casino royale -- 12/10/20

Today's encore selection -- from The Man Who Saved Britain by Simon Winder. The remake of Ian Fleming's very first Bond novel, Casino Royale, was set in Montenegro and Venice, and quickly soared past the $100 million sales mark. The debut of the original was more inauspicious: In the post-war poverty of Britain, the town of Royale on the northern coast of France suffices for the exotic, and the Bond franchise is so new and so little is known that it merits only a poorly made CBS movie and then, shortly after, a second disastrous David Niven/Woody Allen version:

"Casino Royale is a book all about privilege, but privilege of a very marginal and almost grimy kind ... The action is entirely based in and around the dull, failing Normandy coastal town of Royale—a sort of hopeless Deauville. One can imagine that French casinos circa 1950 had been through rather a lot—the previous decade having seen a 'mixed crowd' at the tables. The nature of Bond's privilege is to bat Royale at all. [Post-war] currency and travel restrictions meant that the [English] Channel, the barrier essential in 1940 to keeping the Germans out, was now quite as actively penning non-military British people in. The very wealthy, or those with friends in France, could make arrangements to get round the restrictions (which stayed in place in various ways until the 1970s -- yet another example of how strange the recent past was), but for virtually everyone France, even blustery, sour northern France, had become as exotic as Shangri-la. Fleming could not have chosen his location more cleverly: he would need to ratchet up the flow of exotica with each of the later books ... but Britain's frame of reference had shrunk so small by the early fifties that Royale was quite enough. ...

"There were all kinds of abortive schemes to film the Bond books in the 1950s. None came to anything and it is interesting how this reflects Fleming's quite moderate prominence at the time, particularly in the United States. The one exception was Casino Royale, sold to CBS to make a one-off for American television in 1954. ... The program features an American 'Jimmy' Bond played by Barry Nelson. ... Nelson's Bond wanders around a casino fluffing his lines, and bizarrely and at great length explains the rules of the card game being played. ... Particularly oddly, he drinks only water. ... It is a shambles. ...

"[T]he rights to Casino Royale meant that they were passed on outside anyone else's control to the makers of the Swinging Sixties movie disaster Casino Royale. This David Niven/Woody Allen horror is rarely seen and effectively has nothing to do with Bond, or with anything. It is cruel that Bond should be played by David Niven, one of the essential British actors of the forties who somehow went completely wrong and spent the rest of his career pimping to some deep-seated American wish to see British twerpy ineffectuality in action."



Simon Winder


The Man Who Saved Britain


Farrar, Straus, and Giroux


Copyright 2006 by Simon Winder


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