Many may not realize it, but the very first James Bond movie was Climax Theater`s Production of: Ian Fleming`s Casino Royale. Produced in 1954, and shown on CBS, it starred Barry Nelson as James Bond, Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis and Peter Lorre as Le Sheef. The 60 minute production was hosted by William Lundigan.
In some respects it`s faithful to the novel and in other places it diverges wildly. We`ll start from the beginning. This version was clearly made with the American audience in mind. James Bond was an American hero. He`s not even British in this version. That role goes to Clarence Leiter (Felix in the book) who works for Her Majesty`s Secret Service and is assigned to assist 007 to make sure Le Sheef (Le Chiffre in the book) is bankrupted in the Casino. The role of Vesper Lynd (in the book) has now been turned into Valerie Mathis.
As far as portraying Bond goes, Barry Nelson doesn`t carry much screen presence. His James Bond is nothing like Ian Fleming`s Bond and comes across as a nerd or a dork in the film. Linda Christian does okay as the duplicitous go between girl, but she`s not as emotionally distraught and tortured as Vesper was in the book. On the other hand, Peter Lorre is very convincing as the villian, a villian who has squandered state funds (Russia`s) and is trying to win it all back before he gets audited. He`s the real star of this production, and it always gets a lift whenever he`s on screen.
The basic plot of trying to bankrupt Le Sheef is intact. Other plot elements from the book that made it into this production include the cane disguised as a gun, Bond`s room being bugged, the explosion outside the Casino and Valerie being used by LeSheef. What didn`t make it into the film was the carpet beating torture sequence from the book, and Vesper`s death. The torture sequence was changed to having Bond being restrained in a bathtub while his toes were crushed in a vice like grip and in the end, Valerie and Bond appear to live happily ever after, which does not happen in the book.