#29) Gone with the Wind (1939) – Part 2 (Other Notes)

Previously on “#29) Gone with the Wind (1939)”

Okay, got all that out of the way, on to “Other Notes

  • Right out the gate I got problems with this movie. The first shot is slaves toiling away in the cotton fields, with superimposed text heralding Mitchell’s novel as a “story of the Old South”. It’s gonna be a long four hours.
  • As previously stated, this film’s overall story is trash, but it’s well-made trash. Shoutout to cinematographer Ernest Haller (as well as Lee Garmes and Rey Rennahan) for the film’s Technicolor compositions, and composer Max Steiner for the best epic music score this side of “Lawrence of Arabia“.
  • There’s so much to unpack with Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy. It’s certainly on par with the stereotypical black maid performances of the era, though McDaniel/Mammy is allowed some subtle nuance, actually interacting with the white characters on a personal level (by today’s standards it’s virtually nothing, but by 1939 standards it’s revolutionary). McDaniel got flak from the NAACP and other African-American groups of the day for playing an offensive stereotype, but McDaniel always commented “I’d rather play the maid than be one.” Side note: Although McDaniel did win an Academy Award for this performance, it was a segregated ceremony where she had to sit in the back. Despite the supposedly progressive stance the Academy took with this win, it would be another decade before another African-American was nominated in any category, and 24 years before the next competitive win.
  • I can’t stress enough that both Rhett and Scarlett are awful people. Sure they both evolve a lot as people by movie’s end, but man are they both rotten to each other in the process. The only compliment I can give is that Vivien Leigh has movie history’s definitive eyebrow arch.
  • While Leigh was able to successfully turn her British accent into that of a native Georgian, her fellow countryman Leslie Howard…not so much. Howard is either failing at his accent attempt or not attempting one at all. I honestly can’t tell.
  • I do not need a four hour movie telling me “Do Not Squander Time”.
  • On one hand, I think it’s important to acknowledge and learn about the Confederate’s perspective of the Civil War, but it shouldn’t be through the glossy rose-colored glasses of this movie. Add into the mix a persistent “happy slaves” trope, and you’ve got a movie with more gaslighting than “Gaslight”. You want a more nuanced look at the war, stick with Ken Burns.
  • Then known as the romantic lead in a series of adventure movies with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland gets a chance to play slightly against type as the goody-two-shoes Melanie. A lesser actor would have made her too syrupy to the point of annoyance, but de Havilland plays her as a woman who conciously chooses to focus on the positive aspects of her life and those around her, turning her sunniness into her biggest strength. Also worth noting: At the time of this post, Olivia de Havilland is still alive, and turns 104 this week!
  • Also hurting the film is the fact that every Black character in the movie is comic relief. Look no further than Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen as Prissy, the O’Hara house servant who famously “don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” “Gone with the Wind” was McQueen’s first feature (although “The Women” was released first), and while she took the part as a stepping stone to better roles, she found the character demeaning and became frustrated when she became typecast. Although McQueen never got another role that surpassed Prissy in the mind of filmgoers, she worked steadily in film, television and theater for the next 50 years.
  • As I often state on this blog, Melanie Hamilton is the first recipient of the “Melanie Hamilton Award for Most Quiet Childbirth”. Even the baby doesn’t raise his voice, and he survived the burning of Atlanta!
  • Oh my god, everyone stop saying “darky”! It’s an uncomfortable moment every time someone says it, but the NAACP successfully lobbied the filmmakers to use that word as a substitute for…something else.
  • “We didn’t treat [slaves] that way. Besides, I’d have freed them all when father died, if the war hadn’t already freed them.” Oh, so NOW you want to backpeddle your depiction of slavery? Ashley’s “we were the good kind” dialogue is too little, too late.
  • Oh, and the “political meeting” Rhett and Ashley go to before raiding the shanty town is a Klan meeting. Even in the 1930s, they knew better than to explicitly mention that little detail.
  • If the film’s racist issues aren’t enough for you, this movie also offers you some marital rape. Rhett spends most of the movie telling Scarlett that he knows what’s good for her, and it’s easy to just assume he means in terms of life skills and common sense. Turns out he meant sex, and in a moment of drunken anger, forcibly carries Scarlett up the stairs and rapes her off-screen. As if that weren’t bad enough, the next shot is Scarlett in bed the next morning giving a satisfied sigh. WHY DID WE REVERE THIS MOVIE FOR SO LONG?
  • And now we arrive at perhaps THE line from this movie: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It’s definitely one of the best exit lines in movie history, and totally justified given how horribly Scarlett has treated Rhett throughout this movie (to say nothing of the vice versa situation). Stories of Selznick having to pay a fine to the Hays Office for the word “damn” are almost correct. One month before the film’s release, the Hays Office amended their stance on the words “hell” or “damn”, allowing instances in which the words are, among other examples, “a quotation from a literary work”.
  • For those of you who might not get the overall message of the movie, they really hit you over the head with it at the end. Scarlett hears several voice-overs of other characters reminding her that the Tara plantation (and its land) is the most important thing. “Gone with the Wind” has what I call a Rolling Stones ending: Scarlett doesn’t get what she wants (the love of Rhett or Ashley), but she gets what she needs (the land, and a more mature sense of self). Turns out there’s a well-crafted character arc underneath all this unpleasantness.

The legacy of “Gone with the Wind” (and a few bonus musings) can be found in Part 3!

8 thoughts on “#29) Gone with the Wind (1939) – Part 2 (Other Notes)”

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