Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I got the Titan Books collection of the "Casino Royale" comic strips several months ago but it took me awhile to get around to writing about it because I was, to be honest, a little weary of "Casino Royale." I've reviewed it four times now – novel, TV, old movie, new movie – and the most recent entry, the new James Bond movie with Daniel Craig, was just a little too fresh in my mind.
I finally read it last night, curled up in bed, wrapped up in blankets to ward off the chill of the high desert in January, and it was a bracing and pleasant read for a winter's evening. It follows the basic plot of the novel quite closely, though it leaves out a lot of details. Bond gets his mission and goes to meet his enemy Le Chiffre at the famous casino at Royale-les-Eaux (which I think is French for really good eggs). With a little help from Vesper Lynd and Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis, Bond evades every difficulty flung in is path and escapes from his torturer when SMERSH steps in. Then he goes off with Vesper to recuperate in the French countryside and it eventually turns out that Vesper is a double agent because the Russians were holding her Polish lover hostage (or something). She kills herself because she has fallen in love with Bond and can't continue the charade.
No frills, just a basic adaptation of the 1953 best-selling novel. It leaves out the most famous line, Bond's observation that "the bitch is dead" after Vesper kills herself. It ran in the Daily Express of London in 138 daily installments from July to December in 1958. Adapted by writer Anthony Hearn and artist John McLusky, it was eventually picked up by newspapers all over the world, and definitely contributed to the popularity of James Bond that culminated with the first James Bond film, 1962's Dr. No.
The strip's biggest weakness is the cursory portrayal of the showdown between Le Chiffre and Bond at the baccarat table. It's the best scene in the book, and it is very well done in the TV version (with Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre), but Hearn and McClusky could not overcome the limitations of the comic strip form to do justice to the scene. (I also like the way it's done in the 1967 film version, but it's a joke, and the filmmakers made no effort to explain the rules of baccarat or develop any drama. With no convenient excuse, the filmmakers of the 2006 version blew the card-playing scenes, though I liked the film overall.)
The comic strip version of Bond has a few words to say about he got his Double 0 status: "I've got the corpses of a Japanese cipher expert in New York and a Norwegian double agent in Stockholm to thank for being a Double 0." This might be in the book. I don't really remember.
The same collection also has the Daily Express adaptations of "Live and Let Die" and "Moonraker." I've flipped through them, and they are kind of fun. The bridge game in "Moonraker," unfortunately, suffers from the same lack of drama as the baccarat game in "Casino Royale" and the canasta game in "Goldfinger.' I'm at a loss as to how to fix it in comic strip form.