Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Climax!: Casino Royale [1954]

The Bond movies didn't begin until 1962's Dr. No, but way back in 1954, James Bond first got put in front of the lights and shown on a screen: in this case, millions of small, grainy, black-and-white screens, as an episode of the Climax! television series.

Let's find out how this oddity fares within the confines of You Only Blog Twice's patented* Double-0 rating system .

*not actually patented

(1)  Bond ... James Bond

Barry Nelson played Bond in this televised film, and it's hard to separate his performance from the massive changes wrought to the character.  Bond in this version of Casino Royale is an American, one working for the CIA (or, at least, some fictional equivalent known as Combined Intelligence).  He's referred to as "Card-Sense Jimmy Bond."  Jimmy Bond, fer the luvva x-mas!  None of this should be held against Nelson, nor should the limitations of the medium of live television, which were considerable.

No, instead, let's judge Nelson on some of the more traditional Bondian qualities.  So ... is he cool?  Well, sorta; not much, though.  Is he suave?  Not much; he rarely seems to be in control of a situation, and instead seems like he gets anywhere only because he is able to seize on random opportunities.  Nelson, instead, seems to be playing Bond's desperation while he is this knife's edge of trying to accomplish a difficult task.  As far as that goes, he's actually pretty good.

Nope, Nelson isn't bad in the role at all, but let's just be honest here: Jimmy Bond, agent for Combined Intelligence bears virtually no relation to James Bond, Her Majesty's Secret Servant.  Points awarded:  003/007


Main Villain:  The villain is LeChiffre, played by Peter Lorre in what cannot possibly have been something he considered a highlight of his career.  Frankly, Lorre is quite bad; he's sleepwalking through his part, and obviously has no interest in what he's doing.  And yet ... the coldness, the European-ness, the calculating ruthlessness, these are all qualities which will pop up again and again in the Bond films.  Sure, it's mostly from Fleming and not from Lorre, but it's still intriguing to consider that while CBS deemed it necessary to alter the main character from a Brit to a Yank, they essentially left the villain alone.  Points awarded:  003 for the character, minus one for Lorre's poor performance, so 002/007. 

Henchmen:  There are a few, but they make little impression, really, except for the guy who holds the gun to Bond's back.  We'll roll with 002/007 points awarded here, too.

Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.): 002/007.

(3)  The Bond Girls

There's only one: Linda Christian, playing Valerie Mathis, who is a combination of Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis from the novel.  Mathis here is a weak character at best; Christian's acting is competent, but nothing more.  There is nothing offensively stupid here, which is why points awarded are 002/007 and not lower.

(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:  There is very little action to speak of, although I will admit that if they had somehow managed to sneak in a car chase, it would have been quite an achievement for live television in the '50s.

So instead, let's rejigger this category a bit, and in the place of action scenes and stuntwork, judge the movie on its sense of tension.  On this score, it's not too shabby: some tension is generated in the scene involving the henchman holding Bond hostage at the table, and there is also some tension as the hunt for the check winds down.

Points awarded: 003/007.  Nothing special, but serviceable.

Editing:  As with the action, it's almost unfair to judge this telefilm against something like, say On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  But let's stop for a second.  One of the primary aims of the editing process is to help make the story-telling flow smoothly, and the editing -- such as it is -- here does a fairly competent job at that.  It's not flashy, but I'd say there's more good about it than there is band, so, points awarded: 004/007.

Costumes:  Simple, but elegant; Bond and Le Chiffre look like well-to-do men, and Mathis looks suitably stylish.  Points awarded:  004/007.


Locations:  This was a live in-studio production, so, like, there ARE no locations.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  003.67/007

(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:  Bond doesn't have many here, really.  The only major character (apart from Bond, Le Chiffre, and Mathis) is Clarence Leiter, played by Michael Pate.  And he's fairly good; Leiter gets to help out with a lot of the exposition, and Pate does so credibly.  Points awarded: 004/007.


Direction:  Whew ... hard to judge here.  The director credited is William H. Brown, Jr., and he appears (thanks IMDb!) to have only directed five hours of television, and nothing else.  I suppose that means that Hollywood must not have thought mucgh of his talents behind the camera.  He does nothing of any real note on "Casino Royale," but at the same time, he doesn't appear to have mucked it up too badly.  Points awarded:  003/007.

Cinematography:  It's hard to say how good the cinematography was, because the print I've seen appears to be a kineoscope, and one of no great quality.  However, I do remember a scene in which there is clearly supposed to be a light on Barry Nelson, and the operator is several seconds late in swinging it round.  So, on the basis of that one gaffe, points awarded: 003/007.

Art Direction:  For the miniscule budget Climax! undoubtedly received, the sets here aren't too terrible.  Points awarded:  004/007.

Special EffectsWas there a special effect?  Sure: the elevators, which obviously went nowhere.  And yet, the illusion is moderately convincing.  Points awarded:  002/007.

Gadgets:  None, unless you want to count Bond's ruse of hiding the cheque in the room-number plate.  No score assessed for this subcategory; wouldn't be at all fair.

Opening-title sequence:  William Lundigan, who hosted Climax!, introduces the story.  There is no opening-title sequence as such, and so this sub-category will not be taken into consideration.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  003.2/007

(6)  Mission Briefing

If you can say nothing else positive about the teleplay by Charles Bennett and Antony Ellis, I think you can at least say that it is efficient.  The dialogue is mostly uninspired (Le Chiffre's dialogue is occasionally quite bad, and Lorre's performance does it no favors), but all in all, the writers did an admirable job of condensing and adapting Fleing's novel into a visual and dramatic format.  I rather like the scene between Bond and Leiter in which Bond explains how baccarat works, all the while getting the mission info he needs as well.  Points awarded:  004/007


(07)  The Music

What music?  Points awarded: 000/007.  Not fair, but them's the breaks, kid.

Double-0 Rating for "Climax!: Casino Royale":  002.55

Pretty weak!  We have an early contender for bottom-of-the-barrel status, although I suspect there might be one or two that end up lower before all is said and done...

Honestly, does this version of Casino Royale hold much appeal to anyone other than hardcore fans of Ian Fleming, or of the movies themselves?  To hardcore fans of '50s television, I suppose it might be notable in some way.  I will, however, admit that a small amount of cool is present in the sense that this film represents what could have been for the character of James Bond.  I don't mean in terms of being recast as an American agent, or even as a largely sexless and uninteresting television character, although I guess I kinda do mean that.  One thing is for sure: watching this --which I admittedly do enjoy, despite the low low low rating -- shortly before watching Dr. No is a helpful aid to understanding just how great a shot of adrenaline that movie must have been in 1962.  As such, I think it's got its place of interest.

For those of you who are interested, the Climax! version of Casino Royale is a bonus feature on the DVD for the wretched 1967 version of Casino Royale.

You Only Blog Twice will return in ... Dr. No.


  1. This is absolutely a case of the total worth of project being better than the sum of its parts. I can't say that you graded any particular part of this too harshly, but at the same time, if graded solely as whole, it would have to be much higher - at least in the 002s.

    I also liked this a good bit when I watched it. Despite all of the changes to the character, there is something about it that allows it to serve as a real beginning to the transition from page to screen.

    In reality it probably isn't much better than the score you gave it, but I would rather watch it than a handful of the later films. The short running time certainly helps, but it's just more enjoyable than "The Spy Who Loved Me" or "Moonraker".

  2. I think I'd rather watch it than some of the movies, too -- "Diamonds Are Forever" and "Moonraker" come to mind immediately, not to mention the 1967 "Casino Royale" and "Never Say Never Again"!

    But there are things I like about those movies, too, and even things I love about some of them; I'll be curious to see how I rank them using my doofy system. For example, will John Barry's great score to "Moonraker" make up for its many deficiencies at all?

    I would feel pretty shaky about the Double-0 system (I feel super-duper lame every time I tyype that, by the way) if I were trying to employ it as a judge of overall quality. However, as a means of determining my own personal feelings about the Bond movies AS Bond movies, I think it'll work pretty well.

    One thing I can say for sure: I'm still very glad to be able to watch the 1954 "Casino Royale." I can remember hearing about it for the first time, and then it was years and years and years before I got to actually see it.

  3. I'm impressed to see this not only included but given the treatment of your patented 007-rating-system.

    I've never seen it but have always been curious.

    1. It's definitely worth seeing, especially as a historical curiosity, but also as an adaptation of the novel. Just don't expect anything of terribly high quality, and you'll probably enjoy it.

  4. I found this on dvd at these sites if anyone is interested. Thanks

  5. anybody still looking for this dvd they have it here good luck and thanks

  6. I revised this post tonight to add in a slew of screencaps. They didn't turn out especially well -- the source material I was using (a low-quality YouTube version, as my DVD refuses to be ripped) was pretty shabby. But hey, better than nothing!