Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Typed by Linda Cupples
Films and Filming: Jan 1982
Three Neglected Films
reappraised by DOUGLAS McVAY
(This is our third feature on Michael Powell. He was interviewed in our November issue, and last month Douglas McVay reappraised his career apart from the three films discussed here which were reserved for more extended analysis. - Ed.)
A CANTERBURY TALE (1944)
Directors/Screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Photographer: Erwin Hillier
Production designer: Alfred Junge
Editor: John Seabourne
Music: Allan Gray
Eric Portman (Thomas Culpepper, J.P.)
Sheila Sim (Alison Smith)
Sgt. John Sweet (Bob Johnson)
Dennis Price (Peter Gibbs)
Esmond Knight (Narrator/Seven Sisters Soldier/Village Idiot)
Charles Hawtrey (Thomas Duckett)
Hay Petrie (Woodcock)
George Merritt (Ned Horton)
Edward Rigby (Jim Horton)
Freda Jackson (Prudence Honeywood)
Betty Jardine (Fee Baker)
Eliot Makeham (Organist)
Harvey Golden (Sgt. Roczinsky)
Leonard Smith (Leslie)
James Tamsitt (Terry)
David Todd (David)
Producers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Production company: The Archers
Distributor: Eagle-Lion. 124 minutes
Available for 16mm hire from British Film Institute Film & Video Library, 81 Dean Street, London W1V 6AA.
[The film is now available on video & DVD]
From its opening visual and verbal equation of Chaucerian past and wartime present, A Canterbury Tale develops a complicated allegory, a fable of quest and reconciliation, in which three latter-day "pilgrims" come together by chance in the cathedral city, and fall beneath the spell of an enigmatic local magistrate and historian, Thomas Culpepper, who is elliptically responsible for them being granted their dearest wishes. If Powell's opening pictorial transition from a medieval falcon in the sky to a wartime plane might conceivably have inspired Kubrick to his cut from a caveman's bone to a spaceship in 2001, the rest of the film mingles resemblances to the themes and styles of several other authors and directors (while remaining unmistakably typical of its maker's own preoccupations). One of the three journeyers, landgirl Alison Smith, has glue poured on her hair in the blackout by an unseen marauder, who turns out to be none other than Culpepper. But although initially the hunt for "The Glueman" seems characteristic of a Hitchcock thriller, and the brief glimpses of Culpepper's relationship with his rather formidable mother strengthen this Hitchockian analogy (cf. Strangers on a Train, Psycho, et al.), the movie proves to have much more in common with Hitch's Roman Catholic pictures such as I Confess or The Wrong Man than with his orthodox melodramas. Similarly, any foreshadowing of Powell's own Peeping Tom (another study of a man obsessed by his parentage and by erotic deviation) is, it transpires, less relevant than various other aspects of the director's oeuvre: his patriotism, his pantheism, his absorption in culture and the arts. Culpepper's glue-pouring activities are explained by him not in Freudian terms (as some crypto-homosexual, misogynistic fixation) but more nearly in Jungian ones, as a kind of unconventional act of communion or baptism, a symbolic expression of his desire to pour knowledge of England's heritage into the apparently unreceptive brains of local girls, who are presently dedicated to going out with philistine soldiers.
More than this, though, Culpepper progressively emerges as such a deus ex machina, in his influence on the trio of "pilgrims", that he can't but strike us as a God-figure, or a Christ-figure, in a literal, supernatural fashion. All the same, the vestiges of secular menace and faint madness in his psyche linger on (enhanced by Eric Portman's familiar brand of suave, cold remoteness in the role): and the film derives at least part of its intriguing complexity and dramatic tension from this mixture of realistic, psychiatric drama and non-realistic spiritual parable. A parallel might be Priestley's play "An Inspector Calls", expect that Powell uses all the stylistic resources of cinema to confer far greater richness upon an already much more suggestive script. The movie begins to weave its strange fascination, perhaps, during the early scene where the Glueman is being pursued; two men, believing that they have him trapped, rush past a vaguely minatory statue before they burst in on their imagined quarry - and then recoil in disconcertion as they find only the ultra-respectable Culpepper; yet, when the camera tilts upwards to his figure as he sits working, the low angle image still conveys an imperceptible air of threat. This type of frisson is several times repeated, in for example the overhead shot as Culpepper looks up and describes an ancient object which was used (justly, he remarks) to chastise women; or in the silhouette of his head in the white circle of his lantern-slide machine, his eyes gleaming in the shadows caused by drawn blinds, and Alison shutting her own eyes in close-up under the mesmeric sway of his murmured recreation of Chaucerian England.
Besides being a deus ex machina, in fact, Culpepper is something of a genius loci; his lantern-slide machine is more directly an indication of his personality and passions than, even, Dr. Reeve's camera obscura in Powell's subsequent A Matter of Life and Death; and Alison's hypnotised awareness of his compelling nature recurs elsewhere - in the scene where she rhapsodises about a beautiful house, saying that she would love to grow old there, but then recoils as the man sharpening a scythe in the back garden in long shot turns towards her and proves to be the J.P., whom she suspects of being the Glueman (the visual and dramatic impact of this short sequence is distinctly reminiscent of Dreyer's Vampyr or Day of Wrath). Above all, there's the remarkable episode where, alone in sunny fields of grain and grasses blowing gently in the breeze, Alison suddenly sets eyes on the uplifting spires of the cathedral afar off. The sequence is lent an extra force by close-up (she whips her head round into camera, her hair blowing), and by cuts showing her standing at different distances; music sounds - as magical and distant as the cathedral's image; more or less simultaneously, Alison thinks she hears the bridle bells, hooves and voices of Chaucer's pilgrims - and then the voice of Culpepper breaks in disturbingly on her reverie, as he surfaces with faintly eerie unexpectedness from the grass.
Culpepper's quasi-divine status is more evident in his relationship with the English serviceman Peter Gibbs, who before the outbreak of war had declined from his early ambition to become a church organist into merely the player of a cinema Wurlitzer. The magistrate reproves him: "There are two kinds of men: one who begins by studying Bach and Handel, and ends up playing 'I Kiss Your Hand, Madame'; and the other, who climbs Everest one step at a time." Culpepper's power is communicated again by trouvailles such as the way in which he whitely rolls up and half-closes his eyes in the murky light of a railway carriage interior while the train is passing through a tunnel (Alison, Gibbs, and the third "pilgrim", the American sergeant Bob Johnson, all seated opposite, are rendered slightly nervous by the darkness in which they are now closeted with their suspected "glue-fiend"). And when Gibbs - facetiously discussing the possibility of being "an angel with a flaming sword" - declares that he would need a halo, light from beyond the carriage window briefly plays, unknown to him, around his head ...
Culpepper's Christlike function is most plainly denoted by the fact that Gibbs, Judas-like, plans to denounce him as the Glueman to the police. But instead of carrying out his denunciatory intention, Gibbs finds himself made Culpepper's "instrument" - both metaphorically and in a way literally. The film's pictorial emphasis on the architecture of Canterbury Cathedral (together with the reiteration of the celestially haunting musical motif which accompanied Alison's sight of it in the distance), and the surging visual-musical set-piece as Gibbs and Bob look around the cathedral precincts, prepare us for the moment when Gibbs is "supernaturally" diverted from his resolve to expose Culpepper at the police station, and enters the adjacent cathedral instead. A wafting music sheet, by quasi-divine chance, lures him up the steps to the organ loft, in a manner unquestionably linked to Culpepper's earlier remark about "climbing Everest one step at a time"; and once there, he renews - as if in response to the magistrate's oblique suggestion - his lapsed aspiration to be a church organist. He plays Bach's famous Toccata (again harking back to Culpepper's words concerning the study of Bach and Handel); then he accompanies on the organ the singing of "Onward Christian Soldiers" by the uniformed congregation at a service, with Powell executing some crane shots which move out from the loft to connect the soldier Gibbs with the worshippers below. It is in images and musical symbolism such as this that the film has decided affinities with the wartime pictures of Humphrey Jennings. The affinities are still more pronounced in the stirring episode following Gibb's rendition of the Toccata: Alison walks through the streets of the city in tracking shots, which are increasingly cut to the rhythm of the soundtrack music in an exultant fashion; again and again she notices bombsites topped by defiant printed signs testifying to the former occupants' survival at various new addresses; and this feeling of national resilience and valour culminates in a long-shot of a barrage balloon, of planes zooming tiny and soundless, leaving vapour trails in the sky.
Affecting in a more private and personal way is the scene in which Alison revisits the caravan where she had spent an idyllic fortnight with a serviceman now seemingly dead in battle; the caravan interior is musty, dusty and cluttered, and moths are eating away at her lover's coat; she shrinks back, bursts into tears, and leaves the vehicle. However, the movie now audaciously presents a Protestant equivalent of Hitchcockian - or even Bressonian - grace, by bestowing what are termed "blessings" on its trio of protagonists. Gibb's musical longing is gratified (and he decides not to expose Culpepper after all); news comes that Alison's boyfriend has been found alive and well; and the American sergeant is handed a delayed pile of letters from the girl back home whom he's thought had jilted him! The ambiguous Culpepper, predictably, vanishes at this point like some avatar in a film by Carné, Cocteau or Clair, underlining his other-worldly ability to come and go at will.
It's possible to feel hereabouts that the film overdoes the idea that "God moves in a mysterious way" (unless we happen to be totally unquestioning Christians). Yet the schematic aspects of the script are largely offset by the imaginative stylising of the realisation, visible even in peripheral episodes such as the light-heartened but slightly lyrical scene of a boatload of boys performing mock-military manoeuvres on river and banks (here, Powell conceivably owes something to the Vigo of Zéro de Conduite). There's a quirky interlude where a stuttering yokel is asked with affectionate leg pulling, "Excuse me, are you the village idiot?"; he instantly replies with his only stock phrase "That's right", and walks off into misty long shot, continuing to be glimpsed in the background of the frame while the group of friends (all sympathetic and/or leading figures in the story) go on imitating him jokily. The sequence can be explained and excused, not simply as a friendly gag at the expense of the village idiot tradition (in which the yokel knowingly joins, the scene ending with a long shot of him stretching out his arm in a fixed pose, to the accompaniment of a repeated, appropriate "cuckoo"), but as one more example of the picture's consistently loving if sometimes gently amused use of sundry legendary English motifs to convey our national temper. At the same time, the mocking of the yokel - like the Culpepper characterisation - does possess equivocal, vestigially sadistic overtones, like so many aspects of the Powell canon. For admirers of the director, though, these ambivalences are part of the teasing fascination of his work.
BLACK NARCISSUS (1947)
Directors/screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
(based on the novel by Rumer Godden)
Photographer: Jack Cardiff
Production designer: Alfred Junge
Editor: Reginald Mills
Music: Brian Easdale
Costumes: Hein Heckroth
Sound: Stanley Lambourne
Deborah Kerr (Sister Clodagh)
Sabu (The Young General)
David Farrar (Mr. Dean)
Flora Robson (Sister Philippa)
Esmond Knight (The Old General)
Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth)
Jenny Laird (Sister Honey)
Judith Furse (Sister Briony)
May Hallatt (Angu Ayah)
Shaun Noble (Con)
Eddie Whaley Jr. (Joseph Anthony)
Nancy Roberts (Mother Dorothea)
Jean Simmons (Kanchi)
Producers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Associate Producer: George R. Busby
Production company: The Archers
Distributor: GDF. 100 minutes. Technicolour.
Available for 16mm hire from British Film Institute Film + Video Library, 81 Dean Street, London W1V 6AA.
[The film is now available on video & DVD]
Both the outstanding movies based on Rumer Godden novels - Black Narcissus and Renoir's The River - improve on their notable literary sources through inventive changes in the narrative, and through a cinematic style more concisely immediate (if less capable of descriptive analysis) than the writer's verbal techniques. Black Narcissus, Godden's third book, unites the two themes most dominant in her later work - the impact of India on the Westerner (explored again in The River), and the pressures of the nun's calling (anatomised in In This House of Brede). The dangers of a fiction dealing with nuns are obvious enough: these "brides of Christ" usually seem to be portrayed as victims of unruly lust, with agonised and frequently lethal consequences (c. Les Anges du Péché, The Nun's Story, at best - and rather less assured offerings such as Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, La Religieuse or Seven Women). Yet Powell finds in the tiny, derelict, incongruously decorative Himalayan convent of Godden's imaginings - perched, symbolically, near a vertiginous cliff-edge - the ideal repository for his traits of subject and stylisation.
Thematically, the piece is the first panel in an unofficial Powell triptych of studies in erotic obsession and fatality (the other panels being Gone to Earth and Peeping Tom). And in Black Narcissus, unlike the two later pictures, the sexual lure is inextricably bound up with the geographical ethos and its historical associations; the erotic is largely the product of the exotic. The story's title - referring to a scent worn by a young Indian aristocrat, the General - mirrors the Oriental seductiveness of the milieu. The perfume sensually affects the European nuns, who try to turn into a convent a duke's love nest (abandoned, after only a brief tenure, by monks themselves too unsettled by the voluptuous ambience); to make into a house of God a former harem. The blatant if elegant carnality of the murals left in the residence serves as a constant, inescapable and tormenting reminder to the sisters of the past pleasures enjoyed there - and, by extension, also acts as a reminder of the past possibilities of personal sexual fulfilment which they have abandoned by embracing their religious vocation. It is the tension between past and present, flesh and spirit, inclination and duty, as it assails two of the nuns, Sister Ruth and Sister Clodagh, which provides the narrative with its core.
With the immeasurable help of Alfred Junge's exquisite interiors and Jack Cardiff's Technicolour camerawork (which provides a sustained succession of delicately patterned, subtly changing, magically glowing images), Powell makes Black Narcissus a consistently enthralling film to watch. Yet his real triumph lies in the way he always charges the painterly with the dramatic, so that there is never any suggestion of mere travelogue prettiness. The initial scenes, the first shots of the nuns standing on the dizzy precipice, the breathtaking green expanse of valley and mountain below and beyond, establish subliminally unsettling sense of human beings on the brink of some psychic disaster. The way that the wind forever ripples the nuns' cowls and the palace-cum-convent's bright curtains, its lonely soughing paralleling the sisters' physical and spiritual isolation; the high angle long shots of the bizarre, malevolent, gargoyle-faced old female amnuensis scurrying cackling through the deserted interiors, with birdcages and flapping draperies and the luminous blue-and-yellow hues of the murals rounding out the imagery - these moments accentuate our awareness of the menacing, decadent and weird "spirit of place". The spell cast is musical as well as pictorial and aural; the convent bell's toll is supplanted by the native horns and relentless drumbeats at times of superstitious anti-white reaction; orchestral scoring adds an extra dimension of tightening suspense and banked passions; and music is joined to dance in one episode which encapsulates the silent suppressed sensuality of the peasant girl Kanchi, as she is left alone and eyes herself in a mirror while expressing her secret lust for the young General in a lissome and wild undulation across the room. Jean Simmons, in a cameo role entirely without dialogue (her sole vocal utterance being a shrill scream as she is beaten by the vituperative crone), achieves a remarkable persuasiveness in the part, assisted by a make-up which discreetly flattens and darkens her features, with the coiffure and rings in her nostrils helping in the creation of the illusion.
The scene of Kanchi's dance is a Powell-Pressburger addition to Godden's original; but make-up and costume are put to even more ingenious and fruitful service in the expansion of the character of Sister Ruth (who is played by Kathleen Byron with disturbing intensity, her pointed and pallid, sneeringly witchlike facial mask and harshly scornful delivery of dialogue exactly in keeping with the novel's descriptions). Powell embroiders creatively on the novel by using the colour red, with its associations of eroticism and blood, as a leitmotif for the characterisation. An early sequence subtly communicates Ruth's neurotic, sexually repressed mental condition by a tilted close-shot and a flurry amid the décor, as she hastens into the frame; but an even more startling indication of her disorientated spiritual state is furnished by her entrance a while later, smeared with the blood of a native woman to whom she has nervily endeavoured to give medical treatment. When Ruth's sensual fixation on the local white agent Mr. Dean leads to his uncompromising rebuff of her, she senses his attraction towards Sister Clodagh, and attempts to eliminate her; the gradual progress of this psychological degeneration is charted by Powell through a steady intensification of the "red" motif.
To begin with, there is Ruth's donning of a worldly, vampish crimson dress, plus crimson lip-rouge and face powder. Then there is the scene of her rejection by Dean: Powell and Pressburger retain from Rumer Godden's novel the gesture - at once slyly ironic and self-aware, yet feverishly rapacious and poignantly pleading - in which she briefly, quickly catches at his hand by her shoulder and presses her lips to it; they add to the original, however, the fainting fit which Ruth suffers upon her rebuff (shown subjectively, the screen misting over - and the colour being red). And, vitally, there are Ruth's confrontations with her supposed erotic rival for Dean, Clodagh. The first of these - not present in Godden's book - rises to a powerful series of Manichean images. As Ruth deliberately begins to make up her lips, Clodagh counters by reaching for her prayer-book; then the two women sit facing one another across a candle-lit table, in an unspeaking battle of souls comparable to that between the old lady and preacher Harry Powell in Laughton's The Night of the Hunter.
The second, climatic, and explicitly physical struggle between Clodagh and Ruth forms the film's high point of drama, and is once again marked by a threatening deployment of dull, dark reds in décor and lighting, as Clodagh is stalked by her spiritual adversary - whom we scarcely glimpse. Powell increases the sinister tension by repeatedly shooting the unwary Clodagh in long shot or from a high angle, from the lurking but off-screen Ruth's standpoint. The abrupt emergence of Ruth from a dark doorway, in medium shot (prepared for by an extreme close-up of her balefully red rimmed eyes), arguably constitutes the movie's supreme coup; the lighting makes Ruth's crimson dress momentarily appear a deathly black, which in turn makes the shocking pallor of her maniacally murderous face doubly pronounced. Her attempt to push Clodagh over the precipice while the latter is tolling the Angelus in the rosy dawn, and Ruth's toppling to her own death (with Clodagh's aghast reaction half in close-up), may have influenced, one can't but feel, Hitchcock in the finale of Vertigo.
In the same way, the relationship between Clodagh and Dean - his brusquely atheistic deflation of her spiritual pride, coupled to the growth of amorous rapport - conceivably adumbrates the relationship of Sister Luke and Dr. Fortunati in The Nun's Story. And whilst Deborah Kerr and David Farrar in Powell's picture hardly equal the warmth and sensitivity of Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch in the Zinnemann piece, they are nevertheless thoroughly satisfying. In particular, Kerr modulates skilfully from the frosty self-control of the opening sequences to the touchingly fresh feminity of the flashbacks sketching her abortive love affair in Ireland (which provoked her decision to enter the Church). Her ultimate, tremulous admission to Dean of her emotional vulnerability is most perceptively and movingly handled by the actress. Powell, moreover, brings his own stylistic perception to bear on the flashback transitions: there is a meaningful dissolve from the sisterhood, after Clodagh urges an irresolute nun to pray, to Clodagh when young (similarly a creature of irresolution and conflicting feelings). And in one sequence - structured on match-dissolves upon the life of Clodagh in the present and in the past - the director uses the song "Lullay My Liking", with a folk lyricism akin in mood to his utilising in I Know Where I'm Going of the ballad "My Nut-Brown Maiden". In both cases, the effect is one of an oblique, yearning amorous appeal.
When, after Sister Ruth's death, Clodagh leaves the convent - to recharge her spirit in a less taxing clime - her tacitly regretful farewell exchanges with Dean are affecting in their subdued yet passionate inflections of voice and nuances of gaze. The image of the convent becoming hidden by the rolling mountain mists (in a low angle long shot) attains a quality of mysticism nearer to the conclusion of, for instance, Kinugasa's Jigokumon (Gate of Hell) than to the end of Capra's Lost Horizon. Powell's version of Black Narcissus makes the Capra-Hilton concept of an Oriental "Shangri-La" seem corny to a degree. In the last analysis one must return to Renoir's film of Rumer Godden's other classic Indian novel, The River, for a more just aesthetic comparison. In both works, the impact of India on visiting English causes a fatality followed by a hint of spiritual rebirth.
GONE TO EARTH (1950)
Directors/screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
(based on the novel by Mary Webb)
Photographer: Christopher Challis
Production Designer: Hein HeckrothChallis
Art director: Arthur Challis
Editor: Reginald Challis
Music: Brian Easdale
Jennifer Jones (Hazel Woodus)
David Farrar (Jack Reddin)
Cyril Cusack (Edward Marston)
Sybil Thorndike (Mrs. Marston)
Edward Chapman (Mr. James)
Esmond Knight (Abel Woodus)
Hugh Griffith (Andrew Vessons)
George Cole (Albert)
Beatrice Varley (Aunt Prowde)
Frances Clare (Amelia Comber)
Raymond Rollett (Landlord)
Gerald Lawson (Roadmender)
Bartlett Mullins and Arthur Reynolds (Chapel Elders)
Ann Tetheradge (Miss James)
Peter Dunlop (Cornet player)
Louis Phillip (Policeman)
Valentine Dunn (Martha)
Richmond Nairne (Mathias Brooker)
Producers: Alexander Korda, David O. Selznick.
[Really P&P were the producers, Selznick was exec producer]
Associate Producer: George R. Busby
Production Companies: London Films/Busby
Distributor: British Lion. 100 minutes. TechnicolourBusby
This film was released in the U.S. in 1952 by Selznick through RKO Radio under the title The Wild Heart, after additional scenes were shot by Rouben Mamoulian, a narration added (spoken by Joseph Cotton), and the length reduced to 82 minutes. It is available for video sale or rental in this truncated, revised form from Guild Home Video, Woodston House, Dundle Road, Peterborough PE2 9PZ.
[Luckily the original version is now available on video & DVD]
Gone To Earth, like I Know Where I'm Going, concerns a woman lured away from a staid man by a more amorous one. But here the lure does not last - because (in the words of Mary Webb's novel) "Both men saw her as they wanted her to be, not as she was." Where, in I Know Where I'm Going, the erotic conflict is expressed in terms of charming comedy, in Gone to Earth it is rendered as powerful, complex melodrama. This links the film much more closely to Black Narcissus, another exploration of women possessed by the tension between sacred or pure passion and earthly, profanely earthy desire. As with Black Narcissus, too, Powell sharpens the dramatic issues by making imaginative changes - alterations or elaborations - to the literary original's events and imagery. In Mary Webb's book, the silk gown which Jack Reddin offers to Hazel Woodus before he wins her - and which she wears after she yields to him - is coloured green. Powell alters the dress's hue to red; and red, with its connotations of violence and sexuality, is the film's dominant chromatic motif. In the early scene at Reddin's house, when Hazel is first tempted by the dress, the lighting has a sensuously crimson tinge to it, which later acquires both sensual and faintly diabolic overtones when it extends to Reddin's face as he continues to pursue her. The red glow takes on a more sombre significance, without losing its carnal implications, when it invades the interior of the parson Edward Marston's home towards the story's end, as his mother confronts the situation of Hazel's adultery with Reddin and marital betrayal of Edward. And the hunting pinks of the riders in the narrative's deathly finale crystallise their position in the tale, as embodiments of Man's savagery to the animal kingdom. Reddin, a no less ruthless predator where human beings (especially young women) are concerned, leads the chase of the fox - only to discover too late that Hazel is protectively holding her pet, the result being her fall to her death.
Powell contrasts these symbolic uses of red tints with the sober religious black worn by Marston and by the puritanical local deacons. In further contrast, there is the less puritanical whiteness of Hazel's bridal gown, and of the robes which she wears when her husband baptises her at an alfresco chapel gathering. White, in these scenes, carries a sense of innocence and of youthful hope. Again, Powell suggests Hazel's intense sympathy for the Shropshire countryside and all its fauna by the green dress which she abandons for a red one upon becoming Reddin's mistress. And in the finale, she wears - together with a more sedately puce-coloured skirt - a brown fur top, the furry brown connecting her to the pet fox with which she has explicitly identified herself (both of them having lost their mothers).
The pantheism so characteristic of Powell is richly evident in other aspects of the movie. There are the elements of superstition concerning "God's Little Mountain": when Hazel obeys her father and swears by the mountain that she will wed the first man who asks her, the camera pans in a long shot of the forbiddingly dark peaks, with ominously rumbling soundtrack music; subsequently we are given other minatory long shots of the hill range. The strange sense of a haunting on the part of Hazel's feared "Black Huntsman" is conveyed by repeated images of tall trees in mistily swirling light (the shots low-angled and slightly tilted, as if from the viewpoint of a pursued fox, in the manner of Sucksdorff's The Great Adventure), accompanied by a wordless soundtrack chanting, horns sounding, and thunder-like hooves. In one extraordinary episode, Hazel obeys a "harper's charm" in a book of spells (her mother was a gypsy, her father is a harpist), and ventures out over the rubble-strewn hillside, to tie her multi-coloured shawl to a rock-crop and wait to see if faery music sounds. When such music does apparently break out, she takes it as a sign of her amatory involvement with Reddin; the camera, meanwhile, pans slowly to disclose that the strains emanate from her father's harp ...
A similar approach - of dauntingly recurrent, slightly eerie sound-effects and imagery - is employed by Powell to underline Reddin's remorseless erotic pursuit of Hazel, and her scared awareness of him on his horse. She hears that he is searching for her, and shrinks into a corner - her face falling into shadow - as she thinks he may be at the door; he rides suddenly into the frame at more than one point; in one scene, his path converges symbolically on that of the walking Edward, his rival suitor; in the baptism episode, he hovers on horseback in the rear of the composition. When Hazel accepts Marston's marriage proposal with a kiss, a distant surge of hunting horns implies her continued uneasy consciousness of Reddin's carnal appeal and lurking presence. In the superbly shot, vividly detailed episode at the county fair (with its scarlet floats and carts and tains, its flutteringly kaleidoscopic pennants, its passages of country dance almost reminiscent of a Ford Western), Reddin on horse and then on foot catches up with his prey, cornering Hazel under a torch flame which epitomises their attraction to each other.
After she marries Edward, Reddin visits their home. The parson's mother leaves him momentarily alone in the parlour. He senses Hazel hiding nearby (we see her shadow on the staircase wall), and tells her to come down unless she wants him to come up. Slowly she descends the staircase into his and our view; and despite her ostensibly conservative, ultra-respectable black dress, everything about her - as incarnated by Jennifer Jones - from the wary yet sly and fleetingly lascivious glance at him with slant eyes and mouth, to her tautly angular pose and restlessly nervous twists of arms and fingers, betrays her susceptibility to his maleness. The sequence where she keeps his suggested spinney rendezvous is the culmination of the entire suppressed sexual relationship between them, and is brilliantly handled by Powell. Entranced, dreamlike long shots dissolve into each other, of Hazel walking slowly away from or towards the camera, across the deserted landscape. These are matched to long shots of Reddin, riding slowly through avenues of tall trees to meet her; and then contrasted with close shots of their legs as he embraces her, of the bouquet of red flowers falling to the ground during the kiss, of her being lifted into his arms, and of him treading the blooms underfoot. The symbolism of seduction in this last image may not be subtle, but it is unquestionably potent; and a time-lapse dissolve leads to a beautiful, affecting mood of post-coital satiety and mute tenderness, as Reddin rides off homeward with Hazel clasping him, in a tableau of medium and long shots.
The preceding sequences are the most remarkable in Gone to Earth, in their extended inventiveness, their qualities as set pieces. But the film's texture is so intricate that virtually every visual, aural and musical effect is eloquent. The compliment paid to her by a young admirer of Hazel - "Jam! My word, Hazel, you're jam!" - is echoed with bitter irony in the image of the cuckolded, infuriated yet nobly forgiving Marston reacting against his prudishly censorious mother's remarks about his marriage by hurling a jampot to splatter her wallpaper. The doggerel read by Hazel in her book of lore, warning her of the fatal influence of a dark huntsman, prefigures her entanglement with Reddin. Her snatches of song, about female inconstancy and men being "deceivers ever", likewise comment on both her nature and her lover's. The psychological and moral ambiguities of the story are unerringly communicated by Powell at various crucial moments. Marston's fateful inability to realise that he should consummate his marriage at once receives delicately sardonic pictorial illustration in the shot of Hazel's disconcerted face when he parts from her on the wedding night, having misguidedly decided to defer to Hazel's supposed maidenly hesitancy until she comes willingly to him. And the female figure in a painting on the wall reflects his intolerably increased erotic frustration when, some time later, she has still not become his wife in the full physical sense.
Marston's fatally chivalrous delay is afforded equally discreet verbal indication, as Hazel tells him gently that he is mother and father to her - but is eventually spelt out with brutal candour during his showdown with Reddin, who caps Edward's words to Hazel ("I am your husband") with the contemptuous "You were never her husband!" True, Edward has his flash of revenge when Hazel - shrinking from her lover as she sees that Reddin has imprisoned her pet fox in a sack and is urging his dog to gnaw at it - whispers affectionately to her husband "Come, my soul!", and Marston asks Reddin with pale triumph, "Did she ever call you that?" (emphasising the polarity of body and soul between the two rivals). But when the puritanical deacons come to upbraid him for taking his adulterous wife back into his house, Marston tacitly admits his own share of responsibility, blame and guilt; he tells the deacons that, if he chose, he could explain to them his part in the breakdown of the marriage - but then adds that he does not so choose, because he despises their pharisaical attitudes.
Edward's virginal inexperience of women, which is at the root of his conjugal troubles (and which he comes to perceive and sadly concede), is mordantly contrasted with the savagely misogynistic credo of Andrew Vessons (Reddin's amanuensis), who unremittingly mistrusts and loathes Hazel for her sensual power over his master. And the affair between Hazel and Reddin acquires piquant sexual ambiguities of its own, as she tenderly teases him, disclosing to us that during their first lovemaking he was the submissive, even tearful partner. At this point we are shown Reddin the male chauvinist predator, the macho satyr, in a new light - as a mere male, helpless before the superior life force, the greater erotic energy of the female of the species. Outwardly the hunter (of both foxes and human females), he becomes in coitus the possessed as well as the possessor.
Yet our increased sympathy for Reddin's vulnerability in no way diminishes our compassionate understanding of both Hazel and her husband in their own respective areas of emotional fallibility and defencelessness. The fact that there are no absolutely evil figures in Gone to Earth (not even Mrs. Marston, not even Vessons, not even the deacons) contributes vitally to the story's, and the film's, capacity to trouble, involve and move us. There may be elements of Victorian barnstormer cliché in the plot (the lecherous Squire; the seduced country lass; the repressed and tormented cleric; the Grundyesque citizens; the eccentric rurals) and occasionally these may topple into the overtly risible. But Mary Webb's "Mummerset" fruitiness of dialect, which inspired Stella Gibbons to the supreme parody of "Cold Comfort Farm", is in Powell's film treatment almost wholly assimilated and refined into a fabric of valid drama by the sheer precision and economy of the screenplay and the mise en scène. Powell's directorial command is apparent not just in his orchestration of images and sounds, but in his control of his three principal players. Above all, Jennifer Jones - perfectly cast as Hazel - has a flawless physical rightness; and, while her "Loamshire" accent may be dubious and fitful, her understanding of the role is immaculate. She delivers with a bleakly quiet certitude Hazel's pessimistic declaration, "It seems like the world's a big spring-trap, and us in it." This motif, of all Mankind being destined sooner or later to be snared by death, is central of the whole action of the movie, in which imagery and incidents remain tied to the notion of the hunters and the hunted - right up to the concluding sequence. Here, the juxtapositions of the huntsmen, the fleeing fox and Hazel, the frantically pursuing Marston, the no less desperate Reddin, and the watching deacons, arguably reach their cathartic climax in the briefly glimpsed medium-long shot of the anguished Edward throwing himself down by the cavity into which his wife has fallen. And her fall precipitates the final shot of all, with its soundtrack accompaniment - the hunt's traditional cry of "Gone to earth!" - rounding out, in melancholy reverberations, the film's wealth of symbolism, by an echo of the end of The Edge of the World ...