Gone With The Wind: Review
Perhaps the most recognizable title in film history, Gone with the Wind has the reputation of being the cherry on the cake of the production year of 1939. Shot in spectacular Technicolor and considered the finest American representation of the color process, GWTW consecrated Clark Gable’s title as the King of Hollywood and unleashed the radiant beauty of Vivien Leigh upon American audiences.
Never before or since has there been such a worldwide cultural phenomenon as GWTW (ticket per ticket, nothing else even comes close, not even Avatar). Producer David O. Selznick bought the rights to the immensely popular novel and worked like the devil (or made a pact with him) to bring the beloved story to the screen. Years and years of preparation went into the development of the script, the production design, and most famously, the casting.
Although it is the audition process of Scarlett that has the most spectacular reputation, a great deal of consideration was placed on all of the roles to be played. Selznick debated for a long time before settling on a forty-ish Leslie Howard to play the 21-year-old Ashley, and he even considered Judy Garland for one of Scarlett’s younger sisters before she became too busy with The Wizard of Oz. The only absolute given was that of Gable playing Rhett Butler, a choice that was virtually demanded by the public long before the film rights were even sold. Gable himself was less than eager, however, unhappy with the idea of performing in a period piece he deemed a “woman’s picture”.
Nominated for a the then unmatched 13 Academy Awards, GWTW took home 8 statues, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and most notably, Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel in the role of the outspoken yet devoted house servant, Mammy. McDaniel was the first African American ever to be nominated for an Oscar and surprised a great many people when she beat out her co-star, Olivia de Havilland, for the award. It is a distinction marked by controversy, however, over the fact that the actress distinguished herself by playing what many consider to be a caricature of an oft-misrepresented culture. But in spite of the faults of the character, it must be recognized that McDaniel was a fine actress with a tremendous appeal that defied the restraints of the two-dimensional roles available to her at the time. Obviously, her fellow actors respected this dilemma and saw fit to bestow upon McDaniel an unprecedented vote of admiration.
Still, with all its attributes, Gone with the Wind has its faults. First of all, it is a very long movie. In fact, it is the longest running film ever to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture (2 minutes short of 4 hours!). And Scarlett O’Hara is, quite frankly, a whining, self-centered bitch. Which is exactly why you’ll want to cheer when Rhett Butler virtually tells this to her face near the end of the movie. Regardless of Leigh’s beauty, Scarlett’s personality makes it very difficult to care about her or her troubles, making it all the more challenging to sit through repeat viewings.
That aside, there is so much to be said in favor of GWTW’s remarkable attributes. It is truly a landmark film that is equal to its reputation. Whether setting the bar, exemplifying a lost standard, or pushing the boundaries of fine filmmaking, Gone with the Wind has so much to offer that it simply must be seen to even begin to understand this idealized time in the motion picture business. For all that was good about it and all that was bad, it will never come again.