Well…what can there be said? Probably not only the most famous movie to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture but quite simply the most famous movie of all time, Gone with the Wind is considered the ultimate Hollywood masterpiece, the crowning achievement of what is considered to be the ‘Golden year of American cinema’, 1939. And you know what – it’s true.
A movie with such a high reputation as Gone with the Wind should normally not be able to live up to it, but Gone with the Wind miraculously does. It could be easily dismissed as a long soap-opera or as an expensive ‘woman-picture’ but it’s quite simply one of the most amazing epics that ever hit the screen while also being a surprising character-study about the will to survive and to get ahead.
First of all, what about all the criticism that Gone with the Wind receives? A point that is often mentioned is its presentation of black characters. Well, personally, I think that Gone with the Wind presents its black characters just as what they are during the time the movie is set – slaves. I don’t expect these characters to be highly intelligent or the center of attention since they are slaves and surely never had an education. The character or Prissy might be offensive to someone but I don’t truly see her as a symbol for every black character back then but instead rather as one single character who simply happened to be like this. And even if you’re upset about Prissy, then there is still the character of Mammy who is much more developed than you would expect and Hattie McDaniel’s wonderful portrayal turns her into one of the most memorable characters of the movie. Another often negatively mentioned point against Gone with the Wind is its too romantic presentation of the South in general – well, I am not an expert in American history so I guess that some things are true and some are exaggerated but, after all, this is a movie from a Southern point-of-view. And during Gone with the Wind, I never have the feeling that the movie is trying to tell its audience that everything used to be better back then and that the South is something noble to die for – instead, it seems more like a general portrayal of characters who have to accept the change around them, who go from rich to poor and have to learn how to fight to survive.
So, now to the good. Where can one start? Well, I guess the only place to start is Vivien Leigh. The sheer fact that the producers back then actually searched so long for the right actress and then decided that an unknown British actress would be the best choice to play the Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara is probably one of the luckiest incidents in movie history as it gave way to the greatest match of actress and character in movie history. If ever anyone was truly born to play a role, it was Vivien Leigh as Scarlett. End of story. No more words necessary.
But even though Vivien Leigh carries this epic on her shoulders, Gone with the Wind gives much more actors the chance to shine. Clark Gable couldn’t be more perfect as Rhett Buttler while Olivia de Havilland gives much more complexity to her saintly Melanie than immediately noticeable. Leslie Howard is often considered the weak link of the cast and while it can be agreed that it’s hard to believe that Vivien Leigh would lust for this guy, he still gives a very competent and satisfying performance.
All the technical values of Gone with the Wind are perfect, too, and it’s a shame that there hadn’t been an Oscar for Costume Design yet because Scarlett’s gowns alone would have been worth the prize. It’s no surprise that Gone with the Wind so completely swept the awards that year.
Gone with the Wind combines so much that it remains fascinating from minute 1 to minute 200. It’s a love story, a story of greed and selflessness, of growing up and starting anew. From the first moment that Max Steiner’s legendary score opens the movie you know that you are watching Hollywood magic. So many scenes stand out – Scarlett dancing in her black dress, the escape from Atlanta, ‘As God is my witness’, ‘Frankly, my dear’ and so much more…my personal favorite is probably the scene when war is declared and everyone at Twelve Oaks is running down the stairs – only Scarlett is walking up, not caring about politics, alone in her thoughts.
Well, I want to keep my review short for now and I guess that it is not really necessary to say anything more about a movies as famous as this one.