The very first screen
appearance of James Bond 007 was 60 minute live broadcast on October
21, 1954 (8.30 pm EST) for the CBS Televion Network in the United
States. It was the first in CBS's 'Climax' series of dramas and made
the first actor to play James Bond American Barry Nelson, not on Sean Connery.
CBS brought the rights for
Fleming's first book for $1000. Since then the rights have gone via
Charles Feldman's spoof of 1967 to Eon Productions, who picked them
up in early 2000. The film, which is black and white, was actually
lost until 1981, and even then all of the various VHS incarnations
(except the Special Edition from Spy Guise Video) lack the climax of
the film, stopping with Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) apparently dying,
but having just got the razorblade from his hat.
film is quite loyal to Fleming's version, with a few changes of
nationality and sides. It starts with Bond (now an American Secret
Agent) being shot at but ducking behind a pillar outside the casino.
Leiter (who is now English and whose first name is Clarence)
approaches 'Card Sense Jimmy Bond' as he is nicknamed, and is met by
the first Bond one-liner.
Are you the fellow that was shot?
No, I'm the fellow that was missed.
Over supper Bond explains
Baccarat to Leiter and the audience, and Leiter explains the CIA's
Bond (not 007) his mission: Le Chiffre, the Soviet spymaster in
France, is in financial difficulty, but intends to save his life and
Communist funds by winning it back at the casino. Bond's job is to
clean him out.
are complicated when Bond's former lover, Valerie Mathis turns out
to be a communist agent with Le Chiffre. They meet in Bond's room,
and knowing about Le Chiffre's bug they turn up the music and kiss,
before acting their parts for the villain.
The next night at the
casino the game takes place. Bond is told if he wins, Valerie will
die. Bond is beaten by Le Chiffre, but then gets an extra donation,
with which he cleans out the 'toad'-like villain. Valerie disappears,
and Bond returns to his room after dealing with a henchmen using a
gun disguised as a cane. He hides the cheque just before Valerie
comes (she is in fact a French agent, who supplied the extra
donation), but Le Chiffre and his men capture them. Bond is tied to a
bath and tortured by having his toenails removed with pliers (rather
than Fleming's version using a seatless cane chair and carpet beater).
Valerie gives away the
location of the cheque, but helps Bond reach the razorblade in Le
Chiffre's cigarette case, which he had left on the bath. Bond
escapes, and overcomes a henchmen. Le Chiffre enters the bathroom
with a gun, and he and Bond shoot each other. Le Chiffre is more
seriously hurt, but reaches another razorblade, hidden in his hat.
Bond says 'call the police' just as Le Chiffre lunges and Bond dodges
the razor blade and finally overcomes Le Chiffre.
Lorre is superb as the villain Le Chiffre. Michael Pate is annoying
but acceptable as Englishman Leiter, and Linda Christian is competent
enough as Valerie Mathis, although her looks are taken away from by
the black and white. Barry Nelson as Bond is handsome and about the
right age, and unlike Roger Moore he has at least read the books,
although his Americanisation of Bond takes away slightly from
Fleming's cold character. Nelson was born in San Francisco,
California on April 16th 1920, and was a regular actor in mid-sized
roles on Broadway in the '40s. Since Casino Royale he has appeared in
"Airport" (1970) and "The Shining" (1980). Nelson
is credible as Bond, although he lacks flair. He delivers the
one-liners sharply, and his interpretation of the role is not too
bad, although being an American he will always look out of place.
Nelson's Bond is hard and cold, as 007 should be. He struggles at the
fight scenes (hardly surprising considering the production was filmed
live) but he does a reasonable job, with an acting style closer to
George Lazenby than Sean Connery.
The film itself, directed
by William H Brown Jr. and written by Antony Ellis and Charles
Bennet, with music by Jerry Goldsmith is reasonably filmed, and
remains tense throughout (an effect slightly spoiled by the needless
use of Act intros). Obviously the usual special effects are lacking,
but overall this is a credible adaptation of Fleming's book, with
good production values and passable performances.
CLUB FEATURETTE DEPARTMENT
For those who may have
missed it or weren't around in 1954 (unlike my Uncle Winston) here is
the first version of Casino Royale.