Gone with the Wind: One of the Best-Loved Movies of All Time

Gone with the Wind: One of the Best-Loved Movies of All Time

I was a child when the movie Gone With the Wind was released in 1939. It is my recollection that we were told in school not to go to this movie. We found out later that it was because the last scene had Rhett Butler saying to Scarlet O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” That was quite a daring incident back in the 30s.

Despite the controversy, my sister, thousands of other young girls, and I had Gone With the Wind Paper Dolls. Interest in the movie ran high for the film, which sold more tickets in the United States than any other film in history. I did not see the movie until its re-release in 1947. It has been released again several times since then.

The advance publicity for Gone With the Wind included a nationwide search by producer David O. Selznick for the actress who would play the part of Scarlett O’Hara. More than thirty actresses were considered for the role, including Katharine Hepburn, Loretta Young, Paulette Goddard, Margaret Sullavan, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford. It came as a great surprise when Vivien Leigh, a 26-year-old British actress relatively unknown in the United States, was cast in the part.

It was reported that Clark Gable did not want to play the part of Rhett Butler. Leslie Howard, another British actor, found the role of the weak, pale Ashley Wilkes to be an embarrassment. Olivia de Havilland wanted the part of Melanie Wilkes and got it.

Gone with the Wind movie poster
img credit: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031381/

Gone With the Wind received thirteen Academy Award nominations and won ten Academy Awards (8 competitive and 2 honorary), including Best Actress which went to Vivien Leigh. Several impressive movies were made in 1939 offering competition to Gone With the Wind but were unable to compete with its magnificence. They include The Wizard of Oz; Wuthering Heights; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; and Stagecoach.

Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind over a three-year period from 1926 to 1929. A sprained ankle kept her inactive, which sent her to her typewriter to create a story about the Civil War and the Reconstruction period following it from the Southern point of view. Her husband, John Marsh, persuaded her to continue on with it when she became discouraged about bringing it all together. The finished book contained 1,037 pages. Margaret Mitchell, known then as Peggy Marsh, drew from her own background as a girl growing up in Atlanta, knowing about the controversial history surrounding the War between the States.

After debating with herself over a title for the book, she came up with the phrase Gone With the Wind from a poem by Ernest Dowson called “Cynara.” The book was finally published in 1936 and won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. At the time of the movie’s release, Gone With the Wind had already sold 1.5 million copies.

Margaret Mitchell never wrote another novel. However, a short novella that she wrote when she was sixteen years old and gave to a friend came to light in 1995 and was published that year. It is called Lost Laysen and is a romance set on an island in the South Pacific.

Gone With the Wind
Release date: December 15, 1939 (Atlanta premiere)
Director: Victor Fleming
Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
Story by: Margaret Mitchell
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros., New Line Cinema, Loews Cineplex Entertainment
Adapted from: Gone with the Wind (novel)
Box office: >$390 million

A Southern Belle in the Midst of War

The film is set on a cotton plantation called Tara in the year of 1861. Not too much is going on, oh yeah, the Civil War is about to begin. The movie is centered on the beautiful Scarlett O’Hara, the oldest of three daughters and a southern belle through and through. She has the tell tale problem of being lusted after by every eligible bachelor except the one that her heart longs for, Ashley Wilkes who is destined to marry her cousin.

Scarlett is at a family reunion at the family farm, Twelve Oaks, where Ashley and Starlet’s cousin are also in attendance. Scarlett cant resist and corner’s Ashley where she confesses her love for him. Ashley brushes her off and is slapped by Scarlett as she says to him, “Sir, you are no gentleman,” all this being overheard by a rough and tough Rhett Butler, who has been disowned by his family.

Disrupted by the outbreak of war, the incident between Scarlett and Ashley is overlooked. As the men rush off to enlist, Charles, whom she was girlishly flirting with at the reunion, asks Scarlett for her hand in marriage. For some reason, she concedes only to the widowed very soon afterward.

Scarlett goes to Atlanta and shocks the city’s elite when she accepts Rhett’s dance proposal while she was still in mourning. Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel, suspects the real reason why Scarlett is there and it is not to cheer up. McDaniel went on to become the fist African American to be presented an Academy Award for acting. Here is where Rhett proposed that he would win Scarlett over.

On her journey back home, she finds Twelve Oaks burned out and deserted due to the War. To her surprise, she finds Tara standing still. With Tara pillaged by Union troops and the fields untended, Scarlett vows that she will do anything for the survival of her family by saying one of the most repeated lines in movie history, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Parents out of the picture, Scarlett pulls her self up by the bootstraps and send the able bodied members of her family out to pick cotton. She shows her brassiness when she takes on a Union soldier when he tries to rob her. With the Confederacy defeated, Ashley returns and confesses his love for Scarlett but tells her that he can not leave his wife, and Scar lets his cousin, Melanie.

Scarlett’s father is killed, and she is left to care for the family, and she realizes she cannot pay the taxes on Tara. She knows that Rhett is in Atlanta. Believing he is rich, she has Mammy make an elaborate gown for her from her mother’s drapes. But upon her visit, Rhett tells her he is poor and that her attempt to get his money made her look foolish. However, as she departs, she encounters her sister’s fianc√©, the middle-aged Frank Kennedy, who now owns a successful general store.

The next thing you know, Scarlett is Mrs. Frank Kennedy. She uses her wiles as a southern belle to be a head strong business woman, running her husband’s mill. She uses that wile to get Ashley to come and work for them and not the bank he was going to work at.

Just after Scar let’s husband passes away, Rhett takes his chance and asks for her hand in marriage. Though shocked, she accepts his proposal. Soon, a daughter is born, and Rhett tries his best to win the heart of the Atlanta elite for the sake of his daughter. All the while, she is still in love with Ashley.

Starlet’s reputation is once again soiled as the town gossips overhearing her talking with Ashley about the days of old. Rhett asks for a divorce, but not before Scarlett tells him that she is pregnant. The pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage after a nasty fall down the steps.

In the wake of their daughter’s tragic riding accident, Scarlett is asked by Melanie to look after her husband, Ashley, who always knew that she had a thing for him. She also asks Scarlett to be kind to Rhett. Rhett decides to leave because Bonnie, their daughter, was the only thing that was holding them together. Not that she is gone; there is no reason why he should stay. Scarlett begs Rhett to stay.

In the final scene, Hope lights Scarlett’s face, and she emphatically states, “Tara! Home. I’ll go home, and I’ll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!”

The AFI Top 100 Films – #4

For those that find in them a certain joy every time the orchestra of film kicks, when those studio logos lighten the dark of the screen and the familiar trumpet notes sound, you know what I mean when I say that the greatest films ever made are a must see for everyone. Those top 100, 200, or 500 films that everyone should see before they die. Film is subjective though, and there are many lists. Fortunately for us, the American Film Institute compiled a list of the top 100 films of the 20th Century. From top to bottom, the list compiles the greatest American films released in the first 100 years of cinema.

Number four is the venerable Fleming-directed classic starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind.

The film itself took nearly six months to shoot and was originally helmed by George Cukor, who held the lead throughout preproduction and three weeks of production. But he was released and replaced by Victor Fleming, who recently finished The Wizard of Oz, who finished the film. At one point, a third director, Sam Wood, was used when Fleming took ill for a couple of weeks.

The anticipation of Gone With the Wind’s release was unlike anything Hollywood had seen before. Mitchell’s novel was an enormous success, and the studio rolled it out slowly across the nation, first with a massive gala and party in Atlanta and then advanced screenings for nearly a year until 1941, when it was released worldwide. Its tale of Scarlett’s indomitable will in the face of all adversity was a perfect counterpoint to the war raging across Europe and soon in the Pacific.

Gone With The Wind, the story of love, loss, and the tribulations of the South during the Civil War, is a remarkable film. It was one of the first and biggest movies ever to be made entirely in Technicolor. It was the most expensive film of its time and would become the most popular film of all. But its story, being the success that it is, is really what makes Gone With The Wind incredible.

Essentially, Gone With The Wind is no more than a four-hour-long Daytime Soap set against a backdrop of hell on Earth. But the magic of this film takes place when we grow to care about these fictional characters while they’re effecting the world around them, and this historic event is effecting them.

Author Gwen
Gwen

Gwen is a freelance artist and writer for film, advertising, corporate projects, and web media. She feels his expertise in the entertainment industry provides a unique opportunity to engage the public through real-life stories and over a decade of experience and knowledge.