The filming of Gone to Earth took place in 1949 in and around Shropshire. The film is particularly fascinating because of the controversy surrounding it. The film was a co-production between British Lion and Selznik Productions. David O'Selznick, the producer of the Oscar winning Gone with the Wind (1939) and Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), was infamous for his controlling, bordering on obsessional involvement with his productions. Selznick had recently signed a deal with Alexander Korda to make several films in England, including Gone To Earth. Korda had previously signed a five film deal in 1948 with Powell and Pressburger, who saw him as kindred spirit who allowed them to make the films they wanted, how they wanted. Although Korda was hugely respcted in the industry and had been involved with many popular films, he was in financial difficulties at this time. He had bought the literary rights for Mary Webb's Gone to Earth years before and saw a chance to sell it on to Selznick and turn over a good deal of business at the same time with a powerful alliance.
Clockwise: Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
Selznick was a passionate producer who had found enormous success with his films in Hollywood, such as "Gone with the Wind". His reason for wanting to be involved in the British film industry was partly because of how Powell and Pressburger had impressed people around the world with The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death and their unique visual poetry. As this was also an important period of Italian realist cinema, Selznick saw an opportunity to be involved in what was a more gritty, new cinema. He was also looking for a vehicle for his new obsession, Jennifer Jones, and wanted something which would show her acting ability and earthiness at its best. As he later stated in a letter, Jennifer Jones' involvement in the film made him doubly concerned about the production.
The deal went through The Archers to Korda and then to Selznick, so The Archers were contracted to work with Selznick under an agreed script. Selnick was very involved with the filming; visiting the set and seeing some rushes. He also bombarded Powell and Pressburger with memos up to ten pages long which were for the most part (politely!) ignored. Powell and Pressburger were very much their own men and were used to a great deal of artistic freedom. Powell later said, "We decided to go ahead with David O. (Selznick) the way hedgehogs make love: very carefully!"
Selznik was ultimately unhappy with the finished film of Gone to Earth. Firstly, he didn't think there were enough close-ups of Jennifer Jones, and felt the story was unclear and did not live up the potential he thought the film had. He outlined what he believed were P&P's two "tremendous faults" in a letter to Ben Hecht:
The first is an excessively English resistance to portrayal of emotions, which I am hoping to cure with retakes and additional scenes following completion of the job of re-editing the film. And the second is a fantastic obsession against making things clear.
He (quite cheerfully apparently) told Powell and Pressburger that he was going to take them to court for not shooting the agreed script. Powell and Pressburger argued that they had, and ultimately, when the case did go to court in April 1950, the judge agreed and the film could be released in the UK. Even though he lost the case, Selznick exercised his right under the contract (as he had all of the film rights in the Western hemisphere) to make an alternate version. In Hollywood, he hired director Rouben Mamoulian (who had directed Blood and Sand) to reshoot parts of the film and re-edit it for its American release in 1952 as The Wild Heart.
David Farrar as Jack Reddin
Mamoulian cut many scenes, in fact he took over 30 minutes of the films running time from 110 minutes, to 82 minutes. Powell claimed that only 35 minutes of the original film remained. New outdoor scenes were reshot in California (though it's amazingly hard to tell those scenes apart from those filmed in Shropshire), and shot some more melodramatic interior scenes between Hazel and Reddin. Selznick also hired Joseph Cotten to do a voiceover for the film and included more close-ups of Jennifer Jones. In some reshot scenes, Jennifer Jones can be seen carrying what is obviously a toy fox.
Selznick's changes and cuts more or less eradicated the subtle symbolism of the original film as well as the incidental details which made Powell and Pressburger's work so atmospheric and evocative of the English countryside. Many of the scenes he cut because he found them too slow, were essential to the plot, making the final film quite confusing to watch compared to the original for some viewers.
Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus
In his later years, Michael Powell found it increasingly difficult to get his ideas finiancially backed, though, paradoxically, his reputation grew. As a result of this renewed interest in Powell and Pressburger's work, particularly from the 1970s, many of their "forgotten" films were restored and reissued, including Gone to Earth which was restored by The National Film Archive in 1985. This allowed people to see the film again for the first time in decades.
For his part, Michael Powell later dismissed the film as a "disaster" apart from Jennifer Jones' performance.
Jennifer Jones and Esmond Knight as Hazel and Abel Woodus
A New Statesman review claimed the restored film to be "One of the great British regional films" and, according to Powell's cinematographer, Christopher Challis, "one of the most beautiful films ever to be shot of the English countryside". It was extremely unusual for a film of Gone to Earth's scale to be shot on location at the time. Though The Wild Heart is not an awful film by any means, it's just a very different film and I was spoiled by seeing The Archers' film first. Gone to Earth is very much a story about the countryside, and that evocative nature of the film was mostly removed in The Wild Heart.
I've included a "making of" film in three parts which consists of Michael Powell's private films while making Gone to Earth.
P&P employed the residents of Much Wenlock to act as extras in several scenes, such as the Condover Brass Band and the choir from the local Methodist Chapel. Apparently when he heard them singing, director Michael Powell said they were too good and he wanted them to sound "more ragged, like a choir of country folk," only to be told, "But we are country folk, Mr Powell".
The score was composed by Brian Easdale, a long time collaborator with Powell and Pressburger. Here is the suite from Gone to Earth and I very much recommend the album The Music of Brian Easdale which includes his scores for the Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, Battle of the River Plate, Gone to Earth and other works.
To round up this LONG double post, I thought I'd post a video of Kate Bush's song, "Hounds of Love", which has been edited to include scenes from Gone to Earth. Although Kate Bush has stated the song was inspired by the excellent British horror The Night of the Demon, obviously I'm not alone in thinking that it owes something to Gone to Earth. It certainly sums up Hazel's predicament in the film. Kate Bush has said that the song is about being frightened of falling in love and compares the feeling to being pursued by dogs.
Thank you for reading and many thanks to The Archers Blogathon for letting me take part and write for ages about one of my favourite films for a good reason.
The DVD of Gone to Earth seems to be now out of print (in the UK at least). I'm sure you can still pick up a secondhand copy online somewhere. It's well worth the effort.
Worcester Sauce | Powell-Pressburger.org | Esmondknight.org.uk | A documentary on the GtE DVD