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The Mystery Feature

          "Will the real, and final, Super-Secret Operation: 00-Oddball spy picture please stand up and identify itself?"

-- Yours Truly      

 

?

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema:

 
 

So, finally, our Super-Secret final feature for Operation: 00-Oddballs. Now, along the way, we've had a few guesses and suggestions from some of our readers:

As I wait out the weekend for the last installment for 00-Oddballs, I am wondering what the mystery movie will be. My guess .... A Man Called Flintstone, perhaps the ultimate of 60's spy movies where all the standard spy conventions of the time are gaffed with mixed results on the cartoon version of The Honeymooners. Could you get odder than that? At least, I hope its not Modesty Blaise."

-- George          

Nope, that's not it. But, dammit, it should have been. I never really even thought about doing a cartoon. And, you're right; I think every old Hanna-Barbera cartoon had at least one spy spoof episode. Also, don't worry. I don't ever want to watch Modesty Blaise ever again. Ever.

Hey! Wasn't Hans Gruber (-- the bad guy in Our Man Flint) the same name as the bad guy in Die Hard? What's the secret film? I'm thinking it will be one of the Dr. Goldfoot movies. Keep it up the good work!

-- Ryder          

Yes, it was. I had several e-mails pointing out that little coincidence. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine almost made the cut -- but Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Bombs was just, so, bad, that I wouldn't touch it again with a ten-foot pole.

This marathon of spy movies is great. I can hardly wait to see what the last movie is. For the record, I think its Casino Royale because there is no other spy movie more whacked out than that.

-- Nancy        

You're really, really close, Nancy -- but not quite.

Raquel Welch bouncing around in Fathom? Nope. Out of Sight, starring Homer, the ultimate dork super-spy and his super-spy car? It would have been if I could have found a *&#% copy of it. Some old episodes of Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp? Or maybe James Bond's little brother in Operation: Double 007? No, not a chance. Woody Allen's hysterically re-dubbed spy classic What's Up Tiger Lily? No. But, again, it probably should've been. *sigh*

And so...

Without further ado...

Our Super-Secret

Final Feature...

 
 
     
 

Casino Royale

     If you continue to be that obstinate, Ill have to torture -- you will be tortured to the edge of madness! Believe me, you have no hope whatsoever, you hear? None!

-- Le Chiffre      

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

Operation: 00-Boom Mike!

 

Watch it!

AMAZON

DVD

Available as a Bonus Feature on the Casino Royale (1967) DVD

 
Sights &
Sounds:
Climax! Mystery
Theater Presents:
Casino Royale
(1954)
 Original Air Date:
  October 21, 1954 (CBS)
 American Entertainment /
 CBS
 
 
 

Yep, we're doing Casino Royale -- vintage 1954, which was the very first 007 feature ever put to film, starring Barry Nelson and his Marine buzz-cut as the very American card-shark cum super-spy, Jimmy Bond.

... Wait, you say, Jimmy Bond?!?

E'yup. Honest. And we'll be getting to the how and the why in a bit, but, for now, Live! From Television City, in Hollywood, it's time for Climax! Mystery Theater! with our host for the evening, Mr. William Lundigan, who goes on a quick spiel about the horrors of gambling and an evil card game called Baccarat. Men have wagered a lot of money on this game, our host direly intones, but tonight, he promises a man will wager his life over it!

Next, we move to the entrance of a gambling establishment somewhere on the French Riviera, where one particular new arrival is targeted by a man holding a pistol. Several shots ring out, but, luckily, they all miss our hero, Jimmy Bond (Nelson), famed American playboy, gambler and super-secret spy for ... somebody. (And that sound you hear are all our friends over in England letting out one big collective groan.) Fairly unaffected over this attempt on his life, Bond accepts a profuse apology from the hotel manager for this dreadful incident and for letting the unknown gunman get away. He also offers a detail of casino security to escort his guest, but Bond refuses and ambles on into the casino alone -- but not as alone as he thinks because we can't help but notice the knock-out in the snappy evening dress who's obviously tailing him. 

Sidling up to one of the tables, Bond joins in on a game of Baccarat and immediately wins the pot. The man seated next to him offers his congratulations, introduces himself as Clarence Leiter (Michael Pate), and asks the lucky winner if he was the man who got shot at earlier. Replying that, no, he was the guy who got missed, both men share a hearty laugh before Leiter offers to buy Bond a drink as a bribe in exchange for any advice he can get on this infernal card game. They find a table, a deck of cards, and, after Bond orders a Scotch and water (?!?), these two relative strangers start talking awful cryptically, and then do some funny signals with their cigarettes and matchbooks.

Confused? Don't be. You see, this is all a code. For Bond is here on a mission and Leiter, who is with the English Secret Service, is his contact with all the details of this particular assignment. Thus, keeping up the ruse of a card lesson, Leiter reveals Bond's new target is a man named Le Chiffre, who just happens to be the top Soviet spy stationed in this neck of the woods. After describing this little toad of a man, Leiter then point him out at one of the tables but warns his fellow spy to not be fooled by the schlubish appearance. Le Chiffre is a dangerous fanatic, he offers, capable of just about anything -- a favorite being using the razor blade he keeps hidden in his cigarette case for any "slicing purposes." 

Asked if his task is to kill Le Chiffre, Leiter says no, Bond won't have to -- if he plays his cards right. Seems their target has a gambling problem to the tune of 80-million francs of the Communist Party's money lost at Baccarat. The KGB have gotten wind of this, Leiter continues, and are closing in. However, Le Chiffre has managed to get his hands on a sizeable amount of money -- not enough, but he has every intention of using it to get the full amount he needs, here, at the casino, to save his ass -- and he's enough of a card-sharp to do it. And so, Bond's mission is to join the Baccarat game and take Le Chiffre to the cleaners. And once they've busted him, then, his own people will "take care of him."

Provided with a bankroll of 26-million francs, matching Le Chiffre's current tally, leaving little room for error, but, Bond assures he's won a lot more with much less. Before turning him loose, Leiter offers one last warning: Le Chiffre comes complete with his own personal goon squad and a femme fatale, who are all staying in the hotel room directly above the one reserved for Bond. Figuring his room must be under some kind of surveillance, then, before the men can discuss it further they're interrupted by the dame tailing him, who just so happens to be Le Chiffre's squeeze, and who also happens to be well acquainted with Mr. Bond already!

After introducing Mr. Leiter to Ms. Valerie Mathis (Linda Christian), Bond reveals she was his good luck charm in Monte Carlo, where they had a fling and won a ton of money. Saying she's headed to the hotel, Bond offers to escort her. Once they reach the elevators, when Valerie asks if they can go to his room Bond warily agrees. Upon reaching the fifth floor Bond checks the indicator lights above the other elevator, which stops on to the sixth floor, meaning it's probably Le Chiffre and his entourage returning to their room to listen in. But once they're safely in his suite, Bond turns on some music to foil any bugs before he and Valerie swap about a gallon of spit. (Wow. That must have been some run of luck in Monte Carlo!) When they finally come up for air, Valerie emphatically warns Jimmy (urk!) not to play with Le Chiffre tonight, warning he's desperate enough to stop at nothing to win. And by nothing, she means killing -- specifically, killing him. Asked why she would care about that, Valerie claims to still have feelings for him. 

But, he doesn't buy it since she's running with Le Chiffre now. In fact, he accuses her of helping them bug his room. She denies this, but he's heard enough and decides to let Le Chiffre hear what he wants to hear, ordering Valerie to ask the questions she's been tasked. With that, he turns the music down and loudly turns up the smarm. Again, she warns him to stay away from Le Chiffre but he still ignores this advice, saying he'll take his chances. With that done, he escorts her back to the elevators, and, once out of earshot of the bugged room, Valerie keeps on pleading and confesses she still loves him. No. Really. But, he still can't trust her, triggering  a fit, and so, leaves the woman in the care of the elevator operator before her jilted snit reaches full eruption.

Well, that could have gone better, he typed ominously...

Upon returning to Le Chiffre's room, Valerie is congratulated on a job well done by her boss. Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) confesses he only bugged the room to make sure she still didn't have any lingering feelings for Bond and wasn't trying to double-cross him (-- meaning she didn't know about this after all). Our villain can't afford to have his plan ruined, after all. And she might have gotten away with it if he hadn't noticed how smudged her lipstick is. (Oops.) Anyhoo, Le Chiffre leaves it alone for now and continues to listen in on Bond, who is calling the hotel manager and takes him up on that offer of protection for the duration of his stay.

Back in the casino, as Leiter gets Bond's stake money from the cashier he's approached by one of Le Chiffre's goons, who's hiding a gun under his coat and demands the money. Luckily, the hotel manager and several pit-bosses wander by and Leiter quickly hands the money over to them with strict instructions to hold it until Mr. Bond arrives. The villain thwarted, Leiter leaves with the others to let him stew. Meanwhile, Bond returns with his security detail right behind him. And after a quick chat with Leiter, allows Valerie to introduce him to Le Chiffre. With the high stakes Baccarat game about to start, the men wish each other luck as they take their seats. But before the first hand is dealt, Bond is told he has an urgent phone call. He takes it, and the man on the other end warns that if he wins the game Valerie will lose. With the lethal implication made clear, Bond manages to get word to Leiter to keep an eye on the girl before returning to the table, just as the dealer tosses out the first hand of cards...

Act II

For those of you unfamiliar with the game of Baccarat it's a lot like Blackjack, only you play to nine and are allowed only one draw from the deck after your initial two cards. Initially, things go well as the first pot goes to Bond but Le Chiffre proves his match by taking the next two. And as each successive pot gets fatter, Bond's horrid streak continues and soon finds himself down to his last 8 million francs. Undaunted, Mr. Confidence bets it all on the next hand, but, once again, Le Chiffre comes out on top. And so, Bond has busted out. (Our hero?) Still, despite all the kudos from his goon squad, Le Chiffre must keep playing because he's still well short of the 80-million he needs.

Before he surrenders his seat, Bond receives a large envelope. In it he finds 35-million francs and a note saying he must beat Le Chiffre. Bankrolled again, Bond gets back in the game and matches Le Chiffre's ante until the pot hits 27-million. This time, though, Bond wins the hand. Desperate now, Le Chiffre bets all he has left on the next hand. He draws a six and holds. Then, Bond flips his cards -- a four, then a three. Bond wins and Le Chiffre is flat busted!

The big game over, as the crowd disperses, one of Le Chiffre's goons approaches Bond and sticks a cane in his back. After assuring Bond this isn't a cane but a boom-stick, he orders his victim to gather up his winnings and follow him out of the casino. But our hero manages to knock him off balance and wrests the cane away. Alas, and once more, the bad guy gets away. Next, when Bond checks in with Leiter to make sure Valerie is okay, he's told Valerie gave him the slip after she went to the cashier to get Bond's second bankroll. This development confuses our hero. He had assumed the money had come from Leiter. He was wrong. But why would Valerie give him the money? They can figure that out later, he decides. For now, she's in danger and they must find her! Leaving Leiter to search the casino, Bond heads to the hotel. On the way out, Bond is given a cashier's check for the 87-million francs he won.

Finding Le Chiffre's room empty, Bond returns to his own. Knowing Le Chiffre won't give up that easy, Leiter calls and warns our hero to hide the check immediately. Though still more worried about Valerie, Bond takes a screwdriver and quickly secrets the check behind the number plate of his hotel room door. Then, the phone rings again. This time, the caller demands the cashier's check or Valerie will die! Just then, however, Valerie enters the room, and so, Bond tells the caller to get bent and hangs up. Unfortunately, Le Chiffre and his goon squad are right behind her! Seems our villain has discovered Valerie's role as a double-agent, working for the French, against him. And that's why she gave Bond the money. Speaking of the money, Le Chiffre tells Bond to turn it over or they'll both die...

Act III

Le Chiffre's goons have been giving Bond a good pounding for awhile now, but he still refuses to reveal where he hid the check. When the phone rings, Le Chiffre tells him to answer -- but no funny business or Valerie, whose bound and gagged over in the corner, gets it. It's Leiter, but Bond can't tell him anything, except that he found Valerie and she's "safe."

Thus, the brutal interrogation continues to no avail. Needing to amp things up even further, when Le Chiffre says Bond is ready for the tub his two goons haul our hero into the bathroom. Meantime, Le Chiffre removes Valerie's gag but warns "One scream and he dies!" before escorting her into the bathroom, too. Bond is bound in the tub, with his bare feet exposed over the edge of the basin. Here, Le Chiffre promises if he doesn't say where the money is, Bond will be "tortured to the edge of madness." Calling him the sadist he is, Le Chiffre considers this a compliment. He then produces a menacing looking pair of pliers and goes to work on Bond's toes. 

And I have to say those pliers look a lot like wire cutters, so is he breaking toes? Or chopping them off?! GAH! Kind of gruesome for 1954 isn't it?

As our hero writhes in agony, Valerie can't bare to watch. And though he refuses to talk, she finally breaks, saying she saw him holding a screwdriver when they first came in. Quickly deducing its purpose, Le Chiffre leaves the two captive love birds alone to go and search for where Bond secreted the check. But in his haste, Le Chiffre makes a fatal mistake by leaving his cigarette case behind. Working together, Bond and Valerie manage to get it open and use his hidden razor blade to get free.

Meanwhile, Le Chiffre and his goons have found the check. From the bathroom, Bond desperately calls for some water. And as a smirking Le Chiffre sends the goons in to kill them, while he gloats over the check, Bond gets the jump on the bad guys, gets one of their guns, and shoots them all dead. He then manages to get a bullet into Le Chiffre. And as Valerie helps the hobbled Bond out of the bathroom and into the suite, our villain slumps into a chair, clutching his bullet wound. He begs Bond to just kill him but he won't. He tells Valerie to get the check back and then calls the police. 

The End

Okay, time for another brief, auto-biographical interlude. What? Again?! Now stop rolling your eyes and bear with me. It's relevant to this film -- and pretty dang funny, too.

Before getting my current job at the newspaper, I used to work as a production assistant for the local ABC affiliate. Like a lot of folks, we PA's were overworked and underpaid. Aside from that, you honestly wouldn't believe the silent chaos that rages in a television studio during a live news broadcast. It's a mad dash of moving cameras and wild body language to keep the talking heads in line and on track, with plenty of wires and cables to trip over and "accidentally" unplug lying around ... When you're on the floor (the studio), you're in constant contact over a headset (-- yet another set of wires to trip over --) with the director, who's dealing with his own chaos back in the control booth. From which, he would bark orders and you did your best to comply.

Now, on this one particular night things were going reasonably well. The broadcast was almost done. I was on Camera Two (and Three and Four -- did I mention we PA's were always understaffed, too?) and had set the final shot of the two news anchors. While I waited for us to come back from commercial, I took it upon myself to fix my antiquated headset, which had been falling apart for the past three days, that finally gave up the ghost and disintegrated into four less than manageable pieces. When we came back, live, and the anchors tossed it to the final fluff piece of the night, I started tinkering with the headset, trying to jam the component parts back together. After the video package ended, the director switched to Camera One, a three-shot, and the anchors asked the weatherman what to expect one last time. Then, they switched back to Camera Two, to say goodnight, while I continued to fight with the headset. Then I shifted weight, ever so slightly, from one foot to the other, not realizing that part of my foot was on the main cable that was attached to the camera on top of the rolling tripod.

That's all it took. That little shift caused the camera to pivot and raise up -- ever so slightly. On the monitor, the anchors were talking and slowly sunk out of the frame. I became aware of some loud squabbling coming out of the discombobulated headset in my hands. I slowly raised the earphone to my ear and caught the last part of a string of blistering profanities from the director that ended with "CAMERA TWO! WHERE THE F**K ARE YOU GOING!" With that, I glanced up into the viewfinder and saw the top of the anchor's heads, almost completely out of frame. I took the handles on the camera, and, ever so gently, readjusted them back into frame. It wasn't the first time I'd made the Director's Error Log -- and it wasn't the last either. All the disasters I caused, or just witnessed, during my two year hitch as a camera jockey are too numerous to tell here. This one was just the easiest to translate.

So what does this anecdote have to do with Casino Royale? Well, you have to remember this project was shot back in the 1950's on live TV, meaning no real margin for error, and what eventually showed up on screen is what you got. The program itself is pretty ambitious, and actually kind of cool, how they staged it and set it up, but the production is filled with more than a few technical gaffes and glitches:

There are several instances of boom mike shadows, and several more instances of the volume on those mikes not getting turned on in time. The lighting man missed a few cues, too. Also, there are a couple of instances of very loud mystery noises -- and you can just picture some stage hand dropping something big behind the plywood walls or canvas flats, or maybe a bulb blowing  (-- that happens a lot), or one of the arc lights itself breaking loose and falling from the ceiling. (That happened to me during a sports segment once. Missed the anchor by a foot. A foot.) To the actors credit, they kept right on going.

Someone in the studio audience has a nice smoker's hack, too, and you can hear a constant murmuring from the audience that can't be unheard once you notice it, which proves to be very distracting. 

The biggest gaffe comes towards the end, though. I'm guessing another camera didn't get in position in time, or the director flubbed, because right after Le Chiffre is shot outside the bathroom, Lorre breaks character and nonchalantly walks over to his next mark, sitting in a chair, and waits for Bond and Valerie to emerge from the bathroom. The camera finally switches and we see them come out. For a long time a wild urban legend was circulating about this broadcast that had Lorre getting up off the floor and moving to his dressing room after "dying" while the cameras still rolled. I think the origin of this tale can be traced back to this errant gaffe, and the evidence shows it wasn't his fault.

Having worked in live TV producing a measly half hour news program, I can only boggle at what it took to get this ambitious production done so I can easily forgive these glitches and marvel that nothing else went wrong. Especially when you consider the less than state of the art equipment they were using at the time. (Although I think my ancient headset at NTV was a relic of those bygone days.) So, my hat is off to the whole production crew.

As for how this adaptation came to be in the first place, it begins with Climax! Mystery Theater itself, an anthology series which ran on CBS from 1954 to 1958, sponsored for most of its run by Plymouth Motors. Again, most of the shows were filmed live, including other literary adaptations like Sorry, Wrong Number, Fear Strikes Out, Gore Vidal's take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. The program ran for one hour and was usually broken up into three acts. 

The Casino Royale adaptation came early in the show's run, the third episode, according to most sources, premiering on October 21st, 1954. CBS paid author Ian Fleming $1000 for the rights to adapt his first James Bond novel of the same name. To condense the novel to the show's limited format, scriptwriters Anthony Ellis and Charles Bennet were forced to strip it down to the bare bones and one setting. They also made Bond an American agent working for some combined intelligence agency with the other NATO countries. And though you may find yourself annoyed by the countless scenes of Leiter doing nothing but running around the casino doing just that, nothing, you have to remember this obvious filler was necessary to get Bond, Valerie and the others into position on the hotel set. Aside from this fluff, the story zips right along. And once you adjust to the notion of an American Bond, the square-jawed Nelson isn't all that terrible. Honest. Meantime, Ms. Christian is really quite beautiful and feisty as Valerie. But it's Lorre who anchors the whole thing and runs away with it. I absolutely adore this man and he's fantastic here as the giggling and sadistic Le Chiffre, especially when he gets to say lines like "We will torture you to the edge of madness!" 

The brass at CBS were pleased with end results, too. So pleased they paid Fleming to develop several scripts for a proposed James Bond TV series. History shows that never came to be, but Fleming took those unused scripts and published them as part of his own anthology novel, For Your Eyes Only. Eventually, after the Broccolis own Bond franchise exploded, CBS's parent company, Columbia, optioned the rights for Casino Royale over to MGM, who made their own feature, a comedy, in 1967. But despite the efforts of four directors, a half-dozen Bonds, around twenty novelty cameos, including the Frankenstein Monster, and all that '60s kitsch and psychedelia, the royal mess that is the '67 version of Casino Royale doesn't hold half the charm of the '54 version.

Thought to be lost forever, a kinescope containing the majority of the broadcast was found in 1981 by film historian Jim Schoenberger, except for the ending. Luckily, the missing pieces were eventually found and the whole thing was pieced back together. And luckier still, the 1954 version of Casino Royale is available for all to see as a bonus feature on MGM's DVD for the 1967 version. It's not as terrible as you'd think or have heard, and it also serves as a nice time capsule that captures the essence of early American broadcast TV and is well worth a look. 

And that also concludes our five part goofball spy retrospective. Hope you enjoyed reading 'em as much as I enjoyed writing about 'em. Until next time, then: que up the Bond music and play us out...

Climax! Mystery Theater Presents: Casino Royale (1954) Americana Entertainment :: CBS Television Network / P: Bretaigne Windust / AP: Elliott Lewis / D: William H. Brown / W: Antony Ellis, Charles Bennett, Ian Fleming (novel) / M: Bernard Herrmann / S: Barry Nelson, Peter Lorre, Linda Christian, Michael Pate, William Lundigan

Back to Operation: 00-Oddballs.

Originally Posted: 04/01/03 :: Rehashed: 03/06/2013

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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