best films: #7: GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
It’s not exactly an inspired choice on my part, but it’s hard to deny the prowess that the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind tows along with it. Aside from the instant connotations of “classic” that come with simply uttering the title, there are a smattering of stellar performances, an at-the-time state-of-the-art production design, an iconic score, and a legendary (if poorly aging) story at play. To start, can you think of a more thought-of romantic pairing than Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler (aside from perhaps Rick and Ilsa)? The two of them were such an explosive pairing, the love story is less about their confounding affair and more about the sparks that fly whenever they spar. Clark Gable is all machismo as the unshakeable Rhett, and he’s an excellent yin to Scarlett’s yang. But Vivien Leigh is the true star here – she makes the whiny and flaky Scarlett into such a fully realized woman by film’s end that this viewer is almost inclined to feel bad for this spoiled brat of a young lady. Leigh is simply an incomparable performer, and this is a role of a lifetime. As far as the additional cast members, Olivia de Havilland is all matronly goodness as the angelic Melanie, and she’s impossible not to root for in lieu of any decent person around her. And Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel breathes such life into what would since become a deeply troubling characterization, the role of Mammie isn’t just a racist caricature thanks to her nuance.
It is intriguing to consider how this book would be adapted for modern audiences. The characterizations are certainly one of the touchiest hallmarks of Gone with the Wind. But the dialogue and players don’t keep the production value from standing the test of time. Max Steiner’s sweeping score is the basis for which so many future epics’ soundtracks are written. The main theme will forever coincide with all things cinematic and grand. And the art direction, from the vast plantation setting to the burning of Atlanta, still packs a considerable punch in an age of CGI. And perhaps what proves most memorable of the visual aspects of the film is the costuming. Walter Plunkett’s over-the-top southern belle garb worn by Scarlett and her cohorts has to be cinema’s standard for period costuming. All in all, Gone with the Wind is an experience through and through.