As I’ve been doing this project, I’ve noticed something that a lot of nominees have in common: they are freaking long. I have felt every minute of some of those three-hour movies (I’m looking at you, Thin Red Line!), while others have kept me captivated. Gone with the Wind is almost four hours long, but I didn’t feel it. I had seen bits and pieces growing up, but I watched the whole movie in one sitting when I was eleven. I’ve seen it several times since, including once in the theater when it was re-released for an anniversary event. And every single time I’ve watched it, I’ve been glued to the screen. It doesn’t matter that I know how it ends. The world of Gone with the Wind was so skillfully built that I can’t tear myself out of it. The characters are so real that they almost feel like friends; their triumphs and miseries become ours. That, my friends, is how you make a three-hour-plus movie fly by.
So what’s the story? Spoiled Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara’s world comes crashing down around her when the American Civil War begins. Her life of parties and flirting is over. As she tries to adjust to the harsh realities of her new life, she learns that she will do anything to keep what she loves. (That summary makes it sound boring. Trust me, it’s not.)
The Good: There are so many good things in Gone with the Wind that it’s hard to know where to start. I think I will change it up and start with cinematography. Gone with the Wind is a beautiful movie, full of glowing sunsets and billowing ball gowns. It’s not always pretty, though; the scene at the depot where the soldiers are lying dead in rows is tragic. The birth of Melanie’s son, where everything is shown in silhouette, is exquisitely done. These are just the highlights, though; there are lots of scenes where the camera work more quietly underscores the action or the emotion of the scene.
The costume design is also good. This movie is why I can complain about other movies’ lack of good historical costume. In Gone with the Wind, the fashions change with the times, like fashion does in real life. Not only that, but the clothes are fairly accurate (as far as I know. I am not a fashion historian; I have only picked up tidbits here and there.). I do know that the shape of the hoops change correctly for the times, which may only be a small detail, but it shows that the designer cared enough to do actual research.
The score is sweeping and beautiful and just a little bit over the top, which fits the epicness of this movie. Everything about Scarlett is dramatic, and it’s appropriate that the music in her movie is, too.
It is very easy to forget in this day and age that in 1939, everything in a movie was real. If you wanted a huge crowd of people, you had to hire actual people. If you wanted a fire, you had to burn something. There are some crazy special effects in this movie. I seriously wonder how they managed to film some of the scenes. Special effects took a certain kind of creativity back in the day, and have to give kudos to the special effects people for this movie.
Whoever adapted the giant book Gone with the Wind into a single (albeit long) movie was amazing. He found the most important things, the things that would make a compelling movie and took those out. He knew what to leave out; it was all good stuff – Ellen’s backstory, Scarlett’s other children, Will Benteen – but wasn’t necessary to the movie. Those extra things that fleshed out the novel would have bogged down the movie. It’s an excellent adaptation.
The entire cast of Gone with the Wind is stellar. After I had watched Dark Victory, I was thinking that maybe Bette Davis should have gotten the best actress Oscar, but when I saw Vivien Leigh’s performance again, I had to admit that Vivien Leigh deserved it. Clark Gable as gave an awesome performance as Rhett Butler. He is so good as the strong, manly lover hiding his love behind pride and lust. The flash of hurt on his face when Scarlett admits that she’s marrying him for his money…so sad. And that kind of thing happens more than once. It’s very subtle and very good. Olivia de Havilland plays Melanie Wilkes so beautifully. She manages to be an angelic, self-sacrificing person and yet not make you hate her. And she was only 23 when the movie came out. That was some serious acting for such a young woman. There is some controversy over Hattie McDaniel’s role as Mammy, Scarlett’s nurse/surrogate mother, but she plays the role well and allows us to see the main characters in a different light as she isn’t shy about expressing her opinions.
The Bad: This is an extremely frustrating movie to watch. Rhett loves Scarlett, but is too proud to admit that he’s actually fallen in love. Scarlett is too caught up with her make-believe love for Ashley to notice. When Rhett makes her notice, he is so ashamed of what he’s done that he doesn’t see the opening Scarlett is giving him. When he rejects her at that point, Scarlett is too proud to say anything. Grrrrr. These are two very strong, proud people who are so scared of showing weakness that they can’t allow happiness in. It makes me want to shake them both.
The Ugly: The movie laments the passing of a “beautiful, genteel” culture, but glosses over the evils that that culture is built upon. Slavery made that lifestyle possible, and so it’s hard to feel too sorry for the O’Hara family when they have to pick their own cotton and for Ashley Wilkes when he is splitting rails. Yes, it’s hard, and it’s not what they were brought up to do, but they were brought up to live off of the misery of others. Ashley briefly acknowledges this, but only briefly. Frankly, it was a culture that deserved to die. I can still enjoy the movie, but it doesn’t make me mourn the passing of the Old South.
Oscars Won: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Vivien Leigh); best actress in a supporting role (Hattie McDaniel); best director; best writing, screenplay; best cinematography, color; best art direction; best film editing.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best actor in a leading role (Clark Gable); best actress in a supporting role (Olivia de Havilland); best sound, recording; best effects, special effects; best music, original score.
Other Oscars Won: Honorary award to William Cameron Menzies “for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind”.
Technical Achievement Award to R.D. Musgrave “for pioneering in the use of coordinated equipment in the production Gone with the Wind”.