Director: Victor Fleming
Screenwriter: Sidney Howard. Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell
Cast: Clark Gable, Viven Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel
Run Time: 3 Hours & 58 Minutes
Availability: Not Currently Streaming. Digital Rental or Purchase from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu. DVD & Sepcial Edition Blu-Ray via Warner Home Video
“Gone With the Wind,” the 1939 big screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 civil war-era novel, is the “Titanic” of its time. Audiences flocked to it upon initial release, like “Titanic,” and years later it still resonates. I had the opportunity to see it on a big screen, and the theater was packed. When adjusted for inflation, GWTW is still the highest grossing film of all time. Yes, more successful than “Titanic.” Not only did audiences connect with the film, critics did as well. GWTW received 13 Academy Award nominations, and it won 10, including best picture. It’s more than just a film, it’s a definitive piece of American pop culture. 75 years after its release, how does it hold up? In this movie lovers opinion, it has amazing production design and wonderful performances. Yet its most well-known aspect, the romance, is its weakest part. I find it slightly overrated, yet it’s still worth a viewing, and is a prime example of cinema from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The movie is split into two halves, as it’s 4 hours long. Don’t worry, an intermission is included. The hero of our story is Scarlett O’Hara (Viven Leigh), the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. She is a strong, self-confident woman who enjoys playing with men’s emotions. However, she is in love with her neighbor Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). Ashely is set to marry his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Hoping to make Ashely jealous, Scarlett marries his brother Charles. The Civil War starts, the men go off to fight, and Charles dies from pneumonia. Scarlett moves in with her in-laws down in Atlanta. However, her reprieve is short lived as the city is attacked by the Yankees. She escapes from Atlanta with Melanie, her slave girl Prissy, and Melanie’s newborn baby via the help of blockade runner Captain Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), a man who seems to pop in and out Scarlett’s life. When the group is safe Butler leaves, and Scarlett and company return to Tara, the planation home of the O’Hara’s, only to find the Yankee’s have taken everything. The first half ends with Scarlett raising her hand to the sky and swearing she will never be poor or go hungry again.
Second of half of the film starts, and Scarlett has become a self-possessed, determined business woman. That promise she made at the end of the first half has become her goal, and we see she is willing to do whatever it takes to keep it true, including marrying local businessman Frank Kennedy. After the death of Kennedy, Scarlett marries Rhett and the two have a child. At that point, the film focuses on the story of Scarlett’s and Rhett’s relationship, and its slow disintegration.
Production design in GWTW is absolutely stunning. $3.85 million, which in 2014 would be equal to $60 million, went into this film, and every cent of it shows. The sheer amount of extras used is breathtaking. One of my favorite shots in the film, which really shows of the use of extras, is when Scarlett is walking through an area filled with wounded soldiers. The camera zooms out to reveal hundreds, if not thousands of men, scattered across this train station. The burning of Atlanta is an elaborate and still impressive set piece. Costume design is absolutely gorgeous and the sets perfectly recreate the 1800s south. Producer David O. Selznick spent every cent to bring the book to life, and he succeeded. Also worth of note is the beautiful film score from the father of film music, Max Steiner. I still find myself humming the opening credit theme.
The casting is perfect. Gable and Leigh truly bring Scarlett and Rhett Butler to life. Gable gives the character such swagger and masculine confidence, that I can’t help but feel he helped inspired the character of James Bond, which is kind of funny as former Bond actor Timothy Dalton played Butler in the mini-series sequel “Scarlett.” Leigh’s perfectly demonstrates Scarlett’s transition from spoiled, pampered rich girl, to confident, head-strong businesswoman. Some of my favorite scenes are the interactions with Scarlett and Rhett, with Rhett providing hilarious snarky commentary towards Scarlett. Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first African-American actor to win an Oscar. While there are criticisms over the character of Mammy, McDaniel is so enjoyable in the role. de Havilland and Howard provide fine performances as well.
GWTW is often classified as a romance film. In fact, at the screening I was at, there was a message that popped up before the movie started that said “Before Titanic, Before The Notebook, there was Gone With the Wind.” This is supposed to be a romantic film? Because it’s about as romantic as “Blue Valentine,” which is not meant to be an insult as I love that film, but I would not call “Blue Valentine” a romance. However I found the romance in GTWG to be forced and uninteresting, the complete opposite of “Blue Valentine.” Obviously this comes from the source material, and it probably works better there. Here it just seemed forced. While I enjoyed Scarlett and Rhett’s interactions before the marriage, once it happens, I found myself less interested in the film.
However, the biggest problem I have with the romance is that it negates the arc Scarlett went through in the first 3 hours. At the end of the first half, Scarlett makes that extremely powerful declaration. By the end of film, Rhett has walked out on her, she is crying, and she promises that she will find a way to bring Rhett back. Perhaps this is just the inner-feminist in me, but this really rubbed me the wrong way. Here is a woman who went from a spoiled rich girl, who lost everything, only to rebuild and be strong than ever before. What upsets her the most? losing a guy. It is a shame as I enjoyed Scarlett’s arc so much up to that point. That transformation is what makes GWTW worth watching to me.
Despite what I thought was an uninteresting and forced romance, GWTW is a film that deserves its place on the Sight & Sound list. It’s a film that any cinefile should watch at least once. Clear 4 hours out of your day and give it a chance. The production design and amazing performances alone worth a watch. Perhaps you will think differently about the romance.
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