By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 28, 2009)
Gone With the Wind (70th Anniversary Edition) – Warner (2-disc)
1939 was a good year for director Victor Fleming. Even if he had been hit by a bus after helming The Wizard of Oz, his rep would have been secured; but he also delivered a little sleeper you may have heard of called Gone With the Wind that same year. Technically, he “inherited” the project from George Cukor, who dropped out over differences with producer David O. Selznick (who in essence co-directed). No matter who actually called the shots, the end result is generally considered the quintessential American film epic.
You know the story (based on Margaret Mitchell’s sprawling novel); spoiled, narcissistic Southern diva (Vivien Leigh) has unrequited love for dashing Confederate war hero (Leslie Howard) who is betrothed to her saintly rival (Olivia deHavilland) and takes 2 hours of screen time to realize she really belongs with the roguish and equally self-absorbed Clark Gable.
The burning of Atlanta (and other Civil War distractions) provides an occasional sense of release from the smoldering passion and sexual tension (consummated in torrid fashion about 3 hours in). That’s a lot of foreplay, but in the meantime you are treated to a visually sumptuous feast and mythic performances by all four leads. It is worth noting that co-starHattie McDaniel became the first African-American actor to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress, 1940, for her role as “Mammy”).
While it is hopelessly “of its time” (particularly in its unfortunate characterizations of African-Americans), it is ahead of its time in one respect-it features some very strong and self-sufficient female protagonists. This is one film that transcends its own medium. Warner’s 2009 transfer is breathtaking.