When I first compiled my list, I originally placed Gone with the Wind at #5 because I admire it as a milestone in cinema, the film that mostly topped its great 1939 competition. However, my VC pointed out that I’m rarely eager to watch it nor am I quite as enthralled by the epic romance as she is. Thus, I decided to drop it out of the top ten but still give it the praise it deserves.
Gone with the Wind is one of America’s most enduring icons. Who hasn’t heard deathless lines like “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” or “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies,” or “After all, tomorrow is another day”? Who hasn’t seen at least one parody of some element of this film? (Carol Burnett’s “Went with the Wind” skit is a favorite.) Between Margaret Mitchell’s classic (and interminable) novel and Sidney Howard’s Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation, the script is full of juicy quotes, yet even these are overshadowed by the perfectly cast leads and the scope of its best scenes.
While at times she indulges in unconvincing histrionics, Vivien Leigh is Scarlett O’Hara, just as the debonair Clark Gable is Rhett Butler. (Margaret Mitchell had him in mind.) Their amorous banter and volatile relationship are hallmarks of cinema romance, and Gable’s suave persona has left many a woman swooning in her seat, not least of all my VC. They also share one of the most passionate kisses ever filmed (after they leave Atlanta), which few movies can hope to top. Other characters are well-cast, though a tad one-dimensional. Olivia de Havilland (one of the only stars still alive) as Melanie is an ingratiating Mary Sue who is nonetheless kind and sympathetic, and while Leslie Howard is equally good as Ashley, his weak character is such a contrast from the allure of Rhett Butler that one cannot help but want to slap Scarlett silly for her misplaced infatuation. The black characters have drawn criticism for their adherence to racial stereotypes, but Hattie McDaniel’s role as Mammy won her the first Academy Award for an African-American (beating out de Havilland for Best Supporting Actress).
The film is at its best when its epic scope plays out, particularly during the War itself. Two scenes especially stand out: the long shot that pulls out to reveal a huge field strewn with Confederate soldiers, and the thrilling escape from burning Atlanta, with the characters’ silhouettes fleeing before a collapsing building (which had to be shot in one take). The film has spurts of cinema at its best, mainly in the first half, but its taxing length cannot keep up the spectacle. Perhaps due to its troubled production, many parts are simply boring and not completely necessary, a fault the films of my final top ten do not share.
Despite its bloated duration, Gone with the Wind is an epic romance set in a time long past, of billowing gowns and urbane gentlemen, a period clearly romanticized but no less legendary. It has ranked high among AFI’s greatest film lists, and, though I cannot quite include it in my personal top ten, it still deserves a place of honor among the all-time classics. May Hollywood never attempt a remake. (Please!)
Best line: (Scarlett, as Rhett is leaving at the end) “Rhett. If you go, where shall I go; what shall I do?” (Rhett) “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”Rank: 54 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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