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Bondage with Baldwin: “Casino Royale” (1954)

“Bond. James Bond”. The myth, the legend, the men. The release of the latest 007 adventure, No Time to Die, is only seven weeks away, so what better time than now to begin revisiting the entire franchise? I love the James Bond series to my very core, but have never actually taken the time to spew forth my feelings on each entry in writing. That changes now. Are you ready for Bondage with Baldwin? Does that sound too kinky and weird? Too bad. Just roll with it. Close your eye and everything will be alright. And remember, the safe word is “007”, but you have to say it in a disapproving manner.

“Casino Royale” (1954)

Directed by William H. Brown Jr.
Produced by Breitagne Windust
Screenplay by Charles Bennett and Anthony Ellis
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming
Starring Barry Nelson, Linda Christian, Peter Lorre, Michael Pate, Eugene Borden, Jean Del Val, Gene Roth, Kurt Katch, and Juergen Tarrach

Contrary to what some might think, James Bond’s on screen adventures did not begin with Sir Sean Connery. Not only did Ian Fleming’s famous superspy grace the screen eight years before the arriving of 1962’s Dr. No, but he did it with an American actor playing an Americanized Jimmy Bond. It happened on an episode of an anthology TV series titled “Climax!“. Because of course it did.

Here, Bond is an agent for the Combined Intelligence Agencies and bears the nickname “Card Sense”, due to his skill with, well, cards. Barry Nelson, who is perhaps best known these days as Overlook Hotel manager Stuart Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, plays the part. Given that the role is written more as a hardboiled detective, Nelson does a pretty good job and makes for a rather vulnerable Bond when it comes to the physical punishment that he endures. Bond has been tortured twice on screen in the official EON franchise and only 2006’s adaptation of Casino Royale matches this in terms of the pain and desperation that the character goes through in the thick of it.

The plot is a stripped down take on Fleming’s inaugural 007 novel and hews fairly close to the page. Jimmy is called upon by his superiors to enter a card game against the villainous Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) to clean out his funds. Doing so will not only bankrupt the terrorist financier, but also force his Soviet spy employers to dispose of him. Two birds with one stone! Backing up Bond are a former flame (Linda Christian) and a British spy colleague (Michael Pate).

Linda Christian‘s Valerie Mathis, a combination of Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis, is way more of a damsel in distress in this adaptation. Instead of working in tandem with Bond, she is instead a former lover of his who now happens to be Le Chiffre’s paramour. Unwillingly, I might add. Christian does what she can with what she is given, but Valerie is primarily treated like a secondary prize to the casino pot.

Because Bond was rewritten here as an American agent, the powers that be decided to make Leiter a British one. Now named Clarence Leiter and played by Michael Pate, the character is less a field agent and more just a contact who facilitates Bond’s requests. Granted Leiter has done just that on more than one occasion, but there was always the understanding that he could get physical if needed. Whereas here he’s more of an “Our Man in [blank]” desk jockey-type.

Peter Lorre is, of course, fun to watch as the world’s first on screen Le Chiffre. Lorre aims or more of a sleazeball take on the character and it truly works for this adaptation. His weird and quirky turn is a great match for Nelson’s straight-laced hero, offering up a nice hardboiled ’50s TV dynamic between the two.

All in all, this adaptation is more a curiosity than it is remarkable. I think it is well-worth a look for any fan of the series, but it stands less as an important example of Bond cinema (or TV) and more as an interesting peek into 1950s pulp television. Give it a look sometime on YouTube! After all, I’ve included it below and you never know, you might just enjoy it!

Our Next Mission: 1962’s Dr. No

Bondage with Baldwin

Casino Royale (1954) | Dr. No | From Russia with Love | Goldfinger | Thunderball
Casino Royale (1967) | You Only Live Twice | On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever | Live and Let Die | The Man with the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me | Moonraker | For Your Eyes Only | Octopussy
Never Say Never Again | A View to a Kill | The Living Daylights | Licence to Kill
GoldenEye | Tomorrow Never Dies | The World Is Not Enough | Die Another Day
Casino Royale (2006) | Quantum of Solace | Skyfall | Spectre | No Time to Die

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