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Gone with the Wind

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Gone with the Wind

Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh
Director: Victor Fleming
Rated: G
RunTime: 231 Minutes
Release Date: December 1939
Genres: Classic, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O'Neil, Victor Jory, Ann Rutherford

Review by Brian Koller
4 stars out of 4

"Gone with the Wind" is perhaps the most successful film of all time. It was the top grossing film until at least "The Sound of Music", some thirty years of inflation later. The story, and the characters, have become a part of American cultural heritage.

The story begins in Georgia, just prior to the Civil War. Beautiful and spoiled Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) schemes to win the love of the honorable Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), who is engaged to his saintly cousin Melanie (Olivia De Havilland). Scarlett fails in this effort, but wins the admiration of dashing scoundrel Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

Ashley marries Melanie, then goes off to fight the Civil War. Scarlett moves to Atlanta to be with Melanie and wait for Ashley's return. Eventually, Union troops siege and capture Atlanta, forcing Scarlett, Melanie, and her newborn baby to flee to Scarlett's home at Tara, which has been impoverished by looting Federal troops.

After much humiliation and unethical behavior, Scarlett rebuilds Tara and becomes a wealthy businesswoman. She marries Rhett and has a daughter, but her marriage is stormy.

Is "Gone with the Wind" pro-slavery? In the pre-war scenes, blacks seem content with their lot, and show devotion to the white "masters" that control their lives. Pork (Oscar Polk) is a shuffling, slow-talking stereotype. Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) is described by Rhett as a "simple-minded darky".

But to its credit, "Gone with the Wind" has two very strong and positive roles. The characters listen with respect to Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), whose straightforward comments make for sage advice. McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress, an outstanding achievement during an era of segregation. Big Sam (Everett Brown) shows great courage rescuing Scarlett from grave danger.

However, my favorite supporting character is Scarlett's exuberant first husband Charles Hamilton (Rand Brooks). Also, Aunt Pittypat (Laura Hope Crews) gives an excellent comic-relief performance.

"Gone with the Wind" also won major Oscars for Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard), Best Actress (Scarlett O'Hara), Best Color Cinematography, Best Director, and Best Picture. Fleming was credited as director, although four directors were used. This was a clean sweep of all major awards except Best Actor, which passed over Clark Gable. (Vivien Leigh's husband, Laurence Olivier, was also nominated, for "Wuthering Heights." The winner that year was Robert Donat).

"Gone with the Wind" clocks in at 222 minutes, more than twice the length of an typical film from 1939. The story does sag once or twice, but only in comparison with its best parts. The film peaks midway, during the siege of Atlanta. The film's best action scenes are here, and the devastation war is clearly demonstrated by the horrific hospital scenes and acres of wounded soldiers.

The film picks up again during a postwar sequence loaded with suspense. Scarlett has narrowly escaped an attack on her by lowlifes in a shantytown. A dangerous vigilante action is then taken by the men in Scarlett's life, while their wives wait anxiously for their return.

Scarlett O'Hara, the central character, is shrewd, manipulating, and selfish. She is despised by most of the other female characters. Yet she is presented to the audience clearly as a heroine. Women identify with her determination, and she shows positive traits helping Melanie to deliver her baby, and saving and rebuilding Tara after the war.

Rhett Butler is a self-proclaimed scoundrel, but he keeps performing heroic actions that contradict what he says, just as his love for Scarlett shows despite his frequent cruelty to her. Although he enjoys adventures apart from Scarlett, one of the film's recurrent themes is his return to her, and his determination to have her love him more than Ashley.

One wonders at first viewing why Melanie is so nice to Scarlett, who constantly schemes to steal Ashley from her. But Melanie does not view Scarlett as a threat, and perhaps she loves her more than Scarlett loves Ashley.

Of course, "Gone with the Wind" is a costume epic and a soap opera. Because of its genre, and its strong appeal to women (the story is told through Vivien Leigh's character), there are naysayers (mostly men) who dislike the movie. But there is no doubt that it an outstanding film. If the costumes, the cinematography, and the script aren't enough to convince (which they certainly should be), the leading characters are extremely interesting and well defined.

Copyright 1998 Brian Koller

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