Climax!: Casino Royale

Climax - Casino RoyaleSynopsis: American spy James Bond must outsmart card wiz and crime boss Le Chiffre while monitoring his actions.

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Welcome to The Critical Eye’s ‘Mission Briefing Version’ commentaries of the James Bond movies.

Via thirteen key categories, over the course of the next few months we will rate and/or comment on each picture in brief. These MBV blurbs will also sometimes feature guest commentators, Bond fans and non-fans alike, thus offering a variety of perspectives on this iconic series.

We hope that you will enjoy TCE’s unique take on the world of 007.

Climax!: Casino Royale

Date of viewing: August 1, 2014

1-Climax-Casino Royale

Opening credits

The Thorn: 5.0 – This one starts with the ‘Climax!’ television programme’s host, William Lundigan, presenting the episode by explaining what a dealer’s shoe is and introducing the actors. It’s pretty forgettable stuff, really: there are no fancy credits or theme music to buoy it, sadly enough. And certainly no gun barrel intro. 😉

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Story
The Thorn: 7.0 – Although it’s a severely truncated version of the original book, for a 50-minute piece it’s not bad at all. It focuses on Bond’s duel with Le Chiffre at Casino Royale, where he is tasked into beating him at Baccarat so that Le Chiffre can’t recover the money he must repay his associates. There begins a cat-and-mouse game as they try to outwit each other through skill and threats.
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Banter
The Thorn: 4.0 – There isn’t much as far as witty banter goes in this episode. And what little there is is/might be is squandered by poor delivery – even the driest material could have been given an understated sharpness with the right actors on hand (Connery, for instance would have milked the dialogues for even the slightest trace of humour or edge).
***
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Villains
The Thorn: 7.0 – Le Chiffre is an excellent character because he’s creepy enough to be disquieting and desperate enough to be threatening. Peter Lorre is quite good here, avoiding the cartoon sleeziness that he frequently adopted – especially later in his career. He’s the star of the show. His henchmen, however, were pretty standard for the genre and context.
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Bond Girls
The Thorn: 7.0 – Valerie Mathis, who replaces Vesper Lynd here, is an active participant, but she isn’t stunningly capable – she’s more typically what you’d expect from a ’50s heroine. But she has edge and is lovely to look at, two qualities that are essential to any Bond Girl.
***
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Gadgets
The Thorn: 4.0 – There is only one gadget, and it’s a cane-gun. Unfortunately, it’s awkwardly used by a henchman, who sticks it into Bond’s back after he wins at Baccarat. A regular gun might have gone unnoticed, but it’s a cane. How could no one around them notice this awkwardly threatening gesture?
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Vehicles
The Thorn: n/a – There are no vehicles in this studio production.
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Locales
The Thorn: 5.0 – The set is alright given the limited budget, but it does make the casino and hotel rooms seem a bit cheap when one considers that it’s supposed to be a high stakes gambling facility. Admittedly, American casinos in the mid-’50s were nothing like the decadent palaces that they are now, but it’s disappointing. If only it had been set in Europe instead of the USA.
***
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Stunts
The Thorn: 5.0 – There are no significant stunts, and the few fights are about as good as a bunch of stage actors can produce live without the aid of editing and multiple takes.
***
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Soundtrack
The Thorn: 4.0 – The music doesn’t contribute much to the suspense or drama; this is merely canned television music. And, obviously, it doesn’t feature Monty Norman’s classic theme or even an opening title track.
***
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Best Bond moment
The Thorn: Sadly, this one belongs to Clarence Leiter, Bond’s British contact (yes, Felix Leiter has ben morphed into a Brit), not Bond himself. At one point, he’s holding all the cash that Le Chiffre needs to save his hide and he is threatened over it. When a casino attendant comes by to speak with him, he swiftly uses the opportunity to ask him to put the money away for him, thereby both saving his life and getting the money out of reach of Le Chiffre. Not exceptionally clever, but it’s clever enough.
***
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Worst Bond moment
The Thorn: There are two: 1) while Bond is playing Baccarat, he displays the worst “Poker Face” ever. There’s no way this amateur could win. 2) When Bond is tortured in the bathtub, he comes off as a wussy girly man. Oh, he doesn’t reveal his secret, but there’s little dignity or coolness to be seen.
***
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Overall impression
The Thorn: 6.75 – This is a Kinescope presentation of the original October 21, 1054 live television presentation. It looks like crap and it’s made on the cheap, but it’s as good as it could get given the context. I can’t imagine them doing this any better given those circumstances – after all, it was all live, with multiple cameras, and any mistake was broadcast as is. Plus which it was made for TV, so it had little edge. Heck, even the central Baccarat duel between Bond and Le Chiffre offered no suspense. With a sharper cast, it might have soared, but it’s hampered by an American Bond (Yes, American! He works for the CIA) who is reminiscent of Glenn Ford and whom people call Jimmy all the time. He has none of the coolness and swagger of the Bond we’ve come to love. The end result is a bland version of Bond, but it’s the very first and it’s fascinating if only contextually.

“James Bond” will return

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