Thursday, August 2, 2012

128. GONE TO EARTH (1950)

For some reason, this offering from The Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) is not so well known or venerated as their other productions from this same period, and that reason is likely to do with the fact that co-producer David O. Selznick felt that Powell & Pressburger didn't deliver the script as written and agreed upon, and so exercised his right to post-produce a version of his own for the US release. That version, titled THE WILD HEART, was the more widely-seen cut until the film all but disappeared from circulation about 25 years ago. It's an unfortunate history for this film, a torrid story based on a Mary Webb novel, about Hazel (Jennifer Jones), a gypsy girl living with her widowed father, a harpist in the Scottish highlands, and a pet fox named Foxy, who is romantically pursued by a wealthy heathen landowner named Jack Reddin (BLACK NARCISSUS' David Farrar) despite her protective marriage to a Baptist minister, Edward Marston, whose respect for Hazel has extended to not insisting on his husbandly rights. As if sniffing out her unmet sexual needs on the wind, the way his hounds pursue foxes, Reddin tracks her down, claims his right to her, and rides off with her, emasculating Edward's reputation in their wake.

The film has aspects, as well as a brooding atmosphere, that relate it marginally to the horror genre, and there are things about it that would make it a worthwhile co-feature to Roger Corman's TOMB OF LIGEIA -- not least of all the fox-hunting aspect, its leaning on ravishing location imagery, and the characters' ties to arcane forms of superstition and religious worship. In this film, Hazel keeps a handwritten book passed down to her by her late mother, full of "castings" (spells) that empower her to chart her own destiny, a power she later has cause to regret. As with all Powell and Pressburger films, the performances and technical support are exemplary, though the Archers' usual cameraman, the great Jack Cardiff, was here replaced (in the first of three assignments) by a wondrously inspired Christopher Challis -- who died earlier this year, on May 31 -- on only his third feature assignment; he followed his work here with THE ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL (1950) and the extraordinary THE TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951). The romantic tragedy builds to a broadly telegraphed finale involving someone's unfortunate run-in with a deep gaping hole in the ground, encircled by boards and straw, which Powell's pagan eye cannot help but use to resonate with what James Joyce called "the grey sunken cunt of the world." A must-see.

Viewed via Sky Home Video Entertainment DVD.


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