|Howard and de Havilland|
The fact of the matter is that I love Gone With the Wind and believe it to be a fine example of film making. When it first came out on video cassette in the late 1980's, I was living in New York City, On the day it was released I rushed down the block and around the corner to the old Video Shack on Broadway and 49th to purchase a copy. Likewise when it came out on DVD a number of years later. There's no rational argument against the truth that it is a very entertaining movie. My only problem with Gone With the Wind is that, as historical fiction, it's pure bunk. But since this month is the seventy-fifth anniversary of its release, I can't help pausing for a bit of reflection.
And yet for almost four solid hours we are drawn into the drama in the lives of these horrifically flawed people. We just can't take our eyes off them! Three-quarters-of-a-century after the film's release, at a time when all but one of the principle cast members are long dead, the fact that we're still talking about Gone With the Wind is impressive in itself.
Consider the film's opening scene. Slaves are depicted laboring away on the O'Hara family plantation. One of them decides that it's time to call it a day.
Slave: Quitin' time! Quitin' Time
Big Sam Who says it's quitin' time?
Slave: I's says it's quitin' time!
Big Sam: I's the foreman of Tara. I's says when it's quitin' time. QUITIN' TIME!!!
At the outset, the nation's worst, most unpardonable sin is treated as some sort of screwball comedy. The depiction of the old south as a paradise of "master and slave" is a screaming flaw in an otherwise impressive production.
When Gable got word that the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce reused McDaniel an invitation to the premiere, he hit the roof. He adamantly refused to attend without his dear friend. No one could change his mind - no one, except, Hattie. She gently persuaded him that it was probably the best thing for the film's success that he attend. Only then did Clark Gable agree.
Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to receive the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She deserved it.
|The last one standing|
Even Clark Gable did not want to do the film he is most remembered for. He was literally forced to play Rhett Butler. Under contract at the time to MGM, the head of the studio was Louis B. Mayer - Selznick's father-in-law. To the end of his life, Gable did not regard Gone With the Wind as one of his career's milestones.
Could the people who had a hand in making this film have possibly known in 1939 that, seventy-five years later, it would it would still be as fresh on the public's mind as it was then? It's easy to imagine that - flawed history notwithstanding - they were onto something bigger than themselves. The passage of three-quarters of a century reaffirms what an outstanding technical achievement it was - and is.
One wonders if there was a curse on this film. So many of the cast would die young.
Leslie Howard was killed in 1943 when the plane in which he was a passenger was shot down over the Bay of Biscay by the Nazis. His body was never recovered.
Hattie McDaniel died at the age of fifty-seven in 1952, a victim of breast cancer. Her final wish was to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery. She was refused that honor because of her skin color. Some forty years later, the owners of that establishment (in a fit of guilt probably) offered to pay to have her body exhumed and re-interred there. Her descendants politely declined.
Clark Gable died suddenly in November of 1960 of a massive heart attack. He was fifty-nine.
After decades of chronic alcoholism and declining mental health, Vivien Leigh died on July 8, 1967. She was fifty-three.
As of this writing, only Olivia deHavilland survives.
As for the producer, David O. Selznick's most famous movie would end up being a mixed blessing for him. Every subsequent film in his career would be judged by critics and film-goers alike as inferior to Gone With the Wind.
So rent it, buy it, and savor it as a high mark in the history of American film making. Just don't use it as a history lesson, okay? It falls dreadfully short.
The Making of Gone With the Wind
This two-hour documentary from 1989 on the film's making was narrated by Christopher Plummer. It is as riveting as Gone With the Wind itself, and only half as long. One of the most impressive things about viewing this film is taking into consideration the technical innovations of this movie. Almost eight decades later, well into the digital age, it still impresses.