Book Review: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming


(SPOILERS)

Earlier this year, I decided to reread all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.  On this site, I’ve written many times about how much I love all of the James Bond films so I thought it would be interesting, especially since a few years have passed since I originally read them, to reread the original novels.

The first Bond novel was Casino Royale.  First published in 1953, Casino Royale introduced the world to not only MI6’s James Bond but also to the CIA’s Felix Leiter, the sinister assassins of SMERSH, and the tragic Vesper Lynd.

The story starts with a deceptively simple mission.  James Bond has been sent to the Casino Royale, with specific orders to play against and humiliate Le Chiffre, a union boss who works for the Russians.  Bond succeeds at his mission but quickly discovers that Le Chiffre is not the type to accept the loss of eighty million francs gracefully.  Bond ends up undergoing a truly horrific torture, one that is described in harrowing details by Fleming.  While it’s not a spoiler to reveal that Bond survives (after all, Casino Royale was followed by 11 novels and 2 short story collections), it comes at the cost of a terrible scar and a terrible tragedy.

In his first appearance, Bond already possesses several of the traits for which he’s best known.  He’s a meticulous eater, a frequent drinker, and a chain smoker.  He’s ruthless and is described as being cruelly handsome.  When Vesper Lynd first meets him, she exclaims that he looks like Hoagy Carmichael, the British musician who Fleming originally hoped would play Bond in the films.

At the same time, while rereading Casino Royale, I was surprised by how passive Bond was for the majority of the book.  Beyond the scene where he plays baccarat with Le Chiffre, Bond really doesn’t take a very active role in his first novel.  When he’s captured and tortured, he doesn’t escape through his wits.  In fact, he doesn’t escape at all.  He’s rescued by SMERSH, who have decided that they no longer need Le Chiffre to launder money for them.  After being rescued, he decides to retire from intelligence work and marry Vesper Lynd.  Vesper Lynd is a double agent but Bond never figures that out on his own.  He only discovers this fact from Vesper’s suicide note.

(Which, of course, leads to the novel famous and bitter final line: “The bitch is dead.”)

In fact, there are times when Bond almost seems to be … well, dorky.  Early on, we’re informed that he hopes to create and make a fortune off of a new drink.  (Minutes after meeting Vesper, he announces that he’s going to name the drink after her.)  When he’s in the hospital recovering from being beaten, he’s hardly the Bond we all know and love.  Instead, he’s rather petulant.  When he explains that he’s quitting the service, he comes across like an angry teenager announcing that he’s not going to go to school anymore.

As for the novel itself, it’s a quick read and, even after all these years, I can see why it caused a stir when it was originally released.  It’s not just that Fleming was telling a spy story that was full of intrigue and deceit.  It’s also the Fleming was giving readers a glimpse into a glamorous world that they probably would never have a chance to experience for themselves.  Fleming describes the casino with such care and attention to detail that you literally feel like you’re there, watching Bond gamble.

For the record, here’s my favorite line from the book.  It occurs shortly after Bond first meets Felix Leiter and discovers that Felix is from my homestate:

“Bond reflected that good Americans were fine people and that most of them seemed to come from Texas.”

And finally, here’s the ingredient for Bond’s drink, the Vesper:

“Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”

(Apparently, some of these ingredients are out-of-date.  I rarely drink so I have no idea.)

Casino Royale was followed by Live and Let Die, which I’ll review tomorrow.

Hottie of the Day: Eva Green


EVA GREEN

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This week saw the announcement from The Weinstein Company and Robert Rodriguez’s studio that the most important role in the upcoming sequel to 2005’s Sin City has been cast. The actress cast for the role of Ava Lord, the sequel’s “A Dame to Kill For”, wasn’t the expected Angelina Jolie who had been 0ft-rumored to be Rodriguez’s first choice as the femme fatale for the sequel. When Angelina Jolie’s name wasn’t announced and another was instead the reaction from fans of the original comic book source wasn’t one of disappointment. The reaction from fans at this certain performer’s name being called instead was one of near-universal approval.

Eva Green, she of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, Campbell’s Casino Royale and Starz’s own Morgan Le Fay, was going to play Ava Lord and Sin City fandom mightily approved.

Her smoldering eyes and classic femme fatale looks makes her an almost perfect fit for the role of Ava Lord. Ms. Green is not new to the role of dangerous and darkly, beautiful women who uses their sexuality as weapon to attack and defend what they want and have. She easily encapsulates the notion the idea of why the femme fatale continues to be such a tempting role for actresses. It’s a role that demands from it’s performer that they be able to pull off being someone’s dream but also their nightmare in equal amounts. I think I’ve heard someone else very close by being called that.

This is why Eva Green is the latest Hottie of the Day. Like one a certain someone with mismatched eyes and hair to match her personality, Eva Green is easily a man’s dream…but also can be his nightmare.

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PAST HOTTIES

James Bond Review: Casino Royale


Welcome, one and all! Leading up to the North American release of the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, The Shattered Lens has taken on the task of reviewing each and every one of the twenty two James Bond films that precede it. Today’s is the penultimate review, Casino Royale, the first film of the series to star current-iteration Bond Daniel Craig. It serves as a reboot of the James Bond character, looking back to the beginning of his career, and entirely unconnected from all of the previous films in the series. The only returning actor is Dame Judi Dench, who reprises her role as M, in a more maternal overseer role looking out for a young Bond, despite his rash actions potentially causing trouble for MI6.

Our cold open this time has a black and white Bond confronting a crooked MI6 section chief – one who has been selling secrets to make money on the side. Bond kills both the section chief and his contact, which is enough to earn him his 00-status. The freshly minted 007 heads to Madagascar in pursuit of an international bomb maker. He attempts to find a way to apprehend the bomb maker alive, but is made, and is forced to pursue this man across the city. Bond eventually corners the bomb maker in an embassy building and kills him, blowing up part of the wall, and effecting his escape.

Back in England, M chides Bond for his itchy trigger finger, pointing out that while the world has one less small-time terrorist, they had hoped to get information which would let them fight international terrorism on the organisational level. Bond seems suitably chastened, but M goes further, asserting that she promoted Bond too early, that he is reckless, and a danger. Bond coldly replies that, since the 00-agent’s life is not typically a long one, she will not have to live with her mistake for long.

That’s the sort of Bond that we’re dealing with under the handling of Daniel Craig. While the character is still capable of being charming, he’s a very far cry from Sean Connery’s easy smile and one liners, or Pierce Brosnan’s especially terrible puns. This is sort of the crux of the movie; what controversy exists surrounding its qualities is heavily tied into how you respond to this new take on James Bond. Like all things 2000s, our hero is much grittier than before. Absent is all of Q’s high tech wizardry, and as I stated before, we are not even dealing with a seasoned killer in James Bond, but rather a freshly minted 00 agent. As a result of all these factors, this film has a distinctly different feel from every Bond produced before it. If you like the changes, everything is cool. If you don’t, you may still find yourself appreciating Casino Royale, which has a relatively simple plot, but spends quite a bit of effort on setting up and establishing its characters, including this new James Bond, for the audience.

The main plot of Casino Royale revolves around a high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em tournament held at the titular casino, located in Montenegro. James Bond is assigned to win the tournament which is being staged by terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) to recoup the terrible losses he suffered when he used the money of his clients to short sell stock, predicting that a terrorist strike which he himself had planned would send prices into free fall. M hopes that by pushing Le Chiffre to the point of desperation, they can force him to cut a deal with MI6 – sanctuary in exchange for everything he knows about terrorists around the world. Bond is assisted in his goal by fellow MI6 agent Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), this iteration’s Bond girl, an agent from HM Treasury, who is assigned to manage Bond’s $10M buy-in, and to provide him with a $5M re-buy if she believes it would be a good investment. However, since a failure on Bond’s part would mean that Her Majesty’s Treasury was directly funding international terrorism, there is incentive to be cautious.

It takes us nearly an hour to begin to engage in the meat of the film, at the titular Casino Royale. Or, at least, this should be the meat of the film. However, the structure of Casino Royale is a little bit off. It feels like it has enough action, but it doesn’t feel properly paced, with the front half of the film (really just a series of subplots to get us to Montenegro) feels like classic “action Bond”. The scenes in the Casino could have been pulled (well, if Daniel Craig could smile, at any rate) from any other Bond film, as his history is littered with a rich litany of casino sequences. Before and after the casino sequences, however, are framing bits that involve idyllic locations, and if I may be so bold, it doesn’t exactly zoom along. The spacing between the casino sequences and the finale, in particular, made the final act feel very tacked on and a little out of place, even as deliberately intended setup for Quantum of Solace. This can also be off-putting, as it feels like there are two different movies going on here.

For the most part though, I think Casino Royale works. If you can live with a grimmer, grittier, low-talking James Bond, you may really appreciate this low-tech return to basics for our favourite 00-agent.

Tomorrow you’ll get a healthy dose of Quantum of Solace, but before I sign off, let me leave you with the theme from Casino Royale, one of the cooler James Bond themes in the franchise, performed by Chris Cornell.

James Bond Film Review: Casino Royale (dir by Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, and Richard Talmadge)


As you probably already know, we here at the Shattered Lens have been counting down the days until the American release of Skyfall by reviewing every single film in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the first non-EON Bond film, the epic, psychedelic 1967 spoof Casino Royale.

Where to begin?

When Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, veteran Hollywood producer Charles K. Feldman bought the film rights.  However, Feldman didn’t buy the rights to Fleming’s subsequent novels and was forced to sit by and watch as Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had unexpected success with Dr. No and the subsequent EON-produced Bond films.  Much as Kevin McClory did with Thunderball, Feldman first attempted to co-produce a serious adaptation of Casino Royale with Broccoli and Saltzman.  However, when Feldman, Broccoli, and Saltzman couldn’t come to an agreement on how each side would be compensated in the proposed production deal, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale on his own.  He also decided that, instead of trying to compete with EON by making a “straight” James Bond film, his version of Casino Royale would be a satirical extravaganza.

Feldman’s vision of James Bond is apparent from Casino Royale’s opening credits.  While the credits are definitely based on the iconic openings of the EON Bond films, they’re also designed to play up the fact that Casino Royale — in the grand tradition of the Hollywood studios at their most excessive — is meant to be a big budget, all-star extravaganza.

Casino Royale actually starts out with a pretty clever premise.  It seems that the name “James Bond,” is simply a code name that has been assigned to several British spies over the years.  As M (played by John Huston, who also directed the first third of the film), explains it, the name “James Bond” strikes such fear in the hearts of Britain’s enemies that the name must be kept alive.

(Speaking for myself, this is an idea that I kinda wish that the official James Bond series would adopt.  If nothing else, it would certainly explain how Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig could possibly be the same person.)

The original James Bond (played by David Niven) has long since retired to his stately country estate, where he spends his time playing the piano and complaining about how the agents who have inherited his name are sullying his reputation with excessive womanizing and violence.  It turns out the Sir James Bond is a man renowned for his “celibate image.”  At the start of the film, Bond is asked to come out of retirement by not only M but the heads of the CIA, KGB, and French secret service as well.  SMERSH, an organization of female assassins that’s led by the mysterious Dr. Noah, has been eliminating agents worldwide and only the original (and very chaste) Bond can defeat them.  Bond, however, refuses and M responds by ordering a mortar attack on Bond’s estate.  The estate is blown up but so is M and Bond soon finds himself returning to London as the new head of MI6.

Interestingly enough, David Niven was one of the actors who was considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No.  Reportedly, Ian Fleming was quite enthusiastic for Niven to take the role but, by the time that Dr. No went into production, Niven was considered to be too old.  There’s a nice bit of irony here in seeing David Niven playing a retired James Bond who spends a good deal of the film complaining about the men who have subsequently assumed his name.

Once Niven takes over MI6, he orders that, in order to confuse SMERSH, all British agents (including female agents) will be known as James Bond.  The rest of the film is divided into episodes that feature these new James Bonds battling SMERSH and the mysterious Dr. Noah.

Among these agents, there’s the handsome Coop (played by Terrence Cooper) who has been trained to resist all sexual temptations.

There’s Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), the daughter of Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

There’s Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) who is sent to seduce and recruit the expert gambler Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) so that Tremble can beat SMERSH agent Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at the Casino Royale.

Best of all, there’s Sir James Bond’s nephew, Jimmy Bond.  Jimmy Bond is played by Woody Allen and … well, let’s just take a look at Jimmy’s first scene in the film:

Casino Royale had a notoriously troubled production history and most of those troubles seemed to center on Peter Sellers.  While the film was designed to be a broad, slapstick comedy, Sellers reportedly insisted on trying to play his role straight and even rewrote his lines to make his scenes more dramatic.  Welles eventually grew so disgusted with Sellers that he refused to be in the same room with him.  This caused quite a bit of difficulty since Sellers was in almost every scene that featured Welles.  Eventually, Sellers walked off the film and the film had to be hastily (and awkwardly) rewritten to account for his sudden absence.

When one watches Casino Royale today, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sellers was essentially correct.  While most of Casino Royale often feels disjointed and incoherent, the scenes featuring Sellers, Andress, and Welles are some of the strongest in the film.  Sellers’ dramatic approach doesn’t negate the film’s comedy.  If anything, it makes the comedy even stronger because Sellers actually seems to be invested in the reality his character, regardless of how ludicrous a situation that character may find himself in.

When I watched Casino Royale, I was struck by the stark contrast between the parts of the film that worked and the parts that didn’t.  This is a movie that truly swings from one extreme to another.  Either the film’s satire is working  brilliantly (mostly in the scenes featuring Woody Allen and Peter Sellers) or it’s falling completely flat (like in an extended sequence that features Deborah Kerr as a SMERSH assassin).

I found myself laughing more at the little scenes than the big set pieces.  For instance, I loved it when David Niven embraces Miss Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet) just to be then told that she’s actually the daughter of the original Miss Moneypenny.  I don’t know much about the actor Terrence Cooper (though, according to Wikipedia, he was also a contender to take the role of James Bond in the official series) but I enjoyed the brief sequence where Moneypenny “tests” him to see if he can take on the Bond identity.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really have enough of these small, clever moments.

Ultimately, I found that Casino Royale works best when viewed as a time capsule.  Casino Royale was made at a time when the established major Hollywood studios (and veteran producers like Charles K. Feldman) were struggling to remain relevant.  Foreign films (including, it must be said, the James Bond films) were challenging the common assumptions of what could and what couldn’t be shown on-screen and the studio system reacted by trying to make films that would appeal to younger audiences while also reassuring older audiences that the movies hadn’t really changed that much.  The end result were films like Casino Royale that featured the occasional psychedelic sequence along with cameos from old (and safe) Hollywood stars like George Raft, William Holden, and Charles Boyer.  Casino Royale is the type of self-indulgent film that could only have been made in 1967 and, as such, it’s a valuable time capsule for all of us cinematic historians.

I also have to admit that, as excessive as Casino Royale may be, I happen to love excess.  Casino Royale might be overlong and occasionally incoherent but the costumes are simply to die for.  The film is a visual feast, if nothing else.

Casino Royale was released to scathing reviews and terrible box office but, in the years since, it has become something of a cult favorite.  Our own Trash Film Guru has identified Casino Royale as his favorite Bond film.  Myself, I found the film to be extremely flawed and yet oddly fascinating to watch.  Casino Royale is a total mess and that is both its greatest flaw and greatest strength.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the official James Bond series by taking a look at You Only Live Twice.  

The Name’s Bond, Jimmy Bond: Casino Royale (1954)


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 ShiningCasino 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!

Song of the Day: You Know My Name from Casino Royale (by Chris Cornell)


So, I’m at home flipping channels when I saw that Casino Royale was about to start on one channel I kept going back to. Inspiration hit like a JSOW from high above and I decided to pick this Bond reboot’s title theme as the latest “Song of the Day”.

“You Know My Name” is the latest song of the day and one played and sung by one of my favorite rock vocalists ever in Chris Cornell. Anyone who has even listened to 90’s hard rock and alternative rock has to know who Chris Cornell is. He’s the longtime frontman for the alternative rock band Suoundgarden and then later on for the supergroup Audioslave. With “You Know My Name” he has joined a very exclusive club of Bond film intro singers. Not to mention an even more rarefied group of male singers who have sung the intro songs to Bond films. I could only remember and name three who have and they were Tom Jones doing the one for Thunderball, Paul McCartney for Live And Let Die and the Euro band Duran Duran for A View To A Kill.

Cornell sings the hell out of this song and I like the fact that the song’s title doesn’t match the film’s. “You Know My Name” sounds better than “Casino Royale” and the lyrics, as written by Chris Cornell (w/ some minor help from film composer David Arnold), really matches the grittier and more aggressive personality of the film and it’s main character of James Bond. I will say that this song is definitely better than most of the Pierce Brosnan Bond film intro songs which ranged from the great one sung by Shirley Manson and her band Garbage for the forgetful The World Is Not Enough right up to the very awful one by Madonna for Die Another Day.

The official music video created for the song also does a great job of paralleling the job of James Bond as a spy and Cornell as a rock star as being similar in some ways. Just one listen to this song and it’ll be stuck in one’s head for the rest of the day.

You Know My Name

If you take a life do you know what you’ll give?
Odds are, you won’t like what it is
When the storm arrives, would you be seen with me?
By the merciless eyes of deceit?

I’ve seen angels fall from blinding heights
But you yourself are nothing so divine
Just next in line

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you
The odds will betray you
And I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you
Are you willing to die?

The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name

If you come inside things will not be the same
When you return to the night
And if you think you’ve won
You never saw me change
The game that we all been playing

I’ve seen diamonds cut through harder men
Than you yourself
But if you must pretend
You may meet your end

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you
The odds will betray you
And I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you
Are you willing to die?

The coldest blood runs through my veins

Try to hide your hand
Forget how to feel
Forget how to feel

Life is gone with just a spin of the wheel
Spin of the wheel

Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you
The odds will betray you
And I will replace you
You can’t deny the prize it may never fulfill you
It longs to kill you
Are you willing to die?

The coldest blood runs through my veins
You know my name
You know my name
You know my name
You know my name
You know my name
You know my name
You know my name