Saturday, 13 April 2013


He was probably talking to his friend Ivar Bryce or to anyone of his wartime friends when he said he would write “the spy story to end all spy stories.” But the truth is that Ian Lancaster Fleming never imagined the “spy story” that would “end all spy stories” has had multiple cancelled screen adaptations, a swinging ‘60s spy spoof with A-class actors and a cancelled stage play, everything ending in with a proper adaptation by EON productions in 2006 and starring Daniel Craig as James Bond… 53 years after its original publication!

The film series, as we all know, started in 1962 with DR. NO, based on Ian Fleming’s sixth James Bond novel and starring Sean Connery as the British agent – but the first film doesn’t give us what we might call a “beginning” for the series. DR. NO is more of a standard Bond film with 007 having a normal mission, beating the evil Doctor portrayed by Joseph Wiseman and ending with his partenaire Honey Rider played by Ursula Andress. We have, of course, the introduction of the Head of the British Secret Service M and his secretary Miss Moneypenny. But that isn’t quite a “beginning” of a story, or a series of stories.

Ian Fleming reading the first american edition
of his creation.
The novels, on the other hand, are more respectful of the chronological events, so 1953’s CASINO ROYALE gives us a proper beginning: the heady atmosphere of the casino where Bond has to carry on his mission to beat a Soviet treasurer is the beginning of a story where our secret agent will win, lose and suffer, living a handful of traumatic and emotional experiences with his love interest Vesper Lynd and his sadistic nemesis Le Chiffre that would end with a Bond determined to “attack the arm that held the whip and the gun.” He is clearly not the same at the beginning than at the end, and the traumas lived in this story would be in many times reflected throughout the following Fleming novels.

CASINO ROYALE’s first screen adaptation came in 1954 and it was a live TV movie part of the Climax Mistery Theatre show, starring Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond, this time a CIA agent, Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis replacing the original Vesper Lynd, and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Even when the show roughly respects the events of the novel, it lacks all the visual attributes Ian Fleming imagined for his hero: the TV seems too small for James Bond and, of course, the black and white transmission fails to make the correct atmosphere of the novel. We shouldn’t forget the American “Card-sense” Jimmy Bond is not Ian Fleming’s James Bond – not even close.

Barry Nelson as James Bond in the
Ian Fleming passed away in 1964, after selling most of his novel rights to producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, while CASINO ROYALE was sold in the first place to Russian producer Gregory Ratoff and then would end up reaching the hands of Charles K Feldman, who failed to reach an agreement in 1966 with Broccoli and Saltzman, now rich and famous for their first five four 007 films starring Sean Connery. Feldman then decided it was not really necessary to have the Bond producers on his side, and also that it wasn’t even necessary to be faithful to Ian Fleming itself: he would hire David Niven (Fleming’s favourite to play Bond), Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Charles Boyer and original Bond girl Ursula Andress to make a funny extravaganza where a retired Sir James Bond (Niven) would be forced to return back to active service to avert the scheme of… his nephew (Allen), who plans to kill every tall man and make all women beautiful. Lots of funny moments, a memorable score by the great Burt Bacharach with the Oscar nominee song “The Look of Love” by Dusty Springfield, great actings by Sellers, Welles, and all… but we can’t take that seriously. The 1967 version of CASINO ROYALE is a good comedy, a funny film for everyone enjoying the ‘60s, but you can forget to find the true spirit of the novel – none of that is here!

David Niven as the upper-crust
Sir James Bond in Charles K
Feldman's 1967 version
It’s the late ‘80s where Roger Moore and Sean Connery are having the cinematic Battle of Bonds: OCTOPUSSY, the official EON production produced by Albert R Broccoli and starring the former Saint now turned Bond, and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN in the other side of the ring, which, in a similar situation (a very long series of trials, actually) to the 1967 Bond spoof, was Kevin McClory’s attempt to beat the official series using the Scottish actor still known worldwide as the one and only James Bond. But in New York City, there was a Bond fan and stage director trying to get the spy story to end all spy stories to the stage – Raymond Benson, author of THE JAMES BOND BEDSIDE COMPANION.

“I met the Chairman of Glidrose Publications (now called Ian Fleming Publications), Peter Janson-Smith, who was also Ian Fleming's literary agent.  We got along well and he liked the BEDSIDE COMPANION when it came out.  On a whim I asked why James Bond had never been on the stage as a play.  He replied that EON Productions owned such rights to all of Fleming's works - except for CASINO ROYALE,” told us the writer, now author of nine James Bond novels. “(…) By early 1986, I had finished the play and set about mounting a staged reading of it in New York with professional actors. (…) Then, for some reason, Glidrose decided not to pursue mounting a proper stage production.  An elderly theatrical agent in London advised them that it wouldn't work, that James Bond was a cinematic character and that we would fail”, laments Benson.

We’re in the beginning of the 21st century and finally EON Productions adquired the rights of CASINO ROYALE. Pierce Brosnan was a successful Bond by then with GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH and DIE ANOTHER DAY, the 40th anniversary Bond film, coming in 2002.  In an universe where Bond was worldwide accepted as a man who beats the bad guys and beds the girl at the end, would people settle for a dark and more human Bond? For a Bond that doesn’t “wins” the lady at the end and the biggest thing he does is beating the bad guy at a baccarat table? Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, heirs of the late Albert’s throne, can’t take a risk, but the full of special effects and unrealistic 20th Bond film called for a more deep 007 adventure for the following film.

The theatres were full of movies that showed the births of their heroes. Their beginning.
The rights of CASINO ROYALE were now property of EON Productions, after more than half a century. It was now or never.

Daniel Craig starts in the definitive
It was soon made official: CASINO ROYALE, the first James Bond novel, the beginning of the man we know as 007, the spy story to end all spy stories, would have its official version in 2006 and directed by none other than GOLDENEYE director Martin Campbell, responsible of launching Brosnan’s Bond with a bang! And in October 2005, we had many fans raising its eyebrows to a well-built blonde Englishman named Daniel Craig to play Ian Fleming’s creation.
But how do you turn a 1953 novel into a 2006 thriller packed of action? Would people like to have Bond sitting on a casino table for two hours? Of course not. Screenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, with a polished script by Paul Haggis, gave CASINO ROYALE  a high-scale international terrorism background with Le Chiffre organizing poker tournaments with the world’s terrorists funds. Vesper would be there, played by the beautiful French actress Eva Green, and a debonair Le Chiffre portrayed by KING ARTHUR’S Mads Mikkelsen. To enrich the story, more characters were added such as the voluptuous Solange played by Caterina Murino and villains like arms dealer Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), terrorist Mollaka (Sebastién Foucan) and MI6 agent Carter (Joseph Millson). Judi Dench, Pierce Brosnan’s M, returned once more, and renowed Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini was the first official onscreen incarnation of René Mathis in the film series. With Jeffrey Wright, CASINO ROYALE also marked the return of Felix Leiter since 1989, last played by David Hedison in LICENCE TO KILL.

“See how James became Bond,” claimed the TV advertisements. And in 2006 Bond had its beginning long before the chronological beginning of the series with 1962’s DR NO. The classic gunbarrel icon was postponed after a violent black and white teaser sequence where Bond (in a similar situation as Fleming told us in the novel) earns his 00 number, and then followed by a colorful main title sequence blasted by Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” song.

The Martin Campbell film of course presents a lot interesting of additions to the novel like Bond averting a terrorist attack on the tarmac of the Miami Airport, or a wild chase through the jungle and a construction site in Madagascar. There are a few changes too to adapt the material to the 21st century, but, unlike the 1967 motion picture, the essence of Ian Fleming is indeed here: there is Bond winning the card game, there’s Bond suffering an horrendous torture, there’s Bond losing his beloved girl… and there’s his promise of hunting down the evil organization behind Le Chiffre, with an ending sequence rewarded by the inmortal “Bond, James Bond” introduction and the missing James Bond Theme in full.

“The spy story to end all spy stories.” Has it really ended with all spy stories? Or was it the beginning of a new way of telling spy stories? Anyway, Ian Fleming’s novel that right now it’s celebrating its 60th anniversary could be associated to many beginnings more than to one end: The beginning of a TV episode the beginning of a spoof, and the beginning of a new generation of Bond fans and a new way to see the cinematic Bond.  But with the 2006 movie, thanks to a talented director, a great cast and an outstanding script, the CASINO ROYALE story to end all CASINO ROYALE stories finally came true. Ian Fleming could be proud.

Case closed.

Nicolás Suszczyk
Editor, The GoldenEye Dossier.

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