13 October 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1954)

1954 - Climax!: "Casino Royale" - Certainly gets the series started with a couple of bangs, and gets me all geared up for some suave spy action.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of this, but it ends up being surprisingly watchable, like they adapted the most exciting part of the novel and sewed in the necessary information. "Climax!" Oh, I get it.

It’s fairly well-executed for a live broadcast, full of atmosphere and neat set design. It looks like a casino, it feels like a casino. However, the restraints do bring it down in the long run, as a large portion of Act II is spent playing a suspense-less Baccarat game and running back and forth across the same locations. And what can Bond do to someone holding a cane-gun to his back but flail wildly backwards? I’ll have to remember that one.

Disregarding wardrobe, Eisenhower hairstyle and lack of absolute suave confidence, Barry Nelson’s performance was adequate. I can only imagine how audiences were reacting to this first portrayal of 007, especially if they were oblivious to the novels. Within the context of the rest of the series, it might seem like blasphemy to see James Bond acting like an insecure Rock Hudson, his character constantly referred to as "Jimmy." At times his performance goes a bit too far, getting all tv-frantic and overacty. Act III is the shining point, where his obvious vulnerability works for the hot water the character is in, pitted against the always frightening Peter Lorre.

It’s a bit of a shame, but Clarence Leiter steals the show, fooling henchmen left and right, flawlessly wearing his cover while protecting 007’s interests and being an all around badass. He’ll do what he damn well pleases, he will.

Most of the common elements are present: intrigue, listening devices, mysterious dames, supervillain on high, double crosses, torture to the edge of madness… There is no sex but to tell you the truth, I didn’t miss it. Hell, I even got a small kick out of what looks like tv’s most unconvincing Baccarat dealer ever.

Worth a view for those curious to see another version that is better than 1967’s spoof.

"My cane is in your back, but it is a gun, not a cane, and can blow the base of your spine without a sound." (5.5/10)
d. William H. Brown