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.

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.