GONE TO EARTH (aka: THE WILD HEART) (director/writer: Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger; screenwriter: based on the novel by Mary Webb; cinematographer: Christopher Challis; editor: Reginald Mills; music: Brian Easdale; cast: Jennifer Jones (Hazel Woodus), David Farrar (John ‘Jack’ Reddin), Cyril Cusack (Edward Marston), Sybil Thorndike (Mrs. Marston), Edward Chapman (Mr. James), Esmond Knight (Abel Woodus), Hugh Griffith (Andrew Vessons), George Cole (Cousin Albert), Beatrice Varley (Aunt Prowde), Frances Clare (Amelia Clomber), Raymond Rollett (Landlord / Elder); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger; Sky Cinema; 1950-UK)
“There’s not much to recommend other than the stunningly beautiful photography.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s a pretentious arthouse pic financed by England’s Alexander Korda and America’s David O Selznick. It was filmed in England, on location and at the studio. It’s based on the 1917 intractable bodice-ripper novel by Mary Webb. The talented team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (“Stairway to Heaven”/The Red Shoes”/”Black Narcissus”) write, direct and produce this beautifully photographed romantic melodrama set in the 19th century in Shropshire. Executive producer David O Selznick, married to the film’s American star Jennifer Jones, hated the pic and after its Great Britain release bombed in 1950, came out with an American version called The Wild Heart in 1952 that was directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It added new scenes and ran for only 82 minutes (it slashed 28 minutes off the original and made an already flawed film a total disaster). The new version also bombed at the box office.
A simple innocent animal loving headstrong Welsh girl, Hazel Woodus (Jennifer Jones), whose deceased mom was a gypsy, is superstitious, keeps a fox cub as a pet and is influenced by local folk lore. Her hard-working honorable father Abel (Esmond Knight) resides with her atop a remote mountain, where he earns a living making coffins, raising beehives and playing the harp while his daughter sings at local events.
Dad asks his pretty daughter if she’s prepared to follow local custom and marry the first man to propose. She agrees, swearing some pagan allegiance to the mountain. It turns out the local parson, Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack), a mommy’s boy, fell in love with Hazel’s beauty, innocence and angelic voice, after meeting her during a church service. Despite his monster mom’s (Sybil Thorndike) warning that she’s of the uneducated lower-class and he’ll be sorry, the leering sonny boy is the first to propose. Hazel accepts, and her dad says ‘a bargain’s a bargain’ when the virile wealthy local squire, John ‘Jack’ Reddin (David Farrar), a noted cad, offers dad money for his daughter to marry him instead. Hazel weds the wimpy pastor after the Shropshire Fair, to the unhappiness of the lustful squire. After the marriage, the 40-year-old womanizer pressures the pathetic much younger Hazel to run away with him to his mansion. When Hazel returns to the good-natured parson and is forgiven, things become increasingly risible in the face of tragedy (even more risible than the preceding storyline).
There’s not much to recommend other than the stunningly beautiful photography and its earnestness to try and flesh out something important to say, even if it never does. GTE has crucial plot moments when it’s unintentionally funny and never achieves much depth in its nevertheless pleasing eye-candy shots in lush Technicolor of splendid pastoral vistas, except as a Hallmark greeting card art for the masses. The filmmakers try hard but in vain to connect the dots between nature’s cruelty and beauty, and how that affects man’s soul. It wants to be an arty fairy tale that resonates in modern times, but can’t get out of the hole it fell into while chasing down a story it never could get a good grip on. A miscast Jones fumbles around throughout trying out a sharp rustic Shropshire accent that could just as well have been hillbilly chatter from the Ozarks; while the Brit supporting actors, especially the squire’s ornery manservant played by Hugh Griffith, ham it up as eccentrics.
REVIEWED ON 4/2/2011 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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