Exploring the Artefacts #8: The Gem Cutter Peter R. Hunt / Capturing a Golden Moment #11: From Russia with Love
Exploring The Artefacts is a series in which I examine some unique and significant components, or by-products, of cinema storytelling that are often under-appreciated.
The "Gem Cutter" was Peter R. Hunt, the British-born film editor and director, who is perhaps best recognised as the creative dynamo behind the early James Bond films. His pioneering editing work on the first three movies from this wildly popular franchise: Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, began a signature style so distinctive, it was embraced in the next three films as well, even though Hunt had relinquished his hands on duty. According to what this supremely talented craftsman modestly told me at a private revival screening of Thunderball, his stylish and innovative technique of cutting action scenes was developed simply because of Dr. No's (the film not the character) low budgetary constraints. This plus various production problems lead to his compensating editorial style which "livened things up" without raising costs. Anyone familiar with the first 6 James Bond films (after the three previously mentioned there followed Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty's Secret Service) can appreciate the enhanced excitement in all of the many scenes depicting physical conflict. This is because of what came to be known amongst aficionados as "crash cutting": A revolutionary way of boosting energy by designing a series of rapid cuts before the photographed motions are completed, often jumping to movement progressions that would naturally occur later. In other words, action that consistently and unexpectedly cuts in on other action. Progressing through these first 6 Bond movies, one can witness its application becoming increasingly utilised. By the time the series reached Thunderball (Bond film #4), Hunt was pulling double duty, directing the action or "second unit" in addition to supervising his editors. Many of us fans would anxiously anticipate these "Hunt creations" as much as any other semi-recurring feature such as star Sean Connery or John Barry's music or Ken Adams' production design. It was simply mesmerising to watch this passionate artisan apply his highly specialised talent.
Finally, after Bond #5 (You Only Live Twice), Hunt made his directing debut with On Her Majesty's Secret Service but was disappointed to learn Connery was leaving and would not star. Those of us also saddened in having our one and only Bond replaced by a newcomer could at least take some comfort in knowing Hunt was at the helm, the right man to ensure there would be, at the very least, no scrimping on the excitement quota. And low and behold it proved to be the most dazzling of the lot: chock-a-block full of crash cutting thrills culminating in an excruciatingly suspenseful and electrifying toboggan fight scene between Bond and Blofeld, ingeniously put together under the guidance of inspired gem cutter Peter Hunt. After that, he fortuitously left the series before Bond "lost the plot", couldn't be taken seriously, and worst of all became a parody of himself.
In honour of Peter Hunt here is a Golden Moment to share:
From Russia with Love (1963)
Director: Terence Young
Scene: "Train Compartment Showdown"
According to Peter Hunt's own words on the supplemental DVD/Blu-Ray commentary, he worked for hours editing this fascinating scene. His labour of love gained the maximum impact a culminating fight, staged in abnormally close quarters, could deliver when Bond and his arch rival finally go at it. He also had the advantage of its stars' (Sean Connery and Robert Shaw) eagerness to perform the scene themselves without using stunt doubles.
Just a quick word about a special screening of Peter Hunt's directorial debut, On Her Majesty's Secret Service: It will occur in Los Angeles on Friday, March 27 at 9:15pm as part of TCM's yearly Classic Film Festival with its star George Lazenby set to appear in person. The schedule for that day can be confirmed by clicking on the poster image. More information about the film itself can be read in this month's "Now Listen To Me..." article here.