A defining moment in cinematic history
Gone with the Wind is a 1939 epic historical romance film directed by Victor Fleming and stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and Leslie Howard. The film won 10 Academy Awards and, when adjusted for inflation, it is still the highest grossing movie in box office history. The film is also famous for the line,"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", considered to be one of, if not, the greatest movie line in history.
The film tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara (Leigh), a manipulative, but strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner. She pursues Ashley Wilkes (Howard), in hopes of marrying him. Wilkes, however, aims to marry his cousin, Melanie. Scarlett later meets Rhett Butler (Gable), and, through the years, slowly grows more attached to him. All of the characters also face the hardships brought on by the American Civil War, and the early years of the Reconstruction period.
I like to think about how I define a great film. I am not referring to a film I highly enjoy and believe to be great because I really enjoy a certain aspect of it, whether it'd be the story, acting, characters, or writing. I am thinking of when all of the necessary elements of a film: acting, directing, story, writing, music, cinematography, etc. all come together to create a cognitive, grandiose whole. Not many films come to the top of my head when I am trying to come up with examples to match the description above. Of the small sample I could think up, Gone with the Wind would certainly be included.
The movie is filmed with an epic scope and sense of ambition that is basically lost in modern day cinema. The movie is almost 4 hours long, but nearly every scene feels important, propelling the plot along to keep you swept up in the blooming romance and sheer spectacle without letting you become bored or impatient. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable deliver legendary performances, as they control and escalate nearly every scene they are in, together or separate.
I should note this is also the first Best Picture winner to be seen in color (Technicolor), and I am very glad the film was not in black and white. There are many scenes where we witness wide-open plantation landscapes and the aftermath of various battles from the war. The landscapes are seen in lush green and the injured bodies and destruction caused by the war battles are given in desolate colors. One of the most famous scenes where Rhett and Scarlett escape from a burning Atlanta is shot in a bright, vibrant red that glows from the fires we see. The red color makes you almost feel the humidity permeating from the flames. The escape is followed by a romantic scene with Rhett and Scarlett, viewed in the same glowing red, this time adding a sense of love and potential sexual-ism.
- Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. Leigh excels at making Scarlett into the whiny and unpredictable girl she is. Over 1400 women were interviewed for the part of Scarlett, and I cannot think of anyone else besides Leigh who could've presented Scarlett in a better and even more convincing way. I will be shocked if you don't get angry and/or annoyed at her at any point in the film. She abuses a horse to the point where it dies from exhaustion, and she also marries a man younger than her, strictly to try to make Wilkes jealous.
- The burning of Atlanta scene. See my description above for my thoughts on this scene.
- Max Steiner's soundtrack. Steiner's music is orchestrated to continually enhance the mood in many of the film's scenes, with gorgeous melodies that never turn obnoxious or unfitting. I consider music to be on of the most important parts of a film, because without it, I'm not sure much of anybody could be won over by Rhett and Scarlett's eventual love for one another. I also doubt you could get behind the suffering that goes on when Confederate soldiers are injured and dying, without Steiner's score to strengthen the mood.
- The film is so well made that I found it difficult to find much of anything as a glaring flaw. Rhett and Scarlett don't actually get married until right about 3 hours into the film, and beforehand, their encounters can feel rather sporadic. Of course, you can get so easily caught up in the visual spectacles and the story that I do not have it in me to declare Rhett and Scarlett's seemingly delayed marriage as a low. Anything that I could consider a low would be how the film seems to be more about Scarlett's life and what effects the Civil War and her various romantic relationships have on her. You would think her love with Rhett Butler was the central part of the story (and I believe you can argue it is), but sometimes it may not feel that way.
Gone with the Wind is unquestionably the greatest Best Picture winner to be made up to when it was first released (i.e. of the first 12 I've reviewed so far). It should also be considered one of the greatest Best Picture winners ever. Very few films have been able to match or come close to matching the epic scope and sense of ambition that drive it. If you ever plan to view it, schedule a day to do so. Even if Gone with the Wind fails to appeal to you on a personal or emotional level, appreciate it for being a definitive example of what makes a truly great film.
Recommend? Absolutely. Everyone should see this film at least once in their lifetime.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: