Well, I have the feeling that this review may get some people a little upset. I’m not going to bash the film as a whole because it was an outstanding film. What drove me absolutely crazy about the film was Scarlett O’hara. The last time I had such a negative reaction to a film character was when I met the despicably horrid Tommy Conlon in Warrior. I am going to do my best not to turn this review into a rant about Scarlett because this film deserves praise and a lot of it.
This film was based on a 1936 Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by Margaret Mitchell. The film tells the story of a wealthy Southern family as they attempt to survive the Civil War. The story opens at Tara, a Georgia cotton plantation, where Scarlet O’hara (Vivien Leigh) lives with her sisters and parents. Scarlett is in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) who is engaged to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Ashley rejects Scarlett’s advances before leaving to fight for the war. In the process of pursuing Ashley, Scarlett attracts the attention of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), a man who has been disowned by his family. Though she does not know him well, Scarlett marries Ashley’s brother and is quickly widowed when he is killed during the war. Scarlett continues to pursue Ashley while Rhett pursues Scarlett, vowing to win her over. Scarlett is sent to a house in Atlanta and the film moves forward eight months where the war has advanced well into Georgia. Scarlett travels across the war torn state to Tara to find it standing but in a state of disarray. Scarlett vows to do anything to help her and her family survive.
Part two of the film picks up with Scarlett using anybody that will help to farm Tara’s land. As she works to get her and her family back on their feet, Scarlett realizes that she will not be able to pay the rising taxes from the North. Scarlett goes to Rhett for help but finding his bank accounts frozen she is forced to marry a business owner who was engaged to her sister. Scarlett becomes wealthy but becomes a widower again when her husband is killed. Scarlett quickly marries Rhett and the two have a child. A series of tragedies as well as Scarlett’s continued love for Ashley and advances towards Ashley drives a wedge between her and Rhett, leaving Scarlett vowing to win back Rhett’s love.
When someone says character development many people (myself included) assume it means the character developed in a positive way. Scarlett’s character certainly develops throughout the film but not in a positive way. The film is split into two parts and each part ends with Scarlett making a vow. In the first part of the film we are introduced to Scarlett. When we meet her Scarlett is a spoiled brat that thinks she is entitled to whatever she wants. She flaunts herself around trying to take other people’s men and listening only to herself. When the Civil War rocks her world, Scarlet forces herself to grow up and take care of her family.
In Part 2 Scarlett truly has grown up. She is no longer a helpless, dependent woman but has stepped up and started to take care of her family. Working the plantation herself, killing people that try to loot Tara and even stealing her sister’s fiance to become a wealthy woman that can provide for those at Tara, she will do anything to help her family survive. While Scarlett has grown-up her actions have not changed. She still acts like a spoiled brat but now she does whatever she wants with the excuse of saying she is just trying to survive. At the end of Part 2 Scarlett’s life is once again ruined and once again she vows to fix it. The difference between the end of Part 1 and the end of Part 2 is Scarlett’s life was ruined due to outside influences at the end of Part 1. At the end of Part 2, her life is ruined mainly due to her own actions.
This film was absolutely gorgeous, using shadow and light to enhance the story and meaning. Shadows are heavily used with some scenes, like the birth of Melanie’s child, filmed with the characters completely in shadows.
This was the second 3+ hour film I watched for my Oscar Best Picture and I expected it to be terribly boring. I enjoyed watching this film and understand why it is a classic. Gone With The Wind beat Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights for the 1940 Best Picture. Beyond that Victor Fleming won for Best Director, Vivien Leigh won Best Actress for her portrayal of Scarlett, Sidney Howard won Best Adapted Screenplay, Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammy. The film also won Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Art Direction. I give this film an A-, an epic film that utilizes every tool in a director and cinematographer’s belt. I finally understand why this is at the top of so many best film lists.