Original release date: January 17th, 1940
Running time: 238 minutes
Director: Victor Fleming
Writers: Sidney Howard, Margaret Mitchell (novel)
Composer: Max Steiner
Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen
“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”
There is and always will be this remarkable sense of respectful reverence hovering around Gone With The Wind, and it’s terrific when such a film turns out to be even better than expected and all the awe and praise is completely warranted.
This sweeping, majestic epic feels, looks and even sounds like how a Hollywood blockbuster should; incomparably grand and ambitious in scale yet not shying away from touching the deepest, simplest and most intimate of our emotions.
At its core, Gone With The Wind is really a film about the fiery Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and her indomitable, obsessive love she holds dear in her heart – and sometimes wears on her sleeve – for the gentleman Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), a fair man with a kind but indecisive heart to say the least.
Scarlett probably is still one of the strongest, independent heroines ever committed to celluloid – she has a feisty, resistant spirit to everything going around her and everything happening to her – and she’s also probably one of the most self-centred, flawed, jealous, shrewdly manipulative and sometimes just plain nasty of them all.
You could say she has no honest heart, and – yet, against all odds, – we root for her, for with her terrific spirit and attitude throughout the four hours of screen-time Leigh completely dominates.
Unfortunately for Scarlett, Ashley plans to marry his plain but oh-so-kind cousin; Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), just as the Civil War erupts, quickly and brutally disrupting the calm and sheltered peace that these Southern gentlemen and ladies felt, enclaved in their gorgeous properties and plantations.
All the men – Ashley included, though he is of a wiser and calmer breed than the rest – enlist in the Confederate Army, gallantly and gladly joining up to fight for the “Cause”, without a second thought confident of whipping the Yankees and immediately and tragically sealing their own fate.
Even worse, swiftly following comes the hard times of post-war poverty and turmoil on the ravaged land the Northerners now oversee after the South’s surrender. It’s enough to make a normal lady feel faint, but Scarlett isn’t going down and giving up on her true love without a hefty struggle to boot.
Enter Capt. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), the walking example of a dashing rogue; a rich gentleman full of wit and plenty of charm, and strikes sparks with Scarlett upon their first encounter. They are strikingly similar in more ways than one, as she conceals a brilliantly conniving heart under her Southern belle-pretence and he, for his part, has a caustically carefree and couldn’t-care-less one hidden under his good looks.
There’s an exchange of dialogue in Gone With The Wind that perfectly explains the duo, and it’s when the impetuous pair first encounter one another – Scarlett indignantly says, “You, sir, are no gentleman,” to which Rhett easily answers, “And you, miss, are no lady.”
Seeing the two spar one another throughout the film, swooping in and out of one another’s life, perhaps coming closer and closer all the while – remember, I said perhaps – is a great thing, seeing the fantastic performances of Leigh and Gable.
So far though I have failed to mention perhaps the most important character in Gone With The Wind, and that’s the proud Old South – or more precisely, Scarlett’s beloved home, the Tara Plantatation.
Director Victor Fleming and the film’s producers didn’t just treat this unspoiled bit of land as a stunning backdrop and location, and it shows to fantastic, atypically refreshing effect. Tara is the perfect embodiment of everything the South stood for, and since Gone With The Wind, like the opening title words tell us, is the story of how the Old South fell from its majestic perch, the place has a special resonance in the story.
The film begins and closes in Tara, and Tara is the place where Scarlett returns to as her place of serenity and familiar contentment, despite the destruction that the war brought on and the realization that everything familiar around her has unequivocally changed forever.
Gone With The Wind is very, very long, clocking in at a complete runtime of 240 minutes, yet it doesn’t feel unnecessarily stretched or overdone in that way that some modern films do. It’s extremely and actually amazingly well-constructed and conceived, without ever losing track of the core story – indeed, there’s almost no hope that any modern film – 75 years later, it’s almost pitiful – could ever hope to match the grandeur and brilliance of it, let alone reach it without seeming pretentiously overblown and just bad. Still, that’s the magic of it – this film is the quintessential American classic, and that’s the way it should and will stay forever.
Max Lalanne is an award-winning student filmmaker - whose debut short won a prestigious award at the Houston Intl. Film Festival when he was just 13. The bi-lingual film blogger and critic also has his own movie website, SmellofPopcorn.com.
He loves almost all kinds of cinema and watches a diverse array of movies on a regular basis, some of his favourites include Dr. Strangelove, Fight Club, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and Finding Nemo. You can follow Max on Twitter @maxlalanne.