I thought I knew James Bond flicks pretty well. The very first on screen portrayal of Bond was done by the amazing Sean Connery in 1962, right? Nope. The very first time someone played James Bond it was actually in 1954 on an American television program called Climax! that took popular books of the day and turned them into hour long teleplays. An early episode of the first season included their version of Casino Royale which played with many of the novel’s details, but tried to keep the same spirit, though a less intense one than the book for sure.
In this version James Bond is an American secret agent played by Barry Nelson (and going by “Jimmy” a few times). He’s still trying to take La Chiffre–played excellently by Peter Lorre–out via a game of baccarat–which isn’t nearly as well explained in this version than the book–with the help of a few familiar names with different faces/characterizations. In this version, Vesper is actually called Valerie Mathis and the characters of Mathis and Leiter are combined into the very British secret agent Clarence Leiter.
Nationalities aside, the differences are really the only reason to watch this version of the story because it’s not all that interesting or dramatic on it’s own, not nearly capturing the tension and drama of the book. Some of those differences include Bond being shot at in the opening scene instead of the attempted bombing I didn’t mention in my review of the book, Leiter giving Bond his mission, Bond winning the baccarat game and THEN getting threatened by the man with the cane gun (another thing I didn’t mention in my review) and the bad guys spying on Bond from the upstairs room instead of a different group of bad guys. As you might expect the end isn’t nearly as much of a–sorry I just can’t resist–ballbuster as the novel, nor is Bond nearly as fooled by Vesper, realizing she’s a double agent of some kind very early on in the show.
I can appreciate the economy of story the TV writers were going for when it came to adapting a sometimes racey and expensive story into a TV series (the end of the book involves lots of nakedness and swimming in France, not a cheap set up for any production, let alone a TV series in the medium’s infancy), but it’s really just an interesting oddity that can be skipped over if you don’t feel like spending 5o minutes watching grainy black and white on Netflix Instant (I guess there’s a DVD available as well as the image above and the YouTube clip indicate). Interestingly enough, the popularity of this episode lead to a deal between CBS and Fleming in which he would write a James Bond television series, but it wasn’t meant to be. Oh what could have been! Tomorrow we get into the legit flicks!