★★: TV adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, which aired at 8:30 pm EST on Thursday, October 21, 1954, as the third live one-hour episode of CBS’s Climax Mystery Theater anthology series.
Technically the first Bond movie, Casino Royale is a small-scale, studio-bound thriller that introduces James Bond (Barry Nelson) as an American agent up against a Russian master spy named Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre). The battlefield: a Monte Carlo baccarat table.
Behind the Scenes
CBS purchased the television rights to Fleming’s novel for $1,000, and the result was this terribly dated and low-key effort, directed by William H. Brown from a script by Antony Ellis and Charles Bennett. The story nonetheless conveys a sense of Fleming’s style and that of the Bond films to come: the high-stakes gambling, the larger-than-life villain, the beautiful woman (Linda Christian as beautiful double agent Valerie Mathis, the film’s take on the novel’s Deuxième Bureau agent Rene Mathis), and the loyal friend—in this case, Michael Pate as British agent Clarence Leiter, the movie’s version of CIA agent Felix Leiter. It’s not clear whether it was the decision of screenwriters Ellis and Bennett or that of producer Bretaigne Windust to change the names and backgrounds of the characters for American television, or to give the main character the ridiculous nickname “Card Sense Jimmy Bond.” When Casino Royale was broadcast live in 1954, the adventures of James Bond were still largely unknown in the United States, so no one paid much attention to the changes in the story. The film is also introduced in an unusual fashion by series host William Lundigan, who brings out a baccarat “shoe” at the beginning of the show and explains its significance to the story.
Lost for nearly thirty years, the TV Casino Royale surfaced in 1981 when Jim Shoenberger, a Chicago airline executive and film collector, was rummaging through some old film cannisters that were marked Casino Royale. Thinking that the 16mm print was a battered copy of the 1967 Casino Royale spoof, he was about to cut up the film for leader when he noticed that it was in black and white. Remembering that the David Niven / Woody Allen spoof was in color, he was curious enough to run the film, and discovered that it was a perfectly preserved kinescope copy of the 1954 Climax Mystery Theater broadcast. The rediscovered film was first shown publicly in July 1981 at the James Bond Weekend in Los Angeles—a 007 luncheon and trivia marathon. Barry Nelson was a featured guest.
|James Bond||Barry Nelson||Le Chiffre||Peter Lorre||Valerie Mathis||Linda Christian||Clarence Leiter||Michael Pate||Chef de Parte||Eugene Borden||Croupier||Jean Del Val||Le Chiffre’s Henchmen||Gene Roth||Kurt Katch||Himself–Host||William Lundigan|
|Director||William H. Brown||Written for television by||Antony Ellis||Charles Bennett||Based on the novel by||Ian Fleming||Producer||Bretaigne Windust||Associate Producer||Elliott Lewis||Art Directors||Robert Tyler Lee||James Dowell Vance||Camera Operator||Ben Wolf|