American Combined Intelligence Agency spy James Bond aka Jimmy Bond arrives at the Casino Royale in Monte Carlo, Monaco but is shot at whilst entering. He meets up with British Secret Service secret agent Clarence Leiter (this character was called Felix Leiter in the original Ian Fleming novel). He briefs Bond about his mission then Bond runs into old flame Valerie Mathis (she is an amalgam of the Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis characters from the novel). She introduces him to Le Chiffre who is the Chief Soviet Agent in the area and is nearly always accompanied by three henchman called Basil, Zoltan and Zuroff. Le Chiffre has been gambling with the Soviet funds of his employers and he's down several million francs. Bond's mission is to beat him at a high-stakes card game of Baccarat so Le Chiffre will be ruined. Written by
"You're a legend, Old Boy. 'Card Sense Jimmy Bond!'"
You don't review James Bond movies, you evaluate them, rate them according to how well they meet expectations. There are certain things one has come to expect, even demand of a Bond film and each individual effort either delivers or it doesn't. Okay, okay, this is not really a James Bond movie, but it is part of the Bond legend, so what the heck: Here are ten elements that make a Bond film a Bond film and how "Climax!": CASINO ROYALE rates on a scale of 1 to 10:
Title: CASINO ROYALE: It must be a good title; they've used it three times. 7 points.
Pre-credits teaser: In the thrilling, nail-biting intro, "Climax!" host William Lundigan explains a little bit about the card game baccarat -- and not too clearly either. So, no one jumps out of a plane or skydives off a cliff or even gets killed -- but, at least, Lundigan is, well, a nice looking man. But he's not much of a card player, as he deals the cards by tossing them on the floor. I don't think that is according to Hoyle. 2 points.
Opening credits: We don't get the legendary "gun barrel" opening that would become a Bond trademark, but ironically the opening credits are shown over a zoom into a similarly round camera lens. And after being informed that Act I is about to begin, an unseen -- and obviously inept -- gunman either tries to shoot Bond or is just trying to assassinate a stone column in front of the Casino Royale. Either way, he misses Bond by a mile. This is the only thing in the entire film that comes close to an action-packed, special effects sequence. 2 points.
Theme song: No real music, just some vamping with a canned intro tune and a tad of Chopin later in the background. There really isn't much music at all in the film, giving the show that hollow, empty sound that is typical of live TV drama. Apparently this casino can't even afford Muzak. 0 points.
"Bond, James Bond": Barry Nelson is a nice, likable actor and as the first James Bond -- that is, "Card Sense Jimmy Bond" -- he brings to the role the grim intensity of a CPA worrying about changes in the tax code. He dominates the baccarat table of Casino Royale with all the self-assurance of a man who is afraid his wife will find out that he is risking the rent money at "Casino Night" at the local Presbyterian Church fundraiser. Nelson isn't very suave and quite frankly could have introduced himself as "Bland, James Bland." Yes, he is even worse than Timothy Dalton. 3 points.
Bond Babes: Dressed to the nines, like June Cleaver all gussied up for the Country Club dance, Linda Christian is quite the epitome of 1950's fashion -- furs and pearls and everything. She doesn't show much skin, just that little hint of cleavage, but as the world's first Bond Girl she is certainly ritzy eye candy. As an actress, she is far less interesting. 6 points.
Bond Villain: Peter Lorre made a career of being creepy and even in his later years his infrequent bit roles in minor horror movies had a comically bittersweet quality. Here however, despite playing LeChiffre, allegedly one of the most dangerous men that the Soviets have, he just makes you a little bit sad. Looking tired and indifferent, you get the feeling that what he wants most is to sit down and catch his breath. 7 points, but only because I really like Peter Lorre.
Bond Baddies: His trio of "bodyguards" look like refugees from a morticians convention. They don't look so much deadly, as just dead-like. One of them does have a cane that is really a gun, which is the nearest thing the show has to a neat gadget. 4 points.
Sinister Plot: The plot is not all that different from the other versions: Bond must bankrupt the Soviet's treasury by beating LeChiffre in a high-stakes game of baccarat. The big twist is that Jimmy-boy now is American and works for the CIA, the Combined Intelligence Agency, and is helped out by British agent Clarence Leiter (no, not Felix), who, as played by Michael Pate, is far more Bond-like than Nelson. The card match itself is high stakes gambling, but penny-ante drama. 5 points.
Production values: Actually, this might pass for a big-budget production by live-TV standards of the 1950's, but like the quality of the grainy, black-and-white kinescope it was preserved on, it hasn't aged well. The sets are cheaply decorated to look faux classy, but all the rooms seem to be remarkably tiny, allowing for little imagination as far as the camera work. To say it looks primitive is to be overtly kind. 4 points.
Bonus Points: Let's toss in 5 extra points just for reminding us that the so-called "Golden Age of Television" wasn't always that golden. For every "Requiem for a Heavyweight" by Rod Serling or a "Marty" by Paddy Chayefsky, there were plenty of clunky time-fillers like this. And though screenwriters Charles Bennett and Anthony Ellis do try to capture the wit and charm of Bond, they also give us lines like this: "Aren't you the fellow who was shot?" "No I was the fellow who was missed!" Groan. Even Austin Powers would avoid dialogue like that.
Summary: Watching this humble production, it is unlikely anyone could have foretold the way the Bond legacy would have prospered into a multi-billion dollar entity. It is a must-see for Bond fanatics and pop culture historians, but only a odd curiosity piece for all others.
Bond-o-meter Rating: 45 points out of 100.
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