- Title: Gone with the Wind
- Director: Victor Fleming
- Date: 1939
- Studio: MGM
- Genre: Classic, Romance, Historical Epic
- Cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia deHavilland, Ann Rutherford
- Format: Technicolor, Standard
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
“Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars, and when the wars were over — no one ever knew what they were about.” — Ashley Wilkes
“No, I don’t think I will kiss you. Although you need kissing and badly, that’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” — Rhett Butler
“What a woman!” — Rhett Butler
Gone with the Wind sweeps you into its story gradually but completely. You are quickly immersed in the story and the characters. And the film is really Scarlett’s story. Scarlett O’Hara, despite first appearances, in a way is a very modern character, and at times a strong woman. She’s manipulative, determined, strong and feisty, and she knows what she wants (or thinks she does). She’s willing to do whatever she has to do, whenever she has to. Scarlett is in sharp contrast to Melanie (deHavilland) who’s kind and generous — to a fault, and weak and even, at times, a bit simple. Melanie can be strong (watch her face down Union troopers in the second half of the film for example), and she’s honest about her feelings and in her marriage to Ashley (her much older cousin). DeHavilland is fantastic in her thankless role as the perfect Melanie. Scarlett’s sisters never learn anything about strength, or getting what they want (which is simply a husband to care and provide for them) and whine and simper-on throughout the film. Scarlett never once whines or complains, not really, she just does what needs to be done, or what she thinks she needs to do (and she doesn’t care at all who she hurts in the process). Essentially Scarlett’s a bitch in both the good and bad sense of the word. Because in some circles to be a bitch is a compliment, and in some circles, it’s the only way to really survive. And whatever else you say about Scarlett O’Hara – she’s a survivor.
When we meet Scarlett, she’s not that impressive – she comes off as dumb, and shallow, concerned only with her looks, and her beaus. But even in the beginning of the film, it’s suggested she’s not as dumb as she pretends – she just acts that way because it’s how she’s been taught and how she thinks she can get a man. However, she soon finds out the man she’s “wanted”, who she thinks really loves her, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) from the plantation next door, is going to marry his cousin Melanie, instead. We aren’t told if this is an arranged marriage or a love match. Ashley and Melanie are actually well suited to each other – both are kind and gentle, always doing what’s expected, never raising any controversy, filling their roles the way one was expected to – given the times and their statuses. Scarlett, throughout the film, says both aloud and by her actions that she loves Ashley and that she’s convinced he loves her – even when both are married to other people.
The war (the American Civil War) comes and all the men go off to fight. Ashley and Melanie have been married. Scarlett, in a fit of pique, marries Charles, Melanie’s brother, even though Charles was her sister’s beau. Charles dies of pneumonia during the war. Scarlett really doesn’t care, and even rebels at wearing Widow’s Weeds and not dancing at the next round of society balls (which at this point are only being held as war fundraisers). She gives in to convention, though, and manages to look stunning in black. (At the time, only a widow would have worn black, especially at a society function). During the society ball, she manages to arrange things so each of the women will be “auctioned off” for dances. Rhett Butler bids on and wins Scarlett. She’s so desperate to dance, she takes him up on it, claiming it’s for charity (we know it’s not). Rhett is the dashing stranger – he’s avoided service in the war because he has no desire to get himself killed and he hates all the waste of war. Rhett’s a gambler, a blockade runner, and a rakish rogue. He’s trouble and considering Scarlett is as well – they are very suited to each other. Even Rhett says to her, they are two of a kind.
Scarlett and Melanie end up in Atlanta, working as nurses to help the wounded. Scarlett doesn’t particularly like this duty, but she knows she must do it. Melanie has Ashley’s baby (nine months after his Christmas leave). She’s sick and ill just before and during the birth, but Scarlett manages to figure out and help with the process. By this time, the war is nearly over, and Sherman’s troops are marching on Atlanta. Rhett comes to the rescue of the three women (Scarlett, Melanie, and Scarlett’s maid, Prissy) and the baby. He gets them out of Atlanta and safely on the road to Tara, Scarlett’s home, then leaves, informing Scarlett he’s going to join the war effort for the last stand.
Scarlett manages to make it the rest on the way on her own, seeing Twelve Oaks (the Wilkes plantation) burned to the ground on the way. Tara’s survived, but her family’s in ruins: her mother has died, her sisters are still weak and ill from a fever that killed her mother, and her father’s gone out of his head from shock. Saddled with another sickly and physically weak woman and a baby, Scarlett endures. She finds that her home still stands, but it sits in the middle of a wasteland, and there’s no food or money. Scarlett runs out into a field, eats a carrot she finds and starts to throw up. Then, she holds up her hand, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” she swears. This is the end of part one, and the intermission card is on the DVD.
Part two picks up during the Reconstruction. Scarlett is told she needs three hundred dollars to pay the taxes on her home. That might not sound like much, but in the 1860s/1870s it was a small fortune, especially when you have absolutely no way of making any money. Scarlett uses a pair of drapes to sew herself a new dress and tries to get the money from Rhett Butler. He’s in a union jail (stockade) and can’t access his money which is in a London bank. (After all, it’s not like they had ATMs back then, and though he could access his funds via bank draft, it could be traced and the money taken — this is a risk Butler isn’t willing to take). Scarlett then runs into Frank Kennedy, another of Sue Ellen (her sister’s) beaus. She marries Frank to get at his money that he’s made running a general merchandise store, and convinces him to buy the lumber mill next door. Scarlett saves Tara, but lives in Atlanta, running the mill and lumber business.
Scarlett proves to be a shrewd businesswoman, running the mill (though Ashley Wilkes is her partner in name), at a time when women seldom worked, much less ran their own businesses. However, one day she takes a horse and buggy (another concept the ladies in town find scandalous – Scarlett driving her own buggy, alone) through a bad area of town. She’s attacked. Rhett Butler shows up and rescues her. Scarlett, Melanie, and the other girls have a sewing party, and Scarlett knows something is going on but doesn’t know what. She later learns Ashley, her husband, Frank, and several other men have gone to attack the men who attacked Scarlett. Frank’s killed. Ashley returns, wounded, but alive. (Rhett again comes to the rescue, faking being drunk, with Ashley faking being even drunker, as in the local doctor so they can get into Tara which is being guarded by Reconstructionist/Union troops on the lookout for the men who attacked the men who attacked Scarlett). A widow again, and in Widow weeds, again, Rhett proposes to Scarlett. They marry and soon have a daughter, Bonnie.
Scarlett, however, is so vain, that after the birth of her daughter, she decides not to have any more children because it will ruin her figure. Rhett considers divorcing Scarlett when she tells him this but decides to stay. He’s fallen for Scarlett, despite their tendency to constantly fight, and Scarlett’s drinking issues.
When Bonnie’s around eight, Rhett gets fed-up and takes Bonnie with him on a trip to England, when they return dual tragedies occur: Bonnie’s killed in a horse-jumping accident (it really is one of the saddest moments of the entire film), and Scarlett, who’s gotten pregnant again, despite her intentions, falls/is pushed down a flight of stairs, gets sick, and has a miscarriage. Her second pregnancy is interesting anyway because it’s the result of something seldom talked about now, and certainly not in 1939 – marital rape. She’s drunk/he’s drunk – they fight, he carries her up the stairs and literally has his way with her, then leaves for London the next day). Also, the scene on the stairs between Rhett and Scarlett is filmed in such a way that we really don’t know if Scarlett fell by accident, if she fell accidentally on purpose to anger Rhett, or if Rhett was so angry at her he pushed her without thinking. Whatever – he’s devastated by the dual losses. It doesn’t help that though Scarlett calls out for him, all the women around her decide not to tell Rhett she wants him with her when she’s ill. Shortly thereafter, Melanie, who was told not to have more children, gets pregnant, has a miscarriage, and dies of sepsis (or possibly pre-eclampsia). She even tells Scarlett to look after Ashley for her. Scarlett talks to Ashley though and finally realizes she really loves Rhett, and her feelings for Ashley were a childish crush and a pipe dream. She goes to tell Rhett – but he basically doesn’t believe her and leaves her. In the end, Scarlett’s bereft and without a man, but she realizes that she does still have the one thing that really matters – land, Tara, her home. Somehow, Scarlett will be just fine.
Gone with the Wind really is a great film. It’s more than simply a romance or a war film. It’s unusual in that the entire film is told from the point of view of a woman – and not a goody-goody woman, but a woman who’s complex, scheming and manipulative. And unlike the designing women or femme fatales of the Film Noir films, Scarlett isn’t made to fatally suffer for her misdoings. The film sweeps you up and into its world and it’s characters. Vivien Leigh is gorgeous and gives an incredible performance as Scarlett. Clark Gable is fantastic as Rhett Butler. The rest of the cast shine in their roles, sometimes in the smallest and simplest scenes (such as the conversation between Melanie and the Atlanta madam Miss Belle after she hides Ashley and saves his life).
The film also looks gorgeous – it’s an early Technicolor film, and the colors just pop right off the screen. I loved the restoration work on my copy – it looks brand new, with no color bleeding or red cast. There are scenes in Gone with the Wind that still impress, such as the burning of Atlanta. The film is of course, based on a novel, and print screen cards appear not just at the beginning of the film, but throughout the movie explaining what is going on, especially in the larger canvas of the Civil War – it adds to the scope of the film.
The politics of the film deserve a mention – this is a film that white-washes (no pun intended) the Old South, and slavery in particular. Blacks (called “darkies” in the film – even by Scarlett and Rhett) are referred to as servants, not the slaves they were. They are also portrayed as being well treated and taken care of and happy with their lot (something that simply wasn’t true). The film is definitely sympathetic to the South. However, that speaks volumes about the times when the film was made (1939) and the times the film portrays (the 1860s) as well as the point-of-view of the author of the book. Students can learn from such a film what attitudes were in the past, and then learn what the harsh realities were.
About the famous slapping scene, though – often it’s taken, completely out of context as an example of the film’s racism. However, when Scarlett slaps Prissy – she’s hysterical. Scarlett could have easily have slapped a white woman who was behaving in such a fashion. And Scarlett pretty much slaps everyone in the film at one point or another (including her sister, Rhett, Ashley, and possibly even Melanie – but again to wake her up). Slapping Prissy is not out of character for Scarlett, it’s in character. And considering Prissy’s hysterical at the time – she needed to be slapped (it’s film grammar for shutting up a hysterical woman). Besides, in the film’s context – Prissy is Scarlett’s slave, not a servant, and technically Scarlett had the right to hit her. Not that it’s right, but there you go. There’s a lot more in Gone with the Wind that is on the racist side, but that scene isn’t one of those things. It certainly isn’t something worth banning the film for, as has been proposed occasionally.
Overall, a really remarkable film and a must see.
Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film: Mary Poppins