Gone With the Wind (1939)

Directed by Victor Fleming

It seems only fitting that a big movie would get a big DVD package, particularly when it celebrates 65 years* of being one of the biggest – if not the biggest – Hollywood productions.

(*This review refers to the 2004 4-disc DVD Collector’s Edition.)

Of course big doesn’t mean good and there are those who feel Gone With the Wind is more than a little hyped as far as its status goes.

I’m not among them however.

Gone With the Wind is a great, fabulous, gaudy old school Hollywood extravaganza with big sets and big stars.

If, at a distance, it seems a little over the top that’s only because it is – and deliberately so.

After everything about size and scope has been said, David O. Selznick’s crowning achievement is melodrama – a soap opera with a late 1930’s sensibility.

Glark Gable and Vivien Leigh in With the Wind (1939).

This accounts for some of the character histrionics which are sometimes a little hard to swallow.

And some of the actors, such as Leslie Howard as Ashely Wilkes, being British and still very locked into classical stage performance, are either wooden or just plain excessive in their acting, as if playing to a theatre’s back row. But these were pre-Brando days and like many films of the period it takes its inspiration from the theatre.

In fact, like many older films, not having discovered or not being confident in cinema as an art form, it relies on literary forms as a kind of role model. In this case, the movie’s style, structure and overall approach are rooted in theatre, opera and novels (especially the source novel).

This can be seen in some of the acting, the overture and entr’acte, and use of titles and scrolling text as guides and exposition.

But all of this is understandable and forgivable in a 65 year old movie and easily set aside once you start watching and get into the film’s world.

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind (1939).

A highly romanticized view of the American South and the consequences to it of the U.S. Civil War, Gone Wind the Wind is perfect example of what is meant when the phrase “sweeping saga” is used.

It covers a lot of ground (as you might expect from a movie almost four hours long).

Connecting it all is Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh. This is her story and it comes across well through Leigh as she plays the self-centred Scarlett from early womanhood through the war, her marriages, her romances and numerous trials and tribulations.

But as good as Vivien Leigh is, the real jewel of a performance is Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, the perfect match for Scarlett when it comes to self-interest.

Gable particularly stands out because he plays a cad-ish Rhett with such naturalness. It’s a stark contrast to some of the overwrought acting around him and is especially effective when set against Leslie Howard’s stiff Ashley.

Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind (1939).

I think a good example of Gable’s naturalness comes with his famous line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

We’ve likely all heard this line repeated by others through the years but it’s only when you hear Gable himself do it in the film that you realize how all the emphasis others tend to put on it, like the pause before saying “I don’t give a damn,” is utterly absent from his delivery.

When Gable does it, it comes out smoothly and casually with no particular emphasis. It’s simply an effective, offhand expression of his surrender to the inevitable. It’s tossed off as if he had simply picked some lint from off his coat.

As for the movie overall, it was and remains a masterpiece of Hollywood filmmaking. It’s excessive and over-the-top. It plays fast and loose with history and reality. And despite this, or perhaps because of it, it’s enthralling.

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