Terence Young slots perfectly into Y, as the newest entry in our A to Z of Directors. We made sure our tribute to films doesn’t miss out on the humble beginnings of the iconic, 23 films and counting, James Bond franchise. The British director, born in Singapore in 1915 and educated in Cambridge, cuts a Bond-esque figure in himself. This upbringing gave Young the suave to sharpen unknown entity and rough diamond Sean Connery into the archetypal Bond, who is still hailed as the most refined Bond as of yet.
Young’s previous experience as a story editor and screenwriter made him the perfect choice to dive in and adapt Ian Fleming’s 6th book (published in 1958) into the 1962 pioneer Bond film, Dr. No. With scarcely time to shout cut, Young had directed the second installment, From Russia with Love, for release just one year later, thereby establishing the Bond franchise as a modern cultural phenomenon. Young skipped the next film, the brilliant Goldfinger, over a salary dispute, but returned to direct Thunderball, his third and final contribution to the Bond series.
In addition to the above, Young directed another 38 films, mostly in the action adventure/war genera. None had quite the same critical or commercial success, with the exception of Wait Until Dark, a 1967 crime/horror starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman, involved in a heroine heist.
Young was blighted by bad luck towards the end of his career. The misfortunes of box office flop Inchon makes for a particularly interesting read. Highlights include a typhoon destroying the central set, 1,500 extras being retracted by the US army, and the chief financier insisting on subliminal frames of Jesus being included. After the final cut, which included cardboard cut-outs of fighter planes held up by visible wire, Young tried to distance himself from what is widely claimed to be the worst war film of all time. Even free leather jackets with the film’s logo and a glowing 5* post humorous ‘review’ from central character, General Douglas MacArthur, weren’t enough to recoup the $44 million loss. It just goes to show how precarious a director’s position can be!
Dr. No (1962)
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord
Cinematography: Ted Moore
With a budget of just one million dollars, Dr. No made the biggest bang for its buck out of all the Bond films, with the international box office revenue raking in an impressive 6000% mark up.
It might seem that directing good Bond films would be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, but a little thought into it (i.e. recalling any of the Roger Moore films for instance) makes you realise that establishing the genre is as tricky as shooting down the barrel of a gun. In Dr. No, Young perfected the formula on his first attempt. The car chases, charismatic villains, witty dialogue, and the mesmerising introduction to Ursula Andress all set the standard for future Bond films, and indeed modern cinema. A standard many of the later films struggled to cling to, much like Dr. No’s metal hands to the ladder out of the radiation tank into which he’d fallen.
Reviews for Dr. No are very favourable. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 98% fresh rating, ranking the film at #1 on its Bond countdown. An impressive feat considering the calibre of the latest Daniel Craig films. The subtlety is what makes the first instalment the best. At no point does Bond miraculously run unscathed through a hail of bullets, the death count is only 16, and Connery convincingly loses any fight scene against multiple opponents. The special effects are amazing, considering the budget and technology. The sets, particularly the Crab Key lair, are thoroughly convincing, adding a feeling of claustrophobia and suspense. It’s filmed on location in Jamaica, which gives it a truly authentic feel.
From Russia With Love (1963)
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Operating on a budget twice the size, From Russia With Love began to upscale the franchise with more explosions, helicopter and speed boat chases. Yet Young kept the subtlety and style in his second instalment of the series. The film introduces the parody-gold, cat-stroking villain, Blofelt, who plans to aggravate Cold War tensions between the West and the East by setting up an attractive Russian spy defector with a code machine on a plate.
The film is shrewdly distinct, initiating a more complicated plot line, as Bond moves from Istanbul and to other Eastern European destinations on the Orient Express. The filters and plot are darker than the sunny Jamaican scenes, with villains who rather shoot than talk. Once again the stylish cinematography remains timeless. You would almost believe it was shot in the 90s, if it wasn’t for the casual misogyny and the unsettling slapping around of Daniela Bianchi.
Ranked at #4 with a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Bond count down after Casino Royale, Goldfinger and Dr. No, From Russia With Love fully established both the series and Sean Connery’s career. In the closing credits it was revealed that “Bond will be back” and indeed he was.