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.

8/10

 
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.