100 Days, 100 Movies: Gone with the Wind (1939)
Gone with the Wind is a sweeping epic set during and just after the American Civil War. The story follows the trials and triumphs of spitfire Southern belle Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), with special focus on her tempestuous relationship with her dashing suitor, Captain Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).
I don’t even know where to start with this movie. EPIC. So much happens. So many characters. So many amazing visuals. And for this film I actually got to see it as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen, in glorious Technicolor. There was a showing the other week at the Aero Theater and I went with several screenwriting buddies. None of us had seen the movie in its entirety before; safe to say we were all blown away.
I think this is one of those where I have to break my thoughts down into categories otherwise I’ll never stop babbling so:
The characters and the acting in this are just fantastic. Everyone from Scarlet herself down to a wounded Civil War soldier who has all of 2 lines had a distinct character and personality. Everyone is memorable, everyone has their own point of view. This added real depth to the picture. It never felt like someone was just walking in and saying their lines. You felt like people had history with each other.
And now let’s talk about the leads. My God. Scarlet O’Hara. No wonder every actress in Hollywood wanted that part. (For the costumes alone, I mean come on.) She’s sassy and sharp, smart, manipulative, sensual, wicked, bratty, desperate, hurt.
With Scarlet, I think people who see this movie fall into two camps. They either think Scarlet is an out and out b*tch (which is pretty much my personal stance) or they empathize with her and understand that even though she does some awful things and behaves badly she really had no other choices. Whatever she is, though, first and foremost she is a marvelous character.
And when Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable get together onscreen you can’t look away. They have amazing onscreen chemistry.
OK, so, now let’s talk about Rhett. Oh, Rhett. Rhett is fantastic. He’s a scoundrel, a cad, a womanizer, a boozer, a dandy, a jerk. But he’s also witty and self-aware, and a truly loving and caring father. And when Scarlet needs rescuing, he pulls himself away from his loose women to drive her and her dependents through the chaos of a burning Atlanta (amazing scene, btw). And he sees the value of a truly good and gentle woman like Melanie Wilkes even as he falls head over ears in love with the tempestuous Scarlet.
Rhett is a great example of what I was talking about above. Layers. Depth. In a lesser movie, Rhett would have just been a boozy scoundrel who shows up to crack wise and kiss the heroine. But in this film he has motivations and decisions, a code of honor (and dishonor) and he’s just riveting on screen. Thank you, Clark Gable. You are oh-so-swoon worthy.
Tara. Twelve Oaks. The burning of Atlanta. This movie is all about spectacle, and the sets and set pieces definitely fulfill that. There’s a scene where Scarlet is wandering through Atlanta and she has to stumble through a triage area outside a hospital during the attack and the camera pans back and back and back and back and there’s row upon row of bodies. Stretching on forever. End to end of the HUGE movie screen and Scarlet becomes just a tiny spec among the carnage. My mouth dropped. That has to be one of the most effective displays of the devastation of a battle that I’ve ever seen.
The burning of Atlanta had the same amazing, awe-inspiring intensity. The story goes that when filming they set the whole backlot on fire. The flames and smoke were so bad nearby residents called the fire department because they thought the studio was actually burning down. That scale and carnage totally comes across on screen in one of the most exciting sequences in the movie.
There is SO MUCH. We follow Scarlet through three husbands, the deaths of both her parents, the death of her child, the death of her best friend (though Scarlet doesn’t realize that), the Civil War, reconstruction, and the ups and downs of her marriage to Rhett. For me the first half focusing on the Civil War was stronger, maybe because of all the action. But one of the people I went to see it with actually preferred the character drama of the second half. I guess that means there’s something for everybody.
I will say, if this movie ended when the Civil War ends I would probably absolutely love it without reservation. I would re-watch it and own it and drool over Rhett through multiple viewings. But, as it is, I don’t know that I will ever watch this film again.
Once you’ve made your way through the second half with her and Rhett perpetually misunderstanding and pushing each other away and then all the suffering and death…it’s just so devastating. Tragedy after tragedy piles on until even the unflappable Rhett Butler can’t take it anymore.
I am glad I saw this movie, I enjoyed myself, but I don’t think I will ever watch it again.
What did I learn from this movie? Once again, character is king. If you make even an unlikeable character nuanced enough and interesting enough you can hold your audience in the palm of your hand.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Even though it broke my heart (or maybe because it broke my heart…) yes, I totally can. The epic set pieces, the marvelous acting, the complex and moving storyline. Everything about this film is masterfully done. It’s earned its place in the canon of great films.
Favorite part(s)? The burning of Atlanta for sure. Also, and I didn’t really talk about this so much, but this movie is really, really funny. Rhett in particular has all kinds of witty dialogue and comebacks. Such as…
Rhett Butler: With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.
Rhett Butler: And those pantalettes, I don’t know a woman in Paris who wears pantalettes.
Scarlett: Oh Rhett, what do they – you shouldn’t talk about such things.
Rhett Butler: You little hypocrite. You don’t mind my knowing about them, just my talking about it.
Scarlett: But really Rhett, I can’t go on accepting these gifts although you are AWFULLY kind.
Rhett Butler: I’m not kind, I’m just tempting you.
Scarlett: Well if you think I’ll marry you just to pay for the bonnet I won’t.
Rhett Butler: Would you satisfy my curiosity on a point which has bothered me for some time?
Scarlett: Well, what is it? Be quick!
Rhett Butler: Tell me, Scarlett, do you never shrink from marrying men you don’t love?
Scarlett: How did you ever get out of jail? Why didn’t they hang you?
Overall rating: **** (I really liked it)