Monday, April 2, 2012
GONE WITH THE WIND
(December 1939, U.S.)
GONE WITH THE WIND is one of those monumental, legendary motion picture that is so universally loved, admired and praised by all of humankind, you almost feel defective as a film lover if you don't quite feel the same. Don't get me wrong. It's a great film and I always enjoy taking part in its grand splendor. It's a film I feel I always knew about, even before I saw it, through theatrical re-releases and television broadcasts in the 1970s. I didn't actually see it in its entirety until I rented two VHS tapes in the 1980s. I remember my first reaction being that of puzzlement. If you'll bear with me a moment, I'll try to explain why...
To begin with, as you are likely aware, the character of Scarlett O'Hara (played by Vivien Leigh) is quite possibly the most famous heroine in the history of cinema. Famous or not, I cannot avoid accusing her character of being downright irritating at times (a LOT of times!). How many times can you possibly listen to her whine and cry like a little girl and repeat the words "Fiddle-dee-dee!" withoug clenching your fists in annoyance?? Clark Gable's role as Rhett Butler is a tough and dashing spectacle all his own, worthy of all the praise he's ever received. However, there's a part of me that's always wanted to reach inside the screen, grab him and shout, "How can you possibly love Scarlett O'Hara?? She's a self-centered, manipulating bitch who doesn't and never will love you back! What's wrong with you???" Not to say that irrational people haven't continued to love someone who didn't love them back. Hell, I'm a victim of it myself.
And so, character flaws aside, GONE WITH THE WIND remains a spectacular epic of the Civil War period and its impact on the South. At the film's beginning, the spoiled, wealthy Southerers are naive and egotistical and more than confident that they will be victorious over the Yankees of the North. History knows the opposite to be true. By the time the war is over, the casualties and the inevitable changes in the lives of the survivors are greater than they could have imagined. Scarlett has gone through two dead husbands despite her real love for her cousin Ashley Wilkes (played by Leslie Howard) and Rhett continues to be a sucker for any attention he can get from Scarlett. Even when his time and patience seemingly pays off and Rhett and Scarlett are eventually married and have a daughter together, the entire affair is still a charade for their own individual selfish motives. Rhett, to his credit, tries hard to love Scarlett for who she is, faults and all, but in the end too much tragedy has occurred, including the death of their daughter and the death of Melanie Hamilton (played beautifully by Olivia de Havilland - she's STILL alive at the age of 95!). In a way, Scarlett is just a bit smarter than Rhett because when it finally hits her that Ashley will never truly love her the way she wants him to, she knows enough to finally give up her silly fantasies and TRY to love the man who's always loved her. By that time it's too late and Rhett no longer gives a damn!
1939 had to have been the greatest year of director Victor Flemming's life! Do realize in addition to GONE WITH THE WIND that year, he also did THE WIZARD OF OZ? If the man had never made another film in his life, his reputation would have been solidified forever, regardless.
Favorite line or dialogue (like you really have to guess?):
Scarlett O'Hara: "Rhett, Rhett...Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?"
Rhett Butler: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"
By the way, the American Film Institue (AFI) honored that famous final line of the film as the NUMBER ONE movie quote of all time. Nice!