Casino Royale: Then and Now: Nelson, Barry Nelson

casino royale 1954

No, the first actor to play James Bond on the screen wasn't Sean Connery.
But you knew that already. You knew that way back in 1954 there was a LIVE production of Casino Royale on US television on a program called Climax!

Barry Nelson played Jimmy Bond, an American spy. American? Viewers wouldn't accept a Brit as a suave, debonair secret agent, would they?

More Schlitz than Absolut
Actually, Nelson played Bond more as if he'd been created by Dashiell Hammett -- or even Damon Runyon -- than Ian Fleming. This Bond was more of a Schlitz beer guy than a Absolut martini guy. In this TV adaptation of the first Bond novel, there was no M or Q or Miss Moneypenny. Just Jimmy.


Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre
You say Barry Nelson isn't your idea of great casting for Bond? Maybe not, but the long-term success of the franchise has hinged as much on the casting of the villain as the hero, and this early production may have hit that one out of the park. Peter Lorre seems perfect in the role of the cipher, Le Chiffre

This is how James, sorry, Jimmy Bond was first introduced on the screen...

And this was the climactic scene...

The one that got away
If you enjoyed the 2006 Daniel Craig version, you can probably thank this TV production for it. Because Ian Fleming had already sold the rights for this Bond script, Casino Royale wasn't included in the film franchise package that producers Broccoli and Saltzman acquired a few years later. It was through this loophole that the god-awful David Niven spoof with the same title made it to the screen in 1967.

Rebooted, not stirred
Had it not been for the Barry Nelson version, Casino Royale would likely have been the first big-screen film of the series and Sean Connery's debut in the role. As it was, when filmmakers wanted to reboot the movie franchise, the movie rights to the book that started it all were available and Bond was re-introduced and reborn.

Things have changed in 52 years...