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"My name is Bond, Jimmy Bond."

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CASINO ROYALE (1954)

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.

The 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.

Leiter:
Are you the fellow that was shot?

Bond:
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.

Matters 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.

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Peter 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.

AV CLUB FEATURETTE DEPARTMENT

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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.

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Content intended for informational and educational purposes under the GNU Free Documentation Areement
and is not affiliated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Eon Productions, Danjaq LLC, Ian Fleming Publications or any other official production companies. James Bond logos, content and images copyright © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Eon Productions, Danjaq LLC, Ian Fleming Publications, United Artists Corporation.

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