Review:Gone With The Wind

Gone With The Wind (1939) is often considered the most beloved, enduring and popular film of all time. Sidney Howard's script was derived from Margaret Mitchell's first and only published, best-selling Civil War and Reconstruction Period novel of 1,037 pages that first appeared in 1936, but was mostly written in the late 1920s. Producer David O. Selznick had acquired the film rights to Mitchell's novel in July, 1936 for $50,000 - a record amount at the time to an unknown author for her first novel, causing some to label the film "Selznick's Folly." At the time of the film's release, the fictional book had surpassed 1.5 million copies sold. More records were set when the film was first aired on television in two parts in late 1976, and controversy arose when it was restored and released theatrically in 1998.
The famous film, shot in three-strip Technicolor, is cinema's greatest, star-studded, historical epic film of the Old South during wartime that boasts an immortal cast in a timeless, classic tale of a love-hate romance. The indomitable heroine, Scarlett O'Hara, struggles to find love during the chaotic Civil War years and afterwards, and ultimately must seek refuge for herself and her family back at the beloved plantation Tara. There, she takes charge, defends it against Union soldiers, carpetbaggers, and starvation itself. She finally marries her worldly admirer Rhett Butler, but her apathy toward him in their marriage dooms their battling relationship, and she again returns to Tara to find consolation - indomitable.
Authenticity is enhanced by the costuming, sets, and variations on Stephen Foster songs and other excerpts from Civil War martial airs. Its opening, only a few months after WWII began in Europe, helped American audiences to identify with the war story and its theme of survival.
With three years advance publicity and Hollywood myth-making, three and one-half hours running time (with one intermission), a gala premiere in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, highest-grossing film status (eventually reaching $200 million), and Max Steiner's sweeping musical score, the exquisitely-photographed, Technicolor film was a blockbuster in its own time. A budgeted investment of over $4 million in production costs was required - an enormous, record-breaking sum. The film (originally rough-cut at 6 hours in length) was challenging in its making, due to its controversial subject matter (including rape, drunkenness, moral dissipation and adultery) and its epic qualities, with more than 50 speaking roles and 2,400 extras.
Various elements in the original novel had to be eliminated, and some characters, scenes, and events were either truncated, dropped, or modified:
Scarlett's first two children (Wade Hampton and Ella Lorena) were eliminated
In the novel, Charles Hamilton was in love with Honey Wilkes prior to falling in love with Scarlett; in the film, he was in love with India Wilkes
Rhett's scenes (and confessions) about being a blockade runner were minimized or cut out
the novel's love scenes (in particular, the "Paddock Scene") were more low-key
the character of the Atlanta prostitute Belle Watling was sanitized, and Rhett's finding of solace with Belle, after Scarlett vowed not to have any more children following Bonnie's birth, was also down-played
any episodes or mention of the Ku Klux Klan were dropped
Rhett's contempt for Ashley was softened
Rhett's last words in the novel: "My dear, I don't give a damn." In the film: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." [Contrary to popular belief, it was not the film with the first use of the word 'damn' (the expletive had been said a year earlier in Pygmalion (1938) and variations, such as 'damned', were heard in other earlier films]
Will Benteen (Tara's "man of the house"), Rhett's sister Rosemary Butler, and Scarlett's uncle and lawyer Henry Hamilton were eliminated
On the night of the Shantytown raid, Melanie read from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield rather than from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
A nationwide casting search for an actress to play the Southern belle Scarlett resulted in the hiring of young British actress Vivien Leigh, although over 30 other actresses (some well-known, and some amateurs) had been tested or considered including: Katharine Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins, Susan Hayward, Loretta Young, Paulette Goddard, Margaret Sullavan, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Lana Turner, Joan Bennett, Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Jean Arthur, and Lucille Ball. Although MGM star Clark Gable was expected to play the role of the dashing war profiteer Rhett Butler, Errol Flynn, Ronald Colman, and Gary Cooper were also considered for the part. Author Margaret Mitchell told a reporter she favored Basil Rathbone for the male lead. The four principal stars were billed in this order: Clark Gable, followed by Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland, and then Vivien Leigh last with "...and presenting" -- that is, until she won the Oscar and it was changed to "starring."
The landmark film received tremendous accolades, more than any previous films to date: thirteen nominations and eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Victor Fleming - the only credited director), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), a posthumous Best Screenplay (Sidney Howard, along with collaborative assistance from Edwin Justin Mayer, John Van Druten, Ben Hecht, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jo Swerling) - the first post-humous winner of its kind, Best Color Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration, Best Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel - the first time an African-American had been nominated and honored) and two honorary plaques, one for production designer William Cameron Menzies for the "use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood," and the other a technical production award for Don Musgrave for "pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment."
Many of the five nominations that lost were unexpected: Best Actor (Clark Gable who lost to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips), Best Supporting Actress (Olivia de Havilland who was competing against co-star Hattie McDaniel), Best Sound Recording, Best Original Score (Max Steiner), and Best Special Effects. Its record of ten Academy Awards wins held firm until 1959, when Ben-Hur (1959) won eleven Oscars. It was phenomenal that Gone With the Wind did so well, given that 1939 boasted some of the greatest American films ever made, including Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Stagecoach.
Although almost half of the film was directed by Victor Fleming (45%) - who received screen credit, four other directors contributed various parts of the film: Sam Wood (15%), William Cameron Menzies (15%), 'woman's director' George Cukor (5%) - the first director, B. Reeves ("Breezy") Eason (2%), and the remaining from various second unit directors (18%). Menzies was placated with the credit: "Production designed by..." In the 30s, Selznick had already produced such prestige pictures and literary works for the screen, such as David Copperfield (1935), A Tale Of Two Cities (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), The Prisoner Of Zenda (1937), and The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (1938), and at the time of Gone With the Wind's production, he was also preparing Rebecca (1940).
There was, naturally, a six-hour, soap-operish TV mini-series sequel titled Scarlett (1994), that was based on the follow-up novel by Alexandra Ripley, set partially in Ireland. It starred Joanne Whalley-Kilmer (as Scarlett), Timothy Dalton (as Rhett), Stephen Collins (as Ashley), and Barbara Barrie (as Pauline Robillard). Earlier, the fictional, epic-length soap opera North and South (1985), with stars Patrick Swayze, Robert Mitchum, Kirstie Alley, Johnny Cash, Gene Kelly, Hal Holbrook - and others, and based on John Jake's best-selling novels, was the astonishing attempt of a TV mini-series (at over 1200 minutes) to recapture the scope of the ante-bellum period, in its story of two families during the Civil War era -- the Hazard family of Pennsylvania and the Main family of South Carolina.
In the opening credits, producer David Selznick's name appears: "Selznick International In Association with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer has the Honor to Present its Technicolor production of Margaret Mitchell's Story of the Old South." The title of the film "GONE WITH THE WIND" is displayed in gigantic, majestic words, each one individually sweeping across the screen from right to left above a red-hued sunset. As the titles and credits play, carefully-selected images of the Old South are portrayed as backgrounds - a green pasture with horses grazing, a river at night, magnolias, a mill constructed from bricks, slaves working in the fields, peaceful Southern plantations, the city of Atlanta, and a sunset.
The fanciful, introductory foreword to the film explains:
There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind...

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