured Chan in it's cast) and especially the James Bond series. Any similarities are somewhat less than coincidental in the third entry, which - aside from the blatant hint in the subtitle - includes a Sean Connery lookalike and appearances from two familiar James Bond adversaries...

Sorry to report that although many places (including the IMDB) credit him with an appearance that isn't Harold 'Oddjob' Sakata tossing the bowler in that last scene, having shuffled off to the big hat-stand in the sky two years before the film was made. Sakata did appear as the bargain-basement Bond villain in what I consider to be one of the finest examples of Bruceploitation, Bruce Le's The Ninja Strikes Back (1982), where he sports not just a goldfinger but an entire gold hand.

Back to the movie in question - next we feature a meeting between our hero Sam Hui and a tuxedoed British agent, not to mention a cameo from another iconic UK figure.

Tsui Hark, whose skillfully mounted sequel is regarded as the best of the Aces Go Places series, was supposedly relieved of his directorial duties before completing the picture, marking a turning point in his career. Already on a high from the previous years Zu, Warriors From the Magic Mountain he left behind the Cinema City studio - his home since 1981 - and formed his own production company with wife Nansun Shi.

Thats all for now fact-fans - back more with two last and decidely legendary Bondalikes! Toodles!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


A brief respite from non-stop non-Bonds to register the 100th birthday of one of the screen's most beguiling and indefatigable cult figures - Louise Brooks.

The cult of Louise Brooks that ran the crest of the 50s & 60s Silent Cinema revival isn't as strong as it used to be, but she’s still hanging in there above many a star whose career was far happier and sustained. It's arguable that the wide availability of her icon defining films and the dilution of her unique look by decades of copycat style-snatchers may have tainted the central, unobtainable nature of her image. This impression was both metaphorical and literal during the height of her revival, since her films themselves were almost never to be found outside of archive screenings.

Surely then, it’s not just the image but the off-screen, real-life Louise Brooks that has kept her from being entirely chipped away like many a passing fad. An independent woman from an era where indendpance could often come with a kick in the teeth; surviving to tell the tale of being chewed up and spat out by the studio system.

The decisions and contrarieties that killed a career in Hollywood also ensured Brook's immortality - her handful of European films with G.W.Pabst from the tail end of the 1920s creating an entirely definable image. Add to those highlights a drawn out and squalid fall from grace, you have the perfect bastardisation of the Tinsel town success story - from riches to rags, eventually followed by unsolicited but welcome rediscovery and a certain degree of redemption.

Of course, I'm assuming you have a familiarity with the lady we're discussing - if not, a far more detailed and eloquent account can be found by stepping lively to the peerless
Greenbriar Picture Show.

I, on the other hand, will be back shortly with more bodacious badass Bondalikes! Hoorah!

Friday, November 10, 2006


Part Two - Mr Bond, another Bollywood Bond (dir Raj N. Sippy 1992)

Since we're currently mired in the murky waters of Bollywood Bondalikes, let's set our collective peepers on another, namely the 1992 action-thriller Mr Bond, starring Ashkay Kumar as a day-glo detective.

With none of the visual panache or suave suits of Agent Vinod and an even skimpier budget, Mr Bond takes the unexpected approach of ripping off the regularly ignored unofficial Connery entry, Never Say Never Again - itself a barely disguised remake of Thunderball. In fact, the opening scene is lifted directly from the 1983 original, albeit minus the earbleeingly awful Lani Hall theme song.

Don't take my word for it - have a peek at Sean himself in similar action - charitably rescored by the mysterious ManWithNoMoney to fit in with the rest of the Bond series (although why he chose to use sections of David Arnold's score instead of the classier John Barry originals is perhaps a bigger mystery).

Gluttons for punishment can view the original cut here.

Mr Bond doesn't only nab scenes wholesale from unofficial Bond movies, but from the genuine article too, as witnessed by this sequence lopped straight out of The Man with The Golden Gun.

Previously available on DVD from Eros International, Mr Bond now seems to be out of print and unavailable, but for sheer barefaced Bondalike cheek scores 003 out of 007 on the Poptique Bondometer. A review of the film can be gawped at by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I've got to admit that despite all my preconceptions & misconceptions I'm now looking forward to the new Bond movie. Fair enough, I'm not yet entirely convinced by Daniel Craig, and the new Bond theme is a ropey bit of rawk, but surely nothing can be worse than Pierce Brosnan's pappy crappy swan song Die Another Day. Invisible car? Bugger off.

Sorry to see Brosnan go nonetheless - a great Bond (and by all accounts a decent bloke too) although the films themselves never quite lived up to his potential as the eponymous 007, so it was a shame for him to be booted out without a bonafide classic under his belt.

Whatever Casino Royale turns out to be, it'll never ignite the kind of Bondmania that Goldfinger generated in the mid-60s. Back then Bond was the definitive catch-word for cool and localised film industries around the globe signed up their own secret agents for a taste of that sweet, sweet double-O-cash.

Over the next few posts Poptique will be offering up a selection of blatant Bond wannabees (Bondabees?) for your approval in a unique Bondian brawl to end them all - the Poptique Battle of the Bondalikes - starting just below!


Part One - Agent Vinod, Bollywood Bond (dir Deepak Bahry 1977)

Where else would Poptique start it's Battle of the Bondalikes but in Bollywood - an industry certainly not backwards in coming forward with Bond rip-offs. Aside from double-o-doppelgangers like Gunmaster G-9 in Suraksha (1979), Aankhen (1968) and Farz (1967) there has been a stack of Bond rip-offs with their intentions proudly displayed on their tuxedo sleeve.

From 1977, the year of The Spy Who Loved Me comes Agent Vinod, starring Mahendra Sandhu - an actor I frankly know nothing about. Its Bondalike status is made clear from virtually the word go, as Vinod bowls into his superior's office, tossing his chapeau onto a makeshift Moneypenny's head and engaging in some flirty conversation. Pretty soon Vinod is even chin-wagging with the Indian Q and picking up the regular quota of gadgets.

Agent Vinod certainly doesn't skimp on the action with some wild fights and raucous chase sequences - don't take my word for it, see for yourselves with the following clips. In the first a Freddie Mercury look-alike complete with Oddjobesque hat gets owned at the villain’s hideout whilst the second features Helen - the legendary H-Bomb herself - in a breathtaking stuntacular cameo...

Helen was no stranger to the Bondalike genre, having appeared in Golden Eyes Secret Agent 077 (1968) and coming back for more in 1984's Bond 303, a track from which can be heard on the excellent Bombay Connection CD (read more about that here).

Her one dance sequence in Agent Vinod harks back to her glorious cabaret numbers, and the ubiquitous Asha Bhosle provides playback. Roger Moore may have enjoyed larger budgets, but he never got to dress up as a sheik and join in a singsong. (Incidentally Helen's character Lovelina is referred to as Evening in Paris a couple of times by comic relief Jagdeep).

The film contains more references to the Bond series sprinkled throughout it's running time, the most bizarre being the gold-painted, afro sporting dancers who accompany Helen. There's also a decent hall of mirrors climax reminiscent of The Man with The Golden Gun (not to mention Enter The Dragon and The Lady From Shanghai). The movie is currently only available via a VCD released by Ultraindia. A pristine print of the film might well be a glorious sight to behold - the set design in frequently weird and wonderful despite the low budget - especially in the villain’s hideout, where a convenient peephole is located inside a massive, grotesque mouth.

Well worth tracking down despite the lack of subtitles, Poptique unashamedly scores Agent Vinod 004 out of 007.