Climax Theater was an hour long live television broadcast sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation. The series went from 1954 till 1958. Casino Royale was the third of the series televised and was hosted by William Lundigan. The story was based on Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale, but was adapted for American audiences with Barry Nelson playing James Bond – or ‘Card Sense’ Jimmy Bond as he is referred to here. Among the other Climax Theater broadcasts were Eric Ambler’s Epitaph For A Spy and Journey Into Fear.
Casino Royale, being a one hour production, many plot points and characters had to be condensed to fit into the allotted time. For hard core Bond fans this causes the most unsatisfying aspects of the production. For example, the character of Vesper Lynd, the female protagonist in the book, is renamed Valerie Mathis. Rene Mathis was also a character in the book; a French agent. Obviously ‘Valerie’ is intended as an amalgam of the two characters.
As Bond is now an American, and works for an organisation called ‘Combined Intelligence’, Felix Leiter is now an English agent called Clarence Leiter. Leiter is played by Australian actor Michael Pate. Pate is well known to Australian audiences from his role in Matlock Police (how I loved that show as a child!) But spy fans may recall he appeared in the season two (1967) Mission Impossible epiosde, Trek; and many years later, when Mission Impossible was revived in 1989, and filmed in Australia, he appeared in the twelfth episode, The Fortune.
Despite the tweaking of the characters and plot to suit the audience and time constraints, the plot remains basically the same – James Bond takes on a Soviet agent in a high stakes game of Baccarat in Casino Royale. The production opens outside Casino Royale and a doorman is opening the door for the guests as they arrive. One of these guests is James Bond (Barry Nelson). As he approaches, gunshots ring out. Bond takes cover behind a convenient palm tree, near the door. The bullets miss and the driver races off.
The shots were intended to scare off Bond, but they don’t. Once inside, James Bond of ‘Combined Intelligence’ meets Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate) of ‘British Intelligence’. Leiter outlines Bond’s mission. He point’s out the Chief Soviet agent in the area – Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre). Le Chiffre has a weakness; he likes to gamble, and recently he has lost eighty million francs in Soviet funds. Of course, if Le Chiffre’s superiors find out he has lost the money, he will be liquidated. So Le Chiffre’s plan is to win back the money quickly. To do this, he has a bankroll of twenty-six million francs.
Now the plan is for Bond, who is an exceptional card player (he is known as ‘Card Sense’), to beat Le Chiffre at Baccarat. That way Le Chiffre will be unable to repay his debts, and well, you know the rest…
Now there’s a nice little twist to the story here. On hand, and controlled by Le Chiffre, is one of Bond’s old flames, Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian). She pleads with Bond not to play the game, but he ignores her. As the game is about to commence, Bond is called to the telephone. On the other end a man tells Bond, that if he should win the game, then the girl will die. It’s a tough decision for bond. Does he do his duty, or save the girl?
Obviously this was never intended to be a definitive version of the book, nor the pilot for a new series of television adventures for James Bond. It was a one-off and always intended as light entertainment. Now that the Bond character has grown to such proportions, to some people this production may take on added stature, but it really is just a small curiosity; an interesting diversion, nothing more.