For whatever reasons, the acting by Vivian Leigh and Olivia de Havilland now seems to me contrived. Rhett Butler's devotion to Scarlett is inexplicable. De Havilland's portrayal suggests that Melanie Hamilton is too good to be true, and therefore isn't. Thomas ("Burning Ham") Mitchell portrays Gerald O'Hara as a cartoon character. When Sidney Howard's screenplay shifts its attention to social issues, I suspect that his muse was Harriet Beecher Stowe. To an extent I did not realize before, this film glorifies (almost deifies) a way of life which justified slavery as a state's right (i.e. the ruling class's right). Even benevolent despotism is still despotism.
On the subject of entitlement, producer David O'Selznick and director Victor Fleming obviously had every right to create a film based on Margaret Mitchell's bloated and sentimental novel. If they wish to suggest in this film that to many slaves, loyalty to their owners was more important freedom from bondage, so be it. Their movie. However, as Voltaire observed, great is the enemy of the good...and, I presume to add, an even more formidable enemy of the mediocre. Gone With the Wind offers great spectacle and a few brilliant performances as well as several credible performances and an occasional chuckle. But overall, it is emphatically not the great film I once thought it was. The film hasn't changed so obviously I have.
Some may think it unfair to be critical of a film released more than 60 years ago. I respectfully submit that many films released since then have raised the standards of measurement. They have redefined what greatness is. (Most of them are on the AFI's list.) Perhaps it's unrealistic to expect an historical film lasting almost four hours (222 minutes to be exact) to hold up. Audiences which first saw it in 1939 are obviously quite different from those which see it now. Nonetheless, our nation fought one war to obtain certain inalienable rights and another was fought to ensure that the same rights are extended to everyone in our nation. Any film which claims to portray American history must be subject to the same scrutiny which a book would be if making the same claim. As for matters of aesthetics, judgment is necessarily much more subjective. For reasons indicated, I think that Gone With the Wind offers neither circumspect history nor great art but will always be praised (and rightly) so as spectacular entertainment.
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