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Gone with the Wind: film review

First, the good:

Casting, most cases: Vivien Leigh was a joy to look at and listen to, throughout. Hard to picture a better Scarlett. Clark Gable was similar, for Rhett, despite the big ears and odd teeth (false, weren't they?). Chemistry between them was great. Mammy was simply perfect. I liked the guy who played Frank Kennedy, too.

Costuming: They followed the book to a T, and it was beeyootiful.

Set and effects, for what could be done in 1939: Obviously this was a landmark film in terms of its scope, and a lot of scenes that were probably jaw-dropping at the time are still pretty impressive. The burning building in Atlanta collapsing at the heels of the escapees looked awesome, and must have been highly dangerous, considering it was not CGI. Some of those Tara sunsets still bring a tear to the eye. And the camera slowly pulling back, back, back to reveal the vast ground of wounded soldiers, through which Scarlett is picking her way, has likely influenced battle and desolation scenes in a thousand movies since (including 'Lord of the Rings').

Don't say the K phrase: I have to agree that there's no way to include the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan, either in a '30s film or a modern one, and expect the tiniest bit of sympathy from a normal audience. Historically accurate, yes. But completely unworkable. Scarlett may say in the book that Ashley and Frank are fools to be in the KKK, but 20th-and-21st-century viewers would think them not merely foolish but downright evil. So, I understand and stamp a "pass" on that change.

The "needs improvement":

Casting, other cases: Leslie Howard's performance was good, but he didn't look quite right for Ashley, I thought. Ashley needs to be total gorgeousness, and probably younger, to justify Scarlett's obsession. And OK, Melanie is a hard character to play without being rather annoying, but Olivia de Havilland did come off as a bit too precious.

Not long enough. Seriously. This book needs more than four hours to do it justice. The film, though an admirable condensation, felt almost like the "condensed parody version," it clipped along so fast, introducing and resolving new developments within five minutes. I propose either a trilogy or a miniseries. That way, they could include somewhat important characters that were entirely missing in this version, such as Scarlett's first two children; or Will Benteen.

California-as-Georgia: All too often, exterior scenes were clearly interior sets; and when they were outdoors, it looked suspiciously like California countryside rather than Georgia. Not that I've been to Georgia. But still. Think what could be done, this day and age, with sweeping gorgeous outdoor shots. As for "you can tell we're in London because you can see Big Ben through the window," we will not speak of the silliness.

Wedding rings playing musical chairs: elycia warned me about this one, and I have to agree it's messed up. In the book, Scarlett throws her wedding ring into the jewelry collection basket for the Confederate Cause, because hey, she doesn't care about it, and it makes her look good; and Melanie, moved to tears, donates her precious ring too. Rhett later buys Melanie's back and sends it to her--but not Scarlett's, for he knows very well what her true feelings were. In the film, Melanie throws hers in first, and Scarlett follows suit; and then Rhett redeems both rings. Huh?

What is that green velvet dress REALLY for? In the book, Rhett flat-out invites Scarlett to be his mistress, with no mincing of words; and later, Scarlett needs money and says she'll do it. Though of course he doesn't take her up on it, it's important that we see just how much Scarlett is willing to give up here. The movie was too shy to include the mistress bit, so her trip in the velvet dress to entice Rhett ends up a little aimless: he won't marry her, so she just asks for the money, offering only her earrings as collateral. Come on. Our Scarlett is braver, and a better businesswoman, than that.

You really were more scared than hurt: Scarlett getting attacked in Shantytown didn't end up looking very scary. In the book she gets her dress torn halfway off--you know, an actual reason for the menfolk to seek lethal revenge.

Boys don't cry: The women in this film did a fine imitation of crying. But when it was the turn of Rhett or Ashley, the actors seemed to be of the school that says all you need to do is cover your face with your hands and put a slight strain in your voice. Would it have been totally emasculating to try a sob or a hiccup? Probably a '30s-movie thing. Men Do Not Break Down.

Just that general '30s feel: The whole thing carries a certain cheesy melodrama tinge, as all films from that era do. Ever-present sappy background music distracts from a lot of mellow scenes. Intonation on many lines feels like Drama, not like reality. ("Oh, Ashley!" is said in almost exactly the same way as Dorothy's "Oh, Toto!" from the same year.) And those neck-spraining head-bent-backward kisses look not only painful but dated.

Now. Time to take the baby for a walk. Discuss or something.



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
Ashley needs to be total gorgeousness, and probably younger, to justify Scarlett's obsession.

As you know, I haven't read the book, but I remember when I saw the movie I thought "Dude, Vivian Leigh gets worked up over him? I mean, it's not like he's hard to look at, or anything, just...all that drama would seem to warrant utter hotness, which he ain't. He must have a great personality. If you know what I mean. Heh."

In the book, Rhett flat-out invites Scarlett to be his mistress, with no mincing of words; and later, Scarlett needs money and says she'll do it.

Reeeeally? Huh. That makes so much more sense for the character. I always assumed that the point of that scene was to establish that Scarlett could make swanky outfits out of curtains in a pinch.

("Oh, Ashley!" is said in almost exactly the same way as Dorothy's "Oh, Toto!" from the same year.)


I don't know if you've ever read the comic strip "Heart of the City", but it centers around a little girl named Heart (a drama queen) and her little friend Dean (a nerd of the first water). There's an old strip that has Heart begging her mother to read her a certain book at bed-time, while her mother protests that she's had that book read to her a million times, and couldn't we maybe read something new? Heart insists, so in the final panel you have Mom reading "Scarlett O'Hara was not a beautiful woman, but..." and Heart hanging over her shoulder, demanding with morbid glee "Skip to the part where Rhett dumps her!" Hee.

(Hopefully that amused you, even though it was a lame synop of the strip rather than a link to the real thing. Couldn't find it online but I had to share. *is a dork*)
May. 26th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
Hehee! I haven't seen that strip, but it IS pretty funny to imagine reading GWTW aloud as a bedtime story. And being gleeful about Scarlett getting dumped. :D

Yes, in fact it's right after that Han-Solo-like exchange that Rhett says he ain't the marrying kind, but he'd love to have her as his mistress. Of course she sends him packing, but then puts the curtains together into a come-hither dress when in need of tax money later. Of course he's in jail, so he can't oblige anyhow. Dang timing.
May. 25th, 2006 12:34 am (UTC)
Men Do Not Break Down
That's not just a 30's-movie thing; that's an iron clad dogma.
May. 26th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Men Do Not Break Down
But it's okay to scream "Noooo!" once in a while, right? :)
May. 25th, 2006 03:40 am (UTC)
You've inspired me to read the book! I saw the movie a few years ago, and always wanted to read the book. It's just one of those things you think about doing but never do. Until now! I'm flying to California on Sunday so I hope to get in some reading time on the plane/in airports/while tanning. Of course I am traveling with a two month old baby so we'll see how that goes. Eeesh.
May. 26th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
Hurrah! I don't envy you that trip with the baby, heh, but it is a good page-turner. Hope you enjoy it and post about it afterward!
May. 25th, 2006 01:32 pm (UTC)
Burning Atlanta = burning the sets from King Kong. :)
May. 26th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
Hee. That's a cool tidbit. How resourceful of them. :)
May. 25th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
Actually, Clark Gable's emotional scene with Melanie was quite unusual at the time. The fact that he had tears on his face was considered a break through, especially for an actor who was labeled a "hunk."
May. 26th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
They would have fainted if they looked ahead and saw all the male crying in LOTR. :)
May. 25th, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC)
Wheee! You watched it! *Takes deep breath and dives in*

Vivien Leigh was indeed perfect, except possibly for being *too* pretty; remember, MM's opening line is, "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful..." Can you imagine if they'd cast Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, both of whom were considered? Clark Gable was okay, though the Charleston accent/drawl is so sexy that its absence left the character kind of flat, to me. Olivia deHaviland was fine within the confines of the script. It's just a pity they changed Melly's character so much. Her weakness makes her the more admirable, and I can't imagine why Selznik missed that point so completely. Leslie Howard did NOT want to do the movie, and it shows. And the kid who played Bonnie was HORRIBLE. :-)

it looked suspiciously like California countryside rather than Georgia. Gryn. If there's not 500 pine trees every 100 square feet, it ain't Georgia. ;-)

The jail-scene changes to suit 1930s morality certainly were a bit damaging to the plot, as was Scarlett's stated reason for "not wanting any more children" after Bonnie was born. But they had to jump through a hundred hoops and pay all kinds of fines just to keep the word, "Damn," at the end, so the removal of those thorny ethical issues isn't surprising (even if it is disappointing). And yeah, pity they couldn't rip off Vivien Leigh's bodice and show her boobies in the Shantytown scene; THAT would have made an impression in 1939! ;-) Aside: Have you ever seen Carol Burnett's parody of the green-curtain-dress scene? Funniest thing on earth. "I saw it in the window, and I couldn't resist."

Re the crying: Clark Gable flat-out refused to do it at first. I think it was ONLY because the director of the moment (and there were three on the project, one after the other, which made the filming a madhouse) was a friend of his and cadjoled him into trying it. Real Men didn't cry in those days, no matter HOW drunk they were (and that's the only reason Rhett breaks down and bawls, because he's almost too drunk to stand up, let alone manage his emotions). Another thing I *hate* about the movie is how Melly *admits* to Rhett that she's pregnant in that scene. GAAAAAH. And how she collapses in the hall after going to see Bonnie's body. Puh-leeze.

But problems aside, it was still a groundbreaking movie in a number of ways, and will probably remain one of the top 100 movies of all time forever.

The current environment of political correctness would probably prevent this movie ever being remade for the big screen. Mitchell is too tolerant of slavery and too hostile toward the North and its minions. But it might just make an interesting miniseries, along the lines of the BBC's *excellent* 6-hour "Pride and Prejudice." I'd love to see such a thing done, with scenes added to explain some of the exposition in the book, like a glimpse of Ashley at Rock Island to show how HORRIBLE Civil War prison camps were, or scenes of Confederate soldiers marching shoeless in the snow, leaving bloody footprints as the skin froze off their feet, and eating hardtack because that's all they had left, and people living in houses that used to be 2-story but had the top story blown off, so they slapped a flat roof on and managed. So, SO much of the story of GWTW is driven by how these people managed and triumphed through horrible privations, utterly unimaginable in this day and age in the U.S., and the 1939 movie glossed over a lot of that.

So. Are you going to have another post "casting" the modern remake, or do you want to tackle that here?

May. 26th, 2006 04:59 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, I was going to mention Rhett's accent. I don't know what a Charleston accent sounds like, but he did sound Yankeeish to me.

Hah, the kid playing Bonnie...agreed. Child acting from past decades often makes me want to bludgeon myself.

Well, they wouldn't have needed to show boobies in Shantytown, but maybe at least some tearing of fabric and some bare shoulders. They managed to show Melanie take off her nightgown to wrap the dead Yankee. Anyway, what's done is done, and it's why we need to redo it. ;)

Have you ever seen Carol Burnett's parody of the green-curtain-dress scene? Funniest thing on earth. "I saw it in the window, and I couldn't resist."

Bhahaha! It sounds familiar, so I probably have seen it, but I'd forgotten. Hee.

Another thing I *hate* about the movie is how Melly *admits* to Rhett that she's pregnant in that scene. GAAAAAH. And how she collapses in the hall after going to see Bonnie's body. Puh-leeze.

Oh yes, was going to complain about that too. Timing was way rushed there, and unrealistic in the telling Rhett she was pregnant.

Pride & Prejudice was exactly what I had in mind as a good miniseries example. Imagine what could be done this day and age. However, the casting...I've been thinking about it, and keep drawing blanks on ideal actors. For Scarlett, everyone is either the wrong age, or too pretty, or too inelegant, or all the above. (Catherine Zeta-Jones?...Irish, but way too pretty, and too old.) For Rhett I like the idea of Josh Holloway with his hair dyed black, but that may just be me. Ashley, hm...someone like Cary Elwes twenty years ago, maybe? It's just hard to say.
May. 26th, 2006 06:32 pm (UTC)
I have been rendered temporarily insensate by the idea of Josh Holloway as Rhett. Please excuse the drool.
May. 26th, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
Uh-huh. Pretty thought, innit? He's good at being a scoundrel with a heart of almost-gold...I bet he could do it. And those dapper clothes on him... Mmmm.
May. 28th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
Okay, here's my thoughts on casting The Remake. This roll is put together with no thought to any actors' interest, salary requirements, availability, sexual orientation, or anything else usefeul. :-)

For Rhett: George Clooney, no contest. I saw a photo of him in Vanity Fair once dressed and done up as Clark Gable's Rhett, and the resemblance was staggering. But it's not just that; he's the right age (Rhett is 45, IIRC, at the end, and Clooney is 43), he can easily be made to look younger with a little grey coverage, he has the right sassy smartass attitude, and he's a very talented actor. But if Clooney decides to go on permanent safari to Africa or something, I could swallow hard and accept Joaquin Phoenix, who seemingly can morph himself into any role. Johnny Depp has a certain twisted potential, too, and for the same reason.

Scarlett and Melly are a little tougher. They have to go from sixteen to twenty-eight, which in Reconstruction-era Georgia probably looked more like 40 or even 50, given how bloody hard life was. They also have to be very slight women who can do starved-thin believably without hurting themselves. This rules out competent actresses like Scarlet Johannsen, who is lovely and talented, but whose D-cup bustline ain't gonna disappear no matter HOW tight you tape it. Catherine Z-J is out for the same reason--way too curvy.

For Scarlett, I always imagined Winona Ryder; she has the right oddly angular, sharp-chinned, not-quite-beautiful but still fascinating appearance (see pic), and she's a helluva actress for all that she's a fruitbat in her private life. But she may be getting a little bit old for the part, girlish build notwithstanding. Other possibilities: Natalie Portman (see pic), who's really too pretty, but as Nicole Kidman proved in "The Hours," even gorgeous women can be uglified for the camera, or maybe even Reese Witherspoon, who is a bit busty and hippy but is still very petite and already has the accent in the bag. Charlize Theron also has a certain potential, with the right wig and contact lenses.

Melly is harder. Her role is beyond crucial, yet she has to be utterly understated. She is described in the book as looking like a prepubescent girl even into her 20s: absurdly petite, stick-figured, and for much of the film, dangerously frail. Plus, she has those huge eyes that take up most of her face, eyes that, as Beatrice Tarleton observed, come from breeding close cousins for too many generations. My first, snarky thought: Mary-Kate Olsen. Disturbingly huge eyes, small build, and anorexic--perfect! But wait: she can't act. Okay, then. My next choice would be Emmy Rossum, who even has the frizzy-curly hair that Mitchell describes and also has excellent screen presence even in minor roles. I also thought about Jessica Alba, who looks shy and retiring even when she's playing a gun-toting stripper, and who is bone-thin.

To me, Ashley is hardest. He has to be the proverbial golden boy right down to the skin, sun-kissed and almost godlike in appearance. The coloration is crucial; you can't just bleach some brunette guy's hair and pass him off. (And yeah, Cary Elwes circa "Princess Bride" would have been spot-on.) Plus, he has to be able to ride a horse like he was born sitting on one. I contemplated Heath Ledger, but he strikes me as a little too big-boned and not effeminate or aristocratic enough. If Orlando Bloom had a slightly different skin color, I might be able to deal with him in a wig again, because he can do that slightly vapid, tortured morality pretty well, and he's got both the right build and that almost unnatural grace of motion. I just can't think of any properly blond actors in their 20s or early 30s right now who have the right skill set.

Do you want to worry about casting secondary characters, or do the big four have you sufficiently boggled? ;-)
May. 30th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
Good thoughts! Clooney also occurred to me. Much as I find him annoying in interviews, he *is* a handsome fella. And same with Depp, who has experience playing a pirate (blockade runner; same difference)...though he's possibly a little too slight and fey for Rhett. But I do love him.

Winona Ryder might work. Haven't seen her lately; I don't know how she's looking these days. But yeah, Portman has a similar feel. Or maybe Keira Knightley, if she can do a Southern accent. However, she might qualify as TOO pretty.

Jessica Alba might almost be too pretty for Melly as well. But at least she has the right "sweet" feel.

For Ashley I considered Jude Law--he did a Southern accent for 'Cold Mountain'--but he looks a bit too cruel or cold somehow. Again, I say this though I do love him. :)

Secondary characters, hmm...Morgan Freeman as Pork?
Jul. 27th, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)
Random casting idea for Ashley (months later): do you think Ewan McGregor would work? He's almost blond; could be lightened sufficiently to look natural, I think. Did a Southern accent in Big Fish. He might not be emo enough, though; I could just be letting my personal preference get in the way. :)
May. 26th, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
P.S. Re. casting, I did have the felicitous idea of Owen and Luke Wilson as the Tarleton twins. :D
May. 25th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC)
i agree with just about everything!

i really (REALLY) liked olivia dehavilland as melanie, but i don't think she looked like melanie - wasn't tiny and frail enough, and she just looked too damn tough from the get-go. melanie's supposed to look like a scared little rabbit all the time; dehavilland couldn't do that ever, i don't think. and i agree on ashley, although i looove leslie howard - ashley was bigger, and dreamier, and had a moustache for god's sakes - leslie howard wasn't ashley at all. he had the emo thing down, but that's about it. oh AND - aunt pittypat, mrs. merriwether and mrs. elsing - awesome casting.

and ditto on the "needs to be longer" - so many people see the movie and go on about how there was "too much stuff we didn't need", and it was just too long, but yea.. if you've read the book, you really wish it was longer. i agreeeeee. i desperately want will benteen in that movie. and honey wilkes - where was she? just some totally random character omissions that don't make sense to me in there.

i could ramble on forever so i'll stop. i really would like to see this remade though, but i guess it'll never be done.. for a book like that turned movie, especially made in the 1930's, it was pretty damn good; i'm not sure hollywood could do much better today. and i honestly can't think of any actors and actresses who could play the characters better.
May. 26th, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
I know; I keep trying to come up with an ideal modern cast, and just keep blanking. Maybe they could do it with unknowns. But then they'd probably make NEW changes that would be totally stupid, so perhaps it's best left alone. Ah well.
May. 27th, 2006 03:39 am (UTC)
I have to agree that there's no way to include the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan, either in a '30s film or a modern one, and expect the tiniest bit of sympathy from a normal audience. Historically accurate, yes. But completely unworkable. Scarlett may say in the book that Ashley and Frank are fools to be in the KKK, but 20th-and-21st-century viewers would think them not merely foolish but downright evil. So, I understand and stamp a "pass" on that change.

It is my understanding that the Klu Klux Klan was written out of the movie not to protect the film-going audience from looking harshly on the characters; rather, every mention was excluded because David O. Selznick feared offending elected officials and audience members who belonged to (or had family members who had belonged to) the later incarnation of the group. Keep in mind that the movie was made only two years after the book was published and the Klan was mentioned in the text without fear of how readers would regard the characters involved in the Klan. Not much had changed socially between the publication of the book and the opening of the film-- segregation was a reality to both the North and the South in the late 1930s and the “new” Klan had ceased being only a Southern organization. Supposedly, from a political angle, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Oregon, and Maine were particularly under its influence by the mid-1920s. The “normal” audience you mention would largely be made up with people who could easily be offended by a negative presentation of the Klan and not so much the presentation of a character’s racism.

The Klu Klux Klan that is mentioned in the novel was founded by Confederate veterans as a fraternal social group, much like the OddFellows or whatnot. Within a year the group became more of a political vigilante organization focused on resisting the Reconstruction—in 1867, though the Klan was a very loosely organized group, they attempted a written platform that stated that they resisted Reconstruction and the Republican Party. Though blacks were largely targeted in this first incarnation of the Klan, white Republicans were the ones most often harassed and intimidated. By 1868, however, the organization slide into decline and when Scarlett ponders the state of the South and comments on her opinion of the Klan, her statements stem from the fact that she believes such a group gave the North more of a reason to have a strong political and military presence in the South. Mitchell knew her history well and gives Scarlett the opinion that many upper class Southerners felt by 1868. The Klan, by the way, was pretty much eradicated by 1870. It’s second incarnation came about in 1915.

I know that you favor fiction, but I could recommend a number of primary texts (like diaries and the like) that could provide another view of this time period...

May. 27th, 2006 03:47 pm (UTC)
Ah, that makes more sense. I didn't even realize about the 2 incarnations of the Klan. (What I don't know about history could fill libraries...and does in fact!) :) I guess I figured Mitchell kept it in the book out of strict historical accuracy, but that films, as is still the case, can't get away with as much as books can. (Same way she included the mistress angle, but the film didn't.)

Anyhow, I've lately felt I need a lot of help in the history filling-in; and despite my preference for novels, I'd much rather read great nonfiction than bad fiction, so feel free to recommend.
May. 28th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)
I'm glad you watched the movie. :-) I will always say that Vivien Leigh *was* Scarlett. She was brilliant. I loved Clark Gable as Rhett, too.

I totally agree about Ashley. *grin*
Oct. 18th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)
Scarlett's offer in the movie...
Sorry this post is so late...only just discovered your terrific blog!

Actually, Scarlett *does* offer to be Rhett's mistress in the movie...it's couched in far more cryptic language than the book (since they never would have gotten away with the book's frankness) and it lacks the callback to the earlier scene where Rhett asks Scarlett to be his mistress (since that scene wasn't in the movie), but it's there.

After Rhett turns down Scarlett's offer of her earbobs and a mortgage on Tara, he asks her what else she has to offer.

She looks him right in the eye and says, "You once said you loved me...If you still love me, Rhett..." (Translation: I have *myself* to offer. Those are the words she used in the book, where she also said, "If you still *want* me, you can have me.")

"But you haven't forgotten I'm not a marrying man?" (Translation: don't delude yourself that I'll make an honest woman out of you if I *do* take you up on your offer.)

"No...I haven't forgotten." (Translation: I don't care if you won't marry me...just give me the money and you can have me.)

Rhett pauses and then says, "You're not *worth* three hundred dollars." (Whenever I've seen that in a theatre, the whole audience just goes, "*Ooooh.*"

That was probably about as frank as they could get and still keep the meaning of the scene.
Oct. 19th, 2007 02:04 am (UTC)
Re: Scarlett's offer in the movie...
Hello and welcome! Late comments always happily received. :)

Good point--I can read it that way, in retrospect. They did keep the interpretation open; it's just not nearly as blatant as in the book.

This reminds me I'm supposed to write something up comparing the Rhett/Scarlett/Ashley triangle to the Spike/Buffy/Angel one...
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )