Saturday, April 13, 2013

60 Years Ago: Casino Royale Introduced Bond, James Bond to the World

A man defined by ‘007’ has been the recipients of some milestone numbers as of late. In 2012, the release of the movie Skyfall was the centerpiece of a 50th year anniversary for the first James Bond movie. Starring Daniel Craig as at the famous British secret agent, Skyfall was the 23rd movie in the series started with the big screen release of Dr. No. The latest movie would be the highest-grossing 007 film in the franchise as it crossed the one-billion dollar mark becoming the first James Bond movie to accomplish the feat.

With all the excitement and notoriety created through the 23 films, James Bond started his adventures on paper. Operating from his Jamaica retreat identified as “Goldeneye”, writer Ian Fleming brought James Bond to life using his skilled pen and expertise derived from action in World War Two. Fleming worked closely with many covert operations of the allied forces through the course of the Second World War providing him a substantial wealth of inspiration for theme, character and setting. Casino Royale served as the first novel that formally introduced the world to the spy codenamed “007”.

James Bond was created as a composite of several real-life figures as well as Ian Fleming’s image of the super-spy. Drawing on several secret agents he personally met during his war service, Ian Fleming’s brother Peter and Canadian/British spy Sir William Stephenson were among those used as building blocks for Bond. Fleming also transferred many of his own traits to the character’s personality through his novels. As for the name, an American ornithologist provided the writer with the identity to the fictional British spy. An avid bird watcher, Fleming was presented the name from the book authored by Bond called Birds of the West Indies. Fleming admired the name James Bond as dull-sounding yet masculine. Interesting note in the film “Die another Day”, Bond grabbed a bird guide from an associate in Cuba as part of a surveillance cover.

Ian Fleming’s first use of his fiction spy in Casino Royale was officially released on April 13th of 1953. "The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul erosion produced by high gambling — a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension — becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it." Were the opening lines to the Fleming spy novel. In the Casino Royale, British Secret Service agent James Bond infatuates a baccarat game acting as a financial front for Soviet spy organization SMERSH. That novel established not only James Bond’s character but also supporting roles such as M and American CIA agent Felix Leiter. Becoming an acclaimed debut in the literary world, sales of the book Casino Royale were hot in the United Kingdom. The United States, on the other hand, initially were reluctant to accept the British spy with sales of Casino Royale totalling just 4,000 in the first run.

Despite slow sales in bookstores on the left side of the Atlantic Ocean, James Bond and Casino Royale were quickly selected for screen adaptation in the United States. The Ian Fleming novel was selected as one of the first stories to be acted out on a CBS program called Climax! in October 1954. Almost eight years to the date before Dr. No was released by Eon Productions, the performance of Casino Royale was the first time an actor played the role of James Bond. The 1954 television performance would be one of two instances where a screen adaptation of Casino Royale would dramatically differ from the novel. In the CBS Climax! series version, James Bond was American and Felix Leiter was British.

The first novel to incorporate the super-spy, first serious Casino Royale would not transfer to the big screen until 2006. Shortly after Casino Royale was adapted for television, Fleming sold the film rights to a producer named Gregory Ratoff. In 1967, the name did crossover to theatres though it was largely obscured by the fact it was an all-out comedy. Starring David Niven as James Bond and featuring the likes of Orson Welles as well as Woody Allen, the 1967 Casino Royale was a satire used to cash-in on the spy culture of the mid-1960s. Distributed by Columbia Pictures, the Casino Royale comedy was largely panned by critics including Roger Ebert.

The debut film featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond, the 2006 version of Casino Royale served as a reboot of the movie franchise some believed was going stale. Whereas some follow-up books and short stories of Fleming would have titles and some characters lifted, the 007 movie franchise frequently took creative liberties on his novels. Readers of the Ian Fleming novel would note 2006 Casino Royale film was perhaps the most faithful screen adaptation of the original source material from the author.

Though gadgets, fancy Bond vehicles and other visuals have translated best to movie screens, the vision of the man behind 007 created the arguments among millions of James Bond fans. Who is the best James Bond actor? Would you want an Aston Martin DB5 or a Lotus Esprit? Which Bond Girl is the most memorable? With the exploits of James Bond available to readers for 60 years, only Ian Fleming’s mind could truly answer those provocative questions on the imagination that created Casino Royale.

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