Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees, Judge Maurice Cobbs, and Judge Brett Cullum take on one of Hollywood's biggest achievements in their long-winded yet breezy collaborative review.
"As God is my witness…as God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this. And when it's over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill, as God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again."
Gone with the Wind, the biggest achievement in Hollywood's annus mirabilis, is many things to many people. For David O. Selznick, its producer and midwife, it was an obsession that nearly wrecked his career and his health…and then became a bittersweet triumph, a success the likes of which he would never again be able to repeat. For many Southerners of the time, it was a welcome recognition of the struggles their forebears had undergone…although later it would become a cliché that many modern Southerners continue to resist. For some members of the African American community at the time, like actor Oscar Polk, who played the Tara butler, Pork, it was a reminder of how far African Americans had come since the 1870s; for others, even in the 1930s, it was a threat and an insult, and it has since been condemned for its racism. For some of today's filmgoers, it's outdated hokum; for others, it's one of the all-time greatest love stories on film.
For me, it was something I grew up with. For better or worse, growing up when I did in Atlanta, Gone with the Wind was a constant presence. At that time—the 1970s and early '80s—every chichi gift shop had its display of Gone with the Wind memorabilia, and every auto show had its raven-haired belle dressed up in one of Scarlett's costumes. One of the local radio stations even played the "quittin' time" dialogue every day at five o'clock. So it was practically inevitable that one of my first classic film experiences was Gone with the Wind. The impact of the emotion, the depiction of the characters' struggles, the saturated color and epic sweep of the story—and, I might as well admit it, the pretty dresses—cast a spell on me that I've never quite shaken off. Despite all the things that frustrate me about the film, I feel a loyalty to it I can neither fully explain nor overcome.
That was over twenty years ago. In the years since, especially after the film's 50th anniversary in 1989, it's become much rarer to find Atlanta wearing Gone with the Wind on its sleeve. What was once a claim to fame has, I suspect, become an embarrassment, a stereotype the city wants to live down. Over time I've thought a lot, and read a lot, about Gone with the Wind's place in film and in popular culture. Despite the undeniably problematic elements of the film, it has much that is enduringly compelling: stirring romance, powerful depictions of war and loss, an unmatched display of Hollywood golden-era filmmaking at its finest. But when it's all boiled down to the basics, it's about survival. Scarlett, for all her faults—and they are legion—is a survivor, and her grit, fierce determination, and tenacity are qualities that strike a chord with us still. Many will ask what relevance the film can have for 21st-century audiences. But what could possibly be more relevant to post-9/11 America than a story of survival?
Facts of the Case
The year is 1861, and America is on the brink of civil war. But for headstrong Georgia teenager Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), impending war isn't nearly as important as the fact that the man she loves, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), has just announced his engagement to his shy, gentle cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett's father (Thomas Mitchell), a self-made Irish immigrant, tries to teach her that Tara, the family plantation, offers something more enduring than human love, but Scarlett can only think of her broken heart. To add insult to injury, a cocky scoundrel named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) has witnessed Ashley giving her the brush-off. But then the war is on and nothing will ever be the same for her—or the South.
Through the years of war and Reconstruction that follow, Scarlett's fortunes fall and rise, as she struggles to endure the upheaval of her world and to win Ashley away from Melanie—even as she and Melanie forge an unlikely friendship. In these tumultuous years, the only constants are Rhett Butler, who sees through all Scarlett's pretenses to recognize that they are two of a kind, and Tara, which Scarlett comes to love as herself.
To look at Scarlett sitting on the steps of Tara at the start of the film, toying with flowers and flirting with her beaux, one would never guess that this spoiled teenager has the makings of a true heroine. Scarlett is the original steel magnolia: a frivolous belle on the outside, but able to draw upon astonishing reserves of strength and endurance when her world is overturned. This is a woman whom we will see pick cotton like a field hand, commit manslaughter, prostitute herself (albeit unsuccessfully), become a shrewd businesswoman, and even consort with the hated Yankees themselves in self-preservation and to preserve the land from which she draws her sense of self. This is a woman who will carry on through war, poverty, attempted rape, miscarriage, and heartbreak. This, in short, is a survivor.
Of course, survival does not come without cost. Scarlett's tendencies toward willfulness and selfishness are crystallized by her experiences, where without the war she might have been able to outgrow them. Thus, she loses not only her familiar life, her security, her friends, and her parents, but also many of the qualities she prizes in her mother, the woman she most admires. The war, and her struggle to endure it, changes her irrevocably and strips away all of the softer, more selfless qualities that she once wanted to embody, and she becomes hardened. But not everyone who endures the war experiences this hardening. In contrast to Scarlett, Melanie remains true to her values: She retains her honor and compassion—things that Scarlett casts aside as lower priorities but comes to miss later. For this reason, Melanie is considered by some to be the real heroine of the film, even though she lacks Scarlett's dynamism and strength; indeed, she not only admires but relies on them. One could even argue that Melanie has the luxury of maintaining her values because Scarlett is there to save her hide. The fundamental difference between the two women is that Melanie would die before she compromises her values, whereas for Scarlett, dying would be compromising. From Scarlett's perspective, Melanie's attitude is a luxury she can't afford.
The making of the film is quite a survival story in its own right, since during its production Gone with the Wind was widely believed to be a disaster in the making—and with reason: "Selznick's Folly," as it was often called, was not only one of the most ambitious films to be attempted, but it featured a script that was being rewritten on a daily basis, an exhausted crew that was being worked sixteen to eighteen hours a day, an already astronomical budget that continued to escalate, and an abrupt change of directors. The Making of a Legend documentary included among the extras does original director George Cukor a disservice, suggesting that he wasn't up to the demands of the film; one only needs to observe his unforgettable work in a long list of classic films, including Dinner at Eight, Little Women (1933), The Women, and My Fair Lady, to know that he was a masterful director—under ordinary circumstances, at any rate. Selznick's constant on-set interference and the lack of a completed or coherent shooting script prevented Cukor from doing his best work, and Cukor knew it: Some sources report that he gave Selznick an ultimatum and said he would quit unless Selznick allowed him to use the script Cukor felt was superior (perhaps because it was actually complete). An even more frequently cited reason for Cukor's departure, however, is Clark Gable. Gable was concerned that his image would suffer from his role in what was essentially a woman's story, and he was equally uncomfortable about working with the man famed as a "woman's director"—Cukor excelled at bringing complex, evocative performances out of actresses. Many sources state that Gable was responsible to a great degree for having Cukor replaced with his hunting buddy and frequent colleague, Victor Fleming, who had little patience for character development and would bring a more masculine vibe to the movie.
Some filmgoers find it hard to like Scarlett as a character, and had Cukor remained on the film, it's likely that we would have seen more of her vulnerability, more of the ways she lost some of her potential through her experiences in the war. In contrast to Cukor, Fleming's contempt for questions of character psychology and motivation made him very unpopular with Vivien Leigh, who had found in Cukor someone, like her, who understood Scarlett and how the war had changed her. The Making of a Legend documentary makes it sound as if Vivien Leigh mourned Cukor's departure from the film because he coddled her, but this does both an injustice. What Leigh missed was a director who actually cared about her character's motivation and development, unlike Fleming; when she asked Fleming for direction on one scene, he briefly told her, "Ham it up." (On another occasion, Fleming's constructive advice to Leigh was to take the script and "stick it up [her] royal British ass.") After Cukor left, Leigh had to fight to keep the movie's Scarlett true to the novel. Fleming considered Scarlett a bitch, plain and simple, and had no wish to create any sympathy for her—let alone insight into her.
The screenplay also contributed to the reductive portrayal of Scarlett's character, and many alterations from the novel increase her silliness or manipulative qualities while reducing her complexity. Take the scene in the Atlanta bazaar when Scarlett has defied convention by appearing at a social function while in full mourning for her first husband. While Rhett is baiting her, a volunteer comes by requesting donations of jewelry to finance the war effort. In the film version, Scarlett dismisses him, but then Melanie makes the great sacrifice of her own wedding ring: "It may help my husband more off my finger." Scarlett, seeing the admiration in Rhett's face at this noble gesture, strips off her own wedding ring and thrusts it at the collector. It's a blatant attempt to draw Rhett's attention away from Melanie and regain her position as the focus of all masculine admiration. But in the novel, the situation is substantially different. It's Scarlett who impulsively decides to donate her wedding ring: not out of altruism, but because Rhett has been taunting her with having figuratively committed suttee—immolating herself on her husband's funeral pyre—in her conformity to mourning conventions. To prove him wrong, she makes the gesture of defiance, asserting her freedom from society's strictures. Melanie, misinterpreting her action, admiringly follows suit. What Mitchell presented as an assertion of independence becomes a petty, jealous ploy.
Despite unsympathetic direction and a screenplay that (it seems to me in my pessimistic moments) allowed her to do little more than cry, cuss, kiss, and slap people, Vivien Leigh's remarkable performance as Scarlett has become a cinematic icon. It even got the seal of approval from Margaret Mitchell herself, who decreed that Leigh was Scarlett. I shouldn't argue with Mitchell about her own creation, but I have my doubts. It feels sacrilegious to criticize Leigh in the role, since her performance is a tour de force, an indelible and extraordinarily powerful piece of acting. But in some ways she isn't the Scarlett I picture when I read the book, and I sometimes wonder what the film would have been like with Paulette Goddard in the role. Goddard was the front runner for Scarlett until Leigh came on the scene, and if she hadn't been involved in a scandalous liaison with Charlie Chaplin, she would probably have been signed on as Scarlett before Leigh ever entered the competition. Watching Goddard in the screen test of the "paddock scene," in which the impoverished Scarlett urges Ashley to run away with her, and taking into consideration her performance as a feisty Southern belle in 1942's Reap the Wild Wind, I can't avoid the conclusion that she would have been a sensational Scarlett. A different Scarlett, to be sure: an earthier, less fragile-looking one—one whose appearance and voice conveyed more of Scarlett's fundamental toughness. Leigh's interpretation has a high-strung quality, a wildness that hints in some scenes of being on the edge of hysteria, that sold Selznick on her. Although undeniably compelling, to my mind it's a quality more appropriate to Cathy in Wuthering Heights (a role Leigh actively campaigned to play, in fact) than the novel's Scarlett. I suspect that Goddard would have made a more likable Scarlett. But we'll never know; and it's entirely possible that, had she been given the role, Fleming and Selznick would have shaped her performance to be very much like Leigh's.
Ultimately, though, liking Scarlett isn't really the point, any more than is liking Becky Sharp, the amoral yet unforgettable character in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair—who is generally believed to have been a major influence on Mitchell's Scarlett. We don't have to like Scarlett to understand her, to know what it's like to suffer unrequited love, to feel the pain of the losses she endures, and, finally, to admire the steel and courage and resourcefulness she brings to adversity. Like the city of Atlanta, whose fate she mirrors, she will never be down for long; she'll claw her way back up even from ashes. We may dream of being Melanies when times get tough, but let's face it: We'd be lucky to have some Scarlett in us.
Any discussion of Gone with the Wind, of course, must note some of its many problematic elements. Let's look at the most obvious ones.
• The offensive depiction of African Americans and the institution of slavery. There's no denying that Gone with the Wind is troubling in this respect, representing as it does the paternalism and condescension of 1930s Hollywood toward African Americans. For what it's worth, when considered in the context of its times, Gone with the Wind was actually fairly enlightened: As Making of a Legend notes, Selznick took pains to avoid offensive content, eliminating, for example, all mentions of the Ku Klux Klan. It should also be noted that less famous films made in the same period are at least as stereotypical and demeaning in their depiction of black characters; they simply haven't garnered as much publicity. Even at the time, however, the film was considered by many members of the black community to be offensive and racist. Although Hattie McDaniel deservedly won an Oscar for her performance as Mammy—and became the first African American to win the award—the specter of racism is still uncomfortably present in the film, and it's a factor that will understandably outweigh the merits of the film for many viewers. (See Judge Maurice Cobbs's discussion below for more on this issue.)
• The sympathy with the Southern side of the Civil War. For most modern audience members, this really sticks in the craw. How can a film actually invite us to root for Confederates? Widespread ignorance of the causes of the Civil War is partially to blame here; it's accepted as a fact now that the Confederate cause was, simply, slavery. To counter this common misconception, a historical featurette on the struggle to preserve states' rights and the anxiety Southerners felt about a national government that had no understanding of the agricultural way of life would have been a welcome extra—as opposed to The Old South, the short included here that actually perpetuates the misapprehension. Perhaps even more important, what often gets lost in modern conversations about the war is that many of the Confederate soldiers were fighting not for a principle but simply for survival—of their families, their homes, and the only way of life they knew. Thus, it makes no sense to condemn the film's Southern point of view, and dismiss the losses endured by the South, simply because of ideology. The struggle for survival is, after all, universal. If you can't be moved by the famous scene in which we see hundreds upon hundreds of ordinary men dying on the dusty ground at the railway depot, you are a harder creature than postwar Scarlett.
• The glamorization of the Old South. In this respect the film represents pure Hollywood fantasy, what Margaret Mitchell dubbed "The South that Never Was." The novel's presentation of the antebellum South was anything but the world of "cavaliers" where "gallantry took its last bow," as the scrolling text that opens the film proclaims. Mitchell was first incensed, then finally amused, by the way the filmmakers romanticized and tarted up the world she had tried so hard to faithfully recreate. "When I think of the…somewhat crude civilization I depicted and then of the elegance that is to be presented," she wrote to a friend, "I cannot help yelping with laughter" (quoted in Susan Myrick's White Columns in Hollywood). The design of Twelve Oaks in particular creates a picture of luxury and opulence completely at variance with the lifestyle she described. But Mitchell ultimately accepted—as must we—that Hollywood has never let facts interfere with the dream world it wants to present. Selznick wanted a larger-than-life vision of romance and mythology, and he made sure that every aspect of production mirrored that vision. From a narrative point of view, this fantasy of antebellum life does create a sharper, more poignant contrast to the hardscrabble existence Scarlett and her kind experience after the war. At the same time, though, and especially for modern audiences, it makes it a bit more difficult to sympathize with these creatures of privilege—until, of course, the great leveling occurs.
• The casting of Leslie Howard. Howard had established himself as the go-to actor for star-gazing intellectuals in films like The Petrified Forest, but even he knew he was too old for the role of Ashley. All the efforts of the makeup and hair departments just couldn't give Howard the dreamy-eyed allure that the character had in the book—an allure that helped explain Scarlett's infatuation with him. It's one of the major weaknesses of the film that Scarlett so fiercely desires a man who strikes us as a dull and homely stiff; she looks simply foolish for wanting him, which could have been avoided if Ashley had been cast with a more charismatic actor. Ray Milland, who was considered for the role, might have been a better candidate, but my personal preference is the young Vincent Price, who actually tested for the part. At the time Price was a stage actor only, and deemed too inexperienced to play Ashley—but he would have brought some much-needed pulchritude to the character, and his later performance in 1944's Laura proved that he could put on Southern charm when it was called for. Unfortunately for us and for Gone with the Wind, however, we're stuck with Howard, who never seems worth half the energy Scarlett expends on him.
Now that we've had a look at the film itself, let's get on to the technical elements and the extras. First of all, Gone with the Wind is packaged handsomely, its four discs contained in an elegant fold-out case that features stills from the film, which is then contained in a slipcover with gorgeous embossed lettering. It's nice to see that the studio has chosen the emblematic image of Scarlett and her father on the grounds of Tara instead of the standard swooning embrace for the cover. Each disc is adorned with a main character, in order of credit appearance—at least, I suppose this is why Rhett, not Scarlett, is on Disc One. An attractive miniature reproduction of the original color souvenir program from the 1939 premiere is tucked into a pocket. The first two discs contain parts one and two of the film; the third disc contains extras about the film, the fourth extra content about the cast. The menus for all four discs are lovely, using a changing array of movie stills against an elegant ivory backdrop.
The biggest news is that the film has undergone an extensive restoration in the Warner "Ultra-Resolution" process previously seen on the DVD releases of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Singin' in the Rain, and Meet Me in St. Louis. Viewers who have seen these titles will know just how magnificent the results of the Ultra-Resolution process are, and Gone with the Wind does not disappoint. This new transfer is, in a word, ravishing. The new techniques of aligning the three source strips that make up a Technicolor print (a process explained in the restoration featurette) have resulted in a picture so crisp, with such exquisite clarity, that it simply has to be seen. The richness and saturation of color are thrilling, and grain that was present in my VHS edition from just a few years ago is gone with the…well, you know. The image has also been lovingly cleaned. You'll notice details you never noticed before, no matter how many times you've seen the film. In fact, the only drawback to this breathtakingly fine transfer is that its clarity sometimes reveals the presence of special effects composite shots or insurmountable film flaws that blended in more subtly when the entire picture was softer and less distinct. The final result is that Gone with the Wind has truly never looked this fine.
Audio is likewise unprecedented in its clarity and resonance. I was skeptical about the new 5.1 surround mix, but it won me over: It's subtly and carefully mixed to create a natural expanse of sound rather than showing off by isolating dialogue or sound effects in attention-getting ways. Some offscreen dialogue is now placed to the side, which is a pleasing and evocative effect, and sound effects of explosions carry amazing oomph and immediacy. The music is perhaps the nicest surprise: There's more bass than I ever noticed before in Max Steiner's score, and the new richness of the music makes the entire experience of the film more powerful. Due to the discovery of a superlative audio master—a story unfolded in the restoration featurette—there are also sound effects that we never heard until now, like the rustle of gowns, and moments of dialogue that sometimes dropped out before are now present. It's simply remarkable. (For purists, the audio is also available in its original mono mix.) The bottom line is that, even if there were no extras at all on this release, those with the previous DVD of the film should throw it away and snap up this new version simply for the unprecedented excellence of the audiovisual presentation.
Fortunately, however, we do get a handsome bevy of extras, as is only fitting and proper for such a significant film. The oldest materials seem to have undergone restoration, as the audiovisual quality for such vintage extras as the original teaser trailer and the Atlanta premiere newsreel is superb. At the same time, the feeble quality of the Gone with the Wind clips employed in the documentaries helps us recognize just how vastly improved the new film transfer is.
• The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind (123:18)—This meaty, award-winning documentary from 1989, narrated by Christopher Plummer, provides a thorough background on the film. Unfortunately, the production values lean toward the cheesy: Interviewees are often placed in re-creations of vintage offices and sets, in which they look stiff and self-conscious, and there are some excruciatingly precious visual effects, as when an animated rain of papers showers over a scene to evoke Selznick's infamous habit of inundating his crew with memos. The documentary also tends to portray Cukor and Leigh in an unfairly critical light, as I noted above. On the whole, however, the plusses greatly outweigh the defects, and it creates an involving narrative thread while being very informative about a remarkable range of aspects of filming. It includes lots of fine material: many interviews with the then-surviving participants, including cast, crew, and other Selznick employees (as well as one audience member from the first test screening); rare behind-the-scenes footage and still photos; footage from screen tests; illuminating readings from letters, journals, and the Selznick memos; and an impressive and often surprising look at the extensive visual effects that helped to create the illusion of the American South on a California studio lot. There's even footage from the Oscar ceremony in which the film swept the awards, including the complete acceptance speeches by Hattie McDaniel (Best Supporting Actress) and Vivien Leigh (Best Actress). Some of the most fascinating material here is the screen tests of other actresses, which show what narrow escapes we had: Jean Arthur and Lana Turner in particular stand out as being excruciatingly wrong for Scarlett.
• Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond (46:00)—This biographical piece from 1990 is hosted by Jessica Lange. It's solid and attractively produced, and it covers a lot of material that casual movie fans may be unaware of, including Leigh's considerable body of stage work, her passionate affair with (and subsequent marriage to) Laurence Olivier, and her struggles with bipolar disorder and tuberculosis. It contains valuable insights from friends and colleagues, which go a long way toward countering the implication of Making of a Legend that Leigh was a spoiled, selfish Scarlett in real life as opposed to the hard-working and courageous actress that she was. (Although the documentary soft-pedals the symptoms of her manic depression, some of her biographers have noted that in later life Leigh would sometimes go on stage to perform with burn marks on her temples still visible from having undergone shock treatment just hours before.) Inevitably for a short documentary that attempts to cover an entire (and very busy) lifetime, it skimps on some areas; those who want to learn more about this remarkable woman should check out the biographies by Alexander Walker, Hugo Vickers, and Anne Edwards.
• Gable: The King Remembered (64:58)—The advanced age of this 1975 feature is a drawback, in terms of both audiovisual quality and content: Audio often features buzz, and the visual quality of the film clips is terrible (probably reflecting the limited availability of film footage before the home video revolution). Also because of this feature's age, you will find no mention of the child that Gable fathered by actress Loretta Young—something that was kept under wraps for decades. The structure of this feature is unusual: Host Peter Lawford's narration about Gable's life and career is interspersed not with brief talking-head clips but with four substantial, uninterrupted interviews—with actor-friend Andy Irvine, director William Wellman, journalist and friend Adela Rogers St. John, and actress Yvonne de Carlo, who starred with Gable in his lesser-known Civil War film, Band of Angels. Thus, although this featurette doesn't feel as comprehensive as the more recent A&E Biography episode on Gable, it offers some intriguing perspectives on the actor. Viewers who find this documentary insufficient may wish to read the recent biography by Warren G. Harris.
• "Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland" (38:40)—This is one of the featurettes I most eagerly anticipated. Olivia de Havilland herself, who rarely emerges from her retirement in Paris to grant interviews, comes on camera to recount her recollections of the filming, which are sometimes briefly illustrated with still photos. At nearly ninety years old, this two-time Oscar winner is a gracious yet dynamic presence: She shows that she still has a great sense of drama—and fun—as she shares her experiences. Although some of her anecdotes were not new to me, I greatly enjoyed hearing her account of them—and she did have some surprises up her sleeve. This featurette is a treat for any true fan of Gone with the Wind or this lovely actress.
• "The Supporting Players" (biographical featurettes)—These 25 featurettes, which are narrated by Christopher Plummer, range in length from under a minute (Cammie King, Oscar Polk) to over five minutes (Leslie Howard). These tend to focus on the subjects' other film work, if any; for example, Hattie McDaniel's considerable stage career is only glancingly touched upon. Nonetheless, there are lots of great illustrative film clips to let us see these actors in other roles, which are sometimes surprisingly different from the ones they played in Gone with the Wind. Conspicuous by its absence is a biography for Olivia de Havilland; evidently the studio felt that her own retrospective featurette made this redundant, but that's certainly not the case. Viewers hoping for information on de Havilland's life, her landmark lawsuit against Warner Bros., and her (extensive) non-Gone with the Wind career will have to consult the feature commentary or the fan site linked in the sidebar.
• Feature commentary—Film historian Rudy Behlmer will be familiar to some for his recent commentaries on a number of Universal horror films. His style is much the same here as on those discs: calm, unhurried, and deliberate. Be warned that the material in his commentary doesn't follow logical order; for example, we have to wait until Disc Two for biographical background on Leigh. What's most surprising is that so much of his material repeats the other featurettes in this set; a lot of his commentary is thus redundant, and this is quite disappointing. Behlmer does offer some new information, though: more extensive biographical detail on Gable, McDaniel, and McQueen, among others; a satisfying amount of biographical material on de Havilland; a description of scenes deleted from the film (now, sadly, lost to us) to reduce its running time; content that particularly concerned the censors; and, most enjoyable to me, a reading from the script's alternate final scene, which departs from Mitchell's novel to create a happy ending. Luckily, Selznick recognized it for the atrocity it is, but it's fascinating to hear how the film might have ended.
• "Restoring a Legend" featurette (17:42)—It's not unusual to cry during Gone with the Wind, but I never expected this featurette on the film's restoration to bring me to tears. The people responsible for this awe-inspiring transfer describe the remarkable techniques and skill that went into their work, and it's almost impossible not to be moved—not just by the sheer beauty of the restored images, but by the care and even love that went into the restoration. It's also quite an education in the three-strip Technicolor filming process. This featurette definitely enhances one's appreciation of the painstaking restoration job.
• International prologue (1:16)—This is a text prologue giving the Hollywood version of the Civil War's origins for the benefit of foreign audiences who might not have been familiar with the film's historical context. This must be something of a rarity, so its inclusion is impressive.
• The Old South (11:18)—This short feature was released at around the same time as Gone with the Wind to provide a crash course in the history of the South for audiences who might otherwise be unfamiliar with it. As history, it's certainly biased, and the watermelon stereotype of the slaves depicted is simply jaw-dropping. It says as much about 1930s Hollywood as it does about the antebellum South, but as such, it's an illuminating document.
• Trailer gallery—An illuminating tour through the changes in the way the film has been marketed over the years, beginning with the teaser trailer from 1939 and extending through the 1989 release of the restored version.
• Premiere footage—The newsreel of the 1939 Atlanta premiere is exciting for its look at the stars out of character (Gable is accompanied by then-wife Carol Lombard, Leigh by future husband Laurence Olivier) and the enormous scope of the Atlanta festivities. We also get a rare glimpse of Margaret Mitchell. The footage from the 1961 Civil War centennial re-release is silent, accompanied by a music track, and it's sad to see how few of the stars had survived.
• Foreign-language version sample scenes (2:37)—This brief sampler of scenes from the film dubbed into foreign languages is more of a curiosity than a real supplement, but it is undoubtedly entertaining. Hearing Rhett woo Scarlett in Italian, or Mammy upbraid Scarlett in French, is priceless.
My overall feeling is that, although the individual extras might not be all they could have been, taken all together the assemblage of extras does justice to this significant film. The entire package should be greatly satisfying to all those who have been waiting for the definitive DVD release of Gone with the Wind.
Judge Maurice Cobbs: Concurring Opinion
"Look at them: all these poor, tragic people. The South is sinking to its knees, and it will never rise again. The cause—the cause of living in the past is dying right in front of us."—Rhett Butler
As Gone With the Wind (which must be one of the greatest cinematic contributions to American culture) is released to DVD in this stunning four-disc set, I am afraid that some potential viewers might be disinclined to enjoy this sweeping saga of war, love, and survival—especially in these hypersensitive modern times. The slavery issue seems to be as hot a button for us today as it was over 150 years ago, creating some interesting parallels and bitter ironies. But ultimately, Gone With The Wind is no more about slavery than the Civil War itself was; although the war has become, through revisionist history, a war to free the slaves, the facts are quite clear. In fact, it is inaccurate even to refer to the war as a "civil war"—it was, ironically, a war for independence.
Gone with the Wind and the Issue of Slavery
Gone with the Wind is, for the most part, neutral to the issue of slavery. We know that slaves exist—we know that Scarlett's family owned them. Since the story is not about slavery in the South, we really don't need to know more than that. This attitude of neutrality toward slavery actually reflects President Lincoln's attitude toward the issue; in his first inaugural address, Mr. Lincoln commented, "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so." Like any good politician, Mr. Lincoln neatly sidestepped the issue by claiming neutrality. Even after the war had broken out, Mr. Lincoln hoped to bring a swift end to the conflict by avoiding the topic as much as possible—the slavery issue would have only been more fuel for the fire, and it had already been divisive enough. In a letter to the New York Daily Tribune, Mr. Lincoln restated his position after the war had begun: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery." Likewise, Gone with the Wind seeks neither to glorify nor to demonize slavery. It is, good or evil, simply the way things were; a part of the characters' daily lives. In this, Gone with the Wind can rightly be criticized for glossing over the slavery issue—but, by way of perspective, it is hardly Birth of a Nation.
Is Gone with the Wind a romanticized picture of life in the Old South? Of course it is—just as Stagecoach is a romanticized version of the Old West, and Captain Blood is a romanticized version of the life of a pirate. Historical accuracy often takes a back seat to storytelling, especially in the golden era of Hollywood's dream factory. The movie is a romanticized picture of Southern aristocracy before and after the war. It is presented through the eyes of a spoiled, willful member of that aristocracy. It is well known that David O. Selznick went to what he felt were great pains to eliminate as much offensive content as was possible, given the setting and context of the story, with respect to the black community. But if we are to be realistic, Gone with The Wind has no obligation to present any viewpoint other than that of its principal characters. And so it does.
Scarlett's cruelest moment toward a slave is probably when she slaps Prissy; she thinks nothing of manhandling the hysterical servant. But she slaps Prissy because the girl is incompetent, not because of her race. Let us not forget that Scarlett shows little restraint in slapping those who offend or annoy her: Later in the movie, she strikes her sister Suellen for speaking ill of Tara, and even the unwilling object of her affections, Ashley Wilkes, finds himself on the receiving end of one of Scarlett's sharp blows. As actress Butterfly McQueen noted in later years, "I think Prissy was horrid. She should have been slapped often." It could be argued that Prissy is a prime example of stereotypical Hollywood racism, but if we are brutally frank, the story called for Prissy to be simple-minded, and she would have been portrayed as an imbecile regardless of color or social status. Slavery may be offensive and horrific to us, but it was a way of life essential to the economic well-being of the wealthy farmers of the Old South—and if there is a grating degree of condescension in the portrayal of the black characters, perhaps it has more to do with Scarlett's perceptions than a conscious effort to ridicule and denigrate those who suffered so terribly under slavery. And again, the story is not about slavery, any more than the Civil War itself was.
Why, then, was the Civil War really fought? Like most wars, including our own Revolutionary War, it was fought for economic reasons: The North favored protective tariffs for their manufacturing industries, while the Southern states, whose economy was dependent on exporting agricultural products and importing manufactured goods, favored free trade and was hurt by the tariffs. The final straw came shortly after Lincoln's election, with the Morrill tariffs—which were highly offensive to the Southern economy. The South's answer was secession: the forming of a new government and the ratification of a new constitution—which was identical to the U.S. Constitution except that it outlawed protectionist tariffs and business handouts and mandated a two-thirds majority vote for all spending measures.
Money, not human rights, spurred our bloodiest national conflict. In stark contrast to the founding principles of the country, which declare that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," Abraham Lincoln—with the best possible intentions, it must be noted—engineered the destruction of the concept of states' rights and set the stage for the sort of intrusive, arrogant, paternalistic federal government we have today. Ironically, the only real good to come out of the war was the abolition of slavery—which was never a major objective of the conflict. Even the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free the slaves: Slave states that were loyal to the Union were unaffected, and as the Southern states were in rebellion and did not acknowledge law handed down from Washington, the country would not see an end to slavery until the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, Congress authorized payments to slave holders in the Washington area in exchange for their slaves, an attempt to keep them loyal to the Union after being forced to free their property. The plan was to colonize the slaves outside the boundaries of the United States if they so desired. The slave owners were satisfied and remained loyal. And the freed slaves refused to leave.
There is substantial historical evidence to support the scene in which Scarlett encounters Big Sam and other slaves on their way to do their part to defend Atlanta by digging trenches for the soldiers. "Mrs. O'Hara said it was for the Confederacy," Sam says proudly, "so we gone to dig for the South." The South was their home, too; blacks in the South found as much to fight for as the whites did. Blacks offered their services not only as soldiers but also as laborers. Many colored communities took up collections for the Confederate War Effort. Even individual blacks, both free and slave, contributed their personal money to the Confederate Government. According to historian Roland Young, "A large number of blacks who served the Confederacy were free, not slaves. Some were in the regular army. Blacks were recruited the same way whites were, with appeals to patriotism. This may be embarrassing to some, but it's a historical fact. Motivations may have varied, but many stayed loyal in the expectation the South would win. Some black property and slave owners (yes, you read that right) deemed their way of life threatened and wanted whites to see them as patriots. Some considered the South their country."
But why would a black man—who might be regarded as property under the system of things in the South—fight to preserve that system? Obviously, some would not. Many ran away as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Retired University of Georgia history professor Nash Boney says, "There were a lot who were never officially in the Confederate Army but damned near to it—and there were an awful lot of them that ran away when they could.'' Some attempted to join the Union Army, but were rebuffed—it would actually be the Confederate Army that first allowed blacks to fight as equals. Could the fact of equality with white soldiers have had an effect on some blacks' decision to side with the Confederacy? In fact, blacks received better treatment from the Confederate Army than they did from the Union. General Order Number 38, issued by Confederate General Braxton Bragg at Tullahoma, Tennessee, in January 1863, stated, "All employees of this army, black as well as white, shall receive the same rations, quarters, and medical treatment." Free black musicians, cooks, soldiers, and teamsters earned the same pay as white Confederate privates. This was not the case in the Union army. Does it seem impossible to believe that there were many blacks who felt as strongly about the Confederate cause as any white man? Is it possible to love your country and hate some of its principles? Perhaps the actors who played slaves in Gone With the Wind felt much the same way about the Hollywood system at the time, being thankful at having the opportunities to work, but feeling disgust at the limited range of roles available to them. But each role they took advanced their cause, bit by bit; each role presented an opportunity to chip away at stereotypes and bigotry.
Whether slave or free, each man who fought for the Confederacy had a stake in the society, and it is interesting that in fighting as bravely as they did, these free blacks and slaves earned respect from their white counterparts that they might never have known before the war. To quote General Robert E. Lee, "When you eliminate the black Confederate soldier, you've eliminated the history of the South." Perhaps it's time to bring ourselves out of the group mentality and start thinking of the slaves of the Old South as human beings. To assign the same mode of thinking to all blacks everywhere during that or any other time dehumanizes us by ignoring our ability to have individual motives, desires, and ideals. Do not call them dupes, deluded, or brainwashed—to do so denigrates the ability of these thinking, rational men to make decisions for themselves and to control their destinies, to choose their ideals and fight for them. Freedom, patriotism, home, and family are principles that men can, for the most part, agree with, regardless of color. And Americans have had a long history of pulling together in crisis situations: Regardless of how bitterly we may argue among ourselves, or how poorly we tend to treat each other in times of peace, we come together when we are threatened by outside forces.
The South enjoyed nearly boundless prosperity by the old way of doing things. They felt forced into a corner by Congress and seceded. Their secession was met by force. They fought to preserve their way of life, their homes, their livelihoods, and their ideals. They were defeated. Like any proud people, defeat was a bitter pill to swallow. They chafed under martial law, felt disenfranchised by the government, and were swindled by carpetbagging opportunists. Is it any wonder that after World War II, when the movie made its way into worldwide release, it found its biggest audiences in Germany and Japan? Gone With The Wind, then, romanticized as it is, represents the rarest form of history to be found anywhere—history written from the perspective of the losers.
Who's Your Mammy?
One of the most crucial roles in Gone with The Wind is Mammy, played in an Oscar-winning performance by Hattie McDaniel. McDaniel was widely criticized for taking the part, with some claiming that she was pandering to oppression—and broke new ground in entertainment by becoming the first black person to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress). Did the fact that she won the award for portraying a slave leave a sour taste in her mouth? "I'd rather play a maid and make $700 a week, than be a maid for $7," she said, famously. She actually had been one. This knowledge did nothing to placate the NAACP, who found the character of Mammy to be offensive in the extreme; angry picketers demonstrated against Gone with the Wind in Chicago and New York and declared Mammy a "symbolic reminder of their slave past." Hattie McDaniel had to suffer a great many indignities from blacks as well as whites, but because she did endure them, she paved the way for stars like Lena Horne, whose contract was written with the stipulation that she would never play a domestic.
There must have been some strangely conflicting emotions for Hattie McDaniel regarding her role as Mammy. The fact that she was nominated for and won the Oscar must have been an indication of how far we had come, just as not being allowed to attend the 1939 world premiere in Atlanta must have been a stinging reminder of how far yet we had to go. McDaniel was obviously aware; she took it upon herself to write a letter to producer David O. Selznick, letting him know that she would be "unavailable" for the premiere, so that he would not be placed in the position of insulting the bigoted Atlanta fans of the film by insisting that she attend, and perhaps also so that he would not be placed in the position of having to insult her by not allowing her to come. No acknowledgment of McDaniel's contribution was made by Atlanta society at the time: When Hattie's picture appeared on the back of the movie program, it was ordered that the programs be destroyed and new ones printed (Mammy's portrait was replaced eventually with that of Alicia Rhett as India Wilkes). To be criticized so strongly by the black community for portraying what was, at the time, one of the strongest and most memorable black characters ever portrayed on screen; to know that she was an intelligent and articulate woman who was being rewarded so highly by the white community for portraying an illiterate and a slave; to find herself breaking ground in black entertainment with a picture that is openly sympathetic to the most oppressive time and place for black Americans; all these things must have made Gone With the Wind an interesting experience for Hattie McDaniel, to say the very least.
Hattie McDaniel would accumulate quite a large body of popular roles, such as the scene-stealing maid in Katharine Hepburn's Alice Adams, Queenie in James Whale's 1936 version of Show Boat, Fidelia in Selznick's Since You Went Away…and of course I remember her as Aunt Tempy in Disney's Song of the South—an Academy Award-winning film that, I'll wager, the majority of you have been deprived of seeing. It hasn't been released by Disney for a number of years…and it isn't likely to be. McDaniel's strong onscreen presence is perhaps best summed up by the late comedienne Nell Carter, who remarked enthusiastically, "I never felt that she was just there for decoration. She came on with a bang!" McDaniel's popularity allowed her to do what she could within the system to change it. By the time of Gone with the Wind, McDaniel had achieved a position to insist on certain script changes, such as the removal of the N word from the script, as well as her own character's dialogue concerning "de Lawd."
It's quite easy to see why McDaniel would be proud of her part in Gone with The Wind; it is the performance of a lifetime, and a wonderful role. Although Mammy is a servant, she is hardly servile—when we first meet the character, she is giving Scarlett six or seven different flavors of hell for not "behavin' like a lady." Mammy is never afraid to sharply lecture and rebuke Scarlett when she finds her in the wrong: "If you don't care what folks says about this family, I does!" Mammy is the only influence that seems to be able to exert any control over Scarlett—and takes an almost maternal pride in doing so. Early in the movie, when Scarlett sulks and refuses to finish her meal, hoping to make an impression on Ashley with her "healthy appetite," Mammy takes a strong hand with her, insisting, "You's gwine eat every mouthful of this." Mammy does not want Scarlett to make a poor impression at the Twelve Oaks plantation's barbeque by appearing to "eat like a field hand and gobble like a hog." And, like a willful child, Scarlett replies with a "fiddle-dee-dee"—until Mammy bluntly confronts her with reality: "I ain't noticed Mista Ashley askin' for to marry you."
Mammy is more than a just a surrogate mother figure. She is scheming Scarlett's moral center. Mammy's reality check hits Scarlett in the face like a bucket of cold water more than once. At one point in the film, Scarlett decides to go to Atlanta to visit the sickly Melanie, ostensibly to take care of her until she gives birth to her first child. But Mammy is nobody's fool, least of all Scarlett's. She tells her in no uncertain terms: "Savannah would be better for you. You'll just get in trouble in Atlanta…You know what trouble I's talking about. I's talking about Mista Ashley Wilkes. He'll be coming to Atlanta when he gets his leave—and you sittin' there waitin' for him jes' like a spider. He belong to Miss Melanie."
It seems to be Mammy's job to remind Scarlett of that fact throughout the movie. When the broken and weary Ashley returns home from the war, and Melanie rushes to meet him, Mammy prevents Scarlett from spoiling the tearful reunion by pointing out the obvious: "He's her husband, ain't he?" But though Scarlett may lose her home, her husbands, her child, and her way of life, she can always depend on Mammy. Mammy may be appalled at the sheer nerve that Scarlett displays, such as when she manipulatively and ruthlessly engineers a wedding to the prospering Frank Kennedy; and Mammy may be disgusted with Scarlett's failure to present herself like "a lady"; but the parental pride that Mammy takes in taking care of her never wavers. If Scarlett is who we are in adversity, and Melanie is who we would like to be, Mammy must represent the ones who stand by us, fully aware of our shortcomings, but loyal, no matter what. Tomorrow may indeed be another day, but Scarlett will never have to face that day alone—not as long as Mammy has anything to say about it.
Judge Brett Cullum: Concurring Opinion
In 1930 Clark Gable said of his career, "I'll be lucky if this lasts five years. I'll be thankful if they just let me stay here and work." He was a humble man who somehow stumbled into becoming the boilerplate and standard against which all leading men were measured. He made 12 films in his first year in Hollywood, and the hip putdown the following year for anyone trying to do too much was "Who do you think you are—Clark Gable?"
His defining role? Easily that of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. Even though he won an Oscar for 1934's It Happened One Night, Rhett Butler remains his defining role. He is probably most remembered for that famous line where he tells Scarlett that he doesn't "give a damn" and then walks out into the mist while she realizes that she loves land and "Tomorrow is another day!" The real irony is that Gone With the Wind tells not a great love story as much as a great unrequited love story. Rhett Butler is a philanderer, a gambler, and a profiteer: hardly any woman's ideal mate. He spends most of the movie being rejected by Scarlett for the rather effeminate Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). And by the time she comes around to realize that she loves Rhett—well, then he doesn't want her any more. Sort of the typical guy dilemma of wanting what you can't have and then finding what wants you undesirable. Butler resonates with men and women because he is the essence of all men. And who could play such a male archetype?
Gable took the role with much trepidation. He had read the novel six times in preparation for playing Butler, and he could often be found thumbing through it in his dressing room on the set. He was obsessed with getting it right, and he was scared of the millions of critics he anticipated from the book's fans. He had a dialogue coach on set the entire time to make sure he sounded like he was from Charleston. Rhett's scenes were all pivotal moments in the story, despite the fact the character hated war and was never featured in any of the battle scenes. He was a heavy for the film in that he had to call out Scarlett for her machinations. There is a still-shocking scene of marital rape with Scarlett and Rhett. He even causes her to fall down a flight of stairs, and she loses her baby. Yet as an audience we still respect and love Rhett despite any weakness he shows, because he is one hundred percent the Southern gentleman with a resolute iron will to do what he thinks is right (even when it's wrong!). The aura or essence of Rhett Butler is contained as much in Clark Gable as it is in the novel or screenplay of Gone With the Wind. Shirley Temple brought Depression-era audiences a cute ray of sunshine to cheer them up, and Gable became the era's macho spirit of masculinity. He was a man's man, far removed from pretty boys like Valentino and other powder-puff men of the 1920s. He could be a man that chased a woman for ten years and still retain his masculinity.
Gone With the Wind garnered eight Oscars, but Gable lost the Best Actor Oscar to Robert Donat for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. What a shame that a role that would influence Hollywood leading men for decades was passed over. Don't believe me? Watch Han Solo as he descends into a carbonite freezer in The Empire Strikes Back and responds to Leia's "I love you" with a line recalling Gable—"I know." Or just take a long look at George Clooney (Ocean's 11) and tell me you can't see the resemblance.
He'd hardly be the ideal leading man today in company with Brad Pitt or Collin Farrell. Rumor has it that Vivien Leigh refused to hug or kiss him until he fixed his bad breath from his dentures, and there seem to be even more rumors of love and hate between the two. He'd be told today his ears were too big, and he acted and looked his age all too much. He'd probably be sent to the gym—or, worse, the plastic surgeon. Yet Gone With the Wind made him the immortal leading man as Rhett Butler. I still know plenty of women who get all dreamy thinking of Rhett Butler and Gable. That's the power of not giving a damn, I suppose.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
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