1939 was the apex of Hollywood's golden age. And the winner of the
best picture that year, as well as well as seven other Oscars, was GONE
WITH THE WIND. Easily one of the best motion pictures ever made, it has
been restored and released to the theaters. The print is clean and
handsome, the digitally remastered sound is strong and clear and this
time they are showing all of the movie. To make the movie look more
modern, the last few times it has been released in wide-screen by
chopping off the top and bottom. This time it is being distributed in
the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original release.
Based on Margaret Mitchell's record setting 1936 book, the movie is
a richly textured experience with something for everyone. The epic
motion picture is part romance, part history, part character study and
part the world's most popular soap opera. Our packed audience treated
the film almost reverentially. When one person talked briefly, people
from all over the theater shushed him.
GONE WITH THE WIND could have been called SCARLETT'S STORY, for at
its heart it is the tale of a woman, Scarlett O'Hara, who survives and
thrives through a series of disasters. As the fickle but resilient
Scarlett, Vivien Leigh gives a tour de force performance. Looking
deceptively like a helpless young woman, the ever-conniving Scarlett has
every man in sight wrapped around her finger. Well, all except the one
she really wants, Ashley Wilkes, played as a wimp by Leslie Howard.
Marrying men she doesn't love, using convict labor to line her pockets
and lying through her teeth, Scarlett's guile knows no bounds.
"If I hear one more word about war, I'll run in the house and slam
the door!" she declares to two of her would-be beaus in the beginning.
The country may be on the brink of a massive bloodletting, but she will
hear nothing about it. Her world of fancy balls and BBQs will not
countenance any such intrusion, even if the first shots of the civil war
have already been fired. When the "glorious" news arrives that the war
has officially begun, the men go wild whooping it up as Dixie plays in
the background. The intense foreboding of this outwardly happy scene
makes it arguably the movie's most moving.
Clark Gable, who unbelievably lost the best actor award that year
to Robert Donat in GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, has a ball playing Rhett Butler,
the story's loveable rapscallion. With his hearty laugh and his sneer
of a grin, Rhett is a natural charmer without trying to be so. He
doesn't trust Scarlett, but she is so like him that he becomes
infatuated with her. "We're bad lots, both of us - selfish and shrewd,"
he tells her in a succinct summation of their characters.
Olivia De Havilland was nominated for supporting actress for her
role as Ashley's long suffering Melanie Hamilton. Melanie, who is
constantly befriending Scarlett, is her opposite. She is as generous as
Scarlett is selfish.
Butterfly McQueen is hilarious as the comically incompetent slave,
Prissy. ("Miss Scarlett, I don't know nothing about birthing no
babies!") But it is Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, Scarlett's Rock of
Gibraltar, who delivers the strongest performance as a slave and later a
servant. Hattie's Mammy dishes out wisdom a mile a minute, but Scarlett
tries her best to ignore it. Hattie deservedly won the best supporting
actress that year, beating out De Havilland, whose performance was
It was a more regimented time when girls were "ruined" by going on
unchaperoned buggy rides. And society was scandalized by recent widows,
dressed from head to toe in black, who dared show their faces in public.
(Rhett's answer to society's condemnations was simple. "With enough
courage," he told Scarlett. "You can do without a reputation.")
The artistic aspects of the film's production are as stunning as
its acting. The sumptuous sets won Lyle R. Wheeler his first of many
Oscars. The Oscar-winning cinematography by Ernest Haller and Ray
Rennahan added to the vastness of the picture. Shooting outdoors with
heavy emphasis on silhouettes set against rust-colored evening skies or
orange-hued burning cities, they created a tableaux so expansive as to
make audience's mouths drop. Max Steiner's nostalgic music, which lost
the Oscar to the even better score of THE WIZARD OF OZ, is as moving as
it is memorable.
The only problem with the picture is that it could have used a
little judicious pruning. The international travel sequences, for
example, add little.
GONE WITH THE WIND is a picture deserving of a restoration every
decade. See it, if you can, in a theater. In fact, see all of the
classics, if you can, in a theatrical setting. Television is fine, but
classics deserve better for their full appreciation.
GONE WITH THE WIND runs four hours including a brief intermission.
It is rated G, but with its war violence and frightening images it is
inappropriate for most kids under around 8. And it may not hold any
interest for kids under 10 or 11.
My son Jeffrey, age 9, was well behaved through a long movie that
he hated. He found it boring and frightening and gave it only * ½. He
complained that it was a love story with nothing about the war.
Finally, he said that it should have been rated PG. (He turned out to
be too young to appreciate it, but as he grows up, his opinions will
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes