Tuesday, July 16, 2019
2019 Blind Spot Series: Gone with the Wind
Based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind is the story of a plantation owner’s daughter and her pursuit towards a man only to be pursued by another gentleman who tries to get her to see things differently. Produced by David O. Selznick, directed by Victor Fleming, with additional directing by George Cukor and Sam Wood, and screenplay by Sidney Howard. The film is an epic romantic drama that play into a woman coping with her romantic feelings while dealing with the chaos of the American Civil War. Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Haviland, Leslie Howard, and Hattie McDaniel. Gone with the Wind is a sprawling and monumental film from producer David O. Selznick.
Told in the span of 12 years during the American Civil War and its aftermath, the film follows the life of the daughter of a plantation owner whose infatuation for a man leads her to being pursued by another man as she deals with her own desires and passion amidst the chaos and turmoil of the American Civil War. It’s a film that explore the journey of a woman who has known a life of comfort and luxury in the American South just days before the Civil War began as she would later endure all sorts of trials and tribulations yet would also embark on relationships either for social or financial gain as a way to fill the void for her heart’s desire as she would attract the attention of a man who admires her spirit. Even as she would get a lot of things in her life but her love for this other man who would be married to another woman who would also become a dear friend to her would also play into her undoing.
The film’s screenplay by Sidney Howard, with un-credited contributions from Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling, Oliver H.P. Garrett, and John Van Druten, play into the journey that Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) would embark on in her pursuit of longtime family friend Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) hoping to be married to him. However, Wilkes is engaged to his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Haviland) which upsets O’Hara as she would continuously pine for Wilkes as well as get the attention of a guest in Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) who is intrigued by O’Hara. The first act is about the events before and during the war as O’Hara tries to pursue Wilkes yet would later engage into a couple of marriages that would be doomed with the first marriage to Melanie’s younger brother Charles (Rand Brooks) and then to his sister’s fiancé Frank Kennedy (Carroll Nye) in the film’s second act. It has a unique structure with its first half being about the early years of the war but also Sherman’s march through Georgia that would destroy nearly everything as well as the life that O’Hara and the people that she knew would be gone.
It’s not just in the structure of the script that is crucial to the film with its second half playing into the aftermath of the Civil War and the Reconstruction period but also into some of the development of the characters. While O’Hara would be humbled by the sense of loss she endured including around her family home of Tara, there is still this foolish pursuit of Wilkes who admits to having feelings for her but is still in love with Melanie. Melanie turns out to be a far more interesting character in terms of her gracefulness as well as being a person of reason where she seems to know more of what is going on rather than be oblivious. Then there’s Butler who is a man of charm but also someone who understands what is important as he does whatever he can to help out other people where he would really come into play in the film’s third act as someone who puts duty and family over everything else rather than O’Hara who is concerned with trying to live a lifestyle and pine for Wilkes.
The film’s direction by Victor Fleming is definitely sprawling in terms of its setting and grand visuals. Shot largely on studio and locations in Southern California including the studios in Los Angeles and Ventura County, the film does recreate this world of the American South that is lavish and full of ideals with a thriving economy and such despite the fact that they enjoyed the idea of slavery even though O’Hara and her family actually treat their slaves kinder than others in the maid Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) who would often put O’Hara in her place as well as run the house. With some contributions from George Cukor and Sam Wood during parts of the production, Fleming is able to maintain this atmosphere for much of the film’s early parts of the first act as this serene world yet there is something about that feels false due to the imagery of slavery where it is painted romantically which is far from what really did happen. When the horrors of war would emerge, the fantasy that O’Hara and her fellow Southerners had been living in burned right in front of their faces.
The usage of the wide shots including the grand detail in the crane shots that Fleming uses in a scene where O’Hara tries to find a doctor for Melanie as it’s presented in a small wide shot and then this vast crane to show all of these dead and wounded soldiers. The usage of tracking and dolly shots along with some of the presentation of the action including the scenes of the burning of Atlanta are among some of the finest usage of scenery during the first half of the film. The second act which is about the aftermath and O’Hara’s desire to return to Tara with an ailing Melanie and her baby in tow along with the maid Prissy (Butterfly McQueen). The second half begins with the rebuilding of Tara but also the arrival of the carpetbaggers as it would play into O’Hara trying to create a life similar to what she had despite having to live in Atlanta and at a smaller home. Due to her desire to make more money, she would eventually encounter a shantytown and trouble leading to an incident where it would be Butler that would help her out once again leading to their marriage and the film’s third act.
The third act is definitely the most dramatic as it play into Butler and O’Hara’s marriage and family life as well as what Butler is trying to create in this post-Civil War lifestyle that is sort of similar to the past but with some major differences. The usage of the close-ups and medium shots help play into the drama with some striking compositions as well as moments that are ambiguous. Notably in a scene where Butler would take O’Hara up to their room where even though it’s presented in a romantic tone, it does raises question into the idea of marital rape although Butler is later appalled by his actions. There is that ambiguity as it all play into O’Hara’s foolish pursuit towards Wilkes with Butler feeling spurned by what is happening as he thinks about their daughter as well as Melanie whom he cares for as a friend. Its ending is about not just this air of foolishness for both Butler and O’Hara but also in some serious revelations for both of them. Overall, producer David O. Selznick and director Victor Fleming create a spectacularly rich and majestic film about a Southern gentleman wooing a spoiled plantation daughter during the backdrop of the American Civil War and its aftermath.
Cinematographers Ernest Haller, Lee Garmes, and Ray Rennahan do amazing work with the film’s gorgeous Technicolor cinematography with its usage of colors for some scenes in the sunlight along with its usage of shadows as well as the grand detail into how vibrant the exteriors are in times when it was rich as well as how harrowing it looks following the events of the Civil War. Editors Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom do excellent work with the editing with its usage of rhythmic cuts to play into the action and drama as well as letting shots play on for some of the film’s big moments. Production designer William Cameron Menzies, with set decorator Howard Bristol and art director Lyle Wheeler, does amazing work with the look of the mansion and land that is Tara along with some of the lavish homes of the Wilkes and many others as well as some of the ruined places and Atlanta post-Civil War. Costume designer Walter Plunkett does fantastic work with the costumes from the lavish design of the dresses and hats the women wear along with the suits and uniforms the men wore.
The visual effects work of Jack Cosgrove, Fred Albin, and Arthur Johns is terrific for some of the backdrops that is created including the scenes during the Fall of Atlanta with its images of fire. Sound recordist Thomas T. Moulton and sound editor Gordon Sawyer do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the parties as well as the sounds of war. The film’s music by Max Steiner is incredible for its soaring and majestic orchestral score with its sweeping string arrangements and lush orchestral themes along with its take on traditional music of the times including Dixie.
The casting by Charles Richards and Fred Schuessler is marvelous for the massive ensemble that is assembled for the film as it feature some notable small roles from Cammie King Conlon as Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter Bonnie, Mickey Kuhn as Ashley and Melanie’s son Beau, Louis Jean Heydt as a Confederate soldier holding the baby Beau, Olin Howland as a carpetbagger businessman, Ward Bond as a Yankee captain trying to find suspects over a shantytown attack, Leona Roberts as Mrs. Meade, Harry Davenport as Dr. Meade, Laura Hopes Crew as Melanie’s Aunt Pittypat Hamilton, Everett Brown as the O’Hara’s field foreman Big Sam who would later save Scarlett at the shantytown, Victor Jory as the field overseer Jonas, Butterfly McQueen as the house servant Prissy who helps Scarlett with Melanie, Paul Hurst as a Yankee deserter trying to rob Tara, Howard Hickman as Ashley’s father John, George Reeves and Fred Crane in their respective roles as Scarlett’s brothers Stuart and Brent, and Ona Munson in a fantastic performance as the brothel madam Belle Watling as a woman who is known for a certain reputation yet is someone far more intriguing as she is a friend of Butler as well as someone Melanie admires.
Rand Brooks and Carroll Nye are terrific in their respective roles as Melanie’s brother Charles and Frank Kennedy as two men who would marry Scarlett in different periods in Scarlett’s life only to be unaware that she doesn’t love either of them. Evelyn Keyes and Ann Rutherford are wonderful in their respective roles as Scarlett’s sisters in Suellen and Carreen with the former as the younger of the two who really hates Scarlett for being bossy. Thomas Mitchell and Barbara O’Neal are superb in their respective roles as Scarlett’s parents in Gerald and Ellen O’Hara with the former being an Irishman trying to hold on to his land and ideals during the dark days of the war. Leslie Howard is excellent as Ashley Wilkes as the object of desire for Scarlett as a gentleman who joins the Confederacy as an officer as he deals with the realities of war while is torn for his love for Melanie but also his own feelings for Scarlett although he’s someone with not much personality.
Hattie McDaniel is brilliant as the housemaid Mammy as a woman who always says what is on her mind and doesn’t take shit from anyone while also running the house as she is sort of the film’s conscience despite being a sort of typical and subservient figure for the O’Hara family. Olivia de Haviland is amazing as Melanie Wilkes as Ashley’s cousin/wife who is a woman of grace and understanding as well as being the smartest person out there as it relates to Scarlett’s feelings for Ashley but also is someone who can bring the best in someone as well as be a sense of warmth for those feeling sad.
Vivien Leigh is remarkable as Scarlett O’Hara as this spoiled daughter of a plantation owner whose pursuit of Ashley would put her into foolish situations or moments by chance as it is a wild and over-the-top performance of a woman that is so intent on winning Ashley while at times being humbled and forced to swallow her pride. Finally, there’s Clark Gable in a tremendous performance as Rhett Butler as a Southern gentleman from Charleston who charms his way into any situations while being fascinated by Scarlett and her passion as well as being someone that is willing to humble her as well as cope with his own shortcomings including how he’s been unable to try and win over her due to her feelings for Ashley.
Gone with the Wind is an astonishingly rich and sensational film from Victor Fleming and producer David O. Selznick. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a soaring music score, top-notch production values, and a story of love and pursuit during the era of the American Civil War and its aftermath. It’s a film that is grand in its visuals and tone despite some of romanticism towards the time of the American South and its ideas of slavery. In the end, Gone with the Wind is a spectacular film from Victor Fleming and producer David O. Selznick.
© thevoid99 2019