#29) Gone with the Wind (1939) [Original 2017 Post]

Poster_-_Gone_With_the_Wind_01

#29) Gone with the Wind (1939)

OR “Dixie Chicks”

Directed by Victor Fleming (and a few uncredited directors)

Written by Sidney Howard (and many many script doctors). Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell.

Class of 1989

UPDATE: This is the original version of my “Gone with the Wind” write-up. The revised and expanded version goes into more detail. Much, much more detail.

The only decent trailer I could find comes from the 1961 re-release, commemorating the Civil War’s centennial.

The Plot: Set against the Civil War and its aftermath, “Gone with the Wind” tells the story of spoiled Georgian plantation daughter Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), who pines over her neighbor Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). When she learns he is to marry his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), she becomes jealous and accepts Melanie’s brother’s proposal out of spite. Houseguest Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) witnesses all of this and immediately sees through Scarlett’s games. What follows is a decade-long bout of sexual tension between the two, as well as Scarlett’s riches-to-rags-to riches story.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “the definitive example of filmmaking in the Hollywood studio era” and praises the cast as well as Max Steiner’s score. There’s also a loving essay by author and film professor Molly Haskell.

But Does It Really?: For its technical achievements, absolutely. This is one of those epic “no expense spared” films, and it shows. For cultural impact, it’s also a definite yes. Practically every shot in this film is iconic, some of it still quite powerful. But as entertainment, like so many of the old classics, it’s just fine. Not an awful film by any stretch, but kinda hard to justify a 4-hour runtime. That being said I was drawn to both Gable and Leigh. Their characters are both awful people, but the two of them give compelling, conflicted performances that draw you in. The film will always be a classic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if future generations don’t revere it as much as filmgoers past.

Everybody Gets One: Worth noting are appearances by Leslie Howard, Butterfly McQueen and future Jack Benny staple Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Pretty much everyone else in this film is best remembered for being in “Gone with the Wind”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Process shots for stuff that doesn’t require it, like dancing or running.

Title Track: The film’s title appears only once, during the opening crawl as a metaphor for the end of an era. The title appears only once in the novel as well, but in a much less flowery way.

Seriously, Oscars?: After earning a record-breaking 13 nominations, “Gone with the Wind” won a record-breaking 8 Oscars; including Picture, Director, Actress (Leigh), and Adapted Screenplay. Supporting Actress Hattie McDaniel’s win is most noteworthy; it was the first time an African-American won an Oscar, let alone was nominated. And this was 1940! Max Steiner’s iconic score lost to the equally iconic “The Wizard of Oz”. The “Gone with the Wind” juggernaut was such a foregone conclusion that first-time emcee Bob Hope opened the ceremony by calling it a “benefit for [GTTW producer] David Selznick”.

Other notes

  • This is my first roadshow picture! Big prestige pictures in the studio era were released as roadshows and treated like a play or an opera; reserved seating, fancy programs, and an intermission. What a time to go to the movies.
  • Special mention to Olivia de Havilland: In the hands a lesser actor Melanie could have been too goody-goody, but de Havilland (as she does in so many of her films) gives Melanie a quiet inner strength that helps hold the film together.
  • Also worth mentioning is Hattie McDaniel’s work as Mammy. I’m not going to try to defend the type of stock character she plays; all I will say is that within those confines, McDaniel is giving the kind of good, steady performance that the Academy tends to ignore. I’m glad they didn’t.
  • Geez, David Selznick’s name is all over the credits of this film. Clearly we know who the muscle is.
  • Yes, let us be wistful for the days of “master and slave”. [Deep Exhale]
  • This film features a man named Leslie playing a man named Ashley.
  • Speaking of, either native Englishman Leslie Howard is attempting a Southern accent and failing, or he’s not attempting one at all. I honestly can’t tell.
  • Yes, the sweeping romanticism of marrying your cousin. Cue the Steiner!
  • Oh don’t worry; clearly the O’Hara’s were the “good kind” of slave owners. [Even Louder Deep Exhale, Mixed with Eye Roll]
  • Butterfly McQueen, ladies and gentleman. Please read up on her actual life, she’s much more interesting than Prissy.
  • Melanie is having the calmest childbirth in the history of film.
  • I must admit the burning of Atlanta is still thrilling.
  • Love that intermission music. Sounds like an all-skate. Everybody on the rink!
  • Oh no, a Union soldier! Boo! Or…yay! I’m so confused right now.
  • This film was made the same distance from the Civil War as we are currently from World War II. Think about that, won’t you?
  • Ultimately, this is a Rolling Stones movie; Scarlett doesn’t get what she wants (Love from either man she desires), but she gets what she needs (an inner sense of self, and just as important, the land, Katie Scarlett, the land).
  • Oh geez, I got so caught up in the historical whitewashing I didn’t even cover the marital rape that happens in this film. Goddamn you, “Gone with the Wind”.

Legacy

  • Margaret Mitchell vowed never to write a sequel to “Gone with the Wind”, but that didn’t stop her estate after a grace period. The novel “Scarlett” came out in 1991 and was met with very negative reviews. It was adapted into a TV mini-series in 1994.
  • An attempt to musicalize the novel opened in Japan in the ‘60s and went on to be one of the biggest musical flops of modern theater.
  • This film is responsible for the funniest costume/punch-line combo in sketch comedy history (although the sketch wins no points for racial sensitivity).
  • The search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara was so dramatic in its own right it eventually became a TV movie starring Tony Curtis.
  • “Gone with the Wind” has helped fan the flame of Confederate pride over the years, so let’s blame this film for “Dukes of Hazzard”.
  • And of course;

Further Viewing: Gone with the Wind…with Vampires!

25 thoughts on “#29) Gone with the Wind (1939) [Original 2017 Post]”

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