Hi there! On November 9th (which just happens to be my birthday, by the way), the latest James Bond film will opening here in the States. The early reviews of Skyfall have been nothing sort of amazing, with several critics declaring it to be the best Bond film ever. Well, time will tell. The fact of the matter is that many of those same critics said the exact same thing about Quantum of Solace before it was actually released.
That said, the James Bond franchise seems to be one of the few things that everyone on this planet has in common. It seems that everyone has seen (and loved) at least one Bond film. There’s a reason why Skyfall is going to be the number one film in the world despite having a totally generic title. For over 50 years, people have loved Bond.
Here at the Shattered Lens, we’re observing the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise by reviewing every single James Bond film that’s ever been made. In the days leading up to the American release of Skyfall, we’ll be taking a look at every single adventure that the cinematic James Bond has had. Everything from the good to the bad to the ugly.
Everyone knows that Sean Connery made his debut of James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No but what they may not know is that Sean Connery was not the first actor to play James Bond. James Bond made his first appearance 8 years earlier when an American television show called Climax! presented a 48-minute adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale.
In this version of Climax!, James Bond was known as Jimmy Bond and he was about as American as you can get. (Felix Leiter, meanwhile, was now English and named Clarence Leiter). Jimmy Bond was played by Barry Nelson, an actor who is probably best known for playing the blandly friendly hotel manager in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Casino Royale’s villain, Le Chiffre, was played by none other than Peter Lorre.
This version of Casino Royale was initially meant to serve as a pilot for a weekly television series but, perhaps fortunately, the Climax version of Casino Royale didn’t get much attention when it was originally aired. According to Sinclair McKay’s authoritative Bond book, The Man With The Golden Touch, this version of Casino Royale was forgotten about until a copy of it was discovered in the 1980s. By that time, of course, everyone knew that James Bond was English and that Felix Leiter was American.
Thanks to YouTube, I’ve seen the Climax! Casino Royale and it’s a curiosity. If Dr. No hadn’t launched the James Bond film franchise, there would be little reason to watch this version of Casino Royale. It moves a bit slowly, is way too stagey, and it reveals that, contrary to what we’ve all heard, live television was not always the greatest thing on the planet. Not surprisingly, this adaptation contains none of the brutality or the moral ambiguity that makes Fleming’s novel such a fun read. American television audiences would not see Jimmy Bond strapped naked to a chair and an American television show would never end with the hero saying, “The bitch is dead.” The best you can say about this version of Casino Royale is that Peter Lorre makes for a good villain (in fact, of the three versions of Casino Royale, the television version is the only one to feature an effective Le Chiffre) and Barry Nelson would have made a good Felix Leiter.
That said, I still find the television version of Casino Royale to be fascinating from a historical point of view. This is the type of show that you watch for curiosity value. This is the type of show that you watch so that you can think about how different things could have been.
So, presented for your viewing pleasure, here’s the original version of Casino Royale:
Coming tomorrow: The James Bond film franchise gets off to its proper start with … Dr. No!