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.

Happy birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery, circa 1963

Sean Connery, circa 1963

Aug. 25 is Sean Connery’s 84th birthday.

A recent CBS NEWS POLL of Americans indicates he is still, far and away, the most popular screen James Bond.

In that poll, Connery was the No. 1 choice among 51 percent of those surveyed. The poll was performed July 16 to 20 among 1,024 adults across the Unites States. People were surveyed using both cell phones and land lines. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

In the second position was Pierce Brosnan at 12 percent, with Roger Moore at No. 3 at 11 percent and Daniel Craig No. 4 at 8 percent.

Some Bond fans, expressing their opinion on social media, question the results, saying it sounds like a poll done before 2006. 

We suspect the results more reflect how Connery blazed the trail that others followed. No matter how well his successors have performed, he remains the original screen 007.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

Connery still No. 1 007 among Americans, CBS poll says

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

CBS News commissioned a poll of Americans concerning who the best screen James Bond was. The answer: Sean Connery, the original movie Bond, at 51 percent.

Connery hasn’t played Bond (in a movie, anyway) in 31 years, in 1983’s Never Say Never Again. His last appearance in the 23-film series of Eon Productions was Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. He did voice over work as 007 in a video game version of From Russia With Love (which also mixed in the Aston Martin DB5 and a jet pack from later films).

Nevertheless, CBS says the margin of error for the poll was only 3 percentage points, meaning the Connery vote could range from as low as 48 percent to as high as 54 percent.

Connery’s debuted in the role in 1962’s Dr. No and held the role for five consecutive films. After a one-film absence, United Artists offered $1.25 million, as well as financing for other films, to get him back for Diamonds. With Never Say Never Again, he was a de facto producer, helping to select writers and the composer, for a 007 film not made by Eon.

No. 2 in the poll was Pierce Brosnan, the Bond of record from 1995 to 2002, at 12 percent, and Roger Moore, who did seven 007 films from 1973 through 1985, at 11 percent. The rest: current 007 Daniel Craig, on duty since 2006’s Casino Royale, at 8 percent, and 1 percent each for Timothy Dalton (1987-89) and George Lazenby, who was the lead in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

CBS says was conducted by telephone July 16-20, with 1,024 U.S. residents participating. Interviews were conducted over both land lines and cell phones. A company called SSRS conducted the poll on behalf of CBS.

U.N.C.L.E.’s odd post-series history

"It's hard to find our show some times, Illya."

“It’s hard to find our show sometimes, Illya.”

UPDATE: The 1980s section, corrects name of network to Christian Broadcasting Network. CBN changed its name to Family Channel name after it showed U.N.C.L.E.

Also, readers (one is a comment below, the other was on Facebook) have mentioned the following: The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, a 1986 A-Team episode with U.N.C.L.E. memes (Robert Vaughn was a regular in that show’s final season and David McCallum was the episode’s guest star) as well as a Dec. 31, 1989-Jan. 1, 1990 U.N.C.L.E. marathon on TNT.

While we’re at it, Turner Classic Movies a few years ago had a daylong marathon of the eight U.N.C.L.E. movies, with the first beginning at 6 a.m. eastern time. TCM still occasionally shows them.

With the news that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is going to be shown by MeTV in the U.S. starting next month, here’s a review of the show’s odd history after it ended its 1964-68 run on NBC.

This is by no means a definitive history. But it gives you an idea how a series that once was very popular had trouble finding an audience after its first run. The show made stars of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, even to the point where the Beatles wanted to meet Vaughn in 1966. But later, it was as if the show disappeared.

Meanwhile, other series that were on at the time, such as Mission: Impossible and The Wild Wild West, were much easier to find on local television stations. And, of course, the original Star Trek (which shared many of the same guest stars as U.N.C.L.E.) became a broad pop culture event while in syndication.

Circa 1968-1969: For a period, U.N.C.L.E. could be seen in syndication. An Indianapolis independent station showed U.N.C.L.E. (Both Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.) Monday through Friday in an afternoon time slot.

However, this did not last that long. In general, there was a concern about violence on television and this perhaps affected U.N.C.L.E. For whatever reason, U.N.C.L.E. soon became virtually invisible.

1970s: The best chance to see U.N.C.L.E. was when one of the eight “movies” — re-edited from series episodes — popped up on local television. In the `1970s, I caught To Trap a Spy (an expanded version of the series pilot) on a local television station. CBS even showed The Spy With My Face, an expanded version of the first-season episode The Double Affair, on the CBS Late Movie. At the time, CBS didn’t have its own viable late-night show and was content to show movies starting at 11:30 p.m. eastern time.

1980s: In the early 1980s, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which made the series in association with producer Norman Felton’s Arena Productions, dusted off U.N.C.L.E. The studio made a renewed syndication push. The original MGM logs at the end of episodes were removed and new ones added.

In 1985, the Christian Broadcasting Network — controlled by tele-evangelist Pat Robertson — showed The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at 11 p.m. eastern time in the U.S. But for the CBN debut,the channel skipped over the entire black-and-white first season. Its first telecast was The Arabian Affair from the second season.

By the spring or summer of 1986, CBN showed all but four episodes: the two-part Alexander the Greater Affair and The Very Important Zombie Affair from the second season and The Abominable Snowman Affair from the third. The latter two weren’t shown, reportedly because of their un-Christian content (voodoo with Very Important Zombie, depictions of Eastern religions in Snowman). As for Alexander the Greater, it turned out nobody could find it. More about that shortly.

Meanwhile, there were changes behind the scenes. Television mogul Ted Turner bought MGM, primarily to gain control of its film library, including classic films such as Gone With the Wind and Ben-Hur. But Turner borrowed heavily for the purchase. So he sold the studio, while keeping the film library — which also included U.N.C.L.E.

Thus, in 1988, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was part of TNT’s Saturday morning (and later Saturday afternoon) programming. TNT telecast Very Important Zombie and Abominable Snowman shortly thereafter.

1990s: By the mid-1990s, U.N.C.L.E. shows up in the early-morning hours of Tuesday (technically part of its Monday schedule). In 1999, a Turner employee finds Alexander the Greater. The two-part story was telecast July 4, 2000, the last U.N.C.L.E. telecast on the cable network. In the interim, Turner has sold out to Time Warner, whose Warner Bros. now controls the show.

NBC had never rerun Alexander the Greater. So the TNT telecast was the first time the television version had been seen since September 1965. Until then, only the movie version, One Spy Too Many, had been available.

In 1999, TV Land had a “spy week” promotion in connection with the second Austin Powers movie. Four episodes each of The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. are shown on separate nights, along with series such as It Takes a Thief and The Avengers. For Man, four first-season episodes are telecast. (Girl only ran one season, making selection easier.) TNT, around the same time, showed some episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. in connection with the birthday of star Stefanie Powers.

21st century: Both The Man and Girl From U.N.C.L.E. have shown up on other cable channels but don’t enjoy a lot of visibility.

In 2007, the series is released on DVD, initially by Time-Life. The original MGM logo at the end of episodes was restored. Within a few years, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and the eight U.N.C.L.E. movies are released by Warner Archive, the manufactured-on-demand arm of Warner Bros.

MeTV picking up The Man From U.N.C.L.E. comes just ahead of the show’s 50th anniversary as well as a movie version of the show coming in January.

2014: numerous big 007 anniversaries

"Order plenty of Bollinger -- '55, of course."

“Order plenty of Bollinger — ’55, of course.”

We were reminded that 2014 will mark a number of significant James Bond film anniversaries. Thus, there’s more reason than normal for 007 fans to dip into their home video copies.

50th anniversary of Goldfinger. The first mega-hit for Agent 007.

45th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. An early attempt to bring 007 back down to earth, but one that wasn’t judged a success by United Artists.

40th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun. A box office misstep after Live And Let Die set a worldwide 007 box office record (though not in the U.S. market).

35th annivesary of Moonraker. Producer Albert R. Broccoli’s extragant follow-up to The Spy Wh Loved Me.

25th anniversary of Licence to Kill. A controversial Bond entry that preceded a six-year hiatus for the series.

15th anniversary of The World Is Not Enough. Pierce Brosnan’s third 007 entry and a preview of attempts to bring a more dramatic take to the world of 007.

UPDATE: As reader Stuart Basinger reminds us:

60th anniversary of the CBS television broadcast of Casino Royale. The first, and so far only, adaptation to feature an American (Barry Nelson in this case) playing Bond.

50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s death on Aug. 12. 007’s creator passed away the month before the film version of Goldfinger’s U.K. debut.

And one more that’s related:
50th anniversary of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Debut of the series featuring Ian Fleming’s other spy, Napoleon Solo, co-created with television producer Norman Felton.

Hawaii Five-O complete (?) DVD set to debut

Hawaii-five-O-original

A 72-disc set billed as the complete set of the original Hawaii Five-O series (it had previously been sold on a season-by-season basis) officially goes on sale on Dec. 3. But customer reviews AT AMAZON.COM indicate deep skepticism it’s really a complete set despite the packaging and marketing.

The reason is Bored, She Hung Herself, the “lost” episode that has never been shown in syndication or issued on home video since its original broadcast on CBS on Jan. 7, 1970. It wasn’t part of the second season DVD set issued previously.

In the episode’s pre-titles sequence, there’s a character who hangs from a beam as part of a yoga technique without dying. He becomes a murder suspect when somebody else he knows dies by hanging. Rose Freeman, widow of Five-O creator Leonard Freeman, told attendees at a 1996 fan convention in the Los Angeles area that somebody killed themselves trying to duplicate the stunt.

As a result, the episode was pulled from circulation. At the same convention, though, a film copy of the episode was shown with a projector. It also showed up on YouTube in 2011 but was subsequently pulled.

As of Nov. 25, the complete set drew 10 reviews on Amazon.com, with seven of them for only 1 star.

“I would love nothing more then to order this box set of the original Hawaii Five O television series… And will, as soon as it becomes the “COMPLETE” series by adding the missing second season episode,” one of the 1-star reviews reads. “I will not pay for anything that advertises it is something it quite obviously isn’t.” The Amazon entry for the set doesn’t mention “Bored, She Hung Herself.”

The new complete (?) set has a list price of $349. Amazon has marked it down to $244.86 as part of a Black Friday special.

Earlier posts:
SEPTEMBER 2011: `BORED, SHE HUNG HERSELF,’ THE LOST HAWAII FIVE-O EPISODE

SEPTEMBER 2013: HAWAII FIVE-O’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY: COP SHOW WITH A SPY TWIST

45th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Sept. 20 is the 45th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played. Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969’s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series. Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

Only recently did Stevens get attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith. Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

Sept. 1 post: HAWAII FIVE-O’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY: COP SHOW WITH A SPY TWIST

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