Watch This not That : 1950’s GONE TO EARTH by Directors Powell and Pressburger vs 1952’s re-edited version THE WILD HEART by Producer David O. Selznick

KIno Lorber is one of the DVD/Blu-Ray labels keeping these great movies alive on physical media, and doing the work of restoring and making available films that would otherwise be lost in time.

1950’s GONE TO EARTH by the incomparable British directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is one such movie.

Not mentioned in the duo’s canon of legendary films such as BLACK NARCISSUS, RED SHOES, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF COLONEL BLIMP; the film, GONE TO EARTH, finds the duo at the end of their prolific period (starting with 1939’s SPY IN BLACK and continuing 11 years to 1950s GONE TO EARTH — they would collaborate on projects outside of this period, but for all intents and purposes that 11 year period was their golden age) which is odd, because in many ways GONE TO EARTH is their most ambitious and scandalous project. Dealing with touchy subjects of class, religious, sexual, and moral conflict.

The tale of a simple nature waif on the cusp of womanhood, and the conflict that arises when her womanhood and strange agency and individualism comes into the cross-hairs of the men around her, is at the heart of this pastoral tale.

In a way it echoes a lot of the motifs that were at the heart of Powell and Pressburger’s post-war films. Namely womanhood and obsession. Whether it is woman as the object of obsession as in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF COLONEL BLIMP, or the obsessions of women as in BLACK NARCISSUS and RED SHOES; GONE TO EARTH integrates both of these, at once a tale of woman as object of obsessions and also woman as north star, consumed and consuming in her own obsessions.

It is a very vital and fresh work for 1950, viewing this 72 years later it still feels… daring.

Perhaps too daring, as producer David O. Selznick wanted changes that spurred a court case between the director Powell and Selznick. Ultimately Selznick had the film re-edited, shortened, with scenes removed and different scenes shot, and released in 1952 under the prominent Selznick banner as THE WILD HEART.

Kino Lorber provides both versions on the Blu-ray. For the love of heaven, the one to see first (or only) is the original PowELL & Pressburger 1950 cut, GONE TO EARTH.

Powell and Pressburger are seldom interested in telling, they rather show, in rich technicolor palettes, and in behavior. Their cut is effective and builds to places that feel earned. Now contrast that with the Selznick edit, and the first warning sign you are in the hand of a hack, is the rather pointed and heavy handed narration. Narration can be done well. Whether MALTESE FALCON or BLADE RUNNER, it can be done well.

It just isn’t done well here.

From note one, there seems to be an agenda to pointedly label the female character as backward and ignorant and culpable, rather than letting the story play out and the viewer determine where culpability lies. Also Selznick’s cut reedits the male roles to make them less strange or off-putting or culpable, he puts the weight of this… seemingly on the woman.

It really spades the movie, this THE WILD HEART version, it makes a more straight-foward GONE WITH THE WIND pastiche out of a film that, under Powell and Pressburger, is different and more interesting thAn that.

So by all means pick up this Blu-ray from Kino-Lorber, however watch the GONE TO EARTH version first. In many ways this film was a lose, lose for producer and director.

Powell & Pressburger had burnt their bridges with the studio system, and work would be sporadic going forward. And Selznick was far from his award winning producer heyday on films like GONE WITH THE WIND and REBECCA. Selznick star was on the decline, and THE WILD HEART would be one of his last notable producing credits, and not well received.

Win goes to Powell & Pressburger.

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