Jeremy Duns discusses scripts for 1967 Casino Royale

Jeremy Duns

Writer Jeremy Duns over the past nine years has researched the James Bond work performed by journalist-screenwriter Ben Hecht (1893-1964) and novelist Joseph Heller (1923-1999).

Both were among the scribes employed by producer Charles K. Feldman for his 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. But little had been written about that Casino Royale work prior to Duns’ research.

The Spy Command conducted an interview with Duns via email.

QUESTION: What is it about the Charles K. Feldman production of Casino Royale that spurred you to find out more?

JEREMY DUNS: I tend to be interested in oddities and gaps in the record, and follow them up if I think there might be more there.

There has been so much written about the James Bond series that the tendency is to think that there’s nothing substantial that could now be discovered about this world, but I started to rethink that in 2005 after I found a few draft pages of an unpublished Bond novel from the Sixties (Per Fine Ounce).

That research was triggered by my reading a few sentences about the book in Duff Hart-Davis’ excellent biography of Peter Fleming, published in 1974. The discovery suggested to me that there might be more to find than I’d thought. A couple of years later, a passing mention in one of Kingsley Amis’ published letters to a ‘story outline’ he was writing ‘based on an original Ian Fleming idea’ led me to finding Jon Cleary’s unfilmed screenplay for The Diamond Smugglers.

So what else could there be out there? Like many, I had read more about the 1967 version of Casino Royale in advance of the reboot with Daniel Craig, and had watched it again. It was as much of a mess as I remembered, but I was intrigued as to how it had all come about.

So many famous actors, directors and writers were involved, and I was particularly intrigued by some of the names in the latter camp – several books mentioned that, among others, Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller had been involved in writing for the film.

Those are two mammoth figures, of course, so that started me looking. Idly searching the internet in late 2009 I found that the Newberry Library in Chicago had copies of Ben Hecht’s material for the film. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I had any luck with Heller, for reasons explained here.

QUESTION: As you’ve written, Feldman’s project went through various phases from straight adaptation to madcap spoof. What do you think accounts for this?

DUNS: Lots of factors, I think, although we don’t know for sure. Eon’s films became increasingly successful as Feldman was trying to make his, and with each one, Sean Connery became more established in the public’s view as James Bond – he was soon virtually indistinguishable from the character.

Feldman tried to poach Connery for his movie, but Connery asked for a million dollars and Feldman refused (according to Connery he admitted to him later that this had been a mistake). But at some point, I suspect he figured that trying to compete with Eon by making a film like theirs, without Connery, would risk a weak imitation.

Feldman had also negotiated with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to make Casino Royale with them, but they had balked at his price. There might well have been some bitterness on Feldman’s part from those negotiations failing. And in 1965 he produced What’s New Pussycat?, which despite being a chaotic production, became a big hit.

Just as a few years later, George Lazenby was convinced by his agent that James Bond was old hat in the hippie era, Feldman seems to have convinced himself of something a little similar –- that the wild madcap psychedelic tone of What’s New Pussycat? was the hip new thing, and that he had a finger on that pulse.

QUESTION: What accounts for the interest of Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller in writing for Feldman? Was it just money? Were the writers genuinely interested in the material?

DUNS: It’s always tricky to speculate on people’s motivations, and I suspect they were nuanced and with many factors.

Ben Hecht

I don’t think Hecht needed the money, but he had initially moved to Hollywood in order to make it, of course. He was a screenwriter for hire, and one of the highest-paid in the field. He knew Feldman, had worked with him before, and they seemed to have been on friendly terms. He was certainly interested in the material – in his last letter to Feldman he said he had “never had more fun writing a movie.” I think the drafts he wrote also show he was interested in the source material.

As for Heller, Feldman offered him $150,000 to work on the script, and by Heller’s own account that was a major motivating factor – as it likely would have been for most writers.

But Heller was also interested in the material, I think, and enjoyed writing it, if not the stress of working for Feldman and doing so in the dark with other writers simultaneously working on the same script. Heller’s correspondence with Feldman and his satirical article about the experience are self-deprecating and dismissive, to the point where one might feel he disliked Bond, but that’s the Heller voice, familiar from Catch-22: cool, cynical, sardonic. It’s not the voice of his material.

If I’d only found a snippet of his letter to Feldman in which he described the pre-titles sequence he and George Mandel wrote for the film, but none of the script material, it would be easy to assume that he found the whole thing beneath him and was taking the mickey out of the whole thing. But I think that sequence is brilliant and shows a lot of care and craft. That and a lot else he wrote is easy to imagine in a later Connery film.

Other aspects of that letter, the script material, and Heller’s extensive notes and suggestions for it, show that he took the job very seriously, and did a lot of work on it.

Joseph Heller

QUESTION: Of the Hecht and Heller Casino Royale scripts, which do you think is better?

DUNS: That’s impossible to say at this point, mainly because I don’t know if there’s any more Heller material out there. There are thousands of pages in the Charles K Feldman Collection, but it’s currently closed, and there are clearly parts of the story we don’t yet know.

That said, it looks on the face of it that Hecht did more work on the film, for longer, and it more generally fits the kind of Bond film I tend to favor, eg From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Heller’s material wasn’t pastiche, spoof or satire, but nudges more towards the vein of You Only Live Twice.

Heller built on a lot of Hecht’s material, though, perhaps with Billy Wilder’s material in between, so there are several plot similarities, and their tone is broadly similar. But there’s more research to do, and it’s a little like comparing apples and pears. These were two geniuses of the 20th century, let loose on James Bond.

QUESTION: How would you describe Charles K. Feldman. I know he was an agent (and Albert R. Broccoli’s boss) and he got into production. What made him want to do that transition?

DUNS: He was a powerful Hollywood figure, and as an agent represented a huge number of stars: Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, to name just a few. He was handsome and debonair and had a rather peculiar biography, of which it’s not clear how much was true – there’s a touch of Jay Gatsby about him. I’m no expert on his career, but I think he went into production at least in part because the studio system was collapsing and creating his own projects was a way to steer a new course for the talent he represented.

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

QUESTION: Is there an element of tragedy with the Feldman production of Casino Royale? Hecht dies while working on the project. Feldman dies not long after the movie came out. The finished movie seems to have wasted an enormous amount of money. Was it worth it?

DUNS: Ben Hecht was 71 when he died, Feldman 63. I don’t know if the latter’s death was at all connected to the stress of making Casino Royale, but I doubt Hecht’s was related. This just happened to be the project he was working on when he died.

In terms of the finished film, I think it was a folly and an obsession that led Feldman astray, and he squandered enormous sums – including a lot of his own money – on it. But he also didn’t make use of some extraordinary script material he had commissioned from two of the era’s greatest writers. That’s perhaps not a tragedy, but it’s certainly a crying shame. Still, the material itself still exists, and I hope it can be read more widely at some point.

QUESTION: Perhaps an obvious question but is making a James Bond movie a lot harder than it looks? The two non-Eon films (1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) both encountered a lot of problems.

DUNS: Making any film is harder than it looks, but yes, a Bond film is especially tricky, especially because of the weight of expectations. At this point, Feldman was up against a phenomenon and, despite Heller’s clear warning, he didn’t understand that even a spectacle like Bond has to be at least halfway coherent.

You can replace John Barry with Burt Bacharach. You can have tremendous sets and costumes and Ursula Andress and David Niven and Orson Welles and the world’s greatest directors and writers… but you need to be able to put it all together. Feldman, quite literally, lost the plot.

The book Duns on Bond is an omnibus that collects Duns’ articles about Hecht’s Casino Royale scripts as well as pieces he wrote concerning Per Fine Ounce and The Diamond Smugglers. It can be ordered at AMAZON UK and AMAZON US, as well as AMAZON CANADA and other Amazon sites.

Duns wrote about Joseph Heller and Casino Royale in an APRIL 20 article in The Times of London. The article is behind a paywall. if you register for The Times’ site, you can see two free articles a month. The Times is offering a one-month free subscription plan. 

Duns uncovers Joseph Heller’s work on Casino Royale

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

Writer Jeremy Duns, who in 2011 researched Casino Royale scripts by Ben Hecht, has produced another chapter in the saga of the Charles K. Feldman production — work that Catch 22 author Joseph Heller did for Feldman’s project.

Duns’ research about Heller is contained in an April 20 article in The Times of London.

Heller was approached by producer Feldman after Hecht died in 1964. Hecht’s work was more of a faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.

However, according to the article, Feldman wanted to go in a more extravagant direction after Hecht’s death. Heller, who worked with novelist George Mandel as a co-writer, came aboard during this phase of the project in early 1965.

In one version of the Heller material, according to Duns, the fugitive Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele “is removing the brains of leading scientists” and storing them.

A very similar idea would be included in a March 1966 episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Druid’s Blood. The series was set in the 1870s but the villain of the episode has removed the brains of scientists who are still alive, albeit disembodied. That episode was scripted by Henry Sharp, one of the show’s leading writers who earlier in his career had written for pulp magazines.

The Heller-Mandel material also includes the villain’s base is in a dormant volcano. As noted by Duns, both Our Man Flint, with James Coburn, and 1967’s You Only Live Twice featured the same concept.

Despite such flourishes, Duns says the tone of the Heller material has “a real sense of menace and suspense.”

Duns found the Heller material in the Charles K. Feldman Collection at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Feldman’s family donated Casino Royale material in 1969 but the collection has been closed to the public until recently, according to Duns.

To read the much more detailed article, CLICK HERE. The article is behind a paywall. However, if you register for The Times’ site, you can see two free articles a month. The Times is offering a one-month free subscription plan. Duns also has his own summary of his research on his blog.

When character genders change

Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson with Cary Grant as editor Walter Burns in His Girl Friday

Every so often, the idea is raised about having James Bond be played by a woman. It came up again just last week, raised by none other than British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Her comment was prompted, in part, by how Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor Who.

“I think it’s a great move forward for girl power that there is going to be a female Doctor Who,” May told reporters on board her RAF plane Voyager, according to The Guardian. “And one day there should be a female James Bond.”

Other British newspapers ran similar accounts. And when it’s coming from the PM, it’s naturally going to be reported widely. Just as certain, many James Bond fans complained, in effect saying, “Here we go again….”

The thing is, male characters do get transformed into female ones on occasion.

His Girl Friday (1940) was the second film adaptation of the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. In the Howard Hawks-directed movie, newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) became a woman and the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant).

There was a similar setup in 1988’s Switching Channels, also based on the Hecht-MacArthur play, but transporting the story to television and changing the character names.

Meanwhile, Whittaker has come aboard as Doctor Who. The BBC even posted the end of a Doctor Who Christmas special on YouTube:

 

For now, changing 007’s gender isn’t on the table, with actor Daniel Craig announcing in August he’s coming back for a fifth Bond film. But chances are the idea will get raised again at some point.

E-book on Ben Hecht’s Casino Royale scripts available

Ben Hecht

Ben Hecht

A new e-book about screenwriter Ben Hecht’s drafts for the ill-fated 1967 Casino Royale movie is now available.

The author is Jeremy Duns, who in EARLY 2011 wrote about the scripts by Hecht, one of the best screenwriters of all time, for the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph.

Duns has now expanded his work into the 11,000-word Rogue Royale: The Lost Bond Film by the ‘Shakespeare of Hollywood.’ Hecht did a mostly faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first novel. But Hecht died in 1964 and the writer’s death caused producer Charles K. Feldman to switch gears.

The eventual result was the 1967 spoof, which was expensive to make and generated a fraction of box office of the regular 007 film series produced by Eon Productions and released by United Artists.

You can check out the e-book at the U.S. VERSION OF AMAZON.COM or AMAZON U.K. Duns also has an entry on his blog about Rogue Royale that you can read by CLICKING HERE.

Earlier posts:

TELEGRAPH REPORTS ON BEN HECHT’S 1960S CASINO ROYALE SCRIPTS

CASINO ROYALE’S 45TH ANNIVERSARY: OH NO, 007!

Casino Royale’s 45th anniversary: Oh no, 007!

April Fool’s Day is as good as any occasion to note this month marks the 45th anniversary of Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale, the producer’s 1967 send-up of 007.

Feldman, one-time agent (Albert R. Broccoli was one of his employees) turned producer, was nobody’s fool. He had produced films in a variety of genres such as 1948’s Red River (uncredited), 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1965’s What’s New Pussycat.

So, when he acquired the film rights to Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel in the early 1960s, Feldman recognized it had commercial potential even as the film series produced by one time associate Broccoli and Harry Saltzman was getting underway in 1962. (CLICK HERE for a post on Jeremy Duns’s Debrief blog for a more detailed history.)

Feldman tried to entice director Howard Hawks, his one-time colleague on Red River. Hawks was interested but the director backed out after seeing an early print of Dr. No with Sean Connery.

Feldman pressed on, signing distinguished screenwriter Ben Hecht to come up with a screenplay. Details of Hecht’s work were reported last year by Jeremy Duns in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper. Hecht died in 1964, while still working on the project.

By now, Eon’s series was reaching its peak of popularity with 1964’s Goldfinger and 1965’s Thunderball. Broccoli and Saltzman agreed to a co-production deal with Kevin McClory, holder of the film rights for Thunderball. James Bond, The Legacy, the 2002 book by John Cork and Bruce Scivally, presents a narrative of on-and-off talks between Feldman, Broccoli, Saltzman and United Artists, the studio releasing the Broccoli-Saltzman movies. In the end, talks broke down. (Behind the scenes, Broccoli and Saltzman had their own tensions to deal with, including Saltzman’s outside ventures such as his Harry Palmer series of films.).

So Feldman opted to go for farce, but not in a small way. His movie had an estimated budget, according to IMDB.com. of $12 million. The Cork-Scivally book put the figure at $10.5 million. Either way, it was more than the $9.5 million budget of You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Broccoli-Saltzman series. Twice’s outlay included $1 million for Ken Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set.

Feldman’s film didn’t have that kind of spectacle. But he did pay money (or Columbia Pictures’ money) for talent such as John Huston (one of five credited directors), David Niven (playing the “original” James Bond, brought out of retirement, who implies the Sean Connery version of the Broccoli-Saltzman series was assigned the James Bond name by MI6), Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress (now famous because of Dr. No), William Holden, Woody Allen and….well CLICK HERE to view the entire cast and crew.

Casino Royale, however, was less than the sum of its impressive parts. The humor is uneven, it doesn’t really have a story, despite employing a number screenwriters, including Wolf Mankowitz, who introduced Broccoli and Saltzman to each other. (For a more sympathetic view, CLICK HERE for a long essay on the subject.)

The’67 Casino managed a reported worldwide gross of $41.7 million. That was good in its day, though less than a third of Thunderball’s $141.7 million global box office.

Much has been written since 1967 about the stressful production, including reported feuds between Sellers and Welles. Perhaps all that took a toll on the film’s producer. Feldman died in May 1968, a little more than 13 months after Casino Royale’s premier, at age 64.

Ben Hecht’s Casino Royale

Yet another chapter in the saga of Casino Royale‘s journey from the page to the screen has been uncovered.

Ben Hecht

From 1954’s TV adaptation to 1967’s comedy aberration to 2006’s triumphal Eon series entry, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel has been kicking around Hollywood from almost the time of its initial publication. (HMSS’s Bill Koenig has previously written about Howard Hawks having considered filming it.) Now, Jeremy Duns reports in today’s The Telegraph that no less than Ben Hecht, “the Shakespeare of Hollywood,” had taken several swings at adapting the problematic novel for the big screen.

In 1954, producer and director Gregory Ratoff bought a six-month option, and the next year purchased outright, the film rights to 007’s first adventure. In 1956, it was announced that 20th Century Fox would release Ratoff’s production, scripted by a “noted scenarist.” Ratoff’s death in 1960 eventually led to the CR screen rights going to Charles Feldman, who eventually turned to Ben Hecht to write a screenplay. Hecht is best known to film fans as the writer of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Notorious, and Howard Hawks’ The Front Page and Scarface. Hecht would eventually write four scripts of varying faithfulness to the Fleming novel — a couple of which seemed to be attempts to shoehorn the film into the Broccoli & Saltzman Eon James Bond series!

Duns’ story, Casino Royale: discovering the lost script, is a must-read for James Bond fans, movie fans, and students of the history of cinema. You’ll be amazed and intrigued (and perhaps a little regretful that it never came to pass).

Telegraph publishes extended version of its Ben Hecht/Casino Royale story

The U.K.-based Telegraph newspaper today published an extended online version of its story by Jeremy Duns about screenwriter Ben Hecht’s 1960s scripts for Casino Royale.

You can read THE ENTIRE ARTICLE BY CLICKING HERE. What follows are a couple of excerpts.

Duns on what he discovered when he went to the Newberry Library in Chicago, where Hecht’s papers are kept:

To my amazement, I found that Hecht not only contributed to Casino Royale, but produced several complete drafts, and that much of the material survived. …Hecht adapted Ian Fleming’s first novel as a straight Bond adventure…The folders contain material from five screenplays, four of which are by Hecht. An early near-complete script from 1957 is a faithful adaptation of the novel in many ways but for one crucial element: James Bond isn’t in it. Instead of the suave but ruthless British agent, the hero is Lucky Fortunato, a rich, wisecracking American gangster who is an expert poker player…it seems likely (producer Charles K.) Feldman sent this script to Hecht as a starting point to see what he could do with it.

According to Duns, Hecht’s version of the story has Bond being directly responsible for Le Chiffre’s financial plight and need to win money back gambling (a very similar technique used by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis in 2006’s Casino Royale to set up the main Ian Fleming novel story). They have even met before the gambling begins.

Here’s Duns’s analysis, with April 1964 referring to the final draft by Hecht:

All the pages in Hecht’s papers are gripping, but the material from April 1964 is phenomenal, and it’s easy to imagine it as the basis for a classic Bond adventure….(T)here is also a distinctly adult feel to the story. It has all the excitement and glamour you would expect from a Bond film but is more suspenseful, and the violence is brutal rather than cartoonish.

Hecht died in April 1964. Producer Feldman ended up producing a mega-spoof instead.

Telegraph reports on Ben Hecht’s 1960s Casino Royale scripts

The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. has an article by Jeremy Duns about the scripts noted screenwriter Ben Hecht did for producer Charles K. Feldman’s ill fated Casino Royale movie.

Duns has a brief entry in his blog, the Debrief, which you can read BY CLICKING HERE. You can try to read the article itself by registering for a one-day free trial at the Telegraph’s Web site BY CLICKING HERE. The article is in the Telegraph’s Seven magazine.

Hecht died in April 1964. His long career including co-writing the play The Front Page (with Charles MacArthur, husband of Helen Hayes) and scripting Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 film Notorious starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

Based on some comments Duns has made on his Facebook page, Hecht’s drafts leaned toward a faithful adapation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, including a torture scene. Before Hecht was hired, Feldman had tried to interest director Howard Hawks in the project. Feldman later shifted gears, turning Casino Royale into a colossal, and expensive, spoof.

UPDATE: Jeremy Duns advises an extended version of the article will be on the Telegraph’s Web site in a few days. He also confirms that Hecht’s drafts are for a straight version of the novel, not the mega-spoof Feldman produced later.

UPDATE II: We couldn’t wait, so we did the one-day trial subscription. A few details from the Duns article:

1.) The Hecht drafts are at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

2) Hecht kept the basic plot, but as with Dr. No and From Russia With Love in the official 007 series, LeChiffre now works for SPECTRE, rather than the Soviets.

3) Hecht, in one of his drafts introduces the idea that the real James Bond has died and another agent is being re-named James Bond. In the rest of the script, “Bond” acts just like Bond.

The Duns article includes an excerpt of this draft where M informs the agent about the name change. This is the origin of an idea that will be greatly expanded upon in the final version of the 1967 Feldman film, which implies the Connery version of Bond in the official film series took the name of David Niven’s James Bond. It’s also a notion that gets recycled on message boards of fan Web sites in which some people argue that James Bond is just a code name, therefore, the Sean Connery version isn’t the same as Roger Moore, etc., etc., etc.

Mr. Duns notes the scene where Bond II is informed of his new name may simply have been inserted as a possible option for producer Feldman. It only appears in some drafts and isn’t part of others. Throughout the the remainder of Hecht’s material, Bond acts like Bond and he says you can even “hear” Sean Connery’s voice as you read Bond’s scripted lines.

4) Hecht invented a character called Gita, Le Chiffre’s wife, who gets half her face shot away when Bond uses her as a shield. She, rathern the Le Chieffre himself, later administers the torture. Le Chiffre has Gita stop the torture at one point and says, “M’sieur Bond may want to change his mind while he is still a m’sieur.”

5) Hecht was still working on Casino Royale at the time of his death.