When James Bond was American. When the most outlandish gadget was a walking-cane with a gun in it. But when the villains still talked instead of shooting.
It’s the first ever James Bond adapted to film from Ian Fleming’s 1953 book, Casino Royale; a black and white TV presentation from CBS, under a series called CLIMAX! Aired in October 1954, CASINO ROYALE is a stodgy one-hour play in three acts, finding “card sense Jimmy Bond” up against a Soviet spy called Le Chiffre, aiming to bankrupt him at the casino tables so that the Soviets will disown him.
Barry Nelson is James Bond, an arrogant American with none of the suave or heroism of the Bonds who would come after him and make the role desirous. Peter Lorre is Le Chiffre, who is inordinately bullied for his ogre looks by the heroes. Michael Pate is British intelligence Clarence (not Felix) Leiter, who uses a tub of Brylcreem daily on his hair. (So the roles are basically reversed – in official Bond canon, Bond is British and Leiter is American.)
Linda Christian is an ex-lover of Bond, who is now Le Chiffre’s woman, and undercover French Intelligence. And there’s Gene Roth, the old sheriff from EARTH VS THE SPIDER, before he put on the weight and the old sheriff demeanor – here, as Le Chiffre’s bodyguard. And the music is by Jerry Goldsmith (PLANET OF THE APES, PAPILLON, CHINATOWN, LOGAN’S RUN, THE OMEN…)!
The dramatic elements are not bad, and the acting is reasonable; the film falls down in its action scenes, which are directed and blocked like schoolboy choreography. But hey, the fight scenes didn’t get much better with Sean Connery – have you seen the final fight scene in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE with Rosa Klebb?
And if we thought the convention of the villain holding the hero at gunpoint and then talking his ass off started with DR NO, well, no. Here, Le Chiffre holds Bond and the woman at gunpoint, mansplaining his reasons on why he didn’t kill her earlier. They’re stupid, made up reasons of course – as the Screen Rant guy tells us – “so that the movie can happen.” Le Chiffre gets SO complacent that he actually sits down and lowers the gun while he keeps talking for zero reason! Then after threatening to shoot Bond for the 47th time, he KNOCKS BOND OUT. Then he wakes Bond so that he can threaten to shoot him again while talking instead. When he tells his men that Bond is “ready for the bathtub” I thought they were going to waterboard him or torture him with dunking – next scene: Bond is sitting comfortably in the tub and Le Chiffre is waving some pliers around. Eventually Le Chiffre gets around to doing something to Bond’s toes in the tub (they can’t show graphic violence due to the censors, and even Bond can’t react too outrageously, as that would be censored, so we have to be content with offscreen toe torture and Bond wailing like a pedicurist just tickled him too hard.
Watch for academic reasons only. With this Bond, nobody does it worser.