Climax was a weekly anthology series that ran from 1954 to 1958. It’s unlikely many today have heard of it. There are only two episodes on DVD at this time of writing though they had over a hundred and fifty to their name. A few more survive on youtube or similar sights around the internet. All in black and white despite the show airing in colour due to simply the copies that people could get hold of. So why am I discussing this? Why for episode number three. Based upon the works of a British author by the name of Ian Fleming; this is the first James Bond in…..
Before we go any further I should point out that at around fifty minutes in length on a made for t.v budget in the ninety fifties this is hardly going to blow any modern audiences away. And if you are only familiar with the secret agent through the movies then you’re going to be very disappointed. Right now we are close to ten years off from the first cinematic Bond movie and we are in fact only two adventurers in to the literary secret agent’s escapades. So there’s no gadgets, no Q, there’s not even a vodka martini, shaken nor stirred, as he here he prefers a simple scotch. Heck this can’t even be seen as a homage to the characters Scottish lineage as Ian hasn’t come up with that yet because they haven’t cast Sean in the role. In fact all Ian had done was try to sell his first book for a few quid leading to years of headaches and films that are Bond but not really. If he had known what a mess he would be making all for the sake of a one hour made for t.v movie I’m not sure he would have bothered but he didn’t know that then and there was even talk of this thing coming back round for a few more episodes meaning if this had taken off we might never have have got Sean at all and been stuck with Jimmy Bond the t.v super spy.
For those how has read the book, or seen the film, the plot is broadly the same as those. Bond has been tasked to head to the titular casino in order to bankrupt Le Chiffre so that the bad guys who were bank rolling him will become displeased with their agent and “handle him” so that the good guys don’t have to. Here there is no Smersh as they simply wouldn’t have time to explain the acronym. There isn’t even time for M as instead Bond gets his information, once there, from a Brit called Leiter. Oh yes perhaps I should have mentioned that this here is Jimmy Bond all american ‘combined intelligence’ agent leaving Leiter to pick up the role as token brit of the picture in a switcheroo from their usual positions. That’s not the only change here with Vesper Lynd, her of the cocktail fame, is here switched out for Valerie Mathis no doubt to have the the only foreign sounding person be the clear bad guy for ease of the American viewing audience. Her whole double agent background is also trimmed and cleared up slightly though that is probably just for run time. She starts as a ex of Jimmy, on the arm of Le Chiffre, and of course ends up in the arms of Bond by the end.
Various bits of the novel do manage to make it over such as the use of radios and music to drown out bugs planted in the room and even the torture scene makes it in; though here we are in Bond’s bath tub for sake of building sets. I have to call the torture scene out here, though this could just be me, as more than I expected for a 50’s audience. You don’t see anything of course and the details are left up to your imagination but I feel that works best when you can’t show it on screen. Not that it is entirely convincing with the angle of the lens. I also liked Mathis here as the source of Bond’s second wind of funds rather than Leiter even if that is who Bond assumes the money is from. It gives her a little bit more agency than I would expect for such a damsel in distress type character on 1950’s television. It also allows the audience to be clear on rooting for her and Bond to get together and live happily ever after without worrying that he is shacking up with a dirty commie.
This leaves Leiter very little to do. Though as noted he fills Bond in on the purpose of the mission he also seems to be here to help explain the game to the viewers acting as the token idiot for us to lean what they will be playing. The thing is that this doesn’t really come up in the episode and you can sit and watch them thinking their playing happy families for all the difference it makes. Now how much his character is playing the fool to cover up their real conversation could maybe be argued but either way he comes across poorly. So there’s one trend we’ve already started in the series.
For me Peter Lorre is the biggest name in the show, as Le Chiffre, and it shows. This is a problem for Bond who comes across as quite flat on screen. Not that he is some unknown as you may recall him from things like the Shinning but no matter your preference he isn’t going to be topping anyone’s bet Bond list anytime soon. As for Leiter and Mathis they both feel a bit like they are there simply reading their parts. To give you an example of the quality on display here, even from the big names. There was a rumour going round that after being killed Lorre simply got up and walked off screen; partially due to the live t.v nature of Climax. Now as much as I could tell; this isn’t true and probably comes from another episode of the show that got merged with this one as it was the only episode people these days have heard of, but the fact that watching the show you could believe it says a lot.
How the episode ends depends on your version. In some Bond beats him and calls for the police and in others he kills him and they presumably live happily ever after before the host comes back. I never mentioned the host before and as I don’t know the show outside of this episode I don’t want to dwell on him too much but he really falls down in comparison to the Outer Limits or Twilight Zone though that’s clearly the kind of thing they are going for.
Is the episode worth watching then? Well if you’re a Bond fan and I mean a Bond FAN then you probably already have. For everyone else the t.v episode nature would probably hurt it too much to be worth watching. Even had this been a made for t.v movie with a run time around the hour and a half mark then I would be able to recommend this as a a spy thriller for a Sunday afternoon. I think the live nature of it probably doesn’t help either as there seems to be several points where you ask if that’s the take they really want to go with before you remember they don’t have a choice. As it is, this is mostly forgotten for a reason.