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A re-editing of Gone to Earth (1950) after a disagreement and court case between director Michael Powell and producer David O. Selznick. Selznick's changes are mainly:- (1) Adding a prologue. (2) Adding scenes explaining things, often by putting labels or inscriptions on them. (3) Adding more close-ups of Jennifer Jones (Selznick's wife). He also deleted a few scenes that he felt weren't dramatic enough. Sadly some of these were major plot points so the story doesn't make as much sense as the original. In his autobiographies, Powell claimed that Selznick only left about 35 mins of the original film. In fact there's a lot more than that. About 2/3 of the original remains.Written by
Steve Crook <email@example.com>
Less a Child of Nature than the Miscast Trophy Wife of a Hollywood Mogul
Mary Webb was a member of the rural social-realist school whose other members included H. E. Bates Sheila-Kaye Smith and John Moore. Her works show the obvious influence of Thomas Hardy, one of the founders of that school, and her novel "Gone to Earth" deals with two classically Hardeian themes- a woman who is loved by two or more different men, and love between people of different social classes. The action takes place in the Shropshire countryside, close to the Welsh border, in 1897. The main character, Hazel Woodus, is the beautiful daughter of a reclusive old man living in a remote country cottage. (Hazel's father, Abel, has a number of different professions of which the main one is coffin-maker). She has a deep love of nature and of wild animals, but having been brought up with only her father for company finds it difficult to relate to other people. She is of gypsy ancestry on her mother's side, which increases the local people's distrust of her; some of them even regard her as a witch. (A belief in witchcraft persisted among the uneducated, especially in rural areas, throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, long after educated people had ceased to believe in it).
The two men in the working-class Hazel's life are the aristocratic Jack Reddin, the handsome but roguish local squire, and the middle-class Edward Marston, a young Nonconformist minister. (Contrary to what some have stated, Marston is not an Anglican vicar). Like many English country squires, Reddin is a keen foxhunter, which makes his relationship with the animal-loving Hazel a difficult one, as she owns a pet fox.
The film was made by The Archers, the British team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as a co-production with the American producer David O. Selznick, who insisted upon casting his wife Jennifer Jones as Hazel. Most of his other suggestions, however, were ignored by Powell and Pressburger, so it is hardly surprising that Selznick cordially disliked the finished film. He couldn't do much about the British version of the film after he lost a court case against The Archers, but had retained the right to final cut of the American version. He therefore had the film re-edited and hired director Rouben Mamoulian to shoot some extra scenes in Hollywood. As a result, "Gone to Earth"(British) and "The Wild Heart" (American) are not simply two names for the same film. They are two different versions of the same film, perhaps even two different films.
Although "The Wild Heart" was the American version, it is the version which I recently saw on British television. I have not seen the original "Gone to Earth" for many years, so I will not attempt a direct comparison of the merits of the two versions. One thing I disliked about both versions, however, was Jones's performance in the leading role. Jones was unable to do a convincing English accent, as she was to demonstrate again a few years later when she played another English character, Catherine in "A Farewell to Arms". Here her attempt at a British accent seems to incorporate features of Northern English, Welsh, Irish and West Country dialects, as well as a hint of the American Deep South. Although I can understand that American viewers unfamiliar with the dialects of the Welsh Marches might not regard this as such a problem, I felt that even without taking her dodgy accent into account it was difficult to accept Jones in the part. She seemed less like a "child of nature" from rural Shropshire than the trophy wife of a Hollywood mogul, miscast in a quite unsuitable role.
On the positive side, Webb's story is a moving one, and Powell's Technicolor photography of the English countryside is superb. (He had already revealed himself as a gifted photographer of the British landscape in the black-and-white movies "A Canterbury Tale", "I Know Where I'm Going!" and "The Edge of the World", this last made without Pressburger, but this was the first time he had done so in a colour film). Jones's co-stars, David Farrar as the lustful, rascally Reddin and Cyril Cusack as Marston, sincere and kindly but out of his depth when dealing with a girl like Hazel, were a lot better than she was. (Farrar had also played a handsome rogue in another Archers drama, "Black Narcissus"). I just couldn't help wishing that The Archers had found a British collaborator, or at least an American one who wasn't married to a glamorous Hollywood goddess. 6/10, but I reserve the right to revise that mark when I have watched the original version again.
Some goofs. Reddin is shown living alone with only an elderly manservant for company, but in fact a stately home like the one he lives in would have required a large staff of servants to run it. An abandoned mine-shaft plays an important role in the story, but there were never any coal mines in this part of Shropshire, although there were some in other parts of the county. (In Webb's original novel this was a quarry). And in some scenes- apparently the ones shot in America- Hazel's pet fox is obviously a stuffed toy.
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