Geoffrey Foot: Film editor noted for his work with David Lean, Walt Disney and Peter Sellers
Monday 25 October 2010
Geoff Foot was among the last of a disappearing breed: the gentleman editor, a man whose passion for cinema and whose knowledge of film technique immeasurably aided every picture he worked on, so informed and so subtle was his contribution to both film art and film artifice, that, like many editors, although highly regarded within the film industry, his name and achievements were little known to the picture-going public.
Film historians always had difficulty (and still do) attributing the creative contribution of a film's editor. It is a skill honed by regularity of employment, allied to an instinctive intelligence and an awareness of the infinite possibilities of the medium.
Geoffrey Foot was born in Putney, south-west London, in 1915; his mother, Edith, was a teacher and his father was Evelyn Foot, night editor of the Daily Herald. The young Foot was always interested in film, and on his leaving Latimer School, his father put him in contact with Bill Lott at Ealing Studios, who offered him a job in the camera department. After just a few months, Foot "went upstairs" as second assistant to editor Thorold Dickinson, working on the Gracie Fields vehicle Sing as We Go (1934).
As assistant in the cutting rooms at Ealing, Foot worked on a variety of productions, including both French and English versions of Marcel Pagnol's Topaze (1935) and on The Beloved Vagabond (1936) starring Maurice Chevalier and Margaret Lockwood. Working with editor Dickinson on the turgid Mozart biopic Whom the Gods Love (1936), Foot realised that it was possible to speed up the pace of the film by eliminating tedious transitional shots, utilising direct cutting to actors, and he also suggested eliminating the then-customary time-passing dissolves. It was a technique that Foot would perfect as an editor, most notably in his work for David Lean in Madeleine (1950), and on Johnny Nobody (1961), with director Nigel Patrick.
After Ealing, Foot assisted on Alexander Korda's The Divorce of Lady X (1938), and then followed a series of films for Mayflower, the company formed by actor Charles Laughton and producer Erich Pommer: Vessel of Wrath (1938), St Martin's Lane (1938), and Jamaica Inn (1939), the last directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
When war broke out, Foot joined the Crown Film Unit, and made his solo debut as editor in 1940 on the short film Spring Offensive. Then he was contacted by his old boss Thorold Dickinson, now at the Army Kinematograph Service, for whom Foot directed documentaries about a new recoil-less gun and radar training.
Demobbed in 1947, Foot was offered what was to be his feature-editing debut, Take My Life (1947), directed by Ronald Neame, which was a critical success. Foot next took associate editor credit on the melodrama Blanche Fury (1948).
Ronnie Neame had started directing The Passionate Friends (1949) and had invited Foot to edit the film, but Neame fell out with its star Ann Todd, and resigned after two weeks of shooting. Neame's replacement was David Lean, who Foot had known and admired as an editor. Lean then offered Foot his next film Madeleine (1950), which also starred Todd, who by then Lean had married. But despite constant re-shoots and retakes, both Foot and Lean knew the film didn't quite gel. Nevertheless, Lean's next film was to remain one of Foot and Lean's finest achievements, 1952's The Sound Barrier, an Oscar-winning example of British cinema at its finest.
A couple of well-received British comedies, The Galloping Major (1951) and Innocents in Paris (1953), plus the Lean films, led to Foot being offered the prestigious Walt Disney epic Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue (1953) and Foot took his new bride Bettie along to the Highland location, the first of many such location holidays.
Rank was having production difficulties on a new film featuring a comedian they hoped to turn into a star, and Foot was brought on to Norman Wisdom's Trouble in Store (1953), as second editor, and helped to turn the film into one of Rank's top earners. Offered Wisdom's second feature, One Good Turn (1954), Foot ended up directing much second unit material. The Wisdom films were immensely successful, and led to Foot editing two St Trinian's features.
Walt Disney was so impressed by Foot's work on Rob Roy that he invited Foot to direct two of his theatrical short series People and Places, and Foot enjoyed directorial credit on Wales and Scotland (both 1958).
In 1959 Foot commenced a singular relationship with Irving Allen and Albert R Broccoli's Warwick productions, which was to lead to Foot editing what was to become a career highlight, The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), which was made necessarily quickly in advance of a rival Oscar Wilde film.
Foot was told by producer Allen that "I've got to have it out in nine weeks," and it was Foot who ensured that that was indeed the case, simultaneously editing, scoring, and sound mixing as soon as director Ken Hughes had completed filming sequences. Composer Ron Goodwin was recording music even before scenes were filmed, and Foot edited the score accordingly. Director Hughes finally saw his own film first completed at the London press screening: the production was an all-round triumph, and paved the way for a distinguished editing career for Foot on international features.
Foot's films included star vehicles for such as Lana Turner in Another Time, Another Place (co-starring the young Sean Connery, 1958), and Susan Hayward in Stolen Hours (1963), plus the epics The Long Ships (1964) and Genghis Khan (1965), on both of which Foot re-arranged the music scores. He also guided Peter Sellers in Sellers' sole directorial outing, a re-make of Mr Topaze, in 1961.
In 1967 Foot was hired as supervising editor on producer-star Patrick McGoohan's ground-breaking television series The Prisoner. Althoughcredited on only four episodes, Foot was responsible for the overall cutting style and editing pace of the whole short-lived series, in particular editing down the first episode ("Arrival") from a 90-minute version to a television hour, and most notably editing and supervising the shoot and scoring of the cult series' remarkable main title sequence and prologue.
Throughout the 1970s Foot continued editing, working on features by directors such as John Hough and Richard Sarafian, and the very successful "Confessions" series (1975, 1976, 1977). In 1980 he was temporarily felled by a heart attack, but he returned to Disney with Hough directing Bette Davis in The Watcher in the Woods (1980) and concluded his career with the Disney TV special The Black Arrow in 1985, also directed by Hough.
"I got out of the swim," avowed the co-founder of the Guild of British Film Editors, whose GBFE membership card bore the newly assigned No 3. "The youngsters came in, and quite rightly so – the business has got to progress."
Geoffrey Macadam Foot, film editor: born London 19 May 1915; married 1952 Bettie Staples (one son, two daughters); died London 9 September 2010.
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