Casino Royale (1954), a reappraisal

Barry Nelson in 1954's Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

If there’s a red-headed stepchild in the world of James Bond, the 1954 CBS production of Casino Royale would be it.

The television Bond is mostly ignored. When it does come up in fan conversation, it’s the subject of derision.

An American as James Bond? Outrageous — although Eon Productions, which makes James Bond movies, seriously considered the notion twice, for Diamonds Are Forever (John Gavin was signed before Sean Connery was enticed back) and again for Octopussy (James Brolin was screen tested before Roger Moore was enticed back).

And he’s called Jimmy Bond! Outrageous — although Bond never calls himself Jimmy, other characters do. The only time he refers to his own name, he is making a telephone call and says, “This is James Bond.” Actor Barry Nelson also is clearly billed as playing James Bond in the end titles.

The television production, part of CBS’s Climax! anthology series and airing live on Oct. 21, 1954, is more like a televised play. While Ian Fleming’s first novel was short, it still covered too much ground to be covered in a 60-minute time slot. Excluding commercials and titles, only about 50 minutes was available to tell the story.

Antony Ellis and Charles Bennett, who adapted the novel for television, certainly took plenty of liberties with the source material.

Two Fleming characters, Vesper Lynd and French agent Rene Mathis, are merged into one character, Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian), a woman from Bond’s past who is working for French intelligence. Meanwhile, Bond is changed from being a British agent to an American one. Felix Leiter is changed to a British agent and his name is now Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate).

Presumably, the idea of an American Bond stemmed from how this was airing on U.S. television. At this point, Fleming and Bond weren’t huge names among the American public.

Anyway, to get things going, Act I opens with Bond being shot at outside a casino. It’s not terribly convincing, mostly because of the limited resources of the production, which was broadcast live. Bond ducks behind a column and the audience can see squibs going off to simulate gun fire.

Shortly thereafter, Bond makes contact with Leiter, who explains to Bond (and the audience) how the agent’s mission to bankrupt Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) in a high stakes game of baccarat. No M, no briefing from M.

At one point, Leiter says Bond’s nickname is “card sense Jimmy Bond,” while Valerie calls Bond “Jimmy.” However, she also calls him “James Bond” when introducing the agent to Le Chiffre ahead of the big baccarat game.

Peter Lorre is the first actor to play a Bond villain referring to the agent constantly as “Mr. Bond,” something that would be repeated throughout the Eon films.

There are some bits from Fleming’s novel, particularly during Bond’s card game with Le Chiffre. Even here, Ellis and Bennett do some tinkering. After Bond is cleaned out, he gets additional funds not from Leiter, as in the novel, but from Valerie. What’s more, Bond’s torture is considerable milder than the novel or 2006 feature film. The ending from Fleming’s novel isn’t used and things end happily.

This version of Casino Royale’s main value is that of a time capsule, a reminder of when television was mostly done live. Lorre is suitably villainous. If you find him fun to watch on movies and other television shows, nothing here will change your mind.

Barry Nelson’s Bond won’t make anyone forget the screen 007s. Still, Nelson was a pro who had a long career. He does the best he can with the material and production limitations. He even gets to deliver the occasional witticism. (“Are you the fellow who was shot?” Leiter asks. Bond replies, “No I was the fellow who was missed.”)

UPDATE: Casino Royale was the third broadcast of the Climax! series. The first was an adaptation of The Long Goodbye, with Dick Powell reprising the role of Philip Marlowe. So in two of the first three broadcasts, Climax! tackled novels by Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming.

IFP announces new licensing deal for 007 comics

Cover for Marvel's 1981 comic adaptation of For Your Eyes Only

Cover for Marvel’s 1981 comic adaptation of For Your Eyes Only

Ian Fleming Publications said Oct. 7 it reached a licensing deal with Dynamite Entertainment for a new series of James Bond comics.

Here’s an excerpt from the IFP statement:

We are very proud to announce our new partnership with Dynamite Entertainment, a leading publisher of English language comic books and graphic novels, who have worldwide rights to produce comic books, digital comics and graphic novels starring James Bond. 007 will re-live the exploits that have thrilled and captivated fans for over half a century in fresh visual adaptations of Fleming’s classic Bond stories, the first of which will be launched in 2015. Moreover, Dynamite plans to create a series of brand new adventures unveiling the defining – and largely undocumented – early years of Bond’s career. These new stories will draw inspiration from the Fleming canon to explore Bond’s ‘origins’: his raw early years before he gambled with his life in the first novel, Casino Royale.

Bond has an uneven history of comic book adaptations.

DC Comics, now owned by Time Warner’s Warner Bros. unit, did an adaptation of Dr. No, the first 007 film, in 1963. Years later, Marvel Comics (now owned by Walt Disney Co.) adapted 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and 1983’s Octopussy. Before the DC and Marvel efforts, there were U.K. comic strip adaptations of Ian Fleming novels and short stories. Those comic strips have been reprinted previously.

Based on the IFP statement, the newest deal doesn’t involve Eon Productions, which has produced the 23-film James Bond movie series. For Bond fans, 2015 shapes up as the time for a new movie (the yet-untitled Bond 23), a new a new James Bond continuation novel and the new comic books/graphic novels.

Geoffrey Holder, Live And Let Die villain, dies at 84

Geoffrey Holder in Live And Let Die's final scene

Geoffrey Holder in Live And Let Die’s final scene

Geoffrey Holder, whose long career as an actor and dancer included an appearance as a James Bond villain, has died at 84, according to AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Holder played Baron Samedi, a secondary foe for Bond in 1973’s Live And Let Die. At times, Holder’s Samedi drew attention from Roger Moore’s Bond (the actor’s first outing in the role) and Yaphet Kotto as the film’s primary villain, Dr. Kananga.

The movie, loosely based on Ian Fleming’s second 007 novel, is the only film in the Eon Production series include a supernatural element. Solitaire (Jane Seymour) has the ability to see into the future until she loses her virginity to Bond. As Steven Jay Rubin wrote in The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, Baron Samedi “may or not be a supernatural being.”

With his imposing laugh, sinister manner and often outlandish costumes, Holder’s Baron Samedi certainly stands out in the film.

Late in the movie, it would seem Baron Samedi is merely a man taking advantage of the fear generated by voodoo. Bond punches Samedi into a casket full of deadly snakes. He cries out in agony as he seems to expire.

Yet, at the very conclusion of the movie, Baron Samedi is sitting on the front of the train Bond and Solitaire are taking to New York. His long laugh is the last thing the audience hears before the end titles version of the Paul and Linda McCartney title song.

As James Chapman wrote in 2000’s Licence to Thrill:

Inexplicable in narrative terms, this is the only explicitly supernatural moment in the Bond series which elsewhere, for all its implausibility, is insistent on rationality.

Besides acting in the film, Holder also worked behind the camera as Live And Let Die’s choreographer, arranging dances that were supposed to be part of voodoo ceremonies.

The Times described Holder thusly:

Geoffrey Holder, the dancer, choreographer, actor, composer, designer and painter who used his manifold talents to infuse the arts with the flavor of his native West Indies and to put a singular stamp on the American cultural scene, not least with his outsize personality, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 84.

(snip)
Few cultural figures of the last half of the 20th century were as multifaceted as Mr. Holder, and few had a public presence as unmistakable as his, with his gleaming pate atop a 6-foot-6 frame, full-bodied laugh and bassoon of a voice laced with the lilting cadences of the Caribbean.

The obituary describes Holder’s career in detail, including a 1975 Tony Award, how he gained fame in the 1970s and ’80s for 7-Up and other highlights.

Here’s a sample of an oral history interview with Holder about his life and career:

Happy birthday, Dick Tracy

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

Happy 83rd, Tracy.

On Oct. 4, 1931, the Dick Tracy comic strip debuted in the Detroit Mirror newspaper.

The newspaper no longer exists. Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, died almost 30 years ago. But while the strip isn’t widely distributed it’s still around, with Joe Stanton and Mike Curtis carrying on the tradition.

This blog has written before about how Tracy shares elements of James Bond and Batman, especially colorful villains and dabbling in science fiction. Gould devised villains such as Flattop, Pruneface and Mumbles. His successors have come up with their own villains in that tradition and (where they could) brought back Gould favorites who hadn’t been definitively killed off.
chester gould strip

Tracy, like Bond and Batman, has his own eras. The most offbeat, starting in 1962, was when Gould introduced the space coupe (a magnetic-powered craft that could travel into space) and a race of people on the Moon. Gould was 62 when that era began, an indication he wasn’t afraid of trying new things. Eventually, that was dialed back and a more down-to-earth approach took hold.

Sound familiar, Bond fans?

Anyway, here’s Chester Gould in a 1965 appearance on the game show To Tell The Truth in the midst of the space coupe/Moon people era. Gould, at this point, was still more than a decade away from retirement. He died in 1985.

Happy birthday, Tracy.

Octopussy’s script: ‘What happened to Vijay?’

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Note: Octopussy was always a suggestive title. Near the end of this post, there’s a stage direction in the script that’s even more suggestive.

When Eon Productions made Octopussy, the 13th film in its James Bond series and the sixth starring Roger Moore, the production company sought out George MacDonald Fraser to be its writer.

Fraser conferred with producer Albert R. Broccoli, director John Glen and executive producer Michael G. Wilson. He then commenced to turn the ideas discussed into a screenplay, whose locations included India — a place Fraser was familiar with and would be new for the series.

However, Broccoli evidently felt a veteran Bond writer was needed to take over. Thus, once again, Richard Maibaum was brought in, writing with Wilson as the paid had done on For Your Eyes Only.

Bond collector Gary Firuta supplied a copy of a June 10, 1982 draft by Maibaum and Wilson. The title page says it’s “based on a draft screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser.” It’s very similar to the finished movie but with significant differences.

The biggest: there is only one MI6 operative in India in the story, Sadruddin. In the June 10 draft, Sadruddin basically does everything that agents Vijay and Sadruddin do in the finished movie. Presumably, once tennis player/novice actor Vijay Amritraj caught producer Broccoli’s eye, the Sadruddin part got split, with Amritraj’s character becoming the “sacrificial lamb.”

When Bond meets Sadruddin in the draft script, it plays in a similar fashion to the Bond-Vijay meeting in the film. The stage directions even specify that as Bond is looking for his contact, “OVER SCENE COMES SOUND OF PIPE PLAYING JAMES BOND THEME.” The script specifies the next shot is from Bond’s point of view and he sees, “Barefoot SNAKE CHARMER in native dress sits cross-legged on mat, playing pipe as HOODED COBRA sways before him.” Thus, it’s clear the film makers early on had the idea of the contact playing The James Bond Theme.

Sadruddin occasional says “no problem,” but not as often as Vijay does in the film. For example, when Bond says, “Call me James,” Sadruddin replies, “Fine,” rather than “No problem!” In the final film, “No problem!” became a catchphrase for Vijay, coming into play when Vijay is killed.

Meanwhile, the script suggests — but not specify — a gag that many fans found irritating. During the later tiger hunt sequence, the stage directions says Bond “swings out over marshy river like Tarzan.” The Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan yell isn’t mentioned.

There are some other interesting items of note in the draft. Among them:

–Kamal Khan, the villain is described as being in “his early forties, darkly hansome and self-possessed, his body is lithe but athletic.” Eon ended up casting Louis Jourdan, 61 when Octopussy began production, for the part.

–There’s this description of how Bond has Kamal followed to the airport following an auction. “Stepping out to kerb and nodding to ZEC, MI6 undercover man, who is in driver seat of taxi parked across street. ZEC drives cab after limousine.” One of Broccoli’s friends was Donald Zec, who was ghostwriter of the producer’s autobiography.

–Not in the script is how Gobinda, Kamal’s bodyguard/thug crushes the dice used in a backgammon game after Bond outcheats Kamal. Gobinda’s feat is similar to Oddjob crushing a golf ball with his bare hands in Goldfiner.

–Instead of saying “Sit!” to a tiger during the tiger hunt sequence, Bond says, “Nice kitty–“.

–After Bond escapes the tiger hunt, a “BEAUTIFUL INDIAN MASSEUSE” gives 007 a rubdown back at MI6 Station I. Sadruddin remarks, “That should put you back in shape.” Bond tells the masseuse, “Thank you, my dear. You have an exquisite touch.” The masseuse “giggles, exit.” In the finished film, Bond would have to settle for a rubdown from Vijay.

–While talking to Sadruddin there’s this stage direction for when Bond displays his knowledge of an particular type of Octopus:

BOND
(ever The Expert)

–In the climatic fight at Kamal’s headquarters, Octopussy’s women fighters sometimes are referred to in the stage directions as “OCTOPUSSIES.” Example: “TRIBESMEN have surrendered. OCTOPUSSIES round them up.”

–Bond’s line after saving Octopussy: “I knew you were a swinger — “

–In the final scene, the stolen Romanv Star is “nestled in Octopussy’s cleveage, it hangs from a necklace around her throat.” The stage directions say Bond’s unneeded sling, bandages and “traction contraption” can be seen tossed into the water from the Octopussy barge. “Oh, James!” Octopussy says, as in the final film.

New 007 author: novel’s title won’t be ‘Murder on Wheels’

Anthony Horowitz, hired by Ian Fleming Publications to write a new James Bond novel, took to Twitter to say what the title isn’t.

Here’s the text of the Tweet:

IFP, in AN OCT. 1 STATEMENT, said Horowitz’s novel would be based on an Ian Fleming outline for an episode of a never-produced 007 television series. The outline has the title Murder on Wheels. IFP never said that would be the title of the novel. But Horowitz evidently felt there was enough confusion he wanted to clarify — and added a tidbit of information in the process.

IFP announces new James Bond novel for 2015

IFP says new novel to inspired by "unseen Fleming material."

IFP says new novel to inspired by “unseen Fleming material.”

Ian Fleming Publications said Oct. 1 a new James Bond continuation novel is coming out next year inspired by “previously unseen material written by Ian Fleming.:

Here’s an excerpt of A STATEMENT ON IFP’S WEBPAGE.

Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. and the Ian Fleming Estate are delighted to announce that bestselling and award-winning author Anthony Horowitz has been invited to write the next James Bond novel, due for worldwide release on 8th September 2015.

Horowitz is one of the UK’s most successful authors and has over forty books to his name including his recent Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, and his enormously successful teen spy series featuring Alex Rider. As a TV screenwriter he created both Midsomer Murders and the BAFTA-winning Foyle’s War, and is looking forward to taking on his next project:

(snip)
Set in the 1950s, Horowitz’s story will be unique among the modern James Bond novels, in that a section will contain previously unseen material written by Ian Fleming. (emphasis in original)

Since 2008, the 100th anniversary of Fleming’s birth, IFP has mostly commissioned period Bond novels. Offerings by Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care) and William Boyd (Solo) were set in 1967 and 1969 respectively. The one exception was Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche, featuring a timeshifted Bond in the “present day” of its 2011 publication.

The Horowitz project goes backward, based on the IFP statement. A Fleming great niece, Jessie Grimond, is quoted as saying the novel is based episode treatments Fleming wrote for a never-made televisions series. Fleming subsequently turned some of the television story outlines into short stories in 1960’s For Your Eyes Only collection. Grimond says in the statement “there are a few plot outlines which he never used and which, till now, have never been published, or aired.”

Specifically, according to IFP, the starting point for the new novel is a Fleming treatment titled Murder on Wheels, which “follows Bond on a mission in the world of motor racing.”

The move continues IFP’s strategy of a series of one-offs featuring “adult” Bond while also commissioning “Young Bond” novels and other projects. IFP management changed in the 2000s. For a long period before that, it employed an author to do an ongoing series of “timeshifted” Bond novels written by John Gardner, which ran from 1981 to 1995, and Raymond Benson, from 1997 to 2002. After Benson’s finale, the literary “adult Bond” went into hibernation until Faulks’ 2008 novel.

None of the Bond continuation novels has drawn any serious interest from Eon Productions, which produces the 007 films. The publication of the Horowitz novel will come shortly before Bond 24 is set to be released.

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