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Gone With The Wind

Directed by George Cukor, Victor Fleming, Sam Wood and Cameron Menzies and starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDonald, Butterfly McQueen, and Evelyn Keyes, color, 226 minutes (original release) and 238 minutes (restored DVD version), 1939

"Fiddle-dee-dee"

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable"

"There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind."

By Carter B. Horsley

The quotation above is the opening of "Gone With The Wind," Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning, 1,037-page, 1936 novel about the impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the "Old South" and on one of the "Ladies Fair."

David O. Selznick bought the movie rights and as producer oversaw the creation of the almost four-hour-long epic that consumed the efforts of four directors, George Cukor, Victor Fleming (who gets the credit in the movie), Sam Wood and Cameron Menzies.

It had its premiere in December 1939 as the country remained mired in the Great Depression and averse to World War II raging in Europe. America's incarnation as the modern Camelot was on shaky ground again as it had been during the times of the book and the movie.

The movie is pretty faithful to the book although a scene involving the Klu Klux Klan was removed even though racial discrimination and segregation were still prevalent in the nation when it was released.

Some critics have been disappointed that the movie deals very little with the issue of slavery, although many noted that Hattie McDaniel's depiction of "Mammy," a servant at Tara, the plantation of Thomas O'Hara, played by Thomas Mitchell, and his daughters, Scarlett, played by Vivien Leigh, Suellen, played by Evelyn Keyes, and Carreen, played by Ann Rutherford, won her an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress.

Vivien Leigh won the coveted role of Scarlett O'Hara after a highly publicized casting search in which, according to Tim Dirks in his excellent review included testing and consideration of such well-known actresses as Norma Shearer, Tallulah Bankhead, Paulette Goddard, Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Lana Turner, Susan Haywood, Margaret Sullivan, Barbara Stanwick, Joan Crawford, Loretta Young and Susan Haywood.

When the movie opened, Vivien Leigh was 26 years old and had already appeared in 9 English movies, but was not well-known in America. Paulette Goddard, Tallulah Bankhead and Susan Haywood might have handled the role of Scarlett well, but Vivien Leigh's performance is incredible and indelible. Only Elizabeth Taylor might have been able to come close if the movie had been made much later.

Vivien Leigh's beauty is almost matched only by Moira Shearer (see The City Review article on "The Red Shoes") and Jean Butler, the lead female stepdancer of "Riverdance" and it is remarkable that she is almost more dazzling in "Caesar and Cleopatra," a delightful film version in 1945 of George Bernard Shaw's play.

It also starred Clark Gable in his most memorable role as Rhett Butler, a businessman who woos Scarlett, Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes, the obsessive object of Scarlett's affection, and Olivia de Havilland, as Melanie Hamilton who marries Ashley Wilkes. They and the rest of the large cast are virtually perfect and match the very vivid and grand sets and cinematography, and the lovely score by Max Steiner.

This lavish, long and flamboyant film is an earnest and effective epic, gripping in its drama and engaging in its personalities.

In his December 12, 2002 review of the movie, Gary F. Taylor of Biloxi, Mississippi, noted that it was "a major advance in the portrayal of blacks on screen, for the two major black characters - Mammy and Prissy - are a far cry from the obnoxious 'Stepin Fetchit' stereotypes so common in the 1930s." "In later years," he continued, "both Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen would be derrided for their participation in the film and accused of perpetuating stereotypes, but in fact their performances were anything but stereotypical at the time--indeed, their very power led Hollywood into a repetition of similar characters, and it was that repetition that later caused the originals to read as cliched."

Various elements in the original novel had to be eliminated, and some characters, scenes, and events were either truncated, dropped, or modified:

Scarlett's first two children (Wade Hampton and Ella Lorena) were eliminated


any episodes or mention of the Ku Klux Klan were dropped
Rhett's contempt for Ashley was softened


The film got 13 nominations for Academy awards and won eight: best picture, best director, best actress, best color cinematography, best interior decoration, best editing, best supporting acress and best screenplay and it also received honorary plaques for William Cameron Menzies's "use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood" and for Don Musgrave's "pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment." Clark Gable lost the best actor award to Robert Donat in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips."

As the movie opens, a ravishing 16-year-old belle, Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, tells two suitors on the porch of her plantation, Tara, that she is bored with talk of war: "Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war. This war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream. Besides, there isn't going to be any war...If either of you boys says 'war' just once again, I'll go in the house and slam the door." She soon is shocked to hear a rumor that Ashley Wilkes, whose family is planning a barbeque at their plantation the next day, plans to marry his cousin from Atlanta, Melanie Hamilton, played by Olivia de Havilland. Scarlett calls her "goody-goody" and "a pale-faced, mealy-mouthed ninny" and dismisses the rumor, proclaiming "Ashley loves me."

Her father, played by Thomas Mitchell, arrives and expresses the wish that she not make a "spectacle" of herself at the ball and proceeds to tell her that "land's the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing that lasts."

At the Wilkes party, Scarlett asks a friend who is the "nasty dark one" across the room and is told, "My dear, don't you know? That's Rhett Butler! He's from Charleston. He has the most terrible reputation." Butler, played by Clark Gable, exchanges glances with Scarlett who says "He looks as if - as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy."

A little later, she sneaks down and overhears the men talking about the possibility of war with the North. Her father declares that "The Yankees can't fight and we can!" Ashley, played by Leslie Howard, however, cautions that "Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars and when the wars are over, no one ever knew what they were about." Butler interjects that "it's hard winning a war with words, gentlemen," adding that the Yankees are better equipped and "all we've got is cotton and slaves, and arrogance."

In a while, Scarlett confronts Ashley and proclaims her love for him. "Isn't it enough that you've gathered every other man's heart today? You've always had mine." She asks if she has his heart, saying, "I love you. I love you." Ashley tells her "You mustn't say such things. You'll hate me for hearing them." Ashley says he is in love with Melanie: "She's like me Scarlett. She's part of my blood and we understand each other." Obvious to his remarks, Scarlett declares "But you love me!" "How could I help loving you - you who have all the passion for life that I lack?" Ashley responds, adding "But that kind of love isn't enough to make a successful marriage for two people who are as different as we are."

In frustration, Scarlett slaps Ashley and as he leaves the room she breaks a vase only to see Butler get up from behind the sofa. "Has the war started?" he asks, before promising to keep her secret safe. Scarlett says he is "no gentleman" and he says "you, Miss, are no lady."

A horseman arrrives to announce the war has broken out at Fort Sumter and Scarlett impetuously accepts a marriage proposal from Charles Hamilton, Melanies's brother and they are married the day after Ashley and Melanie wed.

We soon learn that Charles has died of pneumonia in a training campe and Scarlett says she is too young to be a widow and tells her mother that her life is over and decides to move to Atlanta to live with Melanie as she awaits the birth of her first baby.

 

At a charity ball for a military hospital, Scarlett hears Butler acclaimed as a blockade runner. Melanie donates her wedding ring but when Scarlett donates her ring, Butler observes that he knows "just how much that means to you," adding that the war "makes the most peculiar widows."

Butler then outbids the other men in auction to have the opening dance with a lady of their choice and asks to dance with Scarlett. He is told that since she is in mourning she cannot accept but she does. He warns her not to start flirting with him as he wants "more than flirting." He tells her he wants to hear her say she loves him, but she says "that's something you'll never hear...."

Later, Butler returns the wedding rings to Melanie and Scarlett by mail from overseas telling Melanie that "The Confederacy may need thelifeblood of its men, but not the heart's blood of its women." On his return to Atlanta, he brings Scarlett a hat from Paris telling her "it was about time to get you out of that fake mourning. She puts it on backwards and her tells her "the war stopped being a joke when a girl like you doesn't know how to wear the latest fashion."

He tells her he is "not a marrying man" and she says she will not kiss him for it either. "I don't think I will kiss you, although you need kissing badly," he replies, adding "That's what wrong with you. You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how."

At Christimas, Ashley returns on leave and is given a tunic by Melanie and later Scarlett gives his a sash and he asks her to promise him she will take care of Melanie. She tries to kiss him but he resists and as he leaves she says "When the war's over, Ashley."

When panic spreads through Atlanta on the approach of General Sherman, Scarlett screams "I'don't want any more men dying and screaming and during a bombardment of the city Rhetta rescues her from the street and tells her there's "no sense staying here, letting the South come down around your ears" and invites her to leave with him. "I figure we belong together, being the same sort. I've been waiting for you to grow up and get that sad-eyed Ashley Wilkes out of your heart." Scarlett tells him that she hates him and will until she dies. "Oh no you won't, Scarlett. Not that long," he replies.

A few days later, Melanie learns that Melanie is about to give birth and she sends her maid, Prissy, to get the doctor but she is scared about going to the hospital. Scarlett goes to the hospital and the doctor tells her he can not leave the wounded for a baby. The hospital scene is one of the most memorable in film history as it shows thousands of wounded and dead soldiers lying about a railroad depot. Scarlett returns to Melanie and hopes that Prissy can deliver the baby since she said she could. Prissy, however, finally admits she knows "nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!"

Scarlett has to deliver the baby herself and then she sends Prissy to a bordello run by Belle Watling where he believes Rhett can be located. He returns with a carriage and tells Scarlett "it's all right darling. All right, now you shall go home. I guess anybody who did what you've done today can take care of Sherman." In another very memorable scene, he takes her with Melanie and her baby and Prissy through a burning Atlanta.

Scarlett calls the Confederates fools for "getting us all into this with their swaggering and boasting." Rhett stops the wagon and says he is going to join up with "our brave lads in grey," adding that he has "always had a weakness for lost causes once they're really lost." Scarlett cannot believe he will abandon her and leave her "alone and helpless." "You helpless. Heaven help the Yankees if they capture you," he replies and says "there's one thing I do know, and that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we're alike - bad lots both of us, selfish and shrewd, but able to look things in the eyes and call them by their right names...I've loved you more than I've ever loved any woman. I've waited longer for you than I've ever waited for any woman.
Here's a soldier of the South who loves you, Scarlett, wants to feel your arms around him, wants to carry the memory of your kisses into battle with him. Never mind about loving me. You're a woman sending a soldier to his death with a beautiful memory. Scarlett, kiss me. Kiss me, once."

Scarlett slaps him and he gives her his pistol and goes off by himself.

Scarlett finally reaches Twelve Oaks, which has been burned and looting and they find the grave of Ashley's father and then they go to Tara, which is still standing.

She runs into the house only to discover that it has been looted, her mother is dead and her father is crazed.

As the first part of the movie ends, she proclaims "As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again - no, nor any of my folks. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill!"

After the film's intermission, Ashley returns and Scarlett once again declares her love for him but he refuses to leave his wife and child but concedes that Scarlett "carried the load for all of us." "There's nothing to keep us here," She insists. "Nothing, except honor," Ashley says, adding that "Yes, there is something, something you love better than me, though you may not know it - Tara." Scarlett tells him he need not go: "I won't have you all starved simply 'cause I threw myself at your head," adding "it won't happen again."

Scarlett seeks out Rhett but finds him in jail and broke and he tells her she will "never mean anything but misery to any man."

Scarlett soon marries Frank Kennedy, a merchant and then is able to persuade Ashley, with help from Melanie, to remain as a partner and employee in her husband's business. "I can't fight you both," he declares. Before long, however, he becomes critical of her business ethics, but she vows to beat the Yankee carpetbaggers "at their own game."

Rhett reappears and asks her if she ever shrinks "from marrying men you don't love." She drives her carriage away only to be assaulted by two men and later a vigilante group rides off to avenge her attack. In the raid on a shanty town, Ashley is wounded and Scarlett's husband is killed and when the men return a Yankee captain threatens to arrest Ashley but Rhett says that Ashley was at a bordello with him.

Soon, Rhett proposes to Scarlett again: "You've been married to a boy and an old man. Why not try a husband of the right age, with a way with women?"

"You're a foot, Rhett Butler," she proclaims, "when you know I shall always love another man." She kisses him and then agrees to marry him: "Money does help and of course I am fond of you."

They have a daughter, Bonnie Blue, and although Rhett is a loving father their marriage deteriorates and during an argument Scarlett tries to hit him and misses and falls down a flight of stairs and as a result has a miscarriage.

Their daughter dies when her neck is broken in a fall while riding her horse.

With her dying words, Melane asks Scarlett to take care of her son, Ashley and Rhett.

Rhett, however, tells Scarlett that his bags are packed and that he is leaving and that "your dreams of Ashley can come true." "I'm through with everything here. I want peace. I want to see if somewhere there isn't something left in life of charm and grace. Do you know what I'm talking about?" Scarlett protests that she only knows that she loves him.

"That's your misfortune," Rhett replies.

When Scarlett asks what should she do, Rhett states, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"

Shocked, Scarlett thinks "there must be some way to bring him back, Oh, I can't think about this now! I'll go crazy if I do! I'll think about it tomorrow....Tara!...Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day!"

Clark Gable is magnificent as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh is dazzling as Scarlett. If the film and the book have a major flaw, it is that Melanie and Ashley are too good in nature to be true. It also is a bit of a stretch that Rhett would put up with so much grief from Scarlett especially when he is the ladykiller of all time. but one has to see her to be completely smitten. Love is rarely rational.

As film-making, "Gone With The Wind" is gorgeous and lived up to all its hullabaloo.

It is hullabaloo of misplaced values and affections, but it is heart-pounding, heart-breaking romance of immense momentum.

The four-disc DVD edition includes the film and commentary by Rudy Behlmer on the first two discs. The third disc contains "The Making of a Legend" 1989 documentary, a documentary on the restoration of the film, and footage from the 1939 premiere in Atlanta, and a theatrical short about The Old South that was shown by MGM prior to the film's release. The fourth disc contains a documentary in which Olivia de Havilland tells her memories of making the film, a documentary on Clark Gable, and a documentary hosted by Jessica Lange on Vivien Leigh.

 


This film is ranked 42nd in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films

Click here to order the 4-disc DVD version of the film, which contains commentary by Spielberg, from Amazon.com for 30 percent off its list price of $26.99

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