Saturday, June 02, 2012

007 James Bond Marathon: Casino Royale (1954 Climax! Episode)

Based on the novel by Ian Fleming, Casino Royale is the story of a spy who must defeat an opposing agent in a game of baccarat. Directed by William H. Brown Jr. and teleplay by Charles Bennett and Anthony Ellis, the story is presented as a TV episode for the one-hour adventure series called Climax Mystery Theater. Playing Fleming’s famed James Bond character is American actor Barry Nelson as he’s joined by Linda Christian, Michael Pate, and Peter Lorre in the role of Le Chiffre. The 1954 TV episode of Casino Royale is an interesting although very flat TV drama.

After surviving an assassination attempt upon his arrival to the Casino Royale hotel, James Bond meets with his British contact Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate). After teaching Leiter how to play baccarat, Leiter gives Bond his mission which is to beat Le Chiffre at the game so he can lose all funds he’s been losing for the Soviet Union. Bond encounters a former flame in Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian) who is with Le Chiffre as she tries to warn Bond to not to go against Le Chiffre at the game. The two duke it out in a game of baccarat as the game gets tense where Bond would eventually encounter more trouble with Le Chiffre and his goons.

The TV episode that is hosted by William Lundigan is about James Bond battling Le Chiffre in a card game where Bond has to get all of Le Chiffre’s money to make him powerless. Yet, the game becomes more than just about money as Bond’s former flame is suddenly involved where he would eventually try to save her. That is pretty much a simple premise told in a very dramatic, noir-like fashion with heightened dialogue and elements of suspense that was prevalent during the 1950s.

Since the medium is very different from film and is presented in a very grainy film stock that is a lot like other early live TV shows of the time. There is something about the episode that is quite intriguing to watch with the camera work and some of the compositions do get engrossing during the card game scenes. The big flaw with the whole presentation of the story is that some of the dramatic elements aren’t very exciting. William H. Brown Jr.’s direction does have some fine moments but the overall result is a fascinating but somewhat dull story. Though there are some great set pieces of the casino hall and a suspenseful yet exhilarating score by Jerry Goldsmith, there’s not much technical aspects in the episode that really stands out.

The casting for the episode doesn’t really have a lot that makes the whole thing memorable as Michael Pate is OK as an early version of Felix Leiter with a different first name in Clarence which doesn’t work. Linda Christian is decent as Valerie Mathis, a characterization of Vesper Lynd, though she’s really more of a damsel-in-distress who doesn’t get much to do. Peter Lorre is the best thing of the entire episode as Le Chiffre where Lorre gets to be very cool and slimy while also being the kind of villain that is willing to take control. Finally, there’s Barry Nelson as James Bond where it is obvious he is very miscast. Bond is supposed to have an air of elegance, a sense of cool, and can also be the kind of guy that can kick some ass. Nelson doesn’t exude any of that as he seems to act very awkward in simple, dramatic moments while over-doing in some of the heavier, dramatic scenes.

The 1954 TV Climax episode of Casino Royale is a mediocre though interesting take on the Ian Fleming novel that would be remade a couple of more times into two very different feature films. For fans of the James Bond series, the TV episode doesn’t serve as an introduction but rather a look into how Bond was developed from a simple TV stock character to the famed film icon that audiences knew and love. In the end, the TV episode of Casino Royale is a watchable but weak story that doesn’t live up to the brilliance of the James Bond series.

© thevoid99 2012

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