The Telegraph has a fascinating story today about development of Ben Hecht’s unproduced screenplays for CASINO ROYALE…which eventually morphed into the comedy debacle that starred David Niven, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. Here’s an excerpt:
The fact that Ben Hecht contributed to the script of Casino Royale has been known for decades, and is mentioned in passing in many books. But perhaps because the film Feldman eventually released in 1967 was a near-incoherent spoof, nobody has followed up to find out precisely what his contribution entailed. My interest was piqued when I came across an article in a May 1966 issue of Time, which mentioned that the screenplay of Casino Royale had started many years earlier “as a literal adaptation of the novel”, and that Hecht had had “three bashes at it”. I decided to go looking for it.
To my amazement, I found that Hecht not only contributed to Casino Royale, but produced several complete drafts, and that much of the material survived. It was stored in folders with the rest of his papers in the Newberry Library in Chicago, where it had been sitting since 1979. And, outside of the people involved in trying to make the film, it seemed nobody had read it. Here was a lost chapter, not just in the world of the Bond films, but in cinema history: before the spoof, Ben Hecht adapted Ian Fleming’s first novel as a straight Bond adventure.
[…] these drafts are a master-class in thriller-writing, from the man who arguably perfected the form with Notorious. Hecht made vice central to the plot, with Le Chiffre actively controlling a network of brothels and beautiful women who he is using to blackmail powerful people around the world. Just as the theme of Fleming’s Goldfinger is avarice and power, the theme of Hecht’s Casino Royale is sex and sin. It’s an idea that seems obvious in hindsight, and Hecht used it both to raise the stakes of Fleming’s plot and to deepen the story’s emotional resonance.
UPDATE: You can read excerpts from one of those terrific lost scripts here.