The Hidden Gem: Casino Royale
Leiter: “You know you’re here to deal with Herr Ziffer, Le Chiffre, he’s the same fellow.”
Bond: “Deal with… you mean kill him?”
Leiter: “You won’t have to, he’ll die anyway… if you play your cards right.”
1954’s Casino Royale
Fifty years ago today, October 21, 1954, Casino Royale, which can technically be called the first James Bond film, aired on television. It’s showing was at 8:30 P.M, Eastern Standard Time on Thursday. Generally overlooked by the casual 007 fan, this TV adaptation was and still is today a hidden gem waiting for Bond fans to pick up.
It is most definitely not the average Bond film, with the character of James Bond being an American, and often referred to as ‘Card Sense’ Jimmy Bond. There isn’t the typical “Bond, James Bond” phrase, nor are there shaken, not stirred Vodka Martinis, but there is a fairly well done adaptation from Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale. The show itself is based in the casino for the full hour, with minor scenes outside of it, and the cast is limited. Barry Nelson stars as James Bond, with Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis and Peter Lorre playing the part of Le Chiffre. Felix Leiter is named Clarence Leiter here, and is played by Michael Pate. The host of the show, as this was apart of CBS’s CLIMAX! Mystery Theater, was William Lundigan.
Notable changes include Vesper Lynd becoming Valerie Mathis, and in the showing it is clear that Valerie and Bond once knew each other and may still have feelings for each other. In the novel, Bond and Vesper have had no previous relationship.
The hour long showing itself is split into three acts:
- Act I: Opening — Opening of Baccarat scene
- Act II: Opening of Baccarat Scene — Hotel Room finale Opening
- Act III: Hotel Room finale Opening — Ending
“…but the fact is still indisputable, if you win, she will lose her life. Pardon me for interrupting your game, I only wished to pass on the warning. Goodbye.”
Man on phone in 1954’s Casino Royale
The TV showing was made when Ian Fleming sold the rights of his first novel for $1000. Hopes for future Bond novels to be adapted for television and Fleming getting the screenwriting role were not to be. According to information given by James Bond expert, Lee Pfeiffer, this TV showing was then lost for decades, until it was finally found in the early 1980’s and then put on VHS releases. It also made an appearance on TBS. This showing on TBS and the original 1954 broadcast are the only two times this adaptation has been aired on television. However, all VHS releases, and the airing on TBS did not include the full finale of the adaptation, which were at that point lost. They were found later on, and included on a Spy Guise & Cara Entertainment VHS release. That release is the only one to date that includes the full finale that was last scene on the original broadcast. All other VHS releases, and the version on the more recent MGM Casino Royale (1967) DVD are incomplete. But you can still purchase it from Amazon.com
The full and complete VHS version, (although as Lee Pfeiffer points out, the ending of the credits are still missing) can be purchased at amazon.com.
All incomplete versions have the show ending with Bond confronting Le Chiffre and telling Valerie to go call the police. The complete ending has Le Chiffre then grabbing Valerie and holding her captive with a razor, while slowly moving out of the room. Bond takes the chance, and shoots him. It then ends with Bond and Valerie in embrace, a few words from host William Lundigan, and the credits.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Cast & Crew
Barry Nelson as James Bond
Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre
Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis
And your host William Lundigan
Featuring Michael Pate as Leiter
Eugene Borden as Chef De Partie
Jean Del Val as Croupier
Gene Rath as Basil
Kurt Katch as Zoltan
Produced by Bretaigne Windust
Associate Producer Elliott Lewis
Directed by William H. Brown
Written for television by Anthony Ellis and Charles Bennett