Gone With The Wind (1939)

Oh, fiddle-dee-dee, you never know what modern kids will think of a four-hour movie about a conniving civil-war Jezebel like Scarlett O’Hara, and my kids were a little bit dubious (as they often are with longer films) and The Boy’s Girl dropped out, I think having seen it recently on TV (boo!) or something. But they both loved loved loved it, and couldn’t scarce believe it had taken all of four hours.

White dress. Georgian BBQ.
Literal belle of the literal ball. Or at least BBQ.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I would think of it. I’d seen it once, when a revival theater opened across the street from my high school. For the opening week, they played this film, and it was packed solid, on a weeknight which—for all TCM has done for us it has undone some of this magic—is something you don’t see much these days. There were plenty of folks in the theater, though, including one who recited the lines, loudly, right before the characters on-screen did.

Old people, man. (If it’s not them, it’s young people. And if it’s not them, it’s foreigners. And…)

This movie cooks. You can see why it’s the #1 box office of all time (adjusted for inflation). I’m convinced more than ever, that the horrific misfire that is Serena was meant to hearken to this film, and there is something uniquely appealing about a character who is as awful and determined as Scarlett O’Hara. There’s a kind of magic in Vivien Leigh’s performance which is buoyed by a wonderful supporting cast, most notably Olivia de Haviland, who comes across as so very Christian in spirit, that you feel like there must be some good in Scarlett you can’t really see.

Even if you're not.
Olivia de Haviland knows you’re better than that.

Speaking of “classic movies you couldn’t make today” (all of them), GWTW is doubtless one of the more problematic ones with Hattie McDaniel, the house negress, looking down on her people being associated with the poor white trash of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Butterfly McQueen utters the immortal line “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.”

Political correctness is not merely a nuisance: It’s a destroyer of art.

Clark Gable. What could you say about him except what we say around here about all celebrities (dontlookthemupontheinternetdontlookthemupontheinternetdontlookthemupontheinternetdontlookthemupontheinternet)? He’s the perfect counterpoint to Leigh’s O’Hara: The cad who loves no woman, but somehow loves her, even seeing how awful she is, and how she doesn’t love him because she’s in love with Ashley (the great Leslie Howard) who (while wildly attracted to her because, c’mon!) is smart enough and honorable enough to keep his promises to the Good Girl. And we all know (and suspect Ashley knows) if they ever DID get together, Scarlett would get bored so fast, it’d make everyone’s head spin.

And what does it say about women that they love this whole set up? Yikes, ladies.

And he's in no position to judge anyone.
Clark Gable judges you.

The “print” (a Blu-ray DVD) is pristine, of course, having been recently restored but I would swear they changed Leigh’s eye color. Her actual eye color was green, but it was hand-painted blue on the master because Scarlett’s eyes were notoriously blue and they cared about details like that back then. I feel like they let the natural green come out more here which, if true, seems like a bad idea. If not, well, chalk it up to an aging memory.

I found myself less smitten with Leigh this time than when I was in high school. I really had little memory of the film (part of why I was nervous about committing four hours to it) but I remembered loving it and falling in love with Leigh (just as I would fall in love with Ingrid Bergman the next week, when they showed Casablanca). I still “get it”, in the sense that she was the perfect actress to have men fall over themselves for—no one else in the movie even comes close to her beauty—but I think I’m perhaps less inclined now to believe that she felt anything like a genuine love for Ashley, than something more akin to a woman used to getting whatever she wanted obsessing over something she couldn’t have.

Nevertheless, an outstanding picture. We could all see it again.

Fiddle-dee-indeed.
After a night of sex that can only be called “problematic”.

3 thoughts on “Gone With The Wind (1939)

  1. I have a love/hate relationship with this movie — because I read the book and consider it a fantastic piece of American literature. And I admire the book’s character, Scarlett. She is immature, true; obsessed in her “love” for Ashley; and blind to the genuine love of Rhett. But she is truly heroic as she faces the reality of the war and its aftermath. She takes responsibility for the people who were part of the plantation, and (feminists ought to cheer, but they won’t) she becomes a successful businesswoman.
    I also admire Margaret Mitchell, the author, for all her flaws (including her obsession with the movie). Her chapters on the fall of Atlanta were based not on reading up in standard history books, but on her notes taken when she worked as a journalist interviewing the last living Civil War soldiers in her area. I think she also once wrote about women who served in the military in the war, disguised a men.
    And in spite of my criticism, the movie is still powerful, and I only wish it would encourage people to read the book…

    1. The book is, length-wise, on a par with Lord of the Rings, which means to really do it justice in filmed form would take a season or two of TV episodes.

      But it’s such an iconic film, anyone trying to re-film it would smash right up against this version.

      FWIW, it did encourage ME, to read it, but I’m right in the middle of a reading project (reading all the books I already have), so it’s going to be a while before I add new books to the mix.

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