Movie Project #50: Gone with the Wind [1939]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Gone with the Wind [1939]

Gone with the Wind [1939]
Director: Victor Fleming, George Cukor (uncredited), Sam Wood (uncredited)
Writers: Margaret Mitchell (novel), Sidney Howard (screen play)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
Running Time: 238 minutes

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I saved Gone with the Wind for the very end of this project. The idea of sitting through a nearly four hour historical romance epic is incredibly daunting, no matter the accolades of the film. What more can be said about this 1939 feature anyway? It’s still the highest grossing film of all time (when adjusted for inflation), it won ten Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) and it has one of the most quoted movie lines ever. Yet even with all of these honors, perhaps the best thing I can say about the film is that it really does not feel like it’s four hours long.

Split into two distinct parts, Gone with the Wind is set in the Old South right in the midst of the Civil War. At first glance, life is grand for the white folk. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a true southern belle, soaking up the adoration of all the local men. She lives on a massive cotton plantation in Georgia called Tara, and she has everything she wants — except for one thing, the man she is in love with. This man, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), does not share this same love, and he is more than happy to marry his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), who just so happens to be Scarlett’s best friend. As you could imagine, there is a ton of melodrama at play, as Miss O’Hara does everything in her power to make Ashley fall in love with her, or at least find ways to get back at him.

Gone with the Wind [1939]

A wrench is thrown into her plans when a local drifter named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) meets her at a party. Butler, already disowned by his family, raises the ire of the other guests when he announces that the South has no chance against the superior numbers of the North. Nonetheless, his antics catch the attention of O’Hara. She plays “hard to get” with him, yet he keeps finding ways to run into her.

As the war grows more intense, the South receives heavy damage. The “good ol’ south” becomes a fragment of the past, forcing those who were once well off (like Scarlett) to get in and do some manual labor themselves. Eventually, through much persistence, Rhett and Scarlett do get together, and the second part of the film focuses on their relationship.

It’s quite the sprawling, epic story, and it takes place over decades. The tumultuous marriage of Rhett and Scarlett is shown in great detail, and there are also glimpses at the lives of those around them, including Ashley and Melanie. Yet throughout all of this, Scarlett O’Hara remains the focal point, for better or for worse.

I say “for worse” because quite frankly Scarlett is one of the most despicable women in the history of film. She is a spoiled, arrogant brat who puts herself above everyone else. She manipulates everyone around her, even engaging in multiple sham marriages just to improve her personal wealth or get back at others. Four hours of her greed and selfishness just grows to become too much. However, by the end of the film, when Clark Gable mutters that immortal line of “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”, it is one of the most satisfying payoffs I have seen.

Gone with the Wind [1939]

I can only imagine how revolutionary Gone with the Wind was during its heyday. It’s still an impressive piece of filmmaking today, but some of its faults are more noticeable now. Namely, the glorification of the South is often ridiculous. The northerners are depicted as brutes who slaughter innocent townspeople and try to rape women, whereas most of the southerners are portrayed as perfect gentlemen. Many of the African Americans shown in the film come across as dumb and perfectly content to be slaves. These depictions are farcical, and they are especially inappropriate today.

Still, historical inaccuracies and all, Gone with the Wind remains an inspired classic that somehow manages to never get boring. I am glad that I finally watched it, though I have to admit I have little desire to sit through it again.


And with that, this year’s movie project is complete! Stay tuned within the coming days for a wrap-up of all 50 films, including a ranking of my personal favorites.

24 thoughts on “Movie Project #50: Gone with the Wind [1939]

  1. jjames36 says:

    I also appreciate this movie’s ingenuity, given when it was made. But I didn’t like it, in the end, mostly because of the stereotypical portrayals you mention near the end of your review. I couldn’t get past them.

    Excellent review, as always!

  2. C. T. Murphy says:

    I disagree that the Southern glorification hurts the movie. If it were made today, it would be a literal, historically-accurate period piece, but that would be missing the point as far as I am concerned.

    Gone with the Wind is a true epic. By that I mean that an entire world is at stake. It just so happens that the world in question is the way of life and culture of the South. And, of course, it’s easy to hate a bunch of slave-mongering bigots.

    Which is why you don’t want to make this movie a literal representation of the South. These characters are meant to be relatable – this is a romance, after all. More than that, some of the intent was likely to depict a South that was charming and pleasant, even if you were aware of the pain and toil that made it possible. It’s all to make you, the audience, care about a world that is burning before your eyes.

    Perhaps I am biased – I am from the South. But to me, even a culture built up on injustice has value and is capable of producing good people, works, and deeds. I am far less familiar with this movie’s history or its source’s than I am the actual history, so do take that into account. However, I do believe it is possible to justify its glorification and inaccuracies even for a modern audience.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Cheers for the thoughtful comment. I’m not denying at all that the South wasn’t/isn’t capable of producing good people. I just found it hard to empathize with any of the main characters in this movie. Losing a house to a fire is tragic, but I wasn’t distraught about Tara going to ruins. Scarlett was such an awful person who felt entitled to everything, and of course, the family owned multiple slaves. Maybe if the film had focused on a more likable group of people, I could look over some of its issues.

  3. C. T. Murphy says:

    Reblogged this on Murf vs Internet and commented:
    The Warning Sign has been doing a lot of awesome reviews of great classics lately. I just so happened to write a somewhat lengthy comment on this one, and I’d appreciate if you all give the review a read (and check out the rest of his site while you’re there – it’s awesome) and join in the discussion!

  4. Morgan R. Lewis says:

    It’s worth noting that the North did slaughter innocent townspeople and rape women. Not as a universal trait, of course, but it did happen — of note, the Lawrence, Kansas Massacre that Quantrill’s Raiders carried out (which killed no women or children, though it did kill male civilians who could have enlisted) was in retaliation to Union loyalists deliberately collapsing a building on Southern women. And of course, William Tecumseh Sherman was infamous for his scorched earth policy, which today would be considered a war crime. Of course, this doesn’t justify treating the South as saintly, but treating either side of that conflict as clean is so far wrong as to be sinful. There was a whole lot of ugliness on both sides.

    I haven’t seen Gone With the Wind yet myself (it’s on the watchlist, of course), but I have heard it glorifies the South before. And of course, showing the darker side of the North doesn’t excuse it from painting the South as angels, if that’s what it does.

    But history aside, good review, Eric. Congratulations on getting through a four-hour film (which even with a good film can be a slog), and on finishing your 50 movies project for the year right under the wire.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Oh yeah, there were definitely terrible people and war crimes on both sides in real life — there’s no doubt about that. But my problem with the film is that there wasn’t any sense of balance between the two. I don’t recall there being a single decent person from the North in the film, whereas nearly everyone in the South was gentleman-like — or saintly, as you mentioned. The southern lifestyle was definitely glorified.

      But yeah even with these issues, I’m glad I finally saw this. I wish I hadn’t procrastinated so much with the project, but it all worked out in the end. 🙂

  5. SDG says:

    You Did It, Eric! You did it! On the cusp of New Year no less. 😀

    You once again nailed it with you last two sentences for me. Obviously I didn’t much care about historical inaccuracies since I didn’t know much about it anyway. There were lot of things about it that I admire and some that I even like but my only problem with it, which I have to insist almost derails every good thing about this film, was it Just. Wouldn’t. End. God, it was Long! and it’s coming from a person brought up on Bollywood, 3 hours of nothing but melodrama.

  6. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    Like you suggest, Gone with the Wind is a film that deserves to be appreciated, if not for its attention to detail, at the very least for its sprawling and impressive production value. The fact that it still holds up rather well, at least on a visual and performance level, shows just how much of an impression it must have left on the public when it hit theaters. Obviously, the film is subject to its time, and the lack of touch when it comes to slavery and the representation of the North do come across as terribly one-sided and ignorant. Like you, I appreciate the film as an art piece and not so much as a historical document that is representative of American culture.
    Aside from that, I gotta give it to you Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh for delivering two awesome performances.

  7. Dan Heaton says:

    I had a similar response when I caught up with Gone with the Wind last year. I admire the epic scope, especially the first half. The racism is unfortunate, but what also bugged me was all the melodrama. People die left and right, and the drama just gets to be too much by the last act. Still, I can acknowledge its place in film history and the skills behind it.

  8. The Vern says:

    This is one that I really should watch and I admire very much that you have. It’s good to read the North was depicted as being just as evil as the south, but reading that the south had no flaws at all doesnt make me want to see it. Oh and Scarlett being a big bitch to every guy too. Great review

  9. ruth says:

    Glad you appreciated this one Eric, seems that a lot of people who just saw this film hated it. This is one of the first Hollywood films I saw as a young girl, and it still made an impression on me later on when I saw it.

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