Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 3 hours 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Written by: Sidney Howard
(based on the novel GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell)
Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Howard Hickman, Barbara O’Hara & Laura Hope Crews
GONE WITH THE WIND has a staggering list of cinematic accomplishments. The movie was the biggest box office success of its time, was met a general response from both critics and audiences, has gone down in history as an amazing feat of revolutionary filmmaking, and broke an Academy Awards record with eight wins. Over the years, understandable criticism has grown over the film’s romanticism of some pretty horrible times in American history, but this four-hour epic holds up perfectly as an iconic piece of cinema in terms of writing, acting and technical aspects.
The story begins in 1861. Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is in love with wealthy gentlemen Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), but is faced with a dilemma when her crush gets engaged to his compassionate cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Instead of simply giving Ash up to another woman, Scarlett decides to remain close by carelessly marrying Melanie’s younger brother Charles (Rand Brooks). Scarlett’s manipulative ways and selfish attitude haven’t gone unnoticed by those around her. While most women despise her as a bratty shrew, charismatic blockade runner Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) admires Scarlett’s self-righteous attitude and enduring spirit in a world torn apart by the Civil War. Years pass, people die, tragedy frequently hits Scarlett and those surrounding her, and a torrid romance blooms between her and Rhett.
GONE WITH THE WIND is epic in scope and story. The screenplay covers years of trials and tribulations, whilst its cast of characters change for better and worse. While this film was far from the first color feature, the visuals, detailed lighting techniques and cinematography set it apart from many movies of its era. The four-hour running time is also the result of many rewrites to whittle 1,037-pages of source material down to a reasonable length. Though the film is definitely a long haul, the pacing constantly moves as the viewer is given a classical, romanticized Southern slice of life.
Accuracy isn’t GONE WITH THE WIND’s strong suit and that is quite apparent in film’s cringe-worthy black stereotypes. While Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) still receives laughs from viewers as Scarlett’s second mother, high-pitched Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) and dim-witted Pork (Oscar Polk) are both annoying. In a highly unexpected development, field foreman Big Sam (Everett Brown) is fleshed out a bit more than the rest of the slave/servant characters and receives a couple of stand-out moments with Scarlett.
While the film has a large supporting cast of relatives, love-interests and aforementioned slaves, GONE WITH THE WIND truly shines in its two main characters. Beating out 1,399 other women for the lead role, Vivien Leigh inhabits the skin of Scarlett O’Hara as if this Southern belle was the role she was born to play. What makes Leigh’s performance beyond impressive is that Scarlett isn’t a good person. I found myself disgusted with her at points. She’s hard to like, but remains a fascinating protagonist nonetheless due to her durability, dedication to the things she loves (mainly land and money) and unwavering attitude. Leigh also pulls many pouts and glares that could kill, both of which bring some big laughs and express far more than any line of dialogue ever could.
Standing alongside her is Clark Gable as charismatic scoundrel Rhett Butler. Though he receives noticeably less screen time than Leigh’s Scarlett, Gable’s Rhett is a fantastic character. He has many of the same unlikable traits as Scarlett, but goes about flaunting these, living up to already notorious reputation, and delivers plenty of biting sarcastic wit along the way. Gable’s undeniable chemistry with Leigh and the scoundrel’s interactions with supporting characters show a shining redeemable side to Rhett. He’s a good-hearted criminal with eyes for his own selfish desires…which makes him a perfect match for Scarlett.
GONE WITH THE WIND’s tragic nature make for a long rollercoaster of emotions. It may be cliché to say that a film has everything you could possibly want, but that’s exactly what this 1939 Best Picture winner contains. There’s believable romance, compelling characters (even if they aren’t exactly likable), suspense (an encounter with a Union deserter is quite tense), plenty of laughs and heart-breaking tragedy in spades. GONE WITH THE WIND is an iconic classic that forever changed the landscape of what cinema could be. This film is epic in every sense of the word and has earned its reputation as a celebrated masterpiece.