230th Movie Review: GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

The oldest movie I’ve ever seen turned out to be the best movies I’ve ever seen

If I was one of the few lucky people who was part of that “secret” premiere for this movie, I would’ve screamed and shouted in joy as much as the others because I’ve never seen an epic drama as perfect as this!

Gone With The Wind won Best Picture in 1939. It’s the highest grossing movie ever adjusted for inflation. Not even Avatar and The Dark Knight combined will eclipse the film’s record. That pretty much sums up what the people thought about this movie back then, since tickets for the premiere were 40 times more expensive, and tickets were still sold out!

This film gives you a glimpse of society in the mid-19th century, when “Blacks” were still treated as slaves; when land was still the only thing worth dying for, and when daughters of rich men were visited by countless suitors. Every girl requires a beau, but it doesn’t mean they can’t flirt with other men as well.

The film is set in April of 1861, the start of the civil war. At the large Southern estate of Tara, the manipulative Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the most beautiful woman in the town, hears that her casual beau Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) plans to marry “mealy mouthed” Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Despite warnings from her father and her faithful servant Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), Scarlett attempts to confess to Ashley in upcoming barbecue at Twelve Oaks. Alone with Ashley, she goes into a fit of histrionics, all of which is witnessed by roguish Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), the black sheep of a wealthy Charleston family who is instantly fascinated by the feisty, thoroughly self-centered Scarlett. It turns out, the story of her life has only just begun with him.

In a fit of anger due to Ashley’s marriage, she decides to marry Melanie’s brother, Mr. Charles Hamilton. War is soon declared and as always seems to be the case, men march off to battle thinking that it will only last a few weeks. Unfortunately, Mr. Hamilton dies, leaving Scarlett as a young widow.

In an attempt to meet Ashley once again, she temporarily moves to Atlanta to stay in Melanie’s house. She also unexpectedly meets Rhett Butler once again, causing the two to get acquainted with each other more. With the war lost however, she returns to Tara and faces the hardship of keeping her family together and Tara from being sold at auction to collect the taxes. She has become hardened and bitter and will do anything, including marrying her sister’s beau, to ensure she will never again be poor and hungry. After becoming a widow for the second time, she finally marries the dashing Rhett but they soon find themselves working at cross-purposes, their relationship seemingly doomed from the outset. When Scarlett finally realizes her love for Brett, it was too late and he leaves her by saying the timeless quote, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”.

Fortunately, the final scene gives us at least some hope that they’ll get back together. But good thing there was no sequel, because I’m extremely satisfied with the ending. In fact, it’s one of the best conclusions I’ve seen in a movie!

I bet that if this movie was made in modern times, this would’ve been split into two movies. I mean, most of my summary is just one-half of the movie. But I wouldn’t mind watching a “HOLY CRAP!” 4-hour long movie as long as its packed with a wonderful story as great as this. The classic opening credits scene already gives you a feel on how dated the movie is. It is also evident when the film is divided into parts introduced by texts like the “Intermission” and “Siege”. Also, you could tell by the large and beautiful set pieces that the production budget for this movie is absolutely collossal.

Lots of things occured in a span of 240 minutes. But unlike most long movies, not once did I think that it felt draggy or ho-hum (maybe it’s because I played the movie at 1.2x the normal speed). Everything happened for a reason. It wasn’t too big for a normal person to not comprehend it either. My least favorite part was the third half of the film, when Scarlett starts being the “bitch” of the town. I didn’t say I hated her, but I liked her better as the cheerful and happy Scarlett like in the first hour of the movie.

We shouldn’t forget the cast either. Leslie Howard as Scarlett truly deserved that Best Actress Oscar. Her manipulative and powerful zeal to save Tara is certainly noterworthy. Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) and Clark Gable (Rhett) deserved honorable mentions too. Leslie Howard (Ashley) and Melanie (Olivia de Hallivand) were good too, but not so much as memorable. The rest of the cast were just so-so, but the performance of the main actors were good enough to make you believe everything about their world.

There’s a big difference between the films of today and of the past, and you can only determine it if you’ve seen both. In my opinion, had I lived way before 1994, I would have definitely treated most movies of this generation as garbage. Because Gone With The Wind is not only the best Drama I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s also the best example of American cinema at its best.

Before I give my grade, here’s a short description on what happened during the first preview (taken from Wikipedia):

On September 9, 1939, Selznick (of Selznick International Pictures), his wife, Irene, investor Jock Whitney, and film editor Hal Kern drove out to Riverside, California with all of the film reels to preview it before an audience. The film was still unfinished at this stage, missing many optical effects and most of Max Steiner‘s music score. They arrived at the Fox Theatre in Riverside, which was playing a double feature of Hawaiian Nights and Beau Geste. Kern called for the manager and explained that they had selected his theatre for the first public screening of Gone with the Wind. He was told that after Hawaiian Nights had finished, he could make an announcement of the preview, but was forbidden to say what the film was. People were permitted to leave, but the theatre would thereafter be sealed with no re-admissions and no phone calls out. The manager was reluctant, but finally agreed. His only request was to call his wife to come to the theatre immediately. Kern stood by him as he made the call to make sure he did not reveal the name of the film to her.

When the film began, there was a buzz in the audience when Selznick’s name appeared, for they had read about the making of the film for over two years. In an interview years later, Kern described the exact moment the audience realized what was happening:

“When Margaret Mitchell’s name came on the screen, you never heard such a sound in your life. They just yelled, they stood up on the seats…I had the [manually-operated sound] box. And I had that music wide open and you couldn’t hear a thing. Mrs. Selznick was crying like a baby and so was David and so was I. Oh, what a thrill! And when Gone with the Wind came on the screen, it was thunderous!”

In his seminal biography of Selznick, David Thomson wrote that the audience’s response before the story had even started “was the greatest moment of his life, the greatest victory and redemption of all his failings.” When the film ended there was a huge ovation. In the preview cards filled out after the screening, two-thirds of the audience rated it as excellent, an unusually high rating.Most of the audience begged that the film not be cut shorter, and many suggested that instead, they eliminate any newsreels, shorts and B-movie feature.

GRADE: A

I agreed with the MAJORITY

External Ratings:

Rotten Tomatoes: 95% Fresh, 8.7/10 Rating

Internet Movie Database: 8.2/10 User Rating (Top 154 all time)

Directed by Victor Fleming

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7 thoughts on “230th Movie Review: GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

  1. hey! natapos mo nga 🙂 eron itong sequel pero wag mong panoorin disappointng ksi di maganda ang casting 😦 scarlett — longest movie i’ve watched.

  2. [“There’s a big difference between the films of today and of the past, and you can only determine it if you’ve seen both. In my opinion, had I lived way before 1994, I would have definitely treated most movies of this generation as garbage. Because Gone With The Wind is not only the best Drama I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s also the best example of American cinema at its best.”]

    As a person who watches both old and new movies, I can only disagree with you. I’ve seen plenty of old movies that strike me as overrated. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of recent movies that I absolutely adore. I believe that “GONE WITH THE WIND” is a very good movie . . . at least the first half. But I feel that the second half . . . especially the period that featured the marriage between Scarlett and Rhett is rather weak. I believe that “GONE WITH THE WIND” might be the best example of Hollywood grandstanding. But the best example of American cinema at its best? I don’t think so.

    1. I have to agree with your point. I’m only 16 so it figures that you know more about American cinema than I do. What I meant was that this could be a great example of American cinema compared to other movies being made today. And while a lot of movies were also bad in the past, I believe that due to sequels and remakes, we forget the original roots of those movies. But that doesn’t mean that movies of today are all bad. In fact, a lot of movies deserve an Oscar. I was just pointing out that a lot of new movies are somewhat ho-hum and some sequels weren’t necessary.

      And yeah, I liked the first half more.

  3. [“And while a lot of movies were also bad in the past, I believe that due to sequels and remakes, we forget the original roots of those movies.”]

    Sequels and remakes were pretty common in old Hollywood. MGM made five sequels from the 1934 movie, “THE THIN MAN”. God only knows how many sequels they made from “TARZAN”, “DR. KILDARE”, and “ANDY HARDY”. They made a series of movies with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, with the same story structure. Warner Brothers made three versions of “The Maltese Falcon” between 1931 and 1941. In fact, one could Warner Bros. “Remake Alley”. They were notorious for making remakes. And so was MGM by the 1940s.

    Like I said, remakes and sequels were quite common during the “Golden Age of Hollywood”.

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