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Gone with the Wind

Drama movie directed by George Cukor, Sam Wood, and Victor Fleming

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Still Blows Me Away

  • Jul 18, 2012
  • by
You've probably run into one of the many iconic posters of Gone with the Wind, so you recognize the scene: The two main characters, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, locked in passionate embrace, staring deep into each other's eyes. You might know the last few scenes, in which Scarlett repeatedly tells Rhett how much she loves him and tries to keep him from leaving her. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." "Tomorrow is another day!" And certainly, those who haven't seen the movie believe that to sum up the entire plot: He loves her, she loves him, google-eyed I-love-you-I-love-you-too for almost four hours.

And yes, that does happen in Gone with the Wind, a man and a woman falling in love in the long term and pulling through time after time. There is a grand epic of love in Gone with the Wind. It's just not the story between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. It's actually the love between their close friends, Ashley Wilkes and his wife, Melanie, who are devoted to each other through everything, including the occasional - and by "occasional" I really mean "frequent" - attempt by Scarlett to move in on Melanie's man. When the AFI presented one of its famous lists which was topped by Gone with the Wind, I learned that upon seeing it that I agreed with Bill Maher's interpretation of the end scenes. People who know Gone with the Wind tend to take it as Scarlett's awakening, but Maher contends that it was Rhett who actually saw the light. After all, in the previous scene, it was Ashley's arms Scarlett fell into in grief, not Rhett's, and it was then that Rhett, so steely and determined about winning Scarlett over, realized that Scarlett was TOO much like him. Whatever either of them wanted, they got. And Scarlett spent the entire buildup wanting Ashley, and so now that she finally had the chance to get the man she pined for, Rhett finally snapped.

What happens between Scarlett and Rhett is more of an anti-love story. It's a lot like that song, "Love Stinks." You love her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else, you just can't win! Scarlett when we first see her is playful and flirtatious. The first shot of her shows her basically leading on a bunch of men who are all falling over themselves to get her to notice them. This is a recurring theme throughout the movie - Scarlett is the hottest piece in the south, and she can play with the men and eventually get marriage proposals from any of them or whathaveyou. She owns the very souls of all single men in the area. Except one, and of course that one is Ashley Wilkes, the one man whose attention she would actually value. So she's devastated to learn that Ashley is now engaged to a very pretty, very sweet woman named Melanie. She confronts Ashley, and wouldn't you know it, Ashley apparently DOES love Scarlett! But he's less impressed by her female wiles than the other men and so he sets his feelings for Scarlett aside and marries Melanie, who is a much better match for him than the dominating O'Hara woman. I've long believed that while he might not have loved Melanie as much as Scarlett at first, his love for Melanie eventually grew to the point where he couldn't imagine himself with anyone else.

The dejected Scarlett soon meets a handsome, dashing rogue at a party named Rhett Butler. Rhett is from Charleston, and he's a fountain of unpopular opinions and behavior which shocks his peers; he's been disowned by his own family. At that very party, he lowers his social standing quite a bit by giving the rich southern upper crust a very honest and factual assessment of their chances of winning a war against the north. All the men dash off to enlist in the Confederate Army when war is formally announced that night, and Scarlett, jealous watching Ashley kiss Melanie goodbye as he leaves to fight, disinterestedly accepts a proposal from Melanie's brother Charles, who thinks she's just the sweetest and most beautiful woman in the world. Disinterested is what she remains about the marriage, from the actual ceremony - they got it in just before Charles left for the war - to the time Charles turns up dead. Rhett is a man she originally writes off, but he gradually becomes a bigger presence in her life. He bids on her at a dance, helps her escape Atlanta while it burns to the ground, and helps her in many other ways before marrying her.

I find Rhett is hard to nail down. He not a bad guy by a long shot, and he does a lot of things that are outright good. It's difficult to think of any ulterior motives he might have right off the top of my head. But eventually a darker side of Rhett emerges and shows itself to Scarlett, and their stormy marriage eventually deteriorates into a circus in which the spectators only see what Rhett and Scarlett show them.

Anyway, that whole spectrum of behavior I described sums up Scarlett O'Hara in a nutshell. She is treated as a feminist icon for her unwillingness to let herself be defeated and for paving her own path in a man's world. More ignored is the fact that she's also histrionic, antisocial, and in most ways just completely psychopathic. She overreacts to many of the problems she faces to such an extent that I couldn't help but get the feeling that she was manipulating people half the time. She tricks her own sister's fiance into marrying her because she needs his money to pay the plantation taxes, she goes into total emotional meltdown over any kind of rejection she faces, and the way she treats the three marriages she burns through like conveniences, which they were - even her marriage to Rhett.

Gone with the Wind is more Scarlett's story than anyone else's. For all people know about the grand epic between Scarlett and Rhett, Rhett isn't around too often. He spends the first half of the movie popping in and out at regular intervals, on business trips, and coming in to woo Scarlett and hope she'll one day love him as she loves Ashley. Despite reproducing with him, she never actually does come around. It's difficult to for to try to pinpoint exactly what about Scarlett Gone with the Wind is about, because there are so many interpretations of the character and the movie. Some argue that it's a portrayal of love, which certainly seems to be the most common interpretation. My own take is that it's about a woman who loses everything during the Civil War, and goes into survival mode, trying to recover by any means necessary.

People make a lot of the portrayal of slavery and black people in Gone with the Wind. At first, I thought it was just critical theorists expanding the definition of another word to fit into the good guys/bad guys narrative they're always trying to file everything into, but watching with a more critical eye this time, I agree with them: Gone with the Wind has a somewhat subtle form of racism in the way it portrays plantation slave life as a 9 to 5 punch clock job, almost idyllic. It's hard to tell if it was intentional or not. Some of the slave scenes, like the comical scene of the slave trying to catch the rooster, look accidental; Gone with the Wind was made in 1939, after all, a time of heavy segregation, when white peoples' ideas of black people was strongly based in hearsay. Then you'll get other scenes in which the loud, undereducated, accented black stereotype looks like it was written into the scene. A later scene in which Scarlett slapped one of her slaves invites a lot of doubt about it being accidental, but you have to remember that slaveowners did slap their slaves.

No matter what you think of Gone with the Wind's stance on human rights, the story in it is a lot more layered and complex than I'm writing it out to be. Tackling it proper would take a lot more time and a much longer essay because Gone with the Wind has a lot of amazing scenes and dialogue. We know and use the classic lines all the time, but many of the scenes we don't quote are just as memorably written. The most famous scene is the attack and burning of Atlanta, but others like a Union soldier attacking Scarlett and her shooting him are hard to forget. The acting can be off-putting. It isn't bad, but Gone with the Wind was made at a time before Method acting became the dominant form of movie acting. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh ooze more charisma and sexuality in their thumbs than most of today's movie stars have in their whole bodies, but they were plucked from a time when it was believed that classical theater acting would translate to the movies easily. But no matter what, Gone with the Wind, as the original movie epic, really stands up to the test of time.

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More Gone with the Wind reviews
review by . August 27, 2004
Pros: characters and costumes     Cons: .......     The Bottom Line: ___________     Women in love and men toting guns, that’s what movies are about and Gone With The Wind is no exception. I’ve heard a lot of people say this was one of the most successful movies ever made, don’t know, coulda been.       Gone With The Wind became a big fat epic that I don’t think people expected. It came out in what - …
review by . July 10, 2003
posted in Movie Hype
I have probably seen all or part of this film on more than a dozen occasions but not for several years until I recently checked it out in DVD format. The production values have never looked more vivid. The scope of the story and the scale of telling it are truly epic. The performances by Clark Gable and Leslie Howard are as impressive as ever. A number of supporting actors are first-rate. A number of scenes have retained their visual impact. And yet....I now think this highly praised film (ranked …
review by . August 13, 1999
posted in Movie Hype
Is this a great movie? Absolutely!!! Maybe the acting isn't the greatest, its a one-sided view of history, and we all know that Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable didn't like each other. But oh, the spectacle! The story! The dresses! It is an unforgettable movie, and one which will never fade as an all time favourite. And anyone who calls themselves a movie buff, or someone who just wants to lose themselves in another world for some 4 hours, cannot go by this as great entertainment.
review by . November 23, 1998
How to begin? The movie is just fabulous. It is well cast, quite faithful to the book (important to someone who counts the book as a favourite among many) and it captures the tragic love story of Scarlett and Rhett very well. An excellent few hours escapism, and an interesting insight into the early years of Hollywood's block busters.
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David O. Selznick wantedGone with the Windto be somehow more than a movie, a film that would broaden the very idea of what a film could be and do and look like. In many respects he got what he worked so hard to achieve in this 1939 epic (and all-time box-office champ in terms of tickets sold), and in some respects he fell far short of the goal. While the first half of this Civil War drama is taut and suspenseful and nostalgic, the second is ramshackle and arbitrary. But there's no question that the film is an enormous achievement in terms of its every resource--art direction, color, sound, cinematography--being pushed to new limits for the greater glory of telling an American story as fully as possible. Vivien Leigh is still magnificently narcissistic, Olivia de Havilland angelic and lovely, Leslie Howard reckless and aristocratic. As for Clark Gable: we're talking one of the most vital, masculine performances ever committed to film.--Tom Keogh
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Movies, Drama Movies, Dramas, Classic Movies, clark gable, Civil War Movies, Vivien Leigh


Genre: Drama
Runtime: 233 minutes
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
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