Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fantasy Filmaking:
Casino Royale (Ealing Studios 1956)

Ok. So we all know the films that have been made and the films that were nearly made, but what about the films that should have been made?

In this scenario, we look at what might have happened if, following the publication of Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel Casino Royale in 1953, the film rights had been acquired by Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios. And then in 1956, with film critic Kenneth Tynan in charge of scripts at Ealing, it goes into production as part of Tynan's effort to make Ealing a place for serious, forward looking film making.

It's long been our belief that James Bond is one of the great wasted characters. Cinemagoers have never yet seen the real James Bond - the Bond of the novels - instead they have been offered a pale imitation of the real thing. What we would like to see in this production is a vicious, bleak tale of an agent tested to the limit of his endurance. A man capable of cruelty, yet able to mix with the highest of society. A man of cruel mouth and cold eyes.

So here we go. It's time to cast Casino Royale (1956):

So who is to be Bond?

The obvious choices are a bit too old:

David Niven

David Niven might have seemed born to play Bond but by 1956 he's just too old.

If it had been the late 1940s Stewart Granger would have been ideal ...
Stewart Granger

 ... suave and attractive, but menacing and capable of cruelty. But he's off swashbuckling around in Hollywood.

Then there's my favourite, David Farrar ...
David Farrar

 ... another man capable of combining attraction with a sense of detachment. And his role in Black Narcissus, as the man that even nuns fall in love with, yet who retains a sense of mystery throughout, seems ideally Bondlike. Yet another one who's too old.

So who's left? An unlikely choice might be Dirk Bogarde. Through the early and mid-1950s Bogarde played mainly lightweight characters, comedy doctors and the like, but here was an actor just desperate to break out into serious roles. So he might have been ideal for the this dark vision of Bond. And seen here in The Servant,  he even has the unruly lock of hair falling over his eye as Fleming gave to the original character:

Dirk Bogarde

But I'm not sure he's quite right.

A unlikely choice might have been Harry H. Corbett. Forget his later typecasting and public image as a comedy actor, in the mid-fifties he was a serious stage actor just breaking into cinema. In Nowhere to Go he played a gangster, a dark, menacing figure but with a sense of self-control:
Harry H. Corbett

I think of Corbett as a Timothy Dalton-like Bond: a serious actor trying to take the role somewhere different. But maybe not quite right.

So I'm settling on the perfect Bond: Stanley Baker. A man whose balance between attraction and vicious detachment might veer towards the latter: a man just a likely to be seen in a street-fight as in a duel of nerves over a card table.

Stanley Baker

But what of 'M'? A couple of names come to mind: maybe Alec Guinness as he breaks away from lightweight roles. An early preparation for the world of George Smiley, perhaps? Or Jack Hawkins ...
Jack Hawkins

... a man with good Ealing pedigree. Yet I will reject him on the grounds that he is always at his best when displaying his character's weaknesses. So I settling for the obvious choice, indeed the eventual choice: Bernard Lee

Bernard Lee

... after all, he later made the role his own and was an Ealing regular at this time.

For Miss Moneypenny just one name came to mind, Virginia McKenna:
Virginia McKenna
In the mid-fifties she was just emerging into public view, was attractive without being overly too glamorous.

The other female is Vesper Lynd, of whom Bond says at the climax of the novel: "The bitch is dead." So who can play the bitch who betrays her country? The same woman that was such a convincing bitch in 'Once a Jolly Swagman' or 'The Cruel Sea', Moira Lister.

Moira Shearer & Denholm Elliott

Finally, who should play the villain, Le Chiffre? For me, there is one choice: foreign, menacing, familiar with playing villains and who was known to Ealing: Herbert Lom:

Herbert Lom

So there we have it: Casino Royale in 1956: Stanley Baker as James Bond defeating Herbert Lom as the villain. Adapted by Kenneth Tynan, directed by Seth Holt, and changing the history of British cinema.

Next week's 'Fantasy Filmaking'?

How about Casino Royale as imagined by Launder & Gilliat? ....

... with Joyce Grenfell as Miss Moneypenny!!!


  1. Funnily enough I have just finished re-reading Casino Royale. I like the Stanley Baker idea a lot - in the picture above he looks perfect. I'd go with Joan Greenwood as Moneypenny. I think you might get more chemistry with her - Virginia McKenna always strikes me as being rather cold.

    As for Le Chiffre, whilst Herbert Lom is a fine actor Fleming does describe Le Chiffre as being 5 foot 8 and 18 stone so a much larger man is called for. Sidney Greenstreet?


  2. Hello Anton.
    Joan Greenwood as Moneypenny? Not for me. Her voice is way too seductive, no Bond would be off around the world saving the free world: he'd be stuck at home, being seduced by her voice. Or is that just me?
    Good point about Lom not being physically big enough. Mind you, he was Ealing Studios first choice for a continental 'heavy'.

    I have long believed that someone should go back to the books and film them as they were written: i.e. in the 1950s. Whilst the recent Bond was a good action film, you and me are as near to Fleming's Bond as Daniel Craig is. And he runs like a freak! I think a TV series taken from the books would be ideal. If well-made (i.e. to the HBO standards) it would be a massive hit and wouldn't impact upon the films. Mind you i'm still waiting for the perfect version of Dracula that actually reflects the book. It would be a six hour, continental epic, in black and white. I think casting that might be my next slice of fantasy film making! the best version of Dracula I've seen is the 1970s BBC version with Louis Jordan. The BFI are going to be showing it next month, so i'll be looking forward to that.

  3. "Her voice is way too seductive" - You say that like it's a bad thing.

    "no Bond would be off around the world saving the free world: he'd be stuck at home, being seduced by her voice." OK, possibly but see above.

    "Or is that just me?" - As you can probably tell, no, it's not just you.

    I've had a similar Bond conversation with Edward Marlowe and we both agree that it would be great to go back to the source material. The reboot with Daniel Craig would have been a perfect opportunity to do this but it was never going to happen. Reading Casino Royale again brought home to me what a small, personal story it is. It is all set in one small town, mostly in two or three locations (casino, hotel, beach house). The public were never going to buy that as a James Bond film, they have bigger expectations and demand multiple glamourous locations and a lot more plot than is in the books. Maybe a TV series is the way to go. The radio adaptations that the BBC have done with Toby Stevens were pretty good.

    That Louis Jourdan Dracula series was good but I haven't seen it since it was first on TV so don't know if it would stand the test of time. If I remember correctly some of the effects seemed pretty ropey even at the time (the Demeter on a very dodgy stormy seascape). And they made Mina and Lucy sisters for some reason. Ho hum...

    Fantasy Dracula casting sounds like fun.