Over the last several months, members of the CBn Forum have been reviewing all the James Bond 007 films in the “Countdown Threads“. If you wish to join in on the forum discussion all you have to do is register on the CBn Forums – it is free and only takes a minute! The first unofficial TV adaption of Casino Royale (which aired in 1954 – not to be confused with the official 2006 film starring Daniel Craig opening this November!) was one of the films included. The reviews follow…
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Turn
The last time I watched Casino Royale (1954) was around the time The World Is Not Enough was out at a Christmas party with friends, who rather mocked it in an MST3K sort of way. I felt at the time it was justified.
I still don’t think it’s very good, that way too many people overrate it. I’m sure when it was discovered 25 years ago, it was something like finding a holy grail of sorts. But it ends up as just a Bond curiosity and worth a watch, but hardly something worth revisiting much.
That aside, my latest viewing of Casino Royale (1954) had me finding a little more respect for it than on my last. Something I liked was the detail that shows up. This must have been done on a small budget and a lot would be lost on the limited TV screens of the time. Yet you’ve got a nice looking casino set that must have seemed exotic at the time and lots of extras well dressed that add to the casino atmosphere of privileged people.
As someone else mentioned, you aren’t left hanging on the explaination of baccarat and gambling. This too must have seemed exotic and exciting at the time, unlike today when everybody and there brother has a home casino. I liked Clarence Leiter, he brought the right sidekick touch and was more colorful than most of the cast.
I’m not as enthuasiastic about the rest. This version of Casino Royale is ultimately a sort of take on Casablanca with the long lost beauty suddenly surfacing but operating on who’s side? The whole card sense Jimmy Bond thing doesn’t work at all for me. He’s like the Sam Spade, hardboiled private eye type, spouting the tough guy dialogue like “No, I’m the fella they missed!” There’s nothing wrong with Barry Nelson, just nothing at all that sets this apart from any other detective or g-man of the time.
Valerie Mathis is a very basic ’50s female. Pretty, but nothing else there.
Lorre fits LeChiffre well. But after a while, his character doesn’t seem so much threatening. How many times in the hotel does he need to threaten Bond? He eventually comes off like one of those parents’ whose kids are acting up and don’t stop and they keep threatening them but never do anything. From there, he turns giddy looking for the check. I know they couldn’t do the carpet beater thing, but the torture scene here comes off pretty goofy, as does how Bond disposes of the henchmen.
So, in all, Casino Royale (1954) is an interesting curiosity, but little else. I only wonder what Fleming thought, if indeed he ever saw it.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by doublenoughtspy
The 1954 version of Casino Royale is a delight to watch – a real window into a different era.
Although “Card Sense” Jimmy Bond isn’t quite Ian Fleming’s British hero, Barry Nelson does a great job protraying an Americanized Bond that is tough, resourceful, and isn’t afraid to mouth off to a villain that has him in a jam.
The black and white cinematogrpahy helps give the piece a noir feel that is appropriate.
Don’t let the cheap sets fool you – Barry Nelson, Linda Christian, and Peter Lorre create a drama that gives off sparks.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Captain Grimes
This film is far better than it should be. Consider: a fifty-year-old live television movie featuring two sets, half-a-dozen actors, a card game that lasts a quarter of an hour, and an American in the role of James Bond. It should be unwatchable, but in fact it succeeds on almost every level.
First, and most importantly, is Barry Nelson, who turns in a credible performance as Jimmy “Card Sense” Bond (has there ever been a more ridiculous nickname?). Nelson doesn’t take any of the easy ways out here. He’s not the noble, hunky, soft-spoken hero that tended to dominate American television and film in this period; and he’s not the brooding anti-hero of later days. He plays it more or less straight, with a healthy dose of wit and surprising believability. Very much like Dalton, as a matter of fact.
Then there’s Peter Lorre, whose Le Chiffre really is the prototypical Bond villain. Creepy, intelligent, witty, ruthless: Lorre does a better job here than many of the “canonical” Bond villains. Lorre’s and Nelson’s performances are even more remarkable when one considers that they’re doing it live, in a medium that demands more nuance than the stage and more discipline than film.
The writing and directing are sharp, cleverly working within the live format and the limited number of sets and actors. Bond’s first conversation with Leiter manages to convey heaps of exposition while also establishing their characters and building tension. When the time comes for the baccarat scene with Le Chiffre, the viewer has enough information to follow the game and the directing keeps the pace from dragging.
Even though it’s obviously impossible, I would love to see this film stretched out to feature length. If it falls down a bit in its climax and finale (such as it is), it’s only because we’ve just gotten to know the characters and the situation, and as a result our emotional investment is minimal. Another hour or half-hour would do wonders to round off what is already a surprisingly smart and uncompromising little thriller.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Genrewriter
I like it, it’s not Fleming’s Bond per se but Peter Lorre always makes for an excellent villain and the card game is nicely staged. Nelson is alright as Bond but it is rather jarring to have the character coming off more like John Wayne than Cary Grant. Still, I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to see a different reading of Casino Royale.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Tiin007
Casino Royale (1954) was a great movie. Peter Lorre was an outstanding Le Chiffre. Nelson’s portrayal of Bond is very interesting to watch, mostly because it was so different from that of the 5 (now 6) Eon Bonds. Clarence Leiter was exactly what a Bond ally should be, giving Bond some information but leaving the real focus on Bond. Linda Christian’s portrayal of a female Mathis was very dated (her hair style and personality straight from the 1950s), yet still fun to watch. The great part about Casino Royale (1954) is that even with minimal action and no stunts, the movie is still suspenseful and keeps the viewer’s attention. I give this often-forgotten Bond treasure a thumbs up!
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Binyamin
I’ve always thought that 1954’s Casino Royale is one of the most overlooked pieces of Bond history.
The gritty black and white photography, for one, gives the piece a real film-noir feel that pulls the viewer into the raw suspense of Cold War espionage.
Casino Royale has always struck me as being great because it didn’t realize what it was. The film history and tradition of 007 hadn’t been created yet; as a result, the 1954 version didn’t over-extend itself to pretend it was anything more than a tightly crafted classic espionage thriller.
The characters are well cast and the acting fine. Peter Lorre brilliantly plays Le Chiffre and creates the most slimy and dispicible Bond villain to date. Michael Pate is also perfect as a British Leiter, although it would have also been incredibly interesting to see him as Bond.
James Bond here is not purely Flemming’s creation, of course, but the important principles of literary 007 grace every moment of Barry Nelson’s performance. He is, in essence, what Bond would look like if Flemming had decided to make his character an American and change nothing else. Nelson’s Bond is suave but dangerous; the way he cooly brushes off being shot at as if it was an everyday occurance is classic. So too is his scene at the Baccarat table. We can read the distress on his face as he battles LeChiffre with cards, knowing that he must choose between his mission or a woman he loved. He almost seems to sink into his chair, obviously wishing he were anywhere else, purposely not looking across the table at Valerie lest his feelings compromise the mission. Classic.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Ry
After viewing CBS’s Climax theater version of Casino Royale I was surprised to see how much I enjoyed the television version this time around. This particular Casino Royale has to be given a certain amount of leeway as it was a live broadcast. For all involved in believe this is a noble effort.
First off the script: For this hour long broadcast the writers condense the novel quite a bit while retaining elements that can work on the screen. The change in making James Bond an American for me is less of an issue. The introduction of the characters, how to play baccarat, and the villains scheme are all laid out quite well. Some of the dialogue really plays well. When Clarence Leiter first meets Bond he asks, “Are you the fella that was shot?” Bond replies, “No I was the fella that was missed.” Frankly that’s pretty good dialogue. Le Chiffre’s line to Bond as he is torturing him in the bath tub is well written as well: “Look Mister Bond, as you should know by now, I’m quite without mercy and, if you continue to be that obstinate, I’ll have to torture -you’ll be tortured to the edge of madness -believe me!” In the end there are some clunky lines and it does not move as fast as modern day television, but all in all for what it is I believe it works.
Now the performances: Barry Nelson does a commendable job in the role of “card sense” Jimmy Bond. The audience believes him when he begins to lose in baccarat and then when Valerie is kidnapped and certainly when he is tortured in the bath tub. Linda Christian does a decent job in the role of Valerie. She is given the weakest lines of the main actors, but her beauty helps the audience forgive that. Michael Pate is quite good as Leiter. When he threatens on the thugs with the cane/gun you believe him. Lastly Peter Lorre is wonderful as Le Chiffre. Lorre seems to take each scene to a different level. He is quite menacing when he tortures Bond in the bathroom.
Overall Casino Royale is a dated movie and has to be watched that way or it cannot be enjoyed. For a 1954 live broadcast it seems to flow rather well. Yes there are moments when it is harder to hear the actors and it seems obvious that the elevators are not real elevators, but in a way that is part of the charm. In the end Casino Royale seems to be a fitting addition to the legacy of this first book that will see some major changes in November of this year.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by TheLazenby
I loved the original Casino Royale. It almost left me wishing that Fleming’s other screen adaptations had been made, because I wouldn’t have minded seeing Barry Nelson return as Bond. Also, it’s nice to actually see a proper Le Chiffre – Peter Lorre was just destined to play a Bond villain at some point in his career, and I think he did a wonderful job at it.
‘Casino Royale’ (1954) by Qwerty
With the 21st Eon film finally covering the first Ian Fleming novel, even more publicity will be put upon this rare 1954 version and the 1967 spoof. The real question to ask is: how does this one measure up?
In my mind, one has to go into watching this version of Casino Royale completely open to something new and different, to a much greater extent that one would approach renegades Casino Royale (1967) or Never Say Never Again. If the viewer can at least do that, I think this one hour made-for-TV movie can be quite an enjoyable hour spent. Certainly, its different. It’s not ‘Bond…James Bond,’ but ‘Card Sense Jimmy Bond.’ There aren’t shaken Vodka Martinis, nor an M scene or flirtations with Miss Moneypenny. No gunbarrels or Bond themes either. What is present is Barry Nelson giving a very fair performance of James Bond in a casino, while being briefed by Michael Pate’s Clarence Leiter that he must take down the villainous Le Chiffre at the card tables.
Introduce Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis, the Bond girl of the film. The character of Vesper Lynd from Fleming’s novel did not make this treatment. Christian does a solid job as portraying the damsel in distress in the later section of the film, but the true star of Casino Royale (1954) is Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Magnificently cast, Lorre is the perfect villain against Nelson’s James Bond.
I highly recommend all James Bond fans pick up this somewhat rare 007 film while it is still readily available. Be sure to get the Guise & Cara Entertainment VHS on amazon.com – it is the only version to date which includes the complete ending.
Like it or not, Casino Royale (1954) is a film that all James Bond fans should see.