Gone to Earth
Posted by martinteller on March 22, 2015
In 1897, the earthy, animal-loving Hazel Woodus (Jennifer Jones) lives in the Shropshire countryside with her father Abel (Esmond Knight), a coffin-maker and harpist, and her beloved pet fox Foxy. Her mother has passed away, but not without passing along a belief in pagan superstition. One night while walking home, fearing the “Dark Huntsmen”, she is startled by the carriage of squire Jack Reddin (David Farrar). Reddin takes her to his estate and makes advances on her. She escapes and Reddin spends days searching for her. Meanwhile, she’s captured the attention of the gentle minister Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack), who is captivated by her angelic singing at a local fair. Marston, swearing an oath to God to protect her, proposes. Hazel, having sworn her own oath to marry the first one that asks, accepts. But when Reddin finally catches up with her, he has his own ideas.
This film came at the end of Powell and Pressburger’s peak period, a string of films that included A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes. For this one, they worked with producer David O. Selznick (Jones’s husband), who was unsatisfied with the results and ultimately butchered the movie and released it as The Wild Heart in the U.S. Fortunately, I watched the original version, which is a somewhat routine melodrama but retains the mysterious charm of the Archers. The quiet eeriness mixed with the rustic country life gives it the air of a fairy tale. The analogy of Hazel and the fox — an untamed but innocent creature — is perhaps a bit obvious, but is handled with gorgeous grace.
Innocents are dogged and persecuted by social mores (especially in a Victorian era)… the expectation that lower classes should submit to the wealthy and powerful, the wagging tongues of those who would make private affairs public gossip, the double-standard when it comes to women and their desires. It’s interesting that each of the three principals in the story has an older figure in their lives, each serving a different role. Marston’s mother (Sybil Thorndike) is protective… not of her son or his wishes, but protective of the family reputation, prudishly attempting to shield it from any hint of impropriety. Hazel’s father is a bit of a scamp and has a somewhat antagonistic relationship with her, but he clings to a sort of folksy set of ethics that show a true fatherly concern. And Reddin’s manservant Vessons (Hugh Griffith) seems mostly concerned with protecting the world from his master’s lechery. These figures are, no matter what their intentions, ultimately unsuccessful at controlling their wards, as one generation gives way to the next. Nature — human and animal — wins out.
The technicolor photography is not done by Jack Cardiff this time, but cinematographer Christopher Challis is up to the task, presenting some stunning images. The bold colors help lend the film its faintly surreal aura, an otherworldly patina. One particular memorable scene features Jones standing on a hill, as Farrar’s shadow slowly engulfs her. The score by Brain Easdale is lovely as well. Jones delivers one of her better performances, although her attempts at a local accent are shaky and unconvincing. Farrar and Cusack both handle their opposing parts nicely as well, occupying what amounts to “villain” and “hero” roles without reducing them to simplicity. However, Griffith and Knight are somewhat overbearing in their hamminess. Foxy makes up for them, though. Rating: Very Good (85)