Monday, 9 February 2015

Fantasy Film Making:
Casino Royale - 1956
In an earlier post I imagined Casino Royale filmed by Ealing as a dark interpretation of the novel, throwing away all the clichés of the sixties Bonds and staying with the novel's bleakly violent world.
However, what if someone else had taken on the novel in the mid 1950s? In that era of comfortable - slightly saucy - comedy, maybe film rights could have fallen into the hands of the Boulting Brothers, Launder and Gilliat or even Mario Zampi. I'm thinking the world of School for Scoundrels, Private's Progress, St Trinian's and Too Many Crooks. Imagine Bond dropped into that world - a sort of Carry on Spying for the previous decade.
Who would they have cast for their comical spy caper?
Let's have a look at the prime candidates:
Let's start at the top - James Bond himself. This Bond would a failure, a man trying to live up to the darkly handsome, suave, sophisticated image he is supposed to have. Except he got the job by accident - a mix up in the office that sent him to 'Universal Exports' and consigned an efficient secret-agent and trained killer to a desk job in the Ministry of Transport. Because that's what bureaucrats do in the world of 1950s British comedy.
In my opinion there can be only one candidate for the role. Who else can be our inept hero, a fish-out-of-water, who comes up against a dangerous world and stumbles his way to victory? Step forward the one and only Ian Carmichael:
He played that role in virtually every film he made during that period: School for Scoundrels, Lucky Jim, Private's Progress, I'm Alright Jack and the much underrated Brothers in Law (my favourite of the lot). He must be our Bond - a man whose equally ill at ease on the golf course ...
... as a soldier ...

... or, in fact, anywhere at all:
Of course every Bond needs his Moneypenny. Here the almost glamorous, carefully efficient secretary who is in love with Bond but keeps her cool, is replaced by a gawky, slightly silly lady, who is anything but efficient, and who can't help but fumble and stutter every time he comes near. British cinema of the period offers us one actress who stumbles, dithers and generally makes a mess of everything: Joyce Grenfell. 

The icily calm head of the organisation is of course 'M', the retired Admiral who happily sends men out around the world with a 'licence to kill'. Bernard Lee, of course, made this role his own - no time for two words when one would do. But that's not the type of man we are looking for. We need a hapless bureaucrat: a man trying to rule his team of agents with a rod of iron, but who just can't control them.
For this role I would cast Eric Barker. After all, this was the man who played the Police Inspector in Carry on Constable, the company commander in Carry on Sergeant and held a senior post at the Ministry of Education in Blue Murder at St Trinian's. And of course, he played 'The Chief' in Carry on Spying: Eric the role is quite definitely yours:
The role of the book's villain Le Chiffre is more difficult to fill. My first thought was Alastair Sim ...
 ... who had just the right amount of comic creepiness for the part, something he displayed in a range of films including The Green Man (in which he played an assassin) and even Hue & Cry where he played a rather scary writer of comic strips. And who can forget his role as the arch-manipulator, Mr Potter, in School for Scoundrels:

It would also have given an excuse to cast his protégé George Cole as one of his henchmen:

However, Sim was too old for the role. Instead, I'd suggest one of the period's most convincing portrayers of the dangerously psychotic, Dennis Price:

There's just enough suave menace about his characters, both  when he's playing it straight - such as in Murder Without Crime ...

... or when he's starring in a comedy, such as The Naked Truth:
Of course, what is Bond without some glamour? The question of who should play Bond's love interest, Vesper Lynd, is rather difficult. The comedies that were produced in the UK during this period didn't have any obvious comedy leading ladies, instead producers chose from a stream of glamorous actresses who could support the leading man. Looks - and of course the ability to look good in their underwear - was an essential part of the casting process. No different to casting any Bond girls, I suppose!

So our candidates would include Shirley Eaton (seen here in The Naked Truth)...

and Janette Scott (seen here in School for Scoundrels) ...

However, I would give the role to Jill Adams who appeared in The Green Man ...

... Private's Progress ...
... and Brothers in Law:

Plus, they'd have to be bit parts for other period regulars: maybe Guy Middleton as one of Bond's fellow agents ...

... and Terry-Thomas making a brief appearance as a fellow gambler at the Casino card tables ...
 All I can say is that it would have been better than the 1960s comedy version of Casino Royale!


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