Gone With the Wind (1939)

  • Review: **** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O'Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, George Reeves, Fred Crane, Hattie McDaniels, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen
  • Director: Victor Fleming
  • Screenplay: Sidney Howard (Novel: Margaret Mitchell)
  • Length: 238 min.
  • MPAA Rating: Approved (PCA #5729)

In a time of great tribulation where brother fought brotherand a war from within threatened to destroy the country, one woman fights toretain her dignity in the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil Warclassic Gone With the Wind.

Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the daughter of a wealthy southernplantation owner has fallen in love. However, her intended has other plans.Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) has decided to marry the demure Melanie Hamilton(Olivia de Havilland) much to Scarlett’s chagrin. She does everything she canto make him jealous but nothing will change his mind.

Scarlett will let nothing stop her from possessing anythingshe desires, including men; however, the one man she wants more than any othersis the noble Ashley Wilkes. For nearly four hours, Gone With the Wind explores the tragedy-laden life of one of thescreen’s most impressive female characters.

As we watch Scarlett’s slow metamorphosis, we’re given aglimpse at one of history’s greatest losses, the Civil War. Gone With the Wind presents an intenselypositive view of the south, showing Yankees as little more than money-hungrybrutes. Symbolic of these ideas is the shyster Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) whoat times supports and at others vilifies the citizens of the Confederacy. Rhettromances Scarlett for the same reason as many other men but he sees something alittle more intense in the beauty. He sees strength that many other southernwomen don’t possess.

When Rhett becomes a war profiteer, his motives are his own.Much like the love of his life, he does everything he can to make something ofhimself forsaking all others. To an extent, Butler’s perfect for Scarlett. Unlike Ashley,Rhett wouldn’t put up with Scarlett’s machinations unless he saw some profit init for himself. Ashley, on the other hand, would have bowed to pressure andgiven in incessantly to Scarlett, which would utterly destroy him as a person.

Gone With the Wind isn’t really a vehicle for strong male performances. Gable is strong as thebilled co-lead but his hard edge seems more fitting to attracting an audiencethan conveying strong emotions. Howard has a different capability with Ashley.There is a desperation to Howard’s performance that creates an indelibleimpression in the audience albeit a limited one.

The women, however, are far stronger. Leigh is charismaticand self-possessed when on the screen. Even when doing the most detestablethings, Scarlett never stops being the heroine and that capability is allLeigh. Easily holding her own against the powerful lead, de Havilland’s Melanieis considerate, friendly and lovable. The moral center of the picture is alwaysat odds and a good counterpoint to the selfish Scarlett. They have theirdifferences, mainly their love of Ashley, but Melanie tempers Scarlett and isthe only reason she doesn’t become uncontrollable.

Gone With the Wind is an all-around successful film. The effects are top-notch for the day (theburning of Atlantain particular), the sets and costumes are stunning and the film score is one ofhistory’s most memorable. Steiner’s work here remains a pinnacle of musicalscoring that many strive to achieve. John Williams has done a remarkable jobtrying to live up to Steiner’s inimitable style but few will ever be able toachieve what he did in this picture.

The film remains the all-time top box office earner (afterinflation is calculated). Perhaps this is why cinema’s classic lines like “asGod is my witness, I shall never go hungry again” and “frankly, my dear, I don’tgive a damn” remain an enduring part of America’s lexicon.

Gone With the Wind,even after 60 years, remains an unquestionable masterpiece. Few modern filmscan adeptly tackle the breadth of story that director Victor Fleming does. It ispart of a bygone era of filmmaking that resonates well as the basis for some ofthe industry’s most ambitious projects. Few epic romances can compare to thestyle, grandeur and passion embodied herein.