After writing about the first two Ian Fleming Bond novels for my James Bond challenge I now move on to the next publication which is the TV special of Casino Royale for the TV show Climax! I actually watched this a few months ago and have since read a few more books but I’ve just been slow to write them up. A few more blog posts should come soon as I attempt to catch up.

My understanding was that this was recorded and aired totally live. Pretty impressive and almost crazy to me to do a show in this way. There are indeed moments in the episode where it really does feel like it’s live and there are perhaps longer pauses than usual or someone ad libbing etc. It was aired in colour but the only prints that have survived are in black and white and I believe are actually a film recording of someone pointing a camera at the TV that was playing it.

Climax! was an anthology show with different stories each week. The producers at CBS had obviously read the Fleming novel that had only been published one year prior. Just goes to show how quickly Fleming’s first Bond novel had become popular, not only in the UK but also in the US. He obviously hit a nerve in the zeitgeist, or perhaps just had a very good agent.

The episode is famous for being the first on-screen appearance of the character of James Bond. Although in this case the character is portrayed slightly different, as an American called Jimmy Bond. Bond is played by Barry Nelson, who readers may also know as the hotel manager in The Shining.

There’s obviously not a lot of Bond tropes in this one, which were introduced to later in the EON productions. There’s no M, no Q, no Moneypenny, no gadgets etc. He does have the quips though. “Aren’t you the fellow who was shot?”. “No, I’m the fella who was missed.”

One of the big draws of this piece is Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Always good to hear his voice, although I feel he could have been a bit more creepy in this film. Also, Michael Pate puts in a charming turn as Clarence Leiter. I like how, after turning Bond into an American CIA agent, they changed the Felix Leiter character into the British Clarence Leiter. They also combine two characters from the book into Valerie Mathis.

It’s fairly entertaining as a piece of live entertainment from the early 50s, but it doesn’t feel too much like Bond. Obviously it’s hard to criticise Nelson, as he wasn’t to know what the character would become, but he certainly doesn’t ooze the confidence that we know and love from James Bond. Right from the very first scene, his reactions aren’t particularly great when the shots are fired. He moves pretty slowly to the side and then comically hides between a pillar with his elbows sticking out. It also must have been a stormtrooper that shot that him. Only imperial stormtroopers can be that inaccurate at close range.

All in all it’s a fun outing, although not quite the Bond we will come to love. Here is the YouTube link of the full episode.