Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bondathon: Casino Royale (1954)


This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but haven't gotten the time (or focus) to sit down and actually start. In honor of James Bond's fiftieth anniversary, and in recompense for having been completely out of the loop in terms of Bond lore, I decided to watch all the Bond movies from beginning to end and do a review of them.

Now, as I'm sure I don't need to remind any of you, I'm new to this whole blogging thing and I'm lazy, so I'm already about seven movies in and I haven't reviewed any. And I took a break like three months ago to start my INLAND EMPIRE NEWS BLOG BITCHES! (You can visit it here: http://iegrapevine.com/). Being a blogger, it turns out, is much tougher than I thought it would be. I mean don't get me wrong, it's still incredibly easy, but just work with me here.

(imagine the Bond theme is playing right now)

James fucking Bond. Why do we love him so much? Men want to be him, women want to bed him, and some men want to do both. In many ways he's a suave, sexy, and killer vision of masculinity and adventure. In many others, he's a symbol of fascism, misogyny, and is probably a complete psychopath. His escapades have led to some of film's most iconic moments, and has been instrumental in making hollywood the way it is today. It shows too, the franchise is the second most successful in history, having grossed a grand total of over six billion dollars at the international box office, stretched over twenty-three official films and two unofficial ones (we'll go over just what that means later). That's an average of $246 million per film. So come along on my magic rainbow of nude women and guns, as we traverse over fifty years of cinema to look at all the movies starring the man called Bond.

I could write a whole post about strictly the franchise alone, but that would spoil some of the points I make later, so let's jump right in. And, in a series full of some of the spy genre's most famous titles, where is a good place to start?

Why, with something nobody's ever heard of, of course!

Casino Royale (Climax!)

Date: 1954
Director: William H. Brown Jr
Bond: Barry Nelson
Number: 0
Starring: Peter Lorre, Linda Christian, Michael Pete, Eugene Borden.
The one with: nobody watching.

You may want to call me out on this one, considering that Bond's first ever appearance onscreen was during a half-hour episode of anthology series Climax! in the fifties, and not a theatrical film. But, it is a "movie" (with a running time of 48 minutes, it meets the criteria, but barely) starring James Bond, so I felt it deserved a mention. Also fuck you, it's my Bondathon. Go make your own if you don't like it.

Plot: CIA agent (no you read that correctly) Jimmy Bond (still reading it correctly) is commissioned to attend a game of high-stakes Baccarat in order to bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre), so that he can be taken into custody, but the situation becomes complicated when Bond finds out that an old flame of his, Mathis (Linda Christian, in a role that would later be played a large italian man), has a thing with Le Chiffre and may be playing both sides. Bond's going to need help from his British secret agent buddy, Leiter (still reading it) to stop Le Chiffre!

Background: In order to understand Casino Royale the movie, you must understand Casino Royale the book. The novel, by Ian Fleming, introduced the world to James Bond, and is considered a literary classic of spy fiction as a result. However, in its early years it was jut a sort of popular book, so the tv series Climax!, an anthology of television fiction not unlike The Twilight Zone decided to adapt the story as an episode of the show. The rest is history. Literally. Nobody saw the episode when it came out and it got lost for almost two decades. It's on youtube now.

Review: Now, it's time to address the elephant in the room: everything is fucking backwards. Bond's an American, Leiter's a brit, and Mathis is a woman.

Pictured: The love interest.
If it were made today, people would freak out.
But, it wasn't made today; it was made almost ten years before the franchise got started proper, so judging it by today's standards may not be fair. But even aside the obvious comparisons, it sort of fails to hold one's interest. It's forgettable, which is probably why it got, well, forgotten so easily. It's not really bad, but watching it at the time could not have been an experience beyond boring, and watching it today is just oddly surreal.

Bond: Nelson is the first actor to ever play James Bond, which is funny because he's probably the worst. In the original book, James Bond was supposed to be a boring, uninteresting brute who ran around and did shit, like a hero in those books your dad likes to buy from the gas station. To his credit, Barry Nelson (whose most famous role is as the dude who interviews Jack Nicholson in The Shining) definitely plays him that way. I almost cracked up when I saw him the first time. Most of this comes from the fact that he's completely uninteresting and not incredibly charismatic. To be fair, he brings a vulnerability to the role that would be missing for quite a while afterward.

Bond Girl: Linda Christian has the honor of being the first ever Bond girl, and she serves her purpose. She's an unwitting femme fatale who gets the man she loves into trouble because she can't separate him from her professional life. She's not a bad actress and she's attractive in that "this feels weird because she's dead now" kind of way.

Linda Christian: seen here with noted time-traveller James Franco

Villain: Peter Lorre is Le Chiffre, and while he's arguably the best thing about the episode, he's still by no means as good as Mads Mikkelsen, or even Orson Welles (we'll get to that later though.)

Here's Lorre, looking more like James Bond than literally anyone else in the movie.

Again, it feels mean to pick on the film, or episode, or whatever, but it's kind of its own fault: it had no real idea what kind of story it was adapting and it shows. But the guy who plays Leiter isn't bad, and Lorre is a good Le Chiffre, although by no means the best one. But, who cares. It has its moments of suspense, particularly in the third act. It was also filmed live, believe it or not, which is pretty impressive. If you're a huge Bond fan, it's worth a watch just for the weird novelty, but if you're a casual viewer, you won't get much out of it.

Rating: C

Ryan Downs will return in Dr. No

No comments:

Post a Comment