Gone with the Wind

Released:  1939

Cast:  Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, George Reeves, Fred Crane, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Victor Jory, Everett Brown

Oscar Wins:  Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Adapted Screenplay (Sidney Howard), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Best Cinematography, Color (Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan), Best Film Editing (Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcom), Best Art Direction (Lyle R. Wheeler)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actor (Clark Gable), Best Supporting Actress (Olivia de Havilland), Best Sound, Recording (Thomas T. Moulton), Best Effects, Special Effects (Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin, Arthur Johns), Best Original Score (Max Steiner)

SUMMARY:  In 1861 Georgia, Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) lives at Tara plantation with her family.  Scarlett is extremely popular with young men, but is in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), who is engaged to marry his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).  At a party, Scarlett tells Ashley of her feelings, but he rejects her.  Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), who is also at the party, overhears the conversation but promises to keep Scarlett’s secret.  Suddenly, it is announced that the Civil War has begun, and all the young men rush off to enlist.  Melanie’s younger brother Charles proposes to Scarlett, and she accepts even though she has no feelings for him.  Charles dies soon after, leaving Scarlett a widow.  While she is still supposed to be in mourning, Scarlett attends a party with Melanie, with whom she is living.  While most of the others at the party are shocked by Scarlett’s attendance, Rhett is pleased to see her, and even dances with her.  Although Rhett is clearly attracted to Scarlett, she informs him that he will never win her over.

As the war progresses, Scarlett continues to live with Melanie in Atlanta, and obsess over Ashley.  When the city is besieged by the Union Army, Melanie goes into premature labor:  Scarlett and her maid are forced to deliver the baby themselves.  Scarlett manages to contact Rhett, and asks him to take them back to Tara.  Rhett takes Scarlett, Melanie, Prissy (the maid) and the baby out of Atlanta, but then leaves them to go fight with the Confederate Army.  Scarlett is eventually able to get the entire group back to Tara, although it has drastically changed:  almost all of the servants have left, Scarlett’s mother has died, and her father’s mental state has deteriorated.  With the plantation in ruins, Scarlett vows to bring her family out of their current situation.

PART II

In charge of her family now, Scarlett forces every available person to work in the fields.  Her father is eventually killed when he is thrown from his horse, leaving Scarlett as the uncontested head of the plantation.  When the war ends, Ashley returns, but does little to help farm.  He again refuses to run away with Scarlett, instead taking care of Melanie (who never fully recovered from a difficult birth).  When Scarlett needs money to pay the taxes on Tara, she marries her sister’s rich fiancée, Frank Kennedy.  Frank is later killed during a night raid he goes on with Ashley and Rhett.  Almost immediately, Rhett proposes to Scarlett, and she accepts.  They have a daughter, who Rhett loves dearly; Scarlett seems indifferent to the child, and to Rhett (she’s still obsessed with Ashley).  Rhett recognizes this obsession, and the two have a violent fight.

Rhett takes a long trip to London, and when he returns, Scarlett attempts to make up with him.  She also informs him that she is pregnant again, but a fall down a flight of stairs causes her to miscarry.  Further tragedy strikes when Bonnie, Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter, dies trying to jump her pony.  Melanie visits to lend comfort to Scarlett, but collapses:  she too is pregnant again, and is having severe complications.  Scarlett visits Melanie on her deathbed, and tries to comfort Ashley.  Rhett sees this, and leaves without Scarlett.  Scarlett finally realizes that Ashley only ever loved Melanie, and rushes home to Rhett.  She finds him packing his things, ready to leave once and for all.  She tells him that she has realized that she truly loved him, and that her feelings for Ashley were not true.  Rhett turns her away, citing the death of their daughter as the final straw.  He then leaves the house as Scarlett cries on the staircase and vows to somehow win him back.

MY TAKE:  This is routinely considered to be one of the best movies ever made, as well as one of the most popular (both now and when it was released).  It’s also the main reason why The Wizard of Oz didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar.  Scarlett O’Hara (as well as Rhett Butler) has become one of the most famous movie characters of all time.  This has always amused me for one simple reason:  she’s a bitch.  Think about it:  she pines over someone for years, but marries several other men.  The first time, she marries on a whim (and probably to bite at Melanie’s family); the second time, she does it for money, but also to spite her sister.  She finally finds someone who seems to be a perfect fit, but she drives him away with her selfish, childish behavior.  She also spends most of the movie griping about Melanie, who is the only true friend she has.  It takes Melanie’s death for Scarlett to come to her senses, but by then she’s pushed Rhett too far:  this results in possibly the most famous movie quote of all time – “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  Frankly, I wouldn’t either.  She’s a pain in the ass.

It is a good movie, though.  It seems to be one of the few movies that shows the war from the Confederate side, and the siege of Atlanta (and Scarlett and Co.’s escape) is exciting.  The plantation scenes at the beginning are stunning, as are all the period costumes.  It’s pretty easy to see why this movie won Best Picture (although it was kind of a foregone conclusion, since it was adapted from the country’s favorite novel).  Ironically, one of America’s great “heroines” is played by a Brit.  You can actually tell this if you listen closely during the movie, but I imagine it would be very difficult to go from a British accent to an American Southern one.  Aside from this, Vivien Leigh is absolutely perfect in the role.  She plays the flirty southern Belle to perfection, but she also has this look that could scare Hannibal Lecter.

Interesting bits of trivia:  Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her performance in this movie:  she was the first African-American actress to be nominated for and win an Oscar

During filming, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable played Battleship to pass the time.  They once let Olivia de Havilland play, and she beat them both.  After this, Clark and Vivien wouldn’t let Olivia play.

This movie gave birth to possibly the best spoof ever, The Carol Burnett Show’s “Went with the Wind”.  The scene where Carol (as “Starlet”) comes down in the curtain dress was voted #2 in TV Guide’s 1999 list of The 50 Funniest Moments in Television.  The audience laughter went on for so long that it had to be edited for the broadcast.  The entire outfit is on display at the Smithsonian:  as part of the Barbie Celebrity Doll line, in 2009 Mattel released a doll of Carol Burnett in the dress.

RATING:  She’s a pain, but she’s entertaining.  Watch it, then watch the Carol Burnett spoof on YouTube.

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