'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn' - Rhett Butler
Years in the wilderness, endless casting auditions for the role of Scarlett, directors replaced, several sackings all over, the largest price paid for a debut novel, reluctant lead actor and one massive headache for everyone involved, Gone With The Wind had a lot to live up too and boy did it ever deliver. Since the day that producer David O. Selznick paid $50,000 for Margeret Mitchell's debut novel, 'Gone With the Wind', a frenzied circus has surrounded the epic saga ever since.
Published in 1936, ten years after Margeret Mitchell first started the massive tome, Gone With the Wind became an instant best seller, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Plans for the film adaptation were already underway and the huge task of finding a actress that was able to fulfill the role of southern belle Scarlett O'Hara were already proving difficult. Gone With the Wind is as infamous for it's final product as it is for it's audition reels, an endless stream of talented actresses were linked or auditioned for the part, including Lana Turner, Susan Hayward and Joan Bennett before relatively unknown, at the time, English actress Vivian Leigh snagged the part in 1938.
We begin in 1861 on a Georgian plantation, the O'Hara estate, Tara, Scarlett is devastated to hear that her on/off beau Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) is to be married, to the gentle and demure Melanie (Olivia De Havilland), this hopeless, obsessional, love fuels the film. It's obvious from the off why the casting of Scarlett was so vital for she is the film; the hypocrisy, the beauty, the war, the passion, the destruction, the brutality, all of it runs parallel with this spoiled little rich girl.
Fast forward to 8:20 to see the audition reels for Scarlett O'Hara
Fast forward to 8:20 to see the audition reels for Scarlett O'Hara
Scarlett decides she will confess her love to Ashley at a barbecue party being held at his family plantation, in admitting her feelings; in typical Scarlett style, Ashley admits to having feelings for her but, quite wisely, states that Melanie makes a better wife. Witnessing this exchange is the irrepressible Rhett Butler (Clark Cable), smart mouthed, cynical and more than a match for Scarlett, he slowly, much to his better judgment, falls in love with her; obviously spotting similar qualities in her that he possesses. Their first meeting is as heated as it will continue to be throughout, snapping at each other with this delicious trade off:
Scarlett "You, Sir, are no gentleman,"
Rhett "And you, miss, are no lady."
Scarlett with Mammy (Hattie McDaniel)Scarlett's obsession leads her to marry Melanie's brother, Charles, in order to make Ashley jealous and becomes her best friend in the process. Charles dies shortly after and Scarlett seems more concerned, not with the trifling matter of losing a husband, but by having to wear black; it's totally in keeping with her selfish nature that fashion should be at the foremost of her preoccupations. Along with Rhett, these main characters become interlocked in a kind of quadrangle relationship against the backdrop of the civil war, the bombardment of Atlanta, the repercussions and the rebuilding of a shattered old world.
Gone With The Wind is a film of two halves, quite literally having an intermission separating the epic. The first of which is often captivating and thrilling covering the time period of the Civil War and Sherman's march through Atlanta that lives up to the films epic reputation. The scenes covering the siege of Atlanta whilst Melanie gives birth are nerve wrangling and deftly executed. In escaping, with the aid of Rhett, from the ravished city we are treated to the films finest set pieces; the shot of the burning house in the background as the flee for their lives displaying love and loss on a grand scale and that haunting shot of 'the field of the dead', which will long live in the memory, carefully depicts a hopeless cause in face of the inevitable.
Scarlett walking through the field of the dead
The second half, by comparison, feels flabby and over melodramatic; pretty much how I preconceived the whole film to be, suffering from a lack of fine tuning and a clear idea of where the film is going. Scarlett has now become hardened and bitter, promising never to let anyone take anything from her ever again, becoming more Machiavellian in her actions. Despite the second half trailing behind the first, the first scene of act two, set on the derelict land of the now destroyed Tara, features one of the films most devastating moments; Scarlett killing a rouge Yankee solider in cold blood.
This is the Golden Age of Hollywood in epic and grand style, often regarded as the jewel in the crown of the era, Gone With The Wind was lavished with the best that money could buy, from acting talent to technology with a rumoured budget of $3.7 million. Everything is pumped up the max; the sets are bigger, the music louder and the acting is larger, there are quite literally hundreds of costume changes throughout and the amount of extras for the scenes in Atlanta are off the scale.
A romanticised, sentimental version of historical events about the 'good ole' south, with slavery, and all references to 'negroes' and the Ku Klux Klan omitted from the script, Gone With The Wind paints a picture of plantation life that could only have been made possible by the exploitation of this excluded race. Mitchell's original novel was sanitised for the big screen in order not to upset mainstream audiences, as well as some high ranking officials still affiliated with white supremacist groups. The nominal black characters such as Mammy and Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) are shown to be happy with their lot in life and probably better off in this mythical world.
However, what else was I supposed to expect? Given the original text, the era of which this was made and the amount of money behind it, Gone With The Wind was never going to be anything other than mythic tales of a world long gone. It's this vivid romantic style that sweeps the viewer off their feet from the very beginning and in parts this film is simply astonishing and quite ahead of its time. The cinematography, at times, is breath-taking and Leigh and Gable simply fizzle whenever they're on the screen together, sexual chemistry oozing from every possible pore. Same can't be said however of co-star Leslie Howard as the wet, insipid Ashely who feels as if he's strolling through the film and other characters such as Melanie, Mammy and Prissy are nothing more than fodder to keep the story moving.
Can you guess the line?
As the second half of the film comes to a close, Scarlett realises that she has loved Rhett all along but it's all too late as Rhett delivers the immortal line and walks out off her life, seemingly for good. It's a fitting end to the epic yarn, that at bum numbing 222 minutes manages to keep you glued to your seat. Fleetingly brilliant, all together entertaining yet ever so slightly over-rated, it's easy to see why this film has lasted the test of time and is adhered as the pinnacle of a golden age of film making in Hollywood. It's more of an event than a film, as the number of websites set up worshiping its mere existence will testify to, I certainly recommend all film fans to watch it with a large pinch of salt.