This ebook (disclaimer: the author sent me an earlier copy for review) discusses the most exciting Bond-related discovery in decades--the scripts Ben Hecht wrote for "Casino Royale." Many are familiar with the disastrous comedic film released in 1967, but few know the project was initially planned as a serious adaptation of Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel. In 1964 producer Charlie Feldman recruited Ben Hecht, the greatest screenwriter of Hollywood's Golden Age, to adapt the book. It was the last project Hecht worked on, and after his death the various drafts were filed away and forgotten--until now.
The excellent spy novelist Jeremy Duns ("Free Agent") has journeyed to Chicago's Newberry Library and examined Hecht's papers, and the result is this fascinating study. Any lost Bond script is news, but a script by Hecht is big news ("In my opinion, Ben Hecht was a genius. He invented 80 percent of what is used in Hollywood movies today," said Jean-Luc Godard). Duns ably guides the reader through the genesis of the project, starting with Ian Fleming's attempts to immortalize his creation on film, and provides superbly-chosen excerpts from various scripts. Duns shows that Hecht was the ideal writer for this project--he possessed the sophistication and wit required for Bond, and his drafts sound uncannily like the classic Connery Bonds. ("Here," says Bond as he gives a cigarette to a femme fatale, "Don't set the bed on fire." "I do not need a cigarette for that" she replies.)
Hecht invents a first act (involving a brothel chain and extortion ring) that dovetails beautifully with the main story, and the rest of his adaptation is surprisingly faithful to Fleming. The novel featured three great set-pieces: Bond's baccarat duel with LeChiffre, his excruciating torture scene, and the end of Bond's relationship with Vesper. Hecht preserves all three, and judging from these excerpts he handled them better than the Daniel Craig version of "Casino Royale." The result is an excellent adaptation that translates the novel's set-pieces into cinematic visuals and crackling dialogue. As Duns notes, Hecht's drafts echo his work on Hitchcock's "Notorious" and also look forward to emotional range of the greatest Bond film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
If Hecht's script had been filmed it would have been the darkest, most adult James Bond film of its era, complete with brothel scenes in Hamburg's red-light district, bi-sexual double-agents, and a hideously disfigured torturer. But after Feldman was unable to interest Sean Connery or the Bond producers in the project, he discarded Hecht's work--an agonizing missed opportunity. As Duns writes, Hecht's drafts are "a master-class in thriller-writing." One regrets the makers of the Craig film were unaware of them.
After reading this excellent ebook, I hope Hecht's adaptation will be published, with Duns's essay as an introduction. If you are even slightly interested in James Bond and Ian Fleming, read "Rogue Royale." What Jeremy Duns has brought to light is surely the greatest James Bond film never made.