When I first saw the 1939 “Gone with the Wind” it was in 1967 at the historic Ada/Egyptian Theater in Boise so I hadn’t much of a clue about the story before I saw it again (in HD) for the second time yesterday in a nearby mall cineplex. In GWTW’s four hours we see Scarlett O’Hara (played brilliantly by Vivien Leigh) go from flirty school girl to a money-grubbing capitalist.
Scarlett is the strong take charge mistress of Tara, the family estate and cotton plantation, as the men are slaughtered on the battle field and her father goes insane. In the first two hours, we learn of the horrors of war and anti-hero and river boat gambler Rhett Butler points out the futility and stupidity of the Confederacy going against the industrialized north. The Butler character is a free spirit beholding to no one but himself who states the obvious throughout the film: Scarlett is a self-centered opportunist and engages in marriage as a profit-making venture.
1930s heartthrob Clark Gable had to be Butler with his winning good looks and sex appeal, but Ms. Scarlett is not swayed but his charms and yearns for the gentile manners of aristocratic Ashley Wilkes (played by British actor Leslie Howard.) Her obsession with Wilkes and then her realization that Butler loves her leads to her sorrow but comes too late in her story. Butler walks out the door, proclaiming: “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.”
A post-war melodrama is the focus of the second two hours and is somewhat of a let down given the heightened drama of the previous two hours with the burning of Atlanta.
African American actress Hattie McDaniel received an Oscar for her performance as the slave maid “Mamie” but was not allowed to attend the premier in 1939 in an Atlanta, Ga., theater in less enlightened times. GWTW portrays African Americans in racial stereotypes associated with the 1930s and 40s in this country. The movie is being shown during its 75th anniversary in theaters nationwide. A PBS documentary on the war describes in greater detail the horrors of the Civil War with corpses of dead soldiers rotting in the fields. I found it amazing that after 75 years an audience exists for any movie, but this one is special.