Not having read it, I have a hard time believing that the anecdotal fable that fills the movie Gone to Earth comes from a 1917 Shropshire novel by someone named Mary Webb. There’s so little to it, and what there is is stretched to inconsequential thinness. Plainly, it aims for a haunting quality, as did Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948), starring the same actress, two years earlier. But the whole thing lands with a flat thud inside a giant hole in the earth. Nevertheless, the authentic British version—that is, the original film that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger directed—is vastly preferable to The Wild Heart, which David O. Selznick, the star’s lover and the original film’s executive producer, unveiled in 1952, which slashed the original and added scenes that Rouben Mamoulian directed. The latter film is much more florid and melodramatic, and it’s hilarious that Selznick wanted still more closeups of Jennifer Jones when there already were so many of her. To me at least, Jones always looked like a moth, but without as much acting ability.
Jones dully plays gypsy-like, semi-wild childlike Hazel, the daughter of a country harpist, who has never been able to bend her to his will. Hazel, who loves her pet fox, Foxy, most of all, is torn between two men: Rev. Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack, giving such a beautiful performance—the rule with Cusack!), who wants to protect her and who marries her; Squire “Jack” Reddin, who wants to have his way with her, and who, when they are adulterous lovers—Edward and Hazel haven’t consummated their union, although he has baptized her,—tells Edward: “She’s mine, from head to toe.” Jones apparently was incapable of playing the “torn-between” aspect; she simply alternates her attentions. What a ridiculously inept actress!
Sybil Thorndike, no less, plays Marston’s live-in mother—flexibly, not formidably.
Christopher Challis’s color cinematography here is famous, and it is indeed gorgeous and mysterious, but black and white might have worked better.
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