You may have seen all the Bond movies, but have you really seen ALL the Bond movies?

Barry Nelson (far left) as James Bond and Peter Lorre (far right) as Le Chiffre
Barry Nelson (seated at left) as James Bond and Peter Lorre (seated at right) as Le Chiffre in 1954’s CASINO ROYALE

Casino Royale (1954)
★★☆☆

I’m a longtime Bond fan. Of course I’d seen all the official films, plus Never Say Never Again and 1967’s psychedelic Casino Royale spoof (the latter is one of my favorite movies bar none). There are some weird foreign knock-offs out there that use the James Bond name, like a circa 1965 Bollywood effort, but to my knowledge the only somewhat-official Bond production I had not seen was a 1954 made-for-TV broadcast of Casino Royale. I knew of its existence, that it had been the first on-screen portrayal of the character, and that it had presented “Jimmy” Bond as an American, but I hadn’t sought it out.

I accidentally came into possession of it when I picked up a DVD of the 1967 Casino Royale, which includes the decidedly un-psychedelic TV broadcast as a special feature. So I decided to finish off the franchise.

I think the biggest problem with Casino Royale ’54 is that Bond (Barry Nelson) isn’t a great-looking guy. He looks like a slightly older version of a low-budget beach-party movie teen, and he’s working on growing out an uneven buzz cut. He should, of course, have been British, and as an easy fix he should have been played by the guy who played “Clarence Leiter” (Michael Pate), a British secret service agent. (Clarence instead of Felix! I couldn’t get over it.) Another strike against it is that Vesper Lynd is renamed Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian) — all I can figure is that the producers thought audiences would prefer a more conventional name.

Apart from completing the Bond filmography, there are two fairly good reasons to watch this 50-minute film. One is that it’s the only Bond movie that actually explains how to play Baccarat, a card game the spy is often seen at. The other and more important reason is Peter Lorre, who plays the French communist Le Chiffre. Lorre doesn’t have to do much to out-act Nelson and Christian.

There is a clever conceit in the script in which Valerie keeps asking Jimmy (I can’t get over that, either; at least it’s not “Jim”) if he loves her, and he keeps ducking the question. Even at the end he refuses to say it, and that does lend the movie just a hint of the hard-edged Bond from the novels and Eon Productions movies.

Incidentally, I don’t know if this was the norm for Climax!, the CBS TV series that aired this, but the movie opens with a sort of gun barrel logo, seen below.

gun barrel

Now that I’ve completed the Bond franchise, really completed it, I think I’ll turn my attentions to the Fleming novels. I’ve read three of them or so, and I’m enough of a fan that I think I can plow through the rest. First, though, I’m reading some slightly more sophisticated spy fare: John le Carré’s Karla trilogy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *