Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama is life with all the boring parts cut out,
and it's the film editor who is responsible for cutting out the boring parts.
Before he directed the masterpiece Citizen Kane, Orson Welles watched John
Ford's 1939 classic Stagecoach forty times in one week. He came away saying if
you really want to know everything about filmmaking, watch Stagecoach. Well, the
same is true for the first five James Bond films. If you really want to learn
about film editing watch Dr. No or Goldfinger or You Only Live Twice.
Throughout the sixties, Bond films developed an editing style that remains popular to this day – a style which could aptly be called "cut to the chase." And the man who helped pioneer that style is one of the greatest film editors the cinema has ever known, Peter Hunt.
Peter Hunt and director Terence Young putting the final touches on classic cinema.
Hunt was born in London and became acquainted with film director Terence Young
while working at Denham Studios at the age of 16. He went on to become an
assembling editor for The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (1953). In the
following years he performed the editing chores on films such as: Stranger From
Venus, On the Fiddle, Sink the Bismarck and The Ipcress File. In 1969, he
directed his first film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Since then, he has
directed Gold, Shout at the Devil (both with Roger Moore), Death Hunt, and
Assassination (both with Charles Bronson).
However, it's his skillful technique on the Bond films for which he is most
well-known. To keep the action moving, Hunt developed a technique called
"crash cutting." For example, in the pre-Bond film days, movies were
usually edited by having the characters leave an office, go out the front door,
down the sidewalk, and into a car. In the Bond films, Hunt would cut from the
office to the car, removing all the redundant shots and condensing the drama to
a commercial feel that is almost taken for granted today.
A good example of this can be found in You Only Live Twice. Bond has been shot in a Hong Kong apartment. No sooner do the assassins leave the room, we see the British authorities arriving on the street. They jump out of their vehicle and run into the building. The next shot has them entering Bond's room and discovering Bond's body. Notice there wasn't an extra shot of the authorities receiving a phone call about the gunfire and there wasn't a shot of the authorities running for the lobby elevators or climbing the stairs to the apartment floor.
Voice-over montages were also used to tighten up scenes and keep the action moving. In Dr. No, for instance, Miss Taro tells Bond how to get to her bungalow high in the Jamaican mountains. Her image dissolves into a shot of Bond in his convertible but her voice is still heard over the scene. We see Bond driving his car towards us on the road while Miss Taro's voice continues to give Bond directions to her home. When Bond turns onto the mountain road her voice ends with "I'll be waiting for you."
Interestingly, the "voice-over montage" hasn't been used at all since Live and Let Die when Solitaire is foretelling Bond's arrival. In that case, you don't see Solitaire, only her hands, the tarot cards, and Bond's plane in the background.
Another editing technique Hunt used throughout the early Bonds is a "jump cut." This is a stylistic effect that can be used to cut across the camera axis or cutting in the middle of pans and zooms, or a technique that removes several frames of film and causes the action to jump. In the fight scene between Bond and Jacques Boitier in Thunderball, Peter Hunt created the illusion of a violent hit when Boitier has Bond pinned against the door. He clipped out at least two or three frames to get this effect. To some viewers, it looks as if the theater projector ate some of the film in the last showing, but to the film industry it was an art form. The first jump cut was used in Dr. No when Strangeways' secretary, Miss Trueblood, is shot by one of the Three Blind Mice. This technique would later be used by film editor John Glen in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
Bond and Jacques Boitier do more than fight it out during the pre-credit sequence of THUNDERBALL.
An interesting footnote on the non-EON production of Never Say Never Again has this technique used at the beginning of the fight scene between Bond (Sean Connery) and Lippe (Pat Roach) in the Shrubland's gym. It does appear that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Peter Hunt had other styles that the average viewer would never notice. Like any magician, Hunt would manipulate the audience into seeing shots that moved the scene along even if the shot itself was all wrong in the real sense. These I personally like to call "cheated editing tricks" or CHETs. Now a CHET is a shot or a segment where the editor is forced to become creative to make the scene work. It's not a blooper where some kid in the front row of the theater notices right away that there's a continuity problem in the film. CHETs can be the ultimate tool a film editor can use to create an illusion.
Bond (bottom right) arrives at Miss Taro's bungalow in DR. NO
Later, Professor Dent (or is that James?) is seen walking to the bungalow
In Dr. No, Bond is seen walking up to Miss Taro's home after the Three Blind Mice try to kill him on the mountain road. Notice he's wearing a dark suit and is walking from screen right to screen left. For the next few minutes he'll bed Miss Taro and have her arrested so he can prepare himself for Professor Dent's assassination attempt. When Hunt was editing this scene, he probably found that the director, Terence Young, didn't shoot a scene with Professor Dent walking up to Miss Taro's bungalow. So what does an editor do when there isn't a shot to establish Dent's arrival? In this case, Hunt took the shot of Bond arriving at the bungalow, flip it, and underexposed the film to make it look like night. Remember, Bond is wearing a dark suit, whereas Dent's suit is light-colored.
How did they get those fish to fight on cue in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE?
In From Russia, with Love, Hunt introduces Rosa Klebb walking towards Blofeld's fish tank from the front of his desk. In reality, the shot had Klebb walking away from the fish tank while Blofeld spoke about the Siamese Fighting Fish. Hunt ran the film backwards to get Klebb to the fish tank. Most likely, the scene was to begin with Klebb already in front of the fish tank, but Hunt probably felt he needed to establish the room before he went to the close-ups of the actors. It also gives an awkwardness to the character of Klebb. Hunt later uses the same shot but this time it is correct with Klebb walking back in front of the desk while Kronsteen makes his entrance. Also, during production, the dialogue of this scene changed. Since Blofeld's cabin set had long been broken down, Hunt had to enlarge several frames of film to use with a rear projection screen. This is a screen on which scenery is projected while actors film the scene in front. In this case both Lotte Lenya and Vladek Sheybal had to reshoot their scene using a frame of film from a deleted scene as the background. Look carefully at the close-ups of Lotte Lenya while she is sitting – the background is a previously-shot still frame of her in Blofeld's cabin. When Lotte moves her head just a little you can see part of her head on the background. This is pure movie magic and a special praise to Hunt and other technicians who pulled this one out of a hat. (Incidentally, also note the use of jump cuts in this scene to make it appear the Siamese Fighting Fish are actually fighting. They wouldn't do it on cue, so Hunt put together a nicely-done montage to get the effect.)
Just how big is SPECTRE Island's training camp?
Another great example of a CHET is when Rosa Klebb arrives at SPECTRE island. We
see Morzeny walking with Klebb around the training camp. This scene is brilliant
because Hunt edits Rosa Klebb walking along while SPECTRE agents run and shoot
their way through a maze of deadly traps. She says to Morzeny "Training is
useful but there is no substitute for the real thing." The two walk out of
frame and the shot cuts. Then we see them walking into what seems to be another
part of the training camp. But this is the same area where they first came in
– only the camera is now shooting from behind. Hunt gives the viewer the
feeling that the training camp is much larger than expected.
Another example of condensing scenes and cutting out the boring parts is
demonstrated when Bond arrives at the Istanbul hotel. He registers at the desk
and is escorted by the bellhop up to his room. If you watch closely, Hunt uses
what's called a "wipe" effect. This is a visual effect that literally
wipes a shot off the screen as another shot or scene is revealed. In this
example, Bond gets on the elevator and the scene wipes upwards giving the
impression that the elevator is rising. The next shot has Bond entering his
hotel room thus leaving out dull scenes like him getting out of the elevator and
walking down the corridor to his room.
Yet another CHET is at St. Sophia's Mosque. Bond is there to pick up the map of the Russian consulate, which Tanya is leaving at one of the pillars. The Bulgar is also observing Tanya. Bond sees the Bulgar and puts his camera down on the floor. He takes out his gun and wraps it in his handkerchief. However, in a wide shot of Bond observing the Bulgar, you can see that Bond is carrying his camera again and not his gun. This is not a blooper. Most likely, Hunt was stuck without a shot. He needed Bond and the Bulgar together in a wide shot and had to settle for the one with the camera. The shot only lasts two seconds but Hunt forces the viewer's eyes to Bond watching the Bulgar, not the continuity error of the camera.
Bond observes a surprised Grant as the attaché case explodes in his face.
In the famous scene onboard the Orient Express, Hunt used the audio track to fill in the visual portion. When Bond tells Grant about the gold sovereigns inside the attaché case, Grant tells Bond to back off while he opens the case. Instead of showing Grant's reaction to the explosion, we only see Bond watching the result. Hunt substituted the sound of the exploding case over the shot of Bond watching. When Hunt cuts to Grant he's already engulfed in tear gas. The audience accepts that they thought they saw the attaché case opened. What happens next, of course, is cinema history. Bond and Grant struggle in a brutally-staged fight that took a total of 59 edited cuts and 115 seconds of film.
Bond puts the squeeze on a pair of nitro containers during the opening of GOLDFINGER.
Crash cutting is evident at the beginning of the Goldfinger pre-credit sequence. Bond swims up to a fishing dock with a rubber seagull on his head. Too some, this was a silly joke. Hunt must have felt the same way since he sped up the film when Bond tears off the seagull camouflage and quickly cuts to Bond preparing to scale the refinery walls. Later, after knocking out a guard, Bond is inside a plush office hidden in one of the oil tanks. He quickly dispenses the plastic explosives (C4) onto the nitro-glycerin drums. Hunt shows Bond beginning to squeeze the C4 out of its tube onto the first drum. He then cuts to a medium shot of Bond's face as he moves quickly down the drums. Then he cuts back to Bond's hands spreading the final bits of C4 on the last drum. This is an excellent example of showing just enough information to the audience without getting too detailed. In real time, the explosives would have taken a while to squeeze out of the tube. But within seconds, Bond has the place wired to explode. He quickly leaves the office and is leaping down off the wall to the fishing docks. Notice Hunt didn't bore us with Bond escaping from the refinery or climbing up and over the wall.
Goldfinger prepares to shoot OO7, but who is the guy standing behind him? Moments later Bond nearly trips over the hapless henchman who's scene ended, not here, but on the editing floor.
During the final confrontation between Bond and Auric Goldfinger aboard the
private jet, you can see that one of Goldfinger's henchmen is standing behind
him while he speaks to Bond. When Bond is fighting Goldfinger, you can see the
hand of the henchman rising behind their heads. Note that after Goldfinger is
sucked out the window, the body of the henchman is on the floor of the plane. As
of this writing, there is no explanation as to why this henchman was edited out
of this scene. One can only speculate that the henchman was shot when Bond and
Goldfinger are fighting for the gun. If you noticed the credit sequence, there
is a shot of Goldfinger's revolver shooting three bullets. However, in the final
fight scene the gun only fires one shot that blows out the window. Hunt
simplified this scene by cutting out the Korean guard altogether. Whatever the
reason behind this scene, Hunt really gets top marks for pulling this off
without the audience noticing – at least not until the age of the VCR.
In Thunderball, Hunt once again uses transitional wipe effects to progress the action. In fact, this film is loaded with wipe effects. Practically every scene begins with one. When Largo begins to discuss his Plan Omega to the SPECTRE board, Hunt does a split wipe to reveal Shrublands where Count Lippe and Angelo are waiting. When Angelo as Major Derval is at the NATO airbase, Hunt uses several wipes and voice-overs to speed up the scene. After the bombs are on board the Disco Volente, Hunt uses wipes in the direction of the action. Largo traces his pen along a ruler while the scene wipes from screen right to screen left. And then wipes again in the direction the Disco is traveling. Hunt tightens up the traditional scene with Bond and Moneypenny. Instead of Bond walking out of M's office and having their usual innuendoes, Hunt wipes from the end of M's office scene and right into Moneypenny saying to Bond "Smashing figure" (as she examines the photo of Domino). When Bond leaves Moneypenny to go to the Bahamas, the scene wipes from the top to the bottom to reveal the underwater world. This film is so loaded with wipes that even the last shot in the theatrical trailer ends with a split wipe.
Emilio Largo is all choked up over his out-of-controlled Disco Volante
In the final fight between Bond and Largo on board the Disco Volante, Hunt sped up the shots of the ocean outside the windows of Largo's yacht. He had to do this because the exterior footage was shot by helicopter and didn't match the speed of the interior action. What we're left with is Bond and Largo fighting in quick rapid shots while the Disco is speeding through the Caribbean at tremendous speed. Hunt commented on this scene later in Steven Jay Rubin's book The James Bond Films: "There are times when you want to juxtapose certain bits of film and you can't. It's not possible. And that's how the gaps occur. It's better to have the speed of the film than to worry about continuity." This scene may have suffered 32 years ago, but by today's standards of MTV videos, this scene is more exciting than many contemporary action thrillers.
In You Only Live Twice, Peter Hunt had finished his second-unit direction when the producers begged him to finish editing the troubled film. It was 133 minutes long and Hunt went through the daunting task of cutting it down to 116 minutes. For instance, Bond and Kissy are on top of Blofeld's volcano. They exchange dialogue about how hard it is to walk up the mountain and Bond says "Hmm, some honeymoon." Note that you never see Connery's or Mie Hama's lips move during this quick eye-to-eye exchange. When Connery says his line the shot shows Mie Hama's face.
Bond and Kissy Suzuki exchange more than dialogue as a SPECTRE helicopter looms overhead.
This is a very clever way of tightening up scenes that were apparently too long. When they're interrupted by a SPECTRE helicopter, Kissy says to Bond, "It's going down, into the volcano." On the words "into the volcano" Hunt cuts to the helicopter. Other editors would have had the close-up of Kissy saying the entire line then cutting to the helicopter flying into the volcano, but Hunt condenses the scene by tricking our eyes and ears. Also, during the final battle scene, look closely at Bond opening the door to Blofeld's quarters where Hans is waiting. He opens the door one direction and in the next shot the door is opening the opposite way. Hunt tricks us again by cutting out the shots of Bond opening several doors and leaves us with the illusion that he opened only one door to Blofeld's quarters. It would look ludicrous if Bond kept opening door after door.
Bond goes door-to-door during the climatic battle in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.
Peter Hunt was one of the most creative – and perhaps the best – editor the
cinema has ever had. His style cemented the feel of the early Bond films and
reached its pinnacle with his directing debut, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
That film is one of the most-loved among purists, right alongside such classics
as Goldfinger and From Russia, with Love.
The next time you sit down to watch one of the early Bond films, take special note of how the films progress from one scene to the next. You'll then appreciate the creative genius of Peter Hunt and come away with a better understanding of how films are made and, most importantly, how they should be edited.
March 11, 1925 - August 14, 2002.
Special thanks to Blofeld's Cat for supplying most of the photos for this article.