Review No. 609
“Gone with the Wind” will make you “give a damn.”
Dedicated to my grandmother —
— she was two years old when “Gone with the Wind” was released…
…if I’m putting the movie on a pedestal —
— then I guess Webster’s needs a new idiom to describe how much she loves this movie.
Director — Victor Fleming
Uncredited Directors — George Cukor & Sam Wood
Producer — David O. Selznick
Screenplay — Sidney Howard
Uncredited Screenwriters — Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Barbara Keon & Jo Swerling
Based on — Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Clark Gable — Rhett Butler
Vivien Leigh — Scarlett O’Hara
Leslie Howard — Ashley Wilkes
Olivia de Havilland — Melanie Hamilton
TARA PLANTATION — Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, George Reeves, Fred Crane, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Victory Jory & Everett Brown.
AT TWELVE OAKS — Howard C. Hickman, Alicia Rhett, Rand Brooks & Carroll Nye.
IN ATLANTA — Laura Hope Crews, Eddie Anderson, Harry Davenport, Leona Roberts, Jane Darwell & Ona Munson.
Distributor — Loew’s, Inc.
Premiere Dates — December 15, 1939 (Atlanta); December 19, 1939 (New York); December 28, 1939 (Los Angeles); April 18, 1940 (United Kingdom); April 30, 1940 (Sydney); March 29, 1990 (Soviet Union)
Wide Release Date — January 17, 1940; March 31, 1942 (first re-release); August 21, 1947 (second re-release); June 3, 1954 (third re-release); October 14, 1967 (70mm re-release)
Standard Re-release Dates — March 10, 1961 (Atlanta, Georgia); December 29, 1961 (Finland); October 15, 1962 (Spain)
70mm Re-release Dates — March 25, 1967 (Sydney); October 10, 1967 (New York, New York); March 12, 1969 (London)
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 3 hours, 40 minutes (plus 14-18 minutes of overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music)
GONE WITH THE WIND WAS WATCHED ON SEPTEMBER 7, 2013.
A huge sucker for epics has been made of me lately. Obviously I have a long ways to go before I’ve seen everything I need to in the genre, but I’ve found myself so utterly fascinated by how sincerely some directors want to hold their audience past three hours, if not for a larger-than-life story. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. James Cameron’s Titanic.
And as if I would need to reserve the spot when saving the best for last, Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind. Let’s just adjust it for inflation before I start beating around the bush: it made over three billion in the U.S. alone, another more-than-three-billion overseas–all on a budget of about $65 million. I’d have guessed the budget was greater, to be honest, but maybe that’s my mind emphasizing the beauty of it all. Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta in mid-December of 1939. It was shot from January 26th through July 1st (that’s over 150 days), and editing didn’t begin until November 11th. It’s a pretty tight schedule, I’d say, for a film that chooses technicolor, 70mm cinematography, exquisite sets and direction, and a larger-than-life feel. Should I mention that Fleming released his The Wizard of Oz that August? He’s either hardworking or completely OCD. Though the latter’s already reserved for Howard Hughes.
Revisiting Gone with the Wind, my one question was: “Did they ever actually love each other?” Now let’s be honest. That’s not a question you ask of a romance, let alone the quintessential epic romance. Yet it’s valid, because this isn’t a love story. It’s about characters who don’t know what love is. They think they do, but they have miles to go before they discover they’re dead wrong. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a brat fighting for the Confederate States of America, during the Civil War era. Moreover, she’s fighting to get what she wants, though I guess that’s implied in “brat.” You can’t make enough of her egocentric personality, and there’s no telling why we feel so sorry for her.
Now let’s take a careful look at Scarlett. There truly is no telling why we would dare feel sorry for her, but we do, and that’s that. We feel sorry for Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, even if we don’t immediately realize she is the protagonist, but guess what, everything she did actually had a motive. Scarlett would have an affair with a college graduate just for the hell of it. Actually she’d marry him just for the hell of it; she struggles through two marriages, which leaves her twice a widow, and she decides to marry a man she sometimes doesn’t seem to love (but says otherwise), sometimes doesn’t think she loves. Her bipolar nature only adds on, so it’s amazing Vivien Leigh could ever deliver so well on a screenplay that sprawls out over four hours. She’s even better with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) around, and god, do we hate him. Of course, we realize that she’s defined by her impulses, he by his clever (albeit possessive) nature, but we realize only in perception.
Gone with the Wind is the perfect movie. It flies by in four hours, with the best moments being in the latter act. The music is downright riveting, as well, so there’s no shame in sitting through the overture, the intermission, the entr’acte, and the curtain-closer. Rarely do films hold up this well, but I can’t say that until I’ve seen it in theaters. Something tells me that’s “the full experience.” (Not to dishonor another completely different favorite, but what kind of trash world do we live in that plays The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday at midnight, but gives no love to classics like Gone with the Wind?) Between the story and the style, D. W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation) may be the only director to ever top the poignancy of Victor Fleming’s in retelling Civil War era. Even Edward Zwick (Glory) looks a bit half-baked in comparison. That this movie’s dramatic side is still touching is almost impossible to believe. It doesn’t feel like it was made in 1939, even if it feels like something of an “old movie,” for lack of a better word. In other words, it’s already over seven decades old. You gotta give Victor Fleming some credit for his achievement here. 1939 was only twelve years after we got our first sound film, and less than a decade before they became significantly popular. Gone with the Wind takes another step–in fact, another twenty. There’s what makes you “give a damn” about cinema when rarely anything else does.