Gone to Earth is a 1950 film by Powell and Pressburger, based on the novel by Mary Webb. It stars Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack, Sybil Thorndyke and Esmond Knight. It's a story akin to Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles; that of a innocent child of nature at the turn of the century, who is desired by two men - hunted sexually by one, revered spiritually by the other. A brief summary would read as a rural melodrama, but the symbolism and allegorical poetry of the book is translated beautifully in this film adaptation. There is probably no other filmmakers apart from Powell and Pressburger who could do the book justice; handling it with such tenderness that it is a true masterpiece in the tradition of a Greek tragedy.
I'm going to discuss the whole film in an indepth way with lots of photos - just a warning incase you haven't seen the film and don't wish to have it spoiled. I'm also going to try and replicate the dialect when quoting if appropriate. I hope I don't offend any Shropshire readers.
The credits include a shot of a fox running into a den, followed by a huntsman, his face obscured, shouting the cry which alerts the hunt that a fox has gone to ground, "Gone to earth!"
The film begins with the protagonist, Hazel Woodus (Jennifer Jones), searching for her pet fox, Foxy, who has wandered off in the hills of the Welsh and Shropshire border. Once she find her, she runs back home when she hears what sounds like a hunt approaching. Her fleeing is interspersed with shots of animals running from the sound, which seems to carry atmospherically on the wind through the shadowed trees like an evil spirit.
Hazels shares a cottage with her eccentric father, Abel Woodus, a beekeeper, coffin-builder and harpist, Foxy, an old rabbit, a blind bird and a one-eyed cat. Hazel returns to the house, her entrance has her framed by a coffin. This is one of the many obvious instances of symbolistic foreshadowing in the film. From the outset, it is a tragedy and makes no attempt to hide it. Hazel's pet fox represents Hazel herself, as she says to the fox "If you'm alost, I'm alost." She uses Foxy to speak about herself in the third person, for example, "Foxy says I should get a new dress." Powell has gone to lengths to photograph Jones in an foxy-like way throughout the film to emphasise the symbolism of Hazel as being a hunted wild creature.
Hazel consults her book of spells and charms which she inherited from her gypsy mother, believing that the sounds she heard in the hills was "the Death Pack". Her father dimisses the poem as nonsense and tries to burn Hazel's book. Their relationship is not shown to be loving and they seem to live begrudgingly together.
The next day, Hazel goes into Much Wenlock and buys herself a new dress. She meets her cousin, Albert. Hazel has dinner with Albert and his mother, who chastises Hazel for her "disgrace(ful)" dress, saying that she "quite draw(s) men's eyes". She talks about Hazel's "un-Christian" mother but Hazel says that she was more Christian than most people and that she'd be proud to take after her mother. Hazel's aunt tells Hazel that she can't stay the night and must set off home. The whole scene really illustrates Hazel's naivety and the opinions of society towards her. She is akin to nature and in her innocence, either misconstrues or recoils at any suggestion of a future relationship with a man .
Aunt Prowde: "If you go on the way you're going, you'll get picked up, my girl."
Hazel: "I'd like to see anyone pick me up. I'd kick!"
Aunt Prowde: "I don't mean it like that."
And later, when Albert suggests that Hazel share his mother's room that night rather than walk home in the dark.
Aunt Proud: "Little I thought when your dear father went, that before three years had passed you'd be so forgetful of my comfort as to suggest such a thing. As long as I live my room's mine. When I'm gone, the sooner the better for you, no doubt, you can put her in my room, and yourself too!"
Hazel: (Horrified) "That he never will! I keep myself to myself." (storms out)
Hazel seems from the start a kind of innocent flirt. Infact, I wouldn't even call her a flirt, she just appreciates male attention but she does not respond. It is interesting to point out that no women in the film are friendly or particularly kind to Hazel.
As Hazel walks home on a rainy night, she imagines seeing eyes in the trees and hears the sound of hooves. Frightened, she begins to run. She narrowly avoids getting run over by the local squire, Jack Reddin, in his horse drawn buggy. Hazel refuses to give him her full name and complains about how her foot is "blistered into a balloon and there's blood on my new dress", and explains that her Aunt wouldn't let her stay the night. Reddin offers her a lift. Hazel compares him pulling her into the buggy as being like "the Sunday School tale of Jesus Christ and Peter on the wild sea. Me being Peter".
Reddin takes her back to his house, Undern, and is met by his servant, Vessons. Hazel encounters Reddin's hound dog, who growls at her.
Hazel: "I cannae bear hound dogs. Nasty, snabbing things."She is intrigued by a portrait of a woman in an 1860s evening gown. Reddin opens a chest and pulls out lots of dresses, including the one from the portrait. He throws it at Hazel and tells her to put it on. He goes outside and spies on Hazel through the window as she gets changed, saying to himself, "She'll do."
Reddin: (To dog) "What's the matter with you? Go and lie down, you fool, you've seen a girl before."
Hazel: (To dog) "You wants poor foxes."
Reddin: "So he ought. Vermin." (laughs)
Hazel: (To Reddin) "You looks like hound dog when you laugh. (To dog) And you, you keep away from our Foxy."
Vessons catches him and says he will protect Hazel. The two men then find Hazel in the kitchen where she begins to sing. Reddin tells Vessons to go to the stable and stay there. Hazel anxiously asks if Vessons could stay in the house. He again asks Hazel to put on the dress, but she is very uncomfortable being alone with him and refuses. Reddin chases her around the kitchen, catching her on top of the table and kisses her while she struggles. She pushes him away and calls out for Vessons, who jokingly says "What? After the old 'un now?" but hides her in his room to sleep while he keeps watch, saying that he will take her back home in the morning.
Vessons is one of the funny characters in the film with his brusque manner.
Hazel: "Where will you sleep, Mr Vessons?"At daybreak, Hazel waits in the garden, first looking at a sundial before gazing up at Reddin's bedroom window while she waits for Vessons to take care of the horses. Hazel and Vessons set off in a cart and Hazel makes him promise not to tell Reddin where she lives "Unless he asks it of you and cannae rest."
Vessons: "Never you mind! No woman shall ever tell Andrew Vessons where to sleep. I'll wake you at daybreak with a mug o' beer. I brewed it meself."
Hazel: "If you dunnae mind, I'd rather tea."
Vessons: "Tea? Lord, how furiously do the women rage over tea. Tea it shall be."
Some time later, Hazel and her father are on their way to perform at a village fair hosted by the new minister, Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack). In her haste, Hazel nearly falls into an old mine shaft. Her father tells her that before she was born a cow and calf fell in there.
Hazel: "Did they save them?"
Abel: "Lord, no. They were all a jelly."
Hazel: "Oh! I cannae bear it. It's a fearsome place."
Abel: "Lord, nows what's the matter with the girl?"
Hazel: "Naught. Only it came on me that I'll die as well as others."
Abel: "Only just found that out? What a queen of fools you be!"
Hazel: "Seems the world's a big spring trap and us in it."
With endearing childishness, Hazel's mood quickly changes when she takes note of the brass band playing at the fair, running off again as if her near accident never happened. Her father says that she's too "nesh", which in this case is slang for being foolish, feeble, squeamish and delicate.
Someone points Hazel out to Reverend Edward Marston who seems troubled by some inner turmoil he feels when he sees her. Hazel sings "Harps in Heaven" accompanied by her father on the harp and captivates her audience including Edward.
Meanwhile, it is shown that Reddin is searching for Hazel, riding around the countryside and asking around locally.
Edward introduces himself to Hazel, telling her that she sang beautifully and then asks her to supper. Hazel accepts. Edward tells his mother that he's invited Hazel to their home to which she says, "She's not of your class, Edward" and that any "silly flirtation" will only bring harm to his reputation.
When Edward leads the congregation into saying Grace, a grumpy man says, "I have not received tartlets. I am not grateful."
A few days later, Hazel is helping her father deliver a coffin when he realises that Foxy has got into the chicken coop. Furious, he threatens to wring her neck. Hazel says that Foxy's lonely and says she's taking her with them. Abel tells her to put her in the coffin. On the way, Abel tells Hazel that it's time she was married and coerces Hazel into swearing that she'll marry the first who asks her.
When Hazel and her father have a drink in the pub, Reddin draws up at the door but does not come inside. Hazel overhears him as he searches for her, but he mistakenly believes that Hazel's father plays the fiddle. Hazel's father rushes out and offers his services as a harpist while Hazel recoils in the shadows. She's half terrified and half hopeful that she'll be discovered. She tells Foxy "He has the blood of little foxes on him".
Hazel tells Edward that she has sworn to marry the first man who asks but no one has. Edward asks her if she'd like to marry, to which Hazel replies that her mother didn't like it and said that "tears and torment was a married lot".
Hazel: "And she said, keep yourself to yourself. You weren't made for marrying any more than me. Eat in company but sleep alone."
It is clear that Edward's mother does not approve of Hazel and is very condescending.
Mrs Marston: "You speak if the animal were a relation, dear."
Hazel: "So as animals be my brothers and sisters."
Mrs Marston: "I know, dear, quite right. All animals in coversation should be so, but any single animal in reality is only an animal and animals have no souls.
Hazel: "Yes they have then. If they have na, you have na."
When there's a knock at the door, Hazel believes that she heard a horse. In her mind she hears Reddin asking for "a fiddler chap with a pretty daughter" and takes fright. Edward notices her distress.
Later, Edward walks Hazel back to her house and asks her to marry him. Hazel seems alarmed and points out that he's only just met her. She introduces him to Foxy and lets him hold her.
Edward: "Will you marry me Hazel? I can give you a good home and I'll try to be a good husband. And I love you."
Hazel: "Do you love me as much as I love Foxy?"
Edward: "Far more."
Edward takes the opportunity to tell Abel that he wants to marry Hazel, which Abel can't believe and laughs. When he realises that Edward is serious, he says, "Well, I suppose 'er a woman grown. You can 'av 'er. When you wan' 'er?" Edward asks Hazel when she'll marry him and suggests August. Hazel agrees. As Edward kisses Hazel, she seems preoccupied. A hunter's horn sounds faintly on the soundtrack, indicating that she is thinking of Reddin.
On his way back home, Edward speaks to God, saying that what he wants is not for himself, he wants to protect and cherish Hazel "like a flower. And this I promise, that I shall ask nothing of her. Nothing. Until she wants to be wife to me".
At the fair in August the day before her wedding, Hazel is spotted by Reddin, who chases her through the fair on horseback. "Well, you've given my long enough chase!", he says.
Hazel tells Reddin that she's going to marry Edward. Reddin furiously blackmails her into meeting him or he will tell Edward that she has stayed the night with him. Hazel leaves a dance to meet with Reddin
who tells her that he's in love with her. Hazel is obviously flattered but asks him why he can't leave her alone. He then tells her father that he wants to marry her.
Abel: "First the parson, now the squire. It'll be the king on his throne next!"
Abel tells Reddin that Hazel's spoken for, whereupon Reddin offer him £50 if he'll let her leave with him. Abel thinks it over but ultimately decides that "a bargain's a bargain" and he has already promised her to Edward, even though he can't stop her from doing whatever she wants.
Reddin: "Say you don't like hurting things, Hazel. You're hurting me."
Hazel: "It ain't na my fault. I'm always hurting things. Ed'ard will look after me and Foxy and the others. And you... you've got blood on you, Mr Reddin."
Reddin: "But I'll even chuck the hunting if you chuck the parson, I promise."
Hazel: "You wouldna keep it. Seems I've got to go agin you or Ed'ard. And I cannae go agin Ed'ard. He's set store by me. And I swore by the mountain."
Hazel: "And if I broke that oath, me cold soul would wander about the mountain finding never a bed o' rest."
Reddin: "What was it you swore?"
Hazel: "To marry the first that asked. And it were na you, Mr Reddin. It were na you." (runs away in tears)
The next day the church bell sounds for the marriage of Hazel and Edward. After the reception, Hazel goes to shut the curtains and sees Reddin standing outside between the gravestones. She and Edward go to bed and seems shocked when Edward goes to his separate room instead of spending their wedding night with her. Edward is fascinated by Hazel and wishes to protect her, but with mistaken altruism he denies his own physical passion and does not consummate the marriage. But Hazel's sexual instinct has already been aroused by Reddin, who continues to pursue her relentlessly.
A few weeks later, Edward baptises Hazel with Reddin watching from the hill. Afterwards, Reddin calls and asks to see the minister. Alone in the parlour, he senses Hazel on the stairs and calls to her. She comes down and he kisses her, asking her to meet him the next day at the spinney. He makes her promise but she is reluctant to. She is drawn to Edward but obsessed by Reddin and her inner struggle continues, torn between the conflicting needs of her awakened spiritual self and sexual self.
That night, Edward finds Hazel reading a charm to grant a dearest wish from her book. He asks her what her dearest wish is.
Hazel: "If I was caught in a trap, Ed'ard, who'd help me out?"
Edward: "God would."
Hazel: "He dunnae let the others out."
Edward asks her if she misses anything and if she's happy. She replies, "Father? You're my father now, and mother both!" and kisses him. He starts and leaves the room, halting in the hallway and is about to go back inside her room to find the door locked. Inside, Hazel picks up her spell book and takes off her wedding ring. Edward goes to his own room and Hazel leaves the house with Foxy and goes to perform the spell on God's Little Mountain. "If I be to go to the spinney, if I be to go, let me hear the fairy music", she asks. She hears music, but the viewer is shown that it's actually her father playing the harp at the bottom of the mountain.
The following morning, Hazel leaves to meet Reddin in the spinney (wearing her altered wedding dress) but she seems unsure, constantly looking back to her home with Edward. As Reddin approaches her, his shadow covers her. We see the Hazel has dropped some red flowers she was carrying. Reddin lifts her into his arms and treads on the flowers as he seduces her.
Afterwards, Hazel leaves with Reddin to become his mistress at Undern. Later that night, Edward and some villagers are searching for her. Back at the house, Edward's mother notices a letter being pushed under the door. It's a note for Edward from Hazel telling him that she's a "bad girl" and asking him not to come after her, and to please look after Foxy for her.
Hazel is shown in the portrait dress at Undern. She sees Vessors who does not approve of what she'd done and she laughs at him, leading him to shoot some crows. Hazel runs inside and begs Reddin to stop him, but Vessors ignore Reddin. Hazel says that he'd rather shoot her that the birds and that it's like she's killed them for being there. Reddin tries to soothe her and Hazel holds him like a baby, reminiscing about the time Reddin cried after they first slept together in the spinney.
Reddin: "Oh, Hazel. You do want to stay? You did want to come with me, didn't you"
Hazel: "Not until you made me. But maybe you could na help it. Maybe you was drove to it."
Reddin: "What by?"
Hazel: "Something strong. As drives us all."
Reddin: "Hazel if... if I told that I -"
Hazel: "No, dunna say aught. You cannae run the words comfortable over your tongue like Ed'ard can. I wish I had Foxy here.
Reddin: "I'll go and get her in the morning."
Hazel: "No, let her bide. She's safe at Ed'ard's."
Edward has an argument with his mother, after he realises that she knows where Hazel is and hasn't told him. When he finds out she's with Reddin, he goes to Undern to find Hazel playing on a piano. He tells her that he's come to take her home. At first she seems pleased but then ashamed.
Hazel tells Edward that she didn't want to go with Reddin, but the "signs" told her to go. Edward says that she's his wife and that he was a fool. He kisses her passionately. She is shocked by Edward acting like who she expects Reddin to act. Reddin returns with Foxy in a sack. Edward challenges him to a fight but Reddin says that Hazel was never his wife and that she needs a man to hold her, not preach. He kicks the bag with Foxy in and urges his hound dog to attack the it. Edward tries to save Foxy. Hazel realises that her sexual bond with Reddin is insufficient to hold her and she is appalled by his callousness to defenseless creatures. She tells Reddin she wants to return to Edward but Reddin tells her that she doesn't know what she wants and tries to kiss her. Hazel tells him she doesn't want to see him ever again. She tells him, "You're a cruel beast and you've got blood on you." Reddin tells her to go then and that Edward can have her, but when he wants her she'll come running back. Hazel takes Foxy from the bag and stops Edward from fighting Reddin.
Hazel: (To Edward) "Come, my soul."
Edward: (to Reddin) "Has she ever called you that?"
Edward and Hazel leave. Vessors comes in and asks Reddin if it'll be three for dinner or just one. Edward's mother is horrified that Edward is taking Hazel back and tells him that if he does then she will have nothing more to do with him, urging him to put her first. Edward refuses and his mother and servant leave the house, saying that they will not live in a house "given over to sin".
The next morning Hazel make breakfast for herself and Edward, and they embrace, their relationship strengthened by a love which is now both spiritual and physical. Some deacons arrive to speak to Edward, asking that "That young woman should absent herself" from the room. Edward asks Hazel if she would rather go or stay, to which she replies that she would rather stay with Edward. The senior deacon then tells Edward that they speak for the Lord, and that the adulteress must go. Edward tells the deacons that they're leaving and he's giving up the ministry. The deacons try to talk him out of it. Most of the deacons don't want him to go, go the senoir deacons accuses him of siphoning money from the church fund. Hazel chastises them for saying such things about Edward, wherupon she's told that she's no person to talk as she is a sinner. Edward stands up to them and tells them that what happened wasn't Hazel's fault, it was his, calling the smug, pot-bellied gods who wish to rule the world. He asks them to leave.
Hazel notices that Foxy is missing and goes outside to search for her. A hunt led by Reddin is riding over the hills and catches scent of Foxy and pursues her. Hazel find Foxy, and runs fro the hunt with Foxy in her arms back towards her the house and Edward.
"They're after us, Foxy."
The hunt realises that the dogs are chasing a woman and try to call them off without success. They then try to get Hazel to drop Foxy or the dogs will "tear" her down. Edward hears the hunt and runs outside, he sees Hazel, pursued by the hunt and they run towards each other. Not looking where she's going, Hazel and Foxy fall down the mineshaft she'd seen months before with her father. A view of the hounddogs staring into the pit, a shot of the sun over the Shropshire hills while a hunter shouts "Gone to Earth!" Hazel dies attempting to save Foxy from the pursuing hounds just when she seems to have found true love and happiness with Edward.
In Gladys Mary Coles' biography of Mary Webb, The Flower of Light, she wrote that Gone to Earth was written in response to Mary Webb's despondency to the senseless slaughter of millions of young men in WWI. The urgency with which Mary Webb wrote is felt is reflected in the relentless inevitability of the tragedy, and we're constantly reminded of this in the film adaptation as well. The story's underlying significance and meaning is beyond the immediate context of the story in a remote rural district of Shropshire. It allegorises a pessimistic interpretation of life and human destiny. The film holds a sense of doom and anguish which is often caused by the war, and a criticism of civilised society, Church and convention is also felt. Hazel is the elemental incarnation of the spirit of the countryside; she has been moulded by her surroundings. From the start, it is intimated that Hazel is a pawn of fate. Hazel is symbolic of "all things hunted, snared and destroyed", while the hunt are symbolic of universal cruelty. The book and film is a statement about barbarism in society, breeding violence and war.
In terms of symbolism, Hazel's wedding bouquet is a funeral wreath of lilies which was made by her father. Reddin waits for her in a cemetery. Vessor's swan at Undern is clipped from a yew tree (a tree of death) and shoots the birds, prefiguring the human sacrifice of Hazel in the ritual frenzy of the hunt. At the end of the film, Hazel runs from the Hunt, who are the Death Pack in the poem, and Reddin is the Black Huntsman.
The tragedy for Hazel is that she is divided - "body and soul has been put in oppostion by belonging to different men". There is no love marriage of spirit and flesh in Gone to Earth. Hazel and Foxy fulful the myths of the story by falling to earth; a fox's refuge, the grave.
The story is a search for meaning. Hazel is brought to death like all the countless victims of violence.
The film conveys both the tragic story along with evoking the landscape which is so important. Although it is unashamedly melodramatic at times, there are lovely character portraits and humour on a Dickensian level which relieve and heighten the tragedy of the story. The photography is stunning. At a time when it was usual practice to do the majority of filming in a studio, Powell and Pressburger filmed most of Gone to Earth on location and it is as beautiful as a travelogue. This is an atmospheric film on a par with Black Narcissus and although the intense melodrama of the story will not appeal to everyone, in my opinion the direction, production and acting is flawless and special dues must be given to Cyril Cusak's magnificently understated performance, Esmond Knight as Abel, and Brian Easedale's score.
The making of the film is very interesting in itself, so I've written a blog post about it in Part 2.