I know plenty of people that consider Gone with the Wind a snooze-fest (for its almost four-hour running length), or find it unwatchable because Vivien Leigh’s Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara is such a despicable heroine. Sure, Scarlett is a bitch, but she is also one of the greatest movie heroines ever to grace the screen. Show me another character who can wear a dress made from old drapes, lust after her dearest friend’s husband, shoot dead a trespassing Yankee soldier, scrabble at the earth for snacks and proclaim, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!!!” and still be watchable by the film’s end when, (minor spoiler for those of you who live in a cave) in the face of being dumped by scoundrel Rhett Butler (again), she squares her shoulders and declares that she’ll think about THAT problem tomorrow, because “After all, tomorrow is another day!” I. LOVE. IT!
Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel of the Old South crumbling during the American Civil War was a huge bestseller in its time, so Hollywood understandably jumped on it. The public took the casting of the leads very seriously, and Clark Gable was cast as scoundrel Rhett Butler, whether he wanted to play the role or not. The role of Scarlett was coveted by every actress in Hollywood, but was cast at the last second by relative unknown British (sacrilege!) actress Vivien Leigh. Yet, still the film was a monster hit upon release, and was embraced by audiences and critics. Among the six Oscars that Gone with the Wind scored (in the classic year of 1939 where competition included The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, and Wuthering Heights among others) were Best Picture, Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Director (Victor Fleming), and (most impressively) Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to be nominated, much less win an acting Oscar!).
But why is it great? The film is fantastic-looking, taking full advantage of the still-new full-color Technicolor technology, with those outrageously burning sunsets framing the characters’ silhouettes, to Scarlett’s stunning green drape dress, to the still amazing fiery scene of Atlanta burning. And what about the revolutionary boom shot of the camera pulling back over thousands of wounded soldiers filling the streets? Gone With the Wind is still breathtaking to look at.
Then there are the stars. Chemistry sizzles between Gable and Leigh, whose Rhett and Scarlett have a love/hate relationship barbed with wit and saucy repartee…
Scarlett (after busting Rhett secretly hiding behind a couch):
Sir, you are no gentleman.
Rhett Butler (pointing out that she had just flung a vase in his general direction):
And you, Miss, are no lady.
And who could forget angelic Olivia DeHavilland as Melanie Wilkes, the wife of Scarlett’s lust-object Ashley Wilkes (bland Leslie Howard, easily the weakest link in the entire cast)? Melanie is so good, and so believes in the goodness of Scarlett (of all people) that she is Scarlett’s most loyal friend, even when she has every right to dump the scheming hussy. Melanie literally glows of sheer goodness and is the heart of the film. And of course there are the scene-stealers Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen, who make the very best of their sometimes cringe-worthy stereotyped roles Scarlett’s “mammy” and house-girl. “I don’t nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” may be wince-inducing in its delivery, but the line still delivers shock value in its place in the story (and if Scarlett hadn’t slapped Prissy, why, I might have just done it myself!). Slavery is most definitely romanticized in GWTW, but Tara’s plantation slaves are at least presented as three-dimensional characters with important roles in the lives of the O’Haras.
If you are a Gone With the Wind lover, as I obviously am, you know that this is one of those classic films that you can cozy up to, and get lost in all over again at the drop of a hat. Sure, your friends may get impatient, roll their eyes, or simply fall asleep when you go on and on about this all-time classic. But don’t worry, you aren’t the only one who loves Gone With the Wind. It is no secret that this film is one of the most beloved films of all time, so you’ve got plenty of company.
DVD & BLU-RAY NOTES
The 70th Anniversary Edition of Gone With the Wind has fancy packaging to make die-hard fans drool. But if you take a small step back you may notice that this 5-disc release is a repackaging of most of the extras that were included in the 4-disc 65th anniversary Collector’s Edition box set. The new fifth disc, however, does offer some new goodies, namely a documentary called “1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year” (narrated by Kenneth Branagh), “Gone With the Wind: The Legend Lives On,” “Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara Wars,” and trailers.