Leiter: "Are you the fellow that was shot?"
Bond: "No, I'm the fellow that was missed"
Contrary to popular belief, the honour of being the
first actor to play James Bond fell not on Sean Connery,
but on American Barry Nelson, who starred in this
live 1 hour production of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale.
The performance on 21st October 1954 (8.30pm EST)
was the first in CBS's 'Climax' series of dramas.
CBS brought the rights for Fleming's first book for
$1000. Since then the rights have gone via Charles
Feldman's spoof of 1967 to Eon Productions, who picked
them up in early 2000. The film, which is black and
white, was actually lost until 1981, and even then
all of the various VHS incarnations (except the Special
Edition from Spy Guise Video) lack the climax of the
film, stopping with Le Chiffre apparently dying, but
having just got the razorblade from his hat.
The film is quite loyal to Fleming's version,
with a few changes of nationality and sides.
It starts with Bond being shot at but ducking
behind a pillar outside the casino. Leiter (who
is English and whose first name is Clarence)
approaches 'Card Sense Jimmy Bond' as he is
nicknamed, and is met by the first Bond one-liner
(see "Best Line")
Over supper Bond explains Baccarat to Leiter
and the audience, and Leiter explains the CIA's
Bond (not 007) his mission: Le Chiffre, the
Soviet spymaster in France, is in financial
difficulty, but intends to save his life and
Communist funds by winning it back at the casino.
Bond's job is to clean him out.
Matters are complicated when Bond's former
lover, Valerie Mathis turns out to be a communist
agent with Le Chiffre. They meet in Bond's room,
and knowing about Le Chiffre's bug they turn
up the music and kiss, before acting their parts
for the villain.
The next night at the casino
the game takes place. Bond is told if he wins,
Valerie will die. Bond is beaten by Le Chiffre,
but then gets an extra donation, with which
he cleans out the 'toad'-like villain. Valerie
disappears, and Bond returns to his room after
dealing with a henchmen using a gun disguised
as a cane. He hides the cheque just before Valerie
comes (she is in fact a French agent, who supplied
the extra donation), but Le Chiffre and his
men capture them. Bond is tied to a bath and
tortured by having his toenails removed with
pliers (rather than Fleming's version using
a seatless cane chair and carpet beater).
Valerie gives away the location of the cheque,
but helps Bond reach the razorblade in Le Chiffre's
cigarette case, which he had left on the bath.
Bond escapes, and overcomes a henchmen. Le Chiffre
enters the bathroom with a gun, and he and Bond
shoot each other. Le Chiffre is more seriously
hurt, but reaches another razorblade, hidden
in his hat. Bond says 'call the police' just
as Le Chiffre lunges. Bond fans with bad videos
will now be infuriated as they miss the climax.
Bond dodges the razor blade and finally overcomes
Above: The final scene
which is missing in all VHS releases except
the 1997 Special Edition by Spy Guise Video.
Peter Lorre is superb as the villain Le Chiffre. His
toad-like looks and menacing acting make him a great
villain. Michael Pate is annoying but acceptable as
Englishman Leiter, and Linda Christian is competent
enough as Valerie Mathis, although her looks are taken
away from by the black and white.
But what about the first James Bond? Barry Nelson
is just about okay. He is handsome and about the right
age, and unlike Roger Moore he has at least read the
books, although his Americanisation of Bond takes
away slightly from Fleming's cold character. Nelson
was born in San Francisco, California on 16th April
1920, and was a regular actor in mid-sized roles on
Broadway in the '40s. Since Casino Royale he has appeared
in "Airport" (1970) and "The Shining"
(1980). So how did he do? Certainly he is credible
as Bond, although he lacks flair. He delivers the
one-liners sharply, and his interpretation of the
role is not too bad, although being an American he
will always look out of place. Nelson's Bond is hard
and cold, as 007 should be. He struggles at the fight
scenes (hardly surprising considering the production
was filmed live) but he does a reasonable job, with
a similar quality of acting to Lazenby.
The film itself, directed by William H Brown Jr.
and written by Antony Ellis and Charles Bennet, with
music by Jerry Goldsmith is reasonably filmed, and
remains tense throughout (an effect slightly spoiled
by the needless use of Act intros). Obviously the
usual special effects are lacking, but overall this
is a credible performance of Fleming's book, with
good production values and passable performances.
Spy Guise Video now made this amazing
and historic program available back in 1997
- complete with the restored ending missing
from previous video versions. The added ending
restores the final confrontation between Bond
and Le Chiffre in which Bond comes out victorious.
There is a traditional Bond ending "with
a kiss" and then the credits appear.
This deluxe collector's edition also featured
many extras: an exclusive overview of the life
of Ian Fleming and the "Casino Royale"
legacy hosted by Lee Pfeiffer, co-author of
the best-selling book "The Essential Bond:
An Authorized Celebration of 007".
Additionally, this version contained rare promotional
advertisements, photographs, and information
about James Bond clubs, magazines and officially
No James Bond fan should be without this definitive
collector's edition of 007's screen debut.
The stunning artwork seen here was created by artist
Jeff Marshall, who rendered his talents to a superb
16" x 20" lithograph for SpyGuise
- limited to only 500 copies! Each litho is printed
on acid-free, museum-quality paper and comes with
a certificate of authenticity. The print is matted
and ready-to-frame. Best of all, each print is signed
and numbered by Jeff Marshall and personally autographed
by Barry Nelson, who played Bond in the show. Mr.
Nelson signed the prints in March 2002.
Images courtesy Spy Guise, Amazon Associates