"ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE"
Peter Hunt was perhaps one of the most integral members of the James Bond team, using his vast skills as a film editor and director to help create a pace and style that helped to launch a phenomenon that still touches the world some two and a half decades after the film series began.
He first joined up with Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Terence Young and the rest of the 007 team for 1962's Dr. No, on which he served as editor. He repeated this task on From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. From there he segued to the position of director on the sixth film in the series, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, considered by many to be one of the best Bond films ever.
Unfortunately, after that film he left the folds of Bondage, turning his directorial sights to other films. One can only hope that someday he will be persuaded to return to the series, and help further the series he helped to create. Our conversation begins with the director's assertion that the impact of James Bond was every bit as significant to the sixties as the Beatles.
Q: My feeling has always been that what the Beatles did for music, James Bond did for film.
A: Right, exactly, at that time. Of course everybody has forgotten that now, because we've all fallen into that idiom in the way of presenting films. We always cut films in the way I did Dr. No, but at that time that was something completely different to do. If you looked at any films made before 1961, even American films, they always have the guy walking down the steps, through the gates, getting into the car and driving away. We don't do any of that anymore [laughs]. The fellow says he's going, and he's there.
Q: Cut to the chase.
A: Exactly, which is what I did in Dr. No in order to make it move fast and push it along the whole time, while giving it a certain style. Now, of course, that style is standard for everything. It's very interesting, really, when I think back to it all. What's really funny is that the Beatles used to come to our showings. I knew them all. They were good kids, really. We had offices in London, and in the basement we had a theatre, and they were often guests. They also were great fans of James Bond.
Q: One question I've always pondered, is Terence Young's statement in one of the Bond fanzines that Goldfinger was in serious production and editing trouble, when the decision was made to shoot Thunderball quickly, release it first, and then release Goldfinger about six months later. But Young supposedly made editing suggestions that saved Goldfinger.
A: [laughs] I don't know anything about that, but I don't think that can be true, because Thunderball was going through litigation at that time. Remember, it belonged to Kevin McClory. That was one of the ones that didn't belong to Broccoli, Saltzman and United Artists at the time, because Fleming had written the book Thunderball from a screenplay which Kevin McClory claims--and he won the case--he and Jack Wittingham wrote, which was not a book, but because they could never get it lifted off as a film...Fleming had run out of ideas, or was running out of ideas, and said, "Oh, I might as well write and publish this as a book," and then of course McClory said, "You can't do that. You haven't even said that I contributed to it or Jack Whittingham did." They had a big court case, which I think was settled out of court, and then of course the screen rights became Kevin McClory's. If you look at the titles of Thunderball, Kevin McClory is the producer. After Goldfinger there was some talk where everyone debated whether they should do Thunderball or one of the others.
Q: I had read that they were planning on doing On Her Majesty's Secret Service after Thunderball.
A: Originally, yes, which I was going to do. I was promised the film after Thunderball, but they found themselves in a contractual mix-up with other directors on hand, and I got pushed out into the cold, because it was going to be my first film. Eventually, though, I did do it, because what they did...you see, On Her Majesty's Secret Service should have come before You Only Live Twice in the series of events that Fleming wrote. At the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service the wife is killed, and then in You Only Live Twice he is sent to Japan to extract revenge from Blofeld, and the series went on from there. But they did it the other way around and altered the ending of You Only Live Twice. At that time, in fact, I know they had branched out and had put several directors under contract to do other things for them, and they decided they wouldn't do the other things, and they found themselves either having to pay off these other directors or use them. So they were used in various ways for other things. For instance, Lewis Gilbert, whose editor I had been for many years, was signed to direct You Only Live Twice, which is how that came about. But Thunderball interested me insofar that until the court case was settled, they wouldn't touch it at all, and the case was still going on while we made Goldfinger, so I don't know what events he is talking about.
Terence was extremely instrumental in the whole style of the films. He was extremely encouraging to me in our early style of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and one cannot underestimate the personality of Terence that was interjected into the character of James Bond and Sean Connery's playing of it in the early films. There's no doubt about it, and he was the right man for the job at the time; a very good filmmaker. He's getting on a bit now, I suppose, like us all [laughs].
Q: Bond was so different for its time. As far as you're concerned, how did the whole thing come about?
A: I was a top English film editor in those days. Harry Saltzman, who came across to England and the first film he made was Look Back in Anger, which starred Richard Burton, had been connected to theatre and various things during the early fifties. The war was over, and I was editing, and Harry had always wanted to use me. When he made a film he'd call me and say, "Come on, let's make a film together," and each time I was either in the middle of a film or about to do another film, so I had never been able to do it. But we kept on good terms, and it was Harry who got a hold of me when he was doing Dr. No. It happened that I wasn't do anything else at that time. I've known Terence since I was a boy; I'd been assistant on several films with him, and I'd always liked him. So all of that sort of slotted into place, and I found myself editing Dr. No.
Now on Dr. No, of course, they had a lot of production problems; it was a very cheap production, completely unlike the amount of money they spend today. There were an enormous amount of challenges and problems. They had terrible weather in Jamaica, and they didn't shoot half of what they were supposed to shoot, so there was a great deal of ingenuity and creativity that went into the making of the film. That's really how Dr. No was born, as it were, and at that time, in fact, nobody gave much thought to the film. They just thought it was a cheap film being made at Pinewood, and it was only when it finally....all cutters, editors and people like that are cynical beings because they see the material so much, so often, but we thought Dr. No was marvelous fun, and we tried to make it more amusing wherever we could. Terence wasn't quite so sure about all of that. He thought we were setting him up with this film [laughs]. Anyway, he went along with it and various things that I suggested, because we had to get it moving as a film and make it all work. Out of necessity, the problems of production, Dr. No was born.
I don't think that before it was run with an audience anyone knew what we had, and it was only when a large audience at the London Pavilion saw it that they fell about and enjoyed it, that it suddenly dawned on them what we had here. We had an entirely new type of film. You must remember that the climate of the audiences at the time was very "kitchen sink." It was all for actresses doing the washing up, and the housework, the sleazy back room about hard lives, which I guess the audience had become a bit bored with. Here was an absolute breath of fantasy, glamour, and they loved it. Like everything, it had a certain amount of luck when it came out, which is why I guess it took off. That's what I think, anyway. Then after the opening it was very successful, and United Artists was pleased, although I don't think they originally thought too highly of it. Then, when the returns started to come in, they seemed very pleased.
Q: I guess the production problems you faced on Dr. No were actually beneficial.
A: It all helped, as it worked out. I really have to point out that at that time we had had many serious films, and I got a feeling that audiences were getting bored with them. The films were about angry, earthy people, and here was something that had suddenly gone back to sort of a 1940s glamour Hollywood type style film, with a special film style, which Spielberg did not very long ago with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Q: I was going to add that I thought Dr. No really seemed to capture the flavor of the Saturday morning serials.
A: That's right, it did. It projected itself backwards, rather than forward, and it worked remarkably well and that's the luck of the draw. Sometimes you need a tremendous amount of luck.
Q: When you get to From Russia With Love, it looks so different....
A: Well, they had more money then, and then I had the bit between my teeth. I knew we were going to be okay, and I was determined that it was going to be okay. Dr. No had been made for just under a million dollars. You couldn't possibly make it today without it costing twenty or thirty million dollars. The returns, again, were greatly increased. The funny thing is that they make such a big deal about every latest Bond breaking all the records. They break the records, because the price of tickets have gone up. For instance, Thunderball was the most successful. I don't know if you remember, but they ran in 24 hours a day in New York. It was amazing.
Q: Thunderball was not one of the best films....
Q:....but they could have James Bond Does Dinner as a plot and it probably would have done the same amount of business.
A: Exactly. Again, you have the luck of the timing and that type of thing, and then you come back to the point that this was the middle of the sixties, and Thunderball came out a time when the Beatles were now big successes, and suddenly everyone--I presume--had a great, euphoric attitude about the British and British products, which happens whether it be British here or America in London. There are areas where it suddenly goes through, and we were in the middle of it by the time Thunderball came out here. It just automatically took off. I remember once coming to America to run the film, or something, for United Artists executives, and I was in a cab from the airport, when the cabdriver--who had heard my English accent--wanted to talk to me about a great little British film he had seen, even though he had no idea that I had anything to do with the film industry. That great little British film he had seen was called Dr. No, which thrilled me. I'll never forget that, because I found it so strangely interesting.
Q: From your point of view, how did production of From Russia With Love go?
A: It was the third film of the deal made between the producers and United Artists. Dr. No was a big success, even Call Me Bawana wasn't a bad success. Bob Hope once told me that it was the only one of his films at that time that had made him money. We were in great, confident spirits at that time, and while we couldn't go mad, I don't think there was a problem regarding production or money. If we needed another day or some extra shots, we got them and did them. So the production was a far better laid out production, although it was entirely the same crew. I think that's what happened, and that there was a great deal more confidence. We were also much more respected by the studio then. They no longer thought of us doing a little crappy picture [laughs]; suddenly we were the big boys, and demanded all sorts of things.
Terence, I think, was a little nervous, because it was the second one and he wasn't sure how it was all going to come out. He soon overrode that, and the confidence came back, helped, in no small way, by one of the definitive fights of all time on the train. The carriage was built on the set, and we had three cameras filming that scene, which was great. The scene took a lot of manipulating in the cutting, but anything good almost always does.
Q: The editing in that scene is fantastic.
A: Again, I was much more confident by then. I now knew that what I had done was good and that it had worked, so there was no holding me back.
Q: The interesting thing about From Russia With Love is that it seems to stick out from the rest of the series, in a good way, while the pacing is just incredible.
A: The pacing was the most important thing. If you analyze the story, it's an impossible one. Why did they go by train? Why didn't they take an airplane? [laughs] It had to move fast in order to hold you. The whole idea of the Bond films--and I don't know if they haven't lost a bit of that now--was that they were paperback films, as it were. They were the sort of thing that the commuters and the average guy working in New York and living outside read on the train. They were his fantasy world because of the way Fleming wrote them. They were all about good wine, well-dressed spies, and all that sort of thing. He brought into the book style great lengths of description regarding the shoes and the cotton shirts, ties, the food that James Bond was eating, and the beautiful girls, and all that--if you analyze it--incredible, but superficial grammar that rubbed off the page onto all of these people, and they were enjoyable because of that. I think we had to get the same thing into the films. My feeling was always that one should make the films seriously, but never take them seriously, if you see what I mean. The humor of the thing has to come out of the film itself. You can't sit down and say, "How can we make this funny?" In other words, it has to be there and work itself out.
Q: Unlike what Roger Moore so often did.
A: Absolutely. I love Roger, he's a lovely man and I've done three films with him, but he was never my idea of James Bond. In fact, I think that one of the better of the films, and of course I would feel that way, was On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Did you enjoy it?
Q: I rank it as number two, right behind Goldfinger.
A: [laughs] I'll accept number two. Had George Lazenby been more sensible, and had Broccoli and Saltzman been more sensible with him, I think he would have made a very credible Bond. He was a great looking guy and he moved along very well, although he wasn't really an actor. He was a model who had not done any acting before that. I think if things had gone the other way, he would have gone on to be a very good Bond. I'm sure they're not going to worry. They've made a fortune anyway [laughs].
Q: Before we move on to OHMSS, let's backtrack a little more. What was your view on the production of Goldfinger?
A: I got a little angry with Goldfinger, because I didn't think it was being made properly. In fact, I did quite a lot of work on that insofar as second unit shooting.
Q: Why did you feel it wasn't being made properly?
A: I just didn't feel that it was coming out the way it should have been coming out. We changed the theme a bit, there was a different director...I just felt it wasn't quite right. I must say that from the producers' point of view, they must have thought the same thing too. They really let me have a much freer hand on that in every way, and I was able to bang and boost that about. The whole car chase was actually a good lesson in editing. It was cut and edited and made to be entirely different from the way it was shot. It was very interesting, actually, but you wouldn't know, of course. Again, one of my favorite sayings is "Thank goodness the audience hasn't seen the script."
Q: How was it originally staged that was different from what we saw?
A: It was very poorly done, in my opinion, but eventually it came out right. As I say, that's all part of filmmaking, I guess. Oh, I remember another reason it was so tough. I had given up smoking, and I was a real bull in a china shop at that time, saying, "No, no, no, no. That's not the way it should be done." I was very autocratic about it all, although in fact it worked in the film. I had to pummel it into the same sort of style that the other two films were; taking what I was given and shaping it like the other two. It was not coming out like them, and my confidence was based on what I had already done. I must say, because it's definitely true, that those two producers always stood behind me very well. They were extremely cooperative and extremely appreciative of all the hard work I did. It is hard work, especially when you consider that the films are ninety percent hard work and ten percent cleverness. They were extremely hard work, and some were more difficult than others. Goldfinger was one of them. But as it worked out, it became one of the better ones. It had a good cast, which I also had in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I insisted on having a very good actress, and got Diana Rigg. Even all the smaller parts were very good actors, and that makes all the difference. Go back to Dr. No, for instance, all the people sitting around debating about everything were all local actors from Jamaica, and when we were cutting it together we had to put in all new voices. It was an amateur acting society, and for economic sakes they were used. Again, that's just to emphasize the point that as the films got more competent, they got bigger budgets and better casts. Using a barometer, Dr. No was such a success, that you simply had to go up with the next film and become more popular. Goldfinger, like On Her Majesty's Secret Service, had a good story.
Q: I would imagine that something like Thunderball was an editing nightmare.
A: I don't know if it was a nightmare, but it was certainly a challenge. There were moments, I suppose, where I had nightmares [laughs] about what we were going to do with it. It was the biggest film of the lot. Funnily enough, it doesn't matter to the audience. It's whether it captures them or not. It was the most successful at the time, and it was also the most expensive. I think the final negative cost was about eleven million dollars, which was a tremendous amount of money in those days. Of course there was a tremendous amount of underwater material, which is very difficult to edit and to make move along and make a good story out of it. Underwater by its nature is slow and therefore trying to keep a pace going all through it is the difficult thing. Actually, I'd love to do Thunderball again in the future, which, of course, they eventually did [as Never Say Say Never Again].
One thing I said at the time of Thunderball and again later on, was that we had to be careful that we didn't become imitators of our imitators, because by then everybody had gotten on the bandwagon, so we had to be very careful of copying them, because that would have been a disaster. But they seem to have outlived everything and gone on and on and on, although they've changed tremendously. They're not the sort of thing that Ian Fleming wrote.
Q: Although they seem to be trying to get back to it now.
A: They keep trying. They always run On Her Majesty's Secret Service before they begin a new one, and wonder why they can't get back to that.
Q: Did you enjoy Thunderball?
A: I liked the film, particularly the underwater material, because it was a great challenge to me as editor, and I was out in the Bahamas with them, and a great deal of responsibility was laid on my shoulders by them in the making of the film, and in the finishing of it. I don't think Terence really saw the film until much later on, because he was off doing another film. Then, of course, I went on to became a production associate for Cubby on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which didn't move fast enough for me. I didn't actually edit it, I'm afraid. By that time I was preparing On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and I didn't want to find myself becoming involved in that capacity, because once you get involved with the editing, it takes up a great deal of the time.
Q: What was your experience on You Only Live Twice like?
A: There were always problems on all of the Bonds for various reasons, because they were tremendously ambitious and it wasn't always possible to do what the written word said; what people imagined. It was a compromise, like most films are.
Q: I thought the film had one of the most disjointed stories.
A: Yes, it was, I'm afraid. It was great for me, because I spent six months in Japan and did all the second unit on it, all the aerial stuff, the helicopter fight..all of that, which was great to make and get done, and it was a tremendous training ground for me for when I came in for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, so all that worked out. And it was a successful film. The problem with it, however, is that it was difficult to put You Only Live Twice in the same style as all the others, because he got married--you had to make that look beautiful, and it was--you had the settings in Japan, and all that stuff, and you had a whole different culture, so it became a whole different style in a way, which is why I think you felt it was disjointed.
Q: I also thought that it had gotten a little too big, if you know what I mean. Things like the scene, no matter how funny it may have seemed at the time, when the helicopter picks up the car with a magnet and drops it in the ocean, seem to be a bit too much.
A: [laughs] I shot all of that in Japan. They had a fit when I flew that over the harbor. They wouldn't let me fly it over Tokyo, but they did let me fly over the harbor. They didn't think I was going to get quite so close to all the buildings. It was a little on the fantastic side, and I think that's the thing about the film. It's a merge between the fantastic and the real and the beautiful, like the wedding, which was very realistic and beautiful, and yet we suddenly pushed into the fantasy-action material. It had two different tiers, as it were, and it didn't really juxtapose together quite evenly. So I can understand what you're saying.
Q: Let's talk about On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
A: Another challenge. Each one was a challenge. That was the thing. I suppose it was a slightly bigger challenge, but by then I had done a great deal with the films, and was very confident and happy in my role. Of course it was a great challenge finding a new actor to play James Bond.
Q: Frankly, I'm rather amazed that you were able to convince the producers to let you go back to a more serious style of Bond film, particularly after the success of the previous films.
A: I'm delighted you felt like that, because I wanted to make it different; I wanted it to stand out from the other films. It was my picture, not anybody else's. It was a very good story, too, and very different. I had the luck, I suppose, to have skiing, which we'd never done before. Up until then, and even today, distributors said that they didn't like snow pictures, because they all think they're going to be a disaster for one reason or another, although I did a snow picture in Canada called Death Hunt, and it was very successful.
Q: What was truly wonderful was the fact that the script went back to the original Fleming novel.
A: During the entire shooting schedule I had a copy of the paperback of the book, where I had written various notes and things, and I was very insistent that we stay with the story of the book.
Q: But why? As I said, the rest of the series tended to drift away from the novels.
A: It was just that it was a good stories; a very fine one. I don't know how much it really stands apart from the others, because it's difficult for me to look at it in the way that you are, and unfortunately I don't think I can comment on that. I took the book, combined with various ideas I had of my own, banged our heads and made the film. I didn't think about the previous Bonds or anything else like that. I knew that it was certainly a Bond film, and we had to make it into a good story.
Q: Were you intimidated by the fact you didn't have Connery?
A: I would have loved to have Connery, because if we had had him, it would have been the best of the lot. But at that time we couldn't, so there was really no point in wishing that we could.
Q: I would just think that at that time, most people would be saying, "Jeez, Connery helped make the series. What are we going to do without him?"
A: I'm sure they did. They're notoriously known for not making their minds up, and I think we were like two weeks off of shooting, when one had to say, "Who are we going with? We're supposed to be starting, but we haven't got a Bond yet," so it got almost to the last moment before the decision was made. The decision to use Lazenby was not left in my hands, but they did say to me, "Can you do it with him?" And I said, "Yes, I can. Let's get somebody we can all agree on," because United Artists, Broccoli and Saltzman were the ones who had to say yes or no.
Q: Lazenby, I felt, turned out to be quite good as Bond.
A: Oh yes, he was very good. And I had a big job directing him, even though he seems to think he wasn't directed, and it was quite a job to make him Bond. But he took it and did it, and that's the important thing. I'm not questioning how difficult it was, because that's part of the director's job. You don't just stand up there and say, "Cut, action," and that sort of thing. You've got a lot more on your plate than that. It was a difficult job, but the answer for me was that it worked, and it worked for the producers as well.
Q: In Bondage, the magazine of the James Bond 007 Fan Club, Lazenby was quoted as saying that he wasn't directed in the film, and that you weren't even talking to him.
A: I don't know why he should say that, because it's quite untrue. You can't possibly have a new, young, guy who has never been an actor and not talk to him. You simply can't do it. I had to tell him where to go and what to do. The whole thing with him is that he changes his mind all the time. But he had to do what I wanted him to do. Indeed, we had long conversations during and before we even started shooting. I wouldn't have gone with him if Diana Rigg hadn't assured me that she liked him enormously at that time before we started shooting, and that she would do everything to help and work with him.
Q: He also noted how he and Rigg did not talk to each other.
A: I think it's a measure of the man's personality. He changed about all over the place, when it all went to his head. You must remember that he was an ordinary little guy from the backwoods of Australia and he was suddenly thrust into a very sophisticated area of filmmaking, and it was very difficult for him. I had to do certain things that directors have to do. For instance, one of the best things he ever did was when she's shot. We got up there at eight in the morning, I insisted he was on set, I sat him in the car and made him rehearse and rehearse all day long, and I broke him down until he was absolutely exhausted, and by the time we shot it at five o'clock, he was exhausted, and that's how I got the performance. He thought that was me being unpleasant to him, but I couldn't say, "Now, listen George, I'm going to do this because it's the best way to get you to react." Maybe I did things like that all the way through, because I knew how to get emotions out of him, but he didn't seem to think that that was fair.
Q: It really is a film that you should be proud of.
A: Thank you very much. I really am. I must say that I'm always complimented, because I get good notices every time it's run on television. Funnily enough, I don't know if it's me, but I believe they're giving it better notices now than they did when it first came out twenty years ago.
Q: Which leads me to my next question, why the heck did you leave the series?
A: At the end of that film, they didn't know what they were going to do, whereas prior to that we had gone on, and on and on. But the team sort of broke up and went on to other things. Then Broccoli asked me to come back for Diamonds Are Forever, but at that time he and Saltzman were fighting and I was involved with something else. I told them that if they moved the production date I might be able to, but they couldn't and so they went with Guy Hamilton. I did, however, get a beautiful review from Pauline Kael on that, who said, "The one thing missing from this film is Peter Hunt" [laughs]. Then, again, Cubby asked me when I was doing Death Hunt, and I couldn't. So each time he came to me, I couldn't do it for one reason or another, although I would have liked to, therefore the cycle broke, as it were. I did have heavy involvement in six of them, which must mean I brought something to the films. If Lazenby had done Diamonds, then I may have done it, as well as the next two, and I wouldn't have done anything else and whilst I've often been disappointed about things I wanted to do that never came off, I've done some films that I'm awfully proud of which are out of the Bond idiom, away from the protected society of Broccoli and Saltzman and all that. It was very protective for me, and very nice and good, but I was able to go off and make my own films, like Gold and Shout at the Devil, both starring Roger Moore, which I'm proud of and which were very different from Bond.
Q: To wrap this up, I thought it was disappointing that you weren't hired to direct Never Say Never Again.
A: Well, there hangs a story. I would have offended Cubby if I had done it. That whole situation was very poor in their thinking, and I think if I had done it, they would have thought that I was a traitor. We had talks about it, but I wouldn't have taken it for that reason.