“The Bitch Is Dead Now”

  Ian Fleming working at Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica.

Ian Fleming working at Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica.

Ian Fleming wrote his first James Bond adventure, Casino Royale, in 1953 at Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica. In the years following, Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels and 2 collections of Bond short stories there.

Fleming’s first book (that many critics consider his best), Casino Royale, introduced a knock-out cocktail, the Vesper Martini, a sensational last line, “The bitch is dead now,” and a torture scene featuring Fleming’s Bond tied naked to a cane chair with its seat cut out so that his testicles could be abused with a carpet-beater. As the substitute for this graphic scene, the tuxedo-clad, barefoot Bond (Barry Nelson) was secured in a bathtub and his toenails attacked with pliers in the novel’s first adaptation: a 1954 television show.

Gregory Ratoff bought the movie rights to Fleming’s first novel the same year as that TV adaptation. However, attempts to make the Casino Royale movie remained frustrated when Ratoff died in 1960. Charles K. Feldman bought the screen rights from Ratoff’s estate and hired Ben Hecht to adapt Casino Royale. Rarified choice. Hecht is the foremost Golden Age screenwriter and won the first Best Screenplay Oscar in 1927 for the sacrosanct Howard Hughes production of Howard Hawks’s Scarface.

Ian Fleming’s prospects exploded during the 1960s, particularly in the States. In 1961 Fleming published his ninth Bond novel while that same year, his fifth Bond novel was acknowledged as one of JFK’s favorites. The Bond books would obviously make sensational movies. So Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, a former Feldman employee, bought the movie rights to Fleming’s Bond novels—except of course, the rights for Casino Royale—and Fleming’s sixth Bond novel appeared on screen in 1962, Dr. No, the first Broccoli Bond-franchise film. Broccoli produced his second Bond film the following year, and, like the first, this Bond film scored at the box office.

In 1964, Hecht wrote Feldman about progress of their "current script" of Fleming’s Casino Royale and then died of a heart attack. With Hecht dead, Feldman approached Broccoli hoping to broker a deal to film Casino Royale in partnership, but overplayed his hand. He demanded too big a share of profits and threatened a lawsuit, claiming Broccoli’s third and current Bond film adaptation plagiarized Casino Royale. Feldman even approached Sean Connery to see if the actor was willing to jump Broccoli’s franchise ship to play Bond in his Casino Royale. Connery said yes—for a million dollars (serious money in 1964)—and Feldman rescinded the offer.

This first film adaptation of Casino Royale (1967) is not among historic Bond-franchise titles and did not star Connery. Ben Hecht did in fact adapt Casino Royale as a straight action movie for Feldman. However, only an exaggerated variation on Hecht’s idea—multiple Bonds as a code-name used by different agents—turned up in Feldman’s maverick 1967 comedy adaptation.

When released, Feldman’s Casino Royale featured more than a half-dozen James Bonds, including suave David Niven; a celebrity cast including Orson Welles; and a “Bondwagon” of beautiful girls. After Ben Hecht, Billy Wilder took an uncredited shot at the script as did Woody Allen, Val Guest, Joseph Heller, Peter Sellers, and Terry Southern, along with the three credited screenwriters. The film credits no fewer than five directors, including John Huston. Bacharach’s soundtrack introduced “The Look of Love” that lost the Best Song Oscar (but has since been installed in the Grammy Hall of Fame).

The film comedy was an incoherent hodgepodge. Rather than being linked with either Fleming’s first Bond novel or the Brocolli Bond-franchise films, Casino Royale immediately became synonymous with classic Hollywood Snafu.  

 “Cubby” Broccoli’s heirs continue as producers of the Bond films…in 2004 daughter Barbara Broccoli produced Casino Royale brilliantly on the screen. The new Casino Royale regenerated the Bond franchise and introduced Daniel Craig as James Bond. In the last 54 years, 26 James Bond films have starred Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby, Pierce Brosnon, and Daniel Craig, bringing the Broccoli Bonds to six.  Yet speculation includes another half dozen actors—including Henry Cavill, Idris Elba, Michael Fassbinder, Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston, and Damian Lewis—next to play Bond in the franchise.

With movie proximities of both Fleming’s last line and his original torture scene, Bond-franchise warp speed editing, an Aston Martin DBS V12, Eve Green, location shots in Venice, and especially Craig as James Bond, Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, is indeed now a bona-fide Bond-franchise Classic.

So just one Casino Royale question lingers, and I’ve taken it upon myself to research it (somebody had to step up): How does Bond’s knock-out Vesper Martini fare today?