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Saturday Night Cinema: Gone to Earth

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First off, let me apologize for missing last week’s Saturday Night Cinema screening. I was traveling  to speak to the AFA conference, Islam and the West (video here), and was unable to search and post the crème de la crème of film you’ve come to expect.

But I’m back, and tonight’s Saturday Night selection is “Gone to Earth” (released in America as “The Wild Heart”). It is the huntsman’s cry when a fox has gone into hiding in its den or “earth.”

Set in rural Shropshire, it is a dark tale of lust, power and destruction. Wonderful photography and a picture of a long lost way of life. And yes, it is a continuation of the Atlas salute to the superb films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. This is now the third Saturday night cinema selection honoring their work.

The brooding British romantic drama Gone to Earth is better known by its American title The Wild Heart. Filmed in England and cofinanced by David O. Selznick and Alexander Korda, the film stars Jennifer Jones (Mrs. Selznick) as Hazel Woodus, a tempestuous Welsh gypsy maid who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Feeling more of a kinship with woodland animals than with human beings, the Hazel enters into a loveless marriage with minister Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack). Believing she’s been born under a curse which will punish her if she ever truly falls in love, Hazel does her best to suppress her carnal desires, but gives up the struggle when she begins an affair with rakish landowner Jack Reddin (David Farrar). Her inability to be mistress of her own fate leads to a spectacularly tragic denouement. Based on a novel by Mary Webb, Gone to Earth was cut from 110 minutes to 82 for its American release; the latter version included a narration by Joseph Cotten and several new scenes directed by Rouben Mamoulien. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

‘Wild Heart’ at Paramount H. H. T. Published: May 29, 1952, NY Times

As “The Wild Heart,” Mary Webb’s novel “Gone to Earth” has undergone a picturesque but shapeless transition in reaching the screen. Adapted, directed and produced by the swank British team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger as a starring showcase for Jennifer Jones, yesterday’s arrival at the Paramount, under the R. K. O. banner, is an exasperating brew of dank melodrama and shimmering pictorial loveliness.

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With the star’s presence bolstered by a stellar roster of British performers, including David Farrar, Cyril Cusack, Edmond Knight and Sybil Thorndike, Messrs. Powell and Pressburger have literally ploughed their Technicolor cameras into the Wales countryside, actually going Miss Webb’s pen one better in mirroring the barbaric grandeur of the setting.

Miss Webb’s book is an odd job to begin with, the account of a beautiful gypsy whose amoral innocence fatally traps her between the spiritual love of her young minister husband and the frank sensuality of an aging country squire. There has been little tampering with the culminating incidents. But whereas Miss Webb developed her characterizations and story with an ironic blending of nature’s own ruthless inconsistencies, Messrs. Powell and Pressburger have hammered the ingredients with blunt, unyielding strokes, seasoned with vague psychological clangings and only remotely tempered with humor and real perception.

As Hazel Woodrus, the young lady given to barefooted sprinting across the moors and sheltering maimed and hunted creatures of the wild, Miss Jones’ untamed good looks have never been put to better advantage. But the stark crescendo of the proceedings more often suggests the case history of a delinquent hill-billy. Mr. Farrar, as her seducer, sneers like a fugitive from “East Lynne.” As the man of God who comes to know himself after sheltering his adulterous wife, Cyril Cusack brings skilfully delineated conviction to the only three-dimensional character in sight. And Mr. Knight as the heroine’s harp-twanging father, Dame Thorndike as Mr. Cusack’s disapproving mother, and others are effective in minor roles.

Saddest of all, the superbly landscaped canvas of the film, instead of underlining it, more often dwarfs “The Wild Heart” to the point of banality. Wild it is, wild and woolly, but detached from reality, unlike Miss Webb’s original, for want of nothing more than a simple, steady heartbeat.

Featured on the Paramount stage are Johnnie Ray, Gary Morton, the Four Lads, Bud and Cece Robinson and Billy May and his orchestra.

THE WILD HEART, screen play by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the novel, “Gone To Earth,” by Mary Webb; directed and produced by Mr. Powell and Mr. Pressburger; a David O. Selznick Picture, distributed by R. K. O. Radio.
Hazel . . . . . Jennifer Jones
Edward Marston . . . . . Cyril Cusack
Jack Reddin . . . . . David Farrar
Abel Woodus . . . . . Edmond Knight
Mrs. Marston . . . . . Sybil Thorndike
Andrew Vessons . . . . . Hugh Griffith

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