Interview conducted by and copyright Edward Gross
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 despite the fact it marked the first time Sean Connery didn't play 007.
Unfortunately, after that film Hunt (who passed away in 2002) left the folds of Bondage, turning his directorial sights to other films. 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.
MEDIA GEEK: My feeling has always been that what the Beatles did for music, James Bond did for film.
PETER HUNT: 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.
MEDIA GEEK: Cut to the chase.
PETER HUNT: 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.
MEDIA GEEK: Bond was so different for its time. As far as you're concerned, how did the whole thing come about?
PETER HUNT: 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.
MEDIA GEEK: I guess the production problems you faced on Dr. No were actually beneficial.
PETER HUNT: 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 with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
MEDIA GEEK: I was going to add that I thought Dr. No really seemed to capture the flavor of the Saturday morning serials.
PETER HUNT: 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.
MEDIA GEEK: When you get to From Russia With Love, it looks so different....
PETER HUNT: 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.
MEDIA GEEK: Thunderball was not one of the best films....
PETER HUNT: NO......
Q:....but they could have James Bond Does Dinner as a plot and it probably would have done the same amount of business.
PETER HUNT: 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.
FOR PART 2 OF THIS INTERVIEW, CLICK HERE.