Casino Royale (Climax! 1954)

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Casino Royale (Climax! 1954)

Post  BoG on Sun Oct 26, 2014 2:36 pm


Let's enter a dim, bygone alternate universe where James Bond (Barry Nelson) was an American agent, strolling through a low-budget TV production adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel. In footage nearly lost, reflected in the muddy black-and-white presentation, we witness an historic first - the first TV or film incarnation of James Bond. Completing the reversal on Fleming's original concept, Bond's buddy Leiter (Michael Pate) is a British agent (always an American CIA agent in the future films). Yep, we've definitely entered a Twilight Zone-type warped version of the Bond mythology. It's typical, however, of the limitations of the live television format from the fifties: two or three different small sets (rooms) are used for the entire show; the action is slow, driven mainly by dialog, and it has the feel of a stage play, in three acts. What brief fight scenes there are, towards the end, are somewhat crude and awkward, not surprising since it is a live broadcast. The script follows Fleming's premise: Bond's mission is basically to outplay the main villain at cards (baccarat, in this case) and take his money; this remained the major plot point of the new film version in 2006.
Filmmakers always seem to despair when given the task of making a card game exciting on film, but the potential is there - The Cincinnati Kid (1965) is a good example and the 2006 version of Casino Royale also did a good job. Here, though a static game of cards seemed suitable for a TV episode, the solution was to make the scenes as short as possible. Bond (Barry Nelson) gains the upper hand over Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) after only a couple of hands in the 2nd act and it's all over. The more intense scenes, in this version's favor, come about in the 3rd and final act, when Le Chiffre employs a tool of torture (below the bottom of the picture, off-screen) on a couple of Bond's toes; I guess he breaks them - actor Nelson gasps in pain convincingly. This retained the essential streak of sadism in Fleming's Bond stories (and the subsequent films), a surprising inclusion considering the bland TV standards of the fifties. Nelson was bland, as well, but adequate. Lorre was Lorre, one of those character actors known for stealing scenes, with an unforgettable voice. He was well cast as the first Bond villain, albeit a TV show version. This was, to its credit, a serious, no-nonsense approach, if quite a bit on the stiff side.
BoG's Scores: Bond:6 Villain:7 Femme Fatale:6 Henchmen:5 Leiter:6 Fights:4 Gadgets:n/a Pace:5 overall:5.5. This was the Bond title that the producers of the regular series of Bond films begun in 1962 were unable to use until the end of the century. The next film version of Casino Royale was in 1967, a completely different approach as a satirical silly romp. But James Bond would return on the big screen in Dr.No (1962).

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