The film Gone with the Wind is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Margaret Mitchell. With over 28 million copies published and having been sold and translated in almost every country, it is a timeless bestseller. Contributing to its seemingly immortal status is the breathtaking film adaptation produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming. The 1939 hit is among the best American movies of all time and it has broken the mold in a variety of different ways.
A Breakthrough in Time
Pushing the boundaries of cinematography, this is one of the first films to be shot entirely in Technicolor. In fact, the scene involving a fire in Atlanta made use of eight cameras — all of Technicolor equipment at that time. Another unique aspect is the film’s running time. Gone with the Wind lasts nearly four hours long, which is double the average running time of mainstream productions. You barely notice it though, as the movie’s engaging delivery will leave you craving for more when it’s over. Last but not the least, the film’s critical and commercial success lead to it winning eleven Oscars, among which was the first ever won by a black actress (Hattie McDaniel).
The film is set in the year 1861 on Georgia and focuses on sixteen-year-old Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the daughter of a plantation owner. Not only is she beautiful, she is also free-spirited, willful and willing to manipulate anyone who would help her get what she wants. And she currently has her sights set on a blonde, indecisive gentleman named Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). Her affections for him remain strong throughout the movie despite his half-hearted interest and eventual marriage to Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), his distant cousin. Much of Scarlett’s frustration stems from her failure to lure Ashley into a relationship with her, never mind that she has a plethora of other candidates. Among which is a handsome rogue named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who openly expresses his interest in her, though not to the point that she can use his affections against him. Though Civil War is raging and the backdrop does shine on some parts, it is the intricate relationship between these four characters that leaves viewers utterly fascinated.
Nothing Like Before
Unlike traditional epics that focus more on history and its profound effect on those left behind, the film acts more like a mirror, reflecting the views and sensibilities of those who may have lived during that time. It is not focused on the literal retelling of events. It is simply Scarlett’s life, influenced by the period of time it took place in. Selznick and Fleming’s vision of the 1,037-page novel is woven into the lives of the characters and it leaves us with a reminder of how America came to be what it is now, despite those turbulent times.
It matches the book’s events almost perfectly, with a brilliant cast of actors and actresses that will make you wonder whether the book was written with them in mind instead of the other way around. Like all things, however, it is not perfect. For instance, Sherman’s march was not given justice at all and some battles were confined to a petty subtitle. We forgive such outrageous decisions simply because these are very minor concerns when compared to the genius found in the rest of the film.
Excellent Casting Choices
As we’ve mentioned before, the casting for Gone with the Wind is absolutely fantastic. Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of Scarlett was one of the film’s highlights. Her intelligence shines through, matching her timeless beauty flawlessly. It was one of her best works to date as she was able to embody Scarlett’s ever-changing situation in life, with a believability that only a master actress can express. Her co-stars were equally as stellar. We cannot imagine anyone else playing the passionate scoundrel Rhett Butler other than Clark Gable. Olivia de Havilland is every bit as dignified as the role calls for and Leslie Howard’s control of emotions fit Ashley’s character beautifully. This is a film that will not pester you with platitudes. Instead, it will engage you with a compelling story, brought to life in a brilliantly irresistible manner.