A-RON’S FILM REWIND SEIRES TAKES YOU BACK IN TIME TO 1939 FOR THE 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF VICTOR FLEMING’S “GONE WITH THE WIND”. A BREATHTAKING ACHIEVEMENT IN MOVIEMAKING.
Eighty years ago filmmaker Victor Fleming’s “Gone With The Wind” released in theaters. From the time of it’s release it has left an imprint to become the definitive Hollywood film. Eight decades later it’s still a towering landmark of a film.
“Gone With The Wind” written by author Margaret Mitchell. It was her first and only published, best-selling Civil War period novel consisting of 1,476 pages that first appeared in publication in June 1936, but was mostly written in the late 1920s. Uber producer David O. Selznick, the legendary producer responsible for “King Kong” (1933), “A Star is Born” (1937), “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca” and “Duel In The Sun” among many other classics.
Selznick had acquired the film rights to Mitchell’s novel in July, 1936 for $50,000 which at the time was a record amount to an unknown author for her first novel. Later realizing he had underpaid Mitchell, Selznick paid her an additional $50,000 as a bonus when he dissolved Selznick International Pictures in 1942. This caused many to label the film “Selznick’s Folly.” At the time of the film’s release in 1940, the novel had surpassed 1.5 million copies sold. In a poll from a few years ago “Gone With The Wind”, was voted the second best book of all time, right behind The Bible.
Shot in the revolutionary three-strip Technicolor, the film which originally had a rough-cut rolling in at 6 hours in length. It was challenging in the making, due to its controversial subject matter that included rape, drunkenness, moral dissipation and adultery. “Gone With The Wind” final theatrical cut is a four hour sweeping historical epic, set in Atlanta and the Georgia countryside before, during and after the Civil War, the romance epic follows four strong central characters and dozens of memorable minor ones through a series of crises and life-challenging moments.
It was the first film to win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture (the first color film to win), Best Actress Vivien Leigh, Best Director, Best Screenplay and the first Oscar for an African-American actress, awarded to Hattie McDaniel. Heavy hitters of the screen Clark Gable (who had come off “Mutiny On The Bounty” and “It Happened One Night”) and Vivien Leigh (who had yet to star in one of her best roles in “A Streetcar Named Desire”). The two actors were well matched in the two most coveted movie roles of the era. Gable was the hard-drinking playboy who had the backing of studios to cover up his scandals; Leigh who dealt publicly with her bi-polar disorder and diagnoses of tuberculosis which she eventually died from at the age of 53 years old.
Famously, Leigh won the role of Scarlett O’Hara over hundreds of actresses, including heavyweights like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn. During filming, Leigh worked 16 hours a day, six days a week, for 125 days. A crew member, has said, “I have candids of her taken on set. She was exhausted. She was in almost every scene”. To deal with the stress she was feeling, Leigh would chain smoke, through four packs of cigarettes a day. Incidentally, Leigh was paid only $25,000 for “Gone With The Wind”, while Clark Gable who worked only 71 days was paid $120,000.
Vivien Leigh later had said that she hated kissing Clark Gable because of his bad breath, rumored to be caused by his false teeth, a result of his excessive smoking. According to Frank Buckingham, a technician who observed the film being made, Gable would sometimes eat garlic before his kissing scenes with Vivien Leigh, if it were on purpose has never been determined.
Reportedly, one of the reasons stated by producer David O. Selznick as to why he fired George Cukor as director was that Cukor, a homosexual, would be unable to properly direct the love scenes between Rhett and Scarlett; he was then replaced by macho director Victor Fleming. Only seven months after he directed and released “Gone With The Wind”, Victor Fleming released another directorial effort he was working on “The Wizard Of Oz”, that must not have been easy to direct two films of that stature at the same time. Even though Cukor was dismissed from the production, he continued to privately coach both Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland at their request on weekends, unbeknownst to both Selznick and Fleming.
The real auteur of the whole production is producer, David O. Selznick, the Steven Spielberg of his day. He understood that the key to mass appeal was the linking of melodrama with state of the art production values. Selznick’s lavish super-production is the great exhibit in the argument for Hollywood filmmaking craft and moviemaking machinery, in this case filmmaking as a producer’s vision rather than a director’s art. Some of the individual shots in “GWTW” still have the power to leave us breathless and could be the canvas to someone’s painting. Scenes so visually stunning including: the burning of Atlanta and the “street of dying men” shot, as Scarlett wanders into the street and the camera pulls back a vast carpet of wounded Confederate soldiers as far as the eye can see. That shot is where this masterful film is at the height of its cinematic powers.
There are infinite highs with the film, beginning with Vivien Leigh’s extraordinary performance as Scarlett O’Hara, one of the most fully developed characters ever depicted in American cinema. It’s quite simply a masterpiece of cinema because it tells a great story, and tells it wonderfully well. It’s a four-hour epic distinguished by breathtaking achievements in pure moviemaking. “Gone With The Wind” has a genuine sweep, a convincing feel for the passage of time. It shows the South before, during and after the war, all seen through Scarlett’s eyes. A kind of IMAX experience before IMAX even existed, “Gone With The Wind” remains huge on every level: with it’s impressive set pieces, the acting, directing, the sheer scale of it, the emotions and the four hour running time.
Personally my top 5 favorite films have stayed consistent for years and still hasn’t changed. “Gone With The Wind” has always solidified and will always be standing in its rank at my fourth favorite film of all time (behind “Back To The Future”, “The French Connection” and “Bullitt”). If ever the phrase, “They don’t make ’em like they used to” could describe a film, “Gone With The Wind” would be it. “Frankly my dear, this is one of film’s greatest achievements”.
Regal Theaters Fathom Events will air “Gone With The Wind”
•March 3 @ 1 and 6pm (Sunday)
•March 17 @ 1pm (Sunday)
•March 18 @6pm (Monday)