Casino Royale (1954)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/11/13
Cast: Barry Nelson, Peter Lorre

This black and white television adaptation of Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale" is definitely a curiosity, mostly in that "Jimmy" Bond (Barry Nelson) is cast as an American spy, rather than a British intelligence agent. He comes to Casino Royale to play a dangerous card game with a desperate and ruthless criminal named Le Chiffre (a tired looking Peter Lorre). Le Chiffre is in trouble with the Russians, and if he doesn't pay them off, his life is forfeit. Bond's job is to make sure that he doesn't win. An old flame with a hidden agenda turns up to complicate matters, and it's never clear whose side she's on. Bond prevails after a tense showdown, but not without injury and consequences.

The production is decent, but minimalistic, and suffers from various sound and lighting problems. Barry Nelson is more Mike Hammer than James Bond, but that's what the role called for. Peter Lorre is always enjoyable, but he looks old and tired as Le Chiffre, and never comes across as overly menacing. One of the more interesting aspects is that a fair amount of screen time is spent explaining how to play baccarat, which really helps to validate the tension of the game between Bond and Le Chiffre. Overall, it's an interesting interpretation, and a fascinating piece of cinematic history.