“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Take a good look my dear. It’s an historic moment you can tell your grandchildren about. How you watched the Old South fall one night.”
These days, Hollywood is accused by the right wing of being militant lefties, always pushing an overly progressive agenda, trying to kill good old fashion values and conservativism. But apparently, in its earlier, golden years, Hollywood seems to have been a little on the redneck side itself, with a strange habit of telling Civil War stories where the slave owning southerners were the heroes. Birth of a Nation, the first ever feature length film was one. A decade later, Buster Keaton’s The General, arguably his best move, was another. Then, another decade after that, it was time for what may be the most famous movie of all time to make heroes out of a world of assholes, with Gone With the Wind.
On the Eve of the Civil War, spoiled plantation owner’s daughter Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is sick of hearing about Georgia’s secession from the Union. All she wants to do is swan around in pretty dresses and win the heart of neighbouring plantation heir, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). But when Ashley declares his engagement to his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), Scarlett spitefully replies by marrying Melanie’s younger brother, Charles (Rand Brooks). But not before meeting the handsome and charismatic Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). He’s so tainted with scandal and so rich, the only thing he can’t buy in the old south is respect. But before either of these fresh marriages can take root, the Civil War breaks out, with the men going to the front, while Scarlett and Melanie take refuge in Melanie’s aunt’s house in Atlanta.
When the south falls, Scarlett returns home to find her mother dead, her father insane and their plantation ransacked by the northern soldiers. When the wars ends, Scarlett is in control of one of the only cotton crops left in the south. Meaning, prices have gone sky high. Living with Melanie, while still pining after the newly returned Ashley, Scarlett dives head first into her second loveless marriage. This time stealing the beau of her own sister in order to have the money to pay her taxes and keep her plantation. All the while, Rhett is on the sidelines, declaring his love for Scarlett while also calling her on here bullshit. They’re both ruthless and manipulative, the only difference is, Rhett is aware of it, and even feels the odd pang of remorse about it.
It’s unfortunate that Gone With the Wind is so racist and wrong in its general world view, but I’d never use any of that to say it’s not a classic. It’s a terrible side effect of the time it was made, but none of that stops it from being an amazingly made and acted masterpiece. The fact that it’s just under four hours long, and follows a protagonist without a single likeable or redeemable quality, yet never gets boring for a single second, or ever feels too long or bloated, is a sign of just how good this movie is.
It’s strange to read that Gable always saw this as one of his least favourite movies, because Rhett Butler seems like the best use of the quintessential Clark Gable character. Rhett is handsome, arrogant, cunning and generally a bit of a prick. Yet, somehow, impossible not to like. And Vivien Leigh’s performance as one of cinema’s greatest sociopathic bitches is the perfect foil for him to play against. It can’t be easy to blow Clark Gable off the screen, but Leigh does it again and again and again.
Best Director – Fleming
Best Actor – Gable
Best Actress – Leigh
Best Supporting Actress – McDaniel
Best Supporting Actress (de Havilland nominated, lost to McDaniel)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Cinematography, Colour