Kaleidoscope (1966): stealing the plot of Casino Royale

13 JUNE 2023

JBC rating: ****

James Bond Connections (2):

  • Maurice Binder (Title designer, various 1962 – 1989) produced the title sequence.
  • Featuring Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent in Dr No) as a London casino manager.

The highly enjoyable 1966 comedy thriller Kaleidoscope begins as a romantic caper from the mould of Charade (1963), with added swinging 60s style and fashions. The James Bond connection isn’t immediately obvious, as the film follows an American playboy enacting an ingenious scheme to fraudulently win a fortune from casinos across Europe. Maurice Binder’s fun title sequence, featuring iconic London sights shot through a kaleidoscopic filter (below), is unlike any of his work for EON. Actor Anthony Dawson, so memorable as the slimy Professor Dent in Dr No, barely registers in his tiny (and uncredited) role as a casino boss. However, the second half of the film, focusing on an attempt to bankrupt an international villain during a high-stakes poker game, is clearly lifted from Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953) and features a similar aftermath. Ironically, this section of Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington’s lively script is far closer to Fleming than the first “adaptation” released the following year!

Warren Beatty gives a star performance as the impossibly handsome, thrill seeking Barney Lincoln. He opens the film by breaking into the Kaleidoscope card factory in Geneva and deliberately marking the printing plates used to produce playing cards for casinos across the world. Now able to read the reverse of every card at the gaming table, Lincoln tours the casinos of Europe and “wins” a fortune in a scheme possibly suggested by a brief passage in the ‘Monte Carlo’ chapter of Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities recollecting a croupier bribed into marking house cards. Director Jack Smight clearly didn’t have the budget to shoot any scenes outside of the UK. However, working from the solid script he manages to produce several entertaining sequences. Most feature Lincoln’s pretty new girlfriend, kooky English fashion designer Angel McGinnis, delightfully played by English actress Susannah York. The plot takes off when Angel, suspicious of Lincoln’s unbroken winning streak, reluctantly informs the police.

In a charming twist, Inspector “Manny” McGinnis of Scotland Yard is also Angel’s father. Veteran character actor Clive Revill (above) gives a hilarious turn as the eccentric Inspector who also appears to have a model train obsession. Having unravelled Lincoln’s scheme, Inspector McGinnis offers him a chance to avoid prison by taking on a special job. A la Fleming, Lincoln is tasked with bankrupting narcotics kingpin Harry Dominion by utilising his card reading skills and “winning” against him in a high-stakes poker game. Lincoln agrees to this chance of redemption and Angel joins him for the showdown at Dominion’s London club. Also involved is Inspector McGinnis’ sharp shooting apprentice Aimes, played by a young (and splendidly camp) Murray Melvin.


Shakespearean actor Eric Porter (above) projects sinister charm as the Napoleon-obsessed Dominion. Though missing a Soviet / SPECTRE-style paymaster, Dominion is essentially a Bond villain. Outwardly charming, he is a sadist who is introduced executing a traitorous employee by burning him alive. Lincoln’s prowess during the high-stakes poker game initially un-nerves Dominion, until a hilarious twist somewhat changes the odds. Like Bond facing Le Chiffre, Lincoln must rely on his wits (and luck) to prevail. Dominion’s Bond villain-worthy medieval castle, modernised to include electronically operated portcullis, is the setting for the entertaining climax. Events follow the outline of Casino Royale by featuring an attempt by Dominion to reclaim his lost money. However, this being a comedy thriller there is no brutal torture scene!

In his 2010 biography Star, film writer Peter Biskind dismisses Kaleidoscope as a “James Bond-lite” flop which Beatty agreed to do purely to secure funding for his passion project Bonnie and Clyde (1967). However, several decades later Kaleidoscope remains a fun 60s romantic caper, similar in feel to the many imitators of the 007 movies from this period. Whilst the kaleidoscopic screen transitions and stylised camera work may appear dated, the ingenious story, sparkling dialogue and winning performances hold up throughout. For Bond fans, the main appeal is the chance to view an unofficial adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, complete with a Bond-style villain and some solid 1960s comedic thrills. If only the first “official” cinematic adaption of Casino Royale had been anywhere near as good as this film!

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