First Appearance of James Bond...on American TELEVISION!

When Ian Fleming published the first 007 novel, "Casino Royale", in 1952, he envisioned it as being made as a movie, and began 'selling' it to anyone who might be interested. He quickly struck a deal, but soon discovered that he'd made a bad bargain; once he'd relinquished the rights, not only did he lose any control over how it would be used, or where, but on any potential revenue from it, as well. He'd be far more cautious in future, but "Casino Royale" became the one 'Bond' title that Eon Productions wouldn't it a convoluted history that is worth a book on it's own!

American television, in the 1950s, was called the "Golden Age" of 'live' drama, in part because recording techniques were so primitive. Short of actually recording productions on motion picture film, which was costly and time-consuming, the only method of recording was on modern videotape's predecessor, kinescope, which was grainy, dark, and really awful. As a result, many programs would be performed 'live', with the kinescope recording only made as a record of the airing.

A lot of plays, stories, and novels were edited into half-hour and hour-long television programs, and "Casino Royale" was adapted, by Charles Bennett and Anthony Ellis, for an episode of the "Climax!" TV series. Changing sophisticated British spy James Bond into American CIA operative "Card-Sense Jimmy Bond", the characters were toned (and in some cases DUMBED) down for American audiences (I think the writers thought the Yank idea of 'sophistication' was beer in a glass). Vesper Lynd became Valerie Mathis, CIA agent Felix Leiter became British agent Clarence(?) Leiter, etc. The villain's name remained 'Le Chiffre', although his method of torture (caning one's genitals in an open-seated rattan chair) was 'cleaned up'...

As Bond, veteran American actor Barry Nelson was smug, confident, and independent, preferring a 'lone hand' to outside interference. I met Nelson in northern Virginia in the early 1990s (he was charming, and quite entertaining), and I asked about his memories of the production. He said he recalled little of it (as the program was shot 'live' and he was very busy in a variety of projects, including his first love, the theater), but, he recalled, Peter Lorre, as Le Chiffre, had trouble remembering his lines, and ad-libbed a lot!

Within television's limitations, the basic plot (of Bond beating an enemy agent at the gambling tables to prevent him from recouping 'lost' espionage funds) is pretty faithful to the novel (which was based on Fleming's own wartime experiences). Despite this, the production is stagy (with only two sets), rife with missed cues and flubs, and overripe performances. Lorre does make a good villain, however, certainly better than some of the later film ones!

All in all, the production offers novelty value, and little else...



Infamous, Overblown Train Wreck of a Bond 'Spoof'...

There are those who consider 1967's CASINO ROYALE a masterpiece, one of the funniest, campiest satires of the decade...if you are one of those misguided fans, read no further...because I truly HATE this film!

The story behind the film is a classic case of "More Makes Less"...Charles K. Feldman had purchased the rights to Fleming's novel, with dreams of producing his own 'James Bond' adventure, and raking in some of the millions in revenues that Eon Productions was making. He knew that Sean Connery was the essential element in the Bond franchise, and that the actor was winding up his contract with YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. So Feldman approached Connery about starring in his film.

Connery was burned out on playing the superspy, but he listened to Feldman's pitch, then made a salary demand that was way, WAY out of the producer's range. Sadly, Feldman dropped the idea of Connery as Bond, and considered other options.

After toying with and discarding the idea of other actors in the role (Connery was a tough act to follow!), Feldman had a 'revelation'; if he made "Casino Royale" as a spoof of Bond movies, he could cast a variety of 'big' stars as comic 007s, and no one would make comparisons to Connery's portrayal in the role. Hiring an ever-increasing pool of screenwriters, and getting a variety of directors to film various sequences, based on their availability, an 'ultimate' James Bond satire began production.

Some of the ideas were quite creative; to bring in past 'Bond' co-star Ursula Andress in a key role; to hire legendary actors who would have been 'believable' in a 'serious' Bond film (Orson Welles perfectly cast as 'Le Chiffre', John Huston as 'M', William Holden as the American intelligence boss); to cast Ian Fleming's own first choice for Bond, David Niven, 57, as the 'original', now retired Sir James Bond; and to include two of the most brilliant comic actors around, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen, as variations of 007.

So what went wrong? What DIDN'T?

Peter Sellers, trying to move beyond comedy, believed he was hired to actually play 007 'straight', and caused considerable delays when he realized he wasn't going to be allowed to; Woody Allen, despite giving the funniest performance in the film, was refused the right to rewrite the script (which was being filmed in scattered pieces, all over the world), and publicly blasted the film as the worst of his career; there was no cohesiveness in any of the various plotlines, making the film editors' job a nightmare; even the music score, by Burt Bacharach, teetered between light-hearted bounce and silliness (with a theme song performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass) and more serious motifs (represented by the Oscar-winning song, "The Look of Love", which would become a hit for Dusty Springfield), uncertain which direction the film was going.

By the time the production 'wrapped', I think Feldman wished he'd paid Connery's salary!

Then, to top things off, the Bond craze peaked out, and audiences began to find other avenues of film entertainment. Even had CASINO ROYALE been a 'good' film (which it wasn't), it would have had difficulties making back it's huge production costs, as 'Bond Fever' subsided.

After being universally blasted by critics, CASINO ROYALE quickly faded from view...until a new generation anointed the film a 'camp' classic, so 'bad' that it was 'good'...



John's Toys

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