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USA 1939
Directed by
Victor Fleming
222 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Gone With The Wind

Gone With The Wind was initially directed by George Cukor.  Producer David O. Selznick replaced him after three weeks with Victor Fleming, pulling him off the set of The Wizard of Oz. Fleming had a nervous breakdown ten weeks later and Sam Wood stepped in as replacement and, eventually, co-director. A score of writers including Ben Hecht and F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on the adaptation of the hugely successful Margaret Mitchell Civil War novel (principal writer Sidney Howard died in a car accident before its release) and, of course, the talk of the day was the hunt for the actress to play Scarlett O'Hara. The part went to newcomer Vivien Leigh whilst established heart-throb Clark Gable reluctantly took the Rhett Butler role after Gary Cooper turned it down. It is surprising that with such a chequered history the film turned out so well but it did becoming a gilt-edged studio-era Hollywood classic.

Whilst there are some technical limitations such as the back-projected scenes during the Seige of Georgia section, pound for pound the film holds up against any epic historical romance blockbuster made since. Rhett's debonair machismo and Scarlett's coquettish scheming may be the stuff of romantic fantasy and the benign portrayal of slavery falls well short of the historical accuracy demanded today but the film is still an extraordinary achievement particularly when the production date, a mere decade after the advent of sound, four years after the appearance of Technicolor and long before computer graphics, is taken into consideration. Divided into two halves of roughly equal length, the first part of the film is arguably the more successful, the second half relinquishing the historical panorama to concentrate on Rhett and Scarlett's turbulent relationship.

As much as this is floridly melodramatic  stuff, the characterisations are strong, the dialogue telling and the performances excellent all round with Gable and Leigh both convincing headliners, Leslie Howard and Olivia De Haviland well-cast and a tip top roster of support players (Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her performance as Mamie).  A troubled production that cost $4.5 million, at the time a huge amount, it has well and truly re-paid the investment. The prolific Max Steiner composed the score and made extensive use of Stephen Foster songs as part of the commitment to historical authenticity.

The original cut was five hours long and a considerable amount of footage was jettisoned, something which night explain why in the "reconstruction" section of the film although Frank Kennedy asks Scarlett for the hand of her sister, Suellen, in marriage once he gets back on his feet when Scarlett visits his store some time later she knows nothing of his success.

FYI: Selznick tried to reproduce his success some years later with Duel In The Sun but did not manage it.




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