Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Masterpiece Film Series: Gone With The Wind

"Gone With The Wind" **** (out of ****)

"Gone with the Wind" is one of, if not the greatest example of early Hollywood epic filmmaking. Many people have said many things about this film. Some say it was a poor adaptation, other complain about the use of black stereotypes and a select few say it is simply too long. They may say what they will, but, "Gone with the Wind" is one of the greatest films I have ever seen. One of my personal all-time favorites.

I don't think I really have to describe the plot of "Gone with the Wind" as anyone who considers them self a film lover has probably seen it, so I'll explain what I like about this film.

First of all, you have an amazing cast. What film, up till 1939, had such an amazing cast. I can think of some great films made before "Gone with the Wind", take for example "Grand Hotel", the 1932 best picture Oscar winner. Or the great comedy "Dinner at Eight". Both had all-star cast. But, as great as those films are, neither one is really an the iconic level of this film. "Gone with the Wind" has become a film part of America's culture. We all know the lines, "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", "tomorrow is another day".

Who, other than Vivien Leigh or Clark Gable could have played Scarlett O' Hara and Rhett Butler? Others were considered, like Gary Cooper and Bette Davis, but, neither would have worked. Davis wasn't attractive enough and lack a certain feminine touch. Cooper lacked Gable's charisma. I don't think Clark Gable was really a great actor, but his screen presence is unmatchable. When Clark Gable is on-screen you watch him.

And the supporting roles are just as memorable. Olivia de Havilland, who was also considered for the role of Scarlett and Leslie Howard are perfectly cast. Neither one tries to steal scenes from the two stars, but actually compliment them. Howard was a better actor than Gable. You can tell Howard had more training. He was a much more versatile actor, but he doesn't give Gable an acting lesson here. When the two are in scenes together, Gable takes control.

I was also fascinated by the use of colors. Despite being partial color blind, I could still appreciate the vivid colors presented. The film has a beautiful look. And the cinematography does such a great job of giving the film an epic feel. Think of the scene when Scarlett sees all the wounded and dead soldiers. The camera pans along from right to left in an extreme long shot. We see the scope of the scene. The camera pans further and further back.

As for some of the racial stereotypes some may complain about. I don't feel they have much of a case. I would hate to condemn "Gone with the Wind" as a racist film. Though one scene does stick out. When Scarlett is passing through the shantytown and a black man attacks her while another black man comes to protect her. I was reminded of a famous scene in "Birth of A Nation", where a group of white women are about to be raped by a group of black men while the KKK comes to their rescue. Here we are getting an opposite message. In fact, many were concerned "Gone with the Wind" would turn out to be another "Birth of A Nation".

Still others complain about the "prissy" character, the housemaid who can't deliver a baby. Some say she was portrayed as too ignorant. Again, I'm not prepared to condemn the film on these grounds either. Giving the time frame in which the film takes place, I will admit it was probably exaggerated for comic effect, but, some sense of truth is probably there. In real life a character like Prissy would probably be ignorant.

"Gone with the Wind" won 10 Oscars including "best picture", "director", "actress" (Leigh) and "supporting actress" (Hatti McDaniel as Mammy, becoming the first black woman to win an Oscar). While an historic moment I still feel de Havilland, who was nominated in the supporting category, should have won. Unfortunately Gable lost that year to Robert Donat for "Goodbye, Mr. Chips". Now while Donat and the film are very good, what the heck was the Academy thinking? Even if they didn't want to give it to Gable, how about Laurence Olivier in "Wuthering Heights", the only other film in the magical year of 1939 that might have deserved a "best picture" Oscar.

For those who have not yet seen "Gone with the Wind" you have no clue what you are missing. As cliche as it may sound here is a film that has action, romance, humor and drama. It blends everything perfectly. "Gone with the Wind" is one of the true masterpieces of cinema.