Gone with the Wind
(United States, 1939)
For many, Gone with the Wind would unquestionably be a Top 10 film (in fact, the AFI placed it at #4). However, I have never been as big a fan of this movie as others. It is inarguably a landmark American production - a sumptuous epic that has won fans worldwide for decades - but, for me, this has always been little more than a grand, glorious soap opera. Melodrama at its finest, to be sure, but melodrama nonetheless. Gone with the Wind is involving and entertaining,but something a little less than its reputation might suggest. Perhaps my age has something to do with it. Maybe if I had been alive in 1939 and had seen the film in a theater at that time - a Technicolor spectacle when color was the exception, not the rule - I might feel differently. However, I was not (although I have seen the movie several times in theaters during its various revivals). And, lest someone believe that I am being too negative where the movie is concerned, let me remark that it was in my original Top 100 (although it slipped into "runner up" status in 2005), which means that I still have an elevated opinion of Gone with the Wind and accept it as a very, very good motion picture.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Gone with the Wind is a drama set around Civil War times in the deep South. The main character is Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), the spoiled, manipulative daughter of an Irish immigrant plantation owner (Thomas Mitchell). Scarlett has two sisters, but she is by far the most spirited of the three O'Hara girls, and her father, seeing her as his successor, teaches her lessons about the importance of the land. "It's the only thing that lasts... the only thing worth fighting for," he comments in the face of war. Scarlett is secretly in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), who is about to marry the gentle, demure Melanie Hamilton (Olivia De Havilland). When Scarlett confesses her love to Ashley, he admits his feelings for her, but notes that Melanie will make a much better wife. Immediately after this meeting, Scarlett has her first encounter with the irrepressible Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), the cynical, smart hero who eventually falls in love with her. They are two headstrong likes who simultaneously repel and attract one another. When Scarlett remarks, "You, Sir, are no gentleman," Rhett's smiling, easy response is, "And you're no lady." The bulk of the film follows a romantic quadrangle as it unfolds against the backdrop of war and reconstruction in and around Atlanta and the O'Hara plantation, Tara. Scarlett is in love with Ashley, or thinks she is, but he won't leave his wife. Melanie loves both her husband and Scarlett, who improbably becomes her best friend. Rhett is smitten with Scarlett, and she is clearly interested in him, but the real question is how long it will take for her to recognize the depth of her feelings. Ultimately, when Rhett has finally had enough, he walks out of her life after answering "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" to her plaintive query about what she's supposed to do without him.
Although the epic romantic melodrama Gone with the Wind is undoubtedly one of the most popular and beloved motion pictures ever to grace the silver screen, it is also arguably the most overrated. The film is presented in two halves, divided by an intermission. The first, which is brilliant and consistently captivating, covers the time period of the Civil War, beginning shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln, and ending during Sherman's march through Atlanta. The post-intermission half, which dishes out the suds, picks up at the end of the Civil War and concludes about eight years later. This portion of Gone with the Wind, while still retaining a degree of appeal and narrative interest, spins its wheels frequently. Gone with the Wind stands as a romantic monument to the Old South -- an homage to an era and a lifestyle long gone. To date, no film has sold more box-office tickets. Even though the habits of movie- goers have changed over the years, it's easy to see why this film provoked such an outpouring of praise and adulation during its initial release, and why its stature has grown with the passage of decades. Gone with the Wind has flaws, but it's still a classic and a legend.
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