Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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In the picture
Adrian Turner unearths
pure Celtic chemistry
"Radio Times" 5-11 November 1988
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Gone to Earth lives fully up to its title, smelling of truffles, ceps and morel mushrooms; in other words, it's a delicacy, wild and uncultivated and weirdly compelling. Double-billed with King Vidor's Ruby Gentry, this is to be a night of earthy passion. And a night with the extraordinary Jennifer Jones.
Hers is a taste that is easy to aquire if given the chance. She was the magnificent obsession of David O. Selznick, Hollywood's greatest producer. Selznick's love for her was evident in every overblown crimsoned frame of Duel in the Sun and the emphatically titled A Portrait of Jennie, a crushing financial failure and a public humiliation not unlike Charles Foster Kane's night at the opera.
In 1949 Selznick divorced Louis B. Mayer's daughter and married Jennifer Jones in Italy. Dissillusioned by Hollywood and full of postwar ambitions about international understanding, he had decided to make films in Europe. Selznick teamed up with the British movie mogul Alexander Korda, who wanted to move to Hollywood, and co-produced The Third Man. Gone to Earth, made in 1950, was their second joint venture and a far less happy experience.
Based on Mary Webb's melodramatic novel, the film is set in 1897. Jennifer Jones plays Shropshire lass Hazel Woodus (and there's a name to conjure with, like Gabriel Oak), whose father makes coffins, keeps bees and plays the harp at moments of melancholy. Hazel's kindred spirit in the mossy, mystical forest is a fox, though her great primitive beauty outrages the local maiden and motherhood and makes the quarry of local hunstmen like David Farrar and aspiring vicars like Cyril Cusack. Inevitably, the story ends with the great symbolic ritual of a fox hunt.
Powell and Pressburger were at the height of their careers, having made The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale and Black Narcissus, great classics all and against the tide of most mainstream British cinema in their lack of emotional restraint, their flamboyant use of colour and their willingness to tread the razor's edge of bad taste.
Gone to Earth was one of their riskiest ventures and it says much for Selznick and Korda that it got made in the first place. Perhaps they failed to visualise Powell and Pressburger's script or maybe for Selznick it was another lurid portrait od Jennifer and for Korda a passport to Hollywood.
Yet when it was done, Selznick new it would not play in the States. Men in red coats riding horses and hunting foxes were acceptable but not in the context of unbridled sexulaity and religious doubt. In Hollywood, the film was cut from 111 minutes to 82 minutes, new scenes were directed by Rouben Mamoulian and the title was changed to The Wild Heart.
For years, in Britain and America, this was the only version available of Powell and Pressburger's film: Gone to Earth had done precisely that. But in 1986 the National Film Archive restored the original version with its superb colours and it is this restoration which is now receiving its British TV premiere. It is not a long lost British masterpiece; it's a piece of pure Celtic chemistry, dominated by Jennifer Jones. It is an amazing performance that finds truth in trash.
The film was shown on BBC2 at 21:30
The brief descriptions in the film listings said:
Extravagant tale of a wild Victorian girl (Jennifer Jones), married to the local vicar, who gets herself seduced by the local squire. Powell and Pressburger's film draws out the tosh in Mary Webb's novel, but bathes the action in junilant visual splendour.
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