Gone With the Wind, review: 'sublime'
An epic from the golden age of moviemaking, the story
of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler swept the Oscars in 1939
Film review by Serena Davies, 16 November 2015, The Telegraph
Gone With the Wind (1939) was directed by Victor Fleming. Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland.
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is one of the bestsellers of all time, with at least 28 million copies and more than 155 editions having been published in nearly every language and country. Its immortality has been secured by David O. Selznick's 1939 film adaptation, winner of 11 Oscars, including the first for a black actor, Hattie McDaniel.
It was also one of the first major movies to be made in splendid (and expensive) Technicolor, Gone With the Wind is an epic from the golden age of moviemaking. Overblown and melodramatic, it somehow achieves more than the schmaltz of its parts, thanks to a spirited modern heroine, the spoilt Scarlett O'Hara, and its refusal to give us the neat conclusions you'd expect from a 19th-century saga of "cottonfields and cavaliers".
Scarlett stalks across the vast and awe-inspiring canvas of the American Civil War, backbiting and betraying along the way, but always lighting up the screen with what the man she is in love with, the wet Ashley Wilkes, describes as her "passion for life".
MGM had taken a risk, plucking Vivien Leigh from relative obscurity (England) to play the lead in one of the most lavish projects they'd ever undertaken, but it paid off. Victor Fleming's screen version of Mitchell's mediocre tale of thwarted love amid the ashes of the old South worked because Leigh's mercurial brilliance made Scarlett believable. Add to that the charm and grace of Olivia de Havilland (the angelic Melanie), Leslie Howard (Ashley) and the never-so-divine Clark Gable (the actor who played the noble cad Rhett Butler died on November 16th 1960 after shooting the final scenes of The Misfits opposite Marilyn Monroe) and the whole thing became a sublime excuse to wallow in high passion for hours on end (all four of them).
Finally, its mythologised vision of history, where all Yankees were money-grabbing "baddies" and all Southern landowners nice to their slaves, can barely ring true; nor can its frequent declarations of romantic love. But this is a film that never fights shy of clichés. Rather, it collects them all up in one glorious heap so you can cherry-pick those that appeal. After all, tomorrow is another day.