Throughout the 1940s, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made a series of films that are considered some of the greatest British movies of all time. Their films, full of lush photography that blended realism and expressionistic fantasy, stood out in a country that tended to make socially conscious, terribly realistic, kitchen-sink dramas, or dry, literate, and cynical comedies. Films like A Canterbury Tale, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes were like fairy tales seeped in British history and their very singular culture.
But by 1950, their favor amongst critics and audiences was waning. Their type of movie was going out of style and they found it difficult to get funding for their films for the rest of their careers. In that same year, they made a deal with famed producer David O. Selznick to adapt Mary Webb’s novel Gone to Earth. Although Selznick was quite involved in the production of the film, he detested the final cut so much so that he sued Powell and Pressburger’s production company, The Archers, for breach of contract. He lost but soon realized he had final cut authority for the American release. He promptly hacked about 28 minutes out of the film, added in a few scenes, threw in voice-over narration, and a few other visual indicators to help over-explain the plot. It was retitled The Wild Heart. The results were not good. Neither film produced much money and the film has mostly been forgotten. Kino Lorber has now released both films in this set with a lovely new transfer.
It follows Hazel (Jennifer Jones) a naive, young, half-gypsy woman who prefers the company of animals, especially her fox cub, to that of humans. Despite this, she is courted by two men – Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack), a chaste minister who loves her for her soul, and Jack Reddin (Davie Farrar), a rich and powerful squire who not so much courts her as declares she is his and tries to force himself upon her.
She rebukes both of their advances but after an argument with her father, she vows to the local mountain that whoever asks her to marry him first shall become her husband. It is the minister who asks and she dutifully marries him. She secures some notion of happiness with him. He treats her kindly but has no interest in fulfilling his husbandly duties. Soon enough, her loins come a-calling and they remember the fire Jack Reddin lit inside her. She leaves Marston for Reddin who lavishes her with pretty dresses and ravishes her at regular intervals. But he’s also a fox-hunter and mistreats her own animal so that when the minister comes calling to bring her back, she goes.
I’m honestly not sure what the story is getting at with this film. Is it telling us that all women ought to be with kindly men more interested in their souls than their bodies? And that they will naturally follow their lusts towards burly men who will ultimately mistreat them? I keep mulling it over and I can’t quite figure out what it’s trying to say, but there isn’t an answer I can find within the film that’s not old fashioned and rather sexist.
Jennifer Jones gives a find performance, despite a rather suspect accent. She’s wild, of the earth, and fetching enough to believably have two men in love with her at the same time. Shot in the Welsh countryside, the cinematography is lush and beautiful. But the story is old fashioned, overly long, and really rather dull. Even the shortened version seen in The Wild Heart feels too long.
Still, if you are going to watch one version, stick with the original Gone to Earth cut. Selznick’s The Wild Heart version is like a perfect example of how not to re-edit a film. The narration attempts to simplify and explain an already simple narrative. It also injects little signposts and the like to clarify locations and activities which were readily apparent to anyone with eyes and ears. Most of the cuts aren’t crucial to the plot but neither are they particularly helpful in enjoying the film.
Kino Lorber presents both versions of the film with a 1080p transfer rate and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Extras include audio commentaries for each version of the film and a bunch of trailers for films featuring Jennifer Jones.
Gone to the Earth is a beautiful film to watch with a fine performance by Jennifer Jones but its outdated messaging and old-fashioned story definitely put it into second-tier Powell/Pressburger territory. Kino Lorber has done a nice job of presenting both the original and botched cut of the films with different commentaries for each film.
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