Monday, March 18, 2013
"GONE WITH THE WIND" (1939) Review
"GONE WITH THE WIND" (1939) Review
Several years ago, I had come across an article that provided a list of old classics that the author felt might be overrated. One of those movies turned out to be the 1939 classic, "GONE WITH THE WIND". Not only did the author accuse the movie of being both racist and sexist, he also claimed that the movie had not aged very well over the past 73 years.
Did I agree with the author? Well, let me put it this way. I would say that "GONE WITH THE WIND" has managed to withstand the tests of time . . . to a certain extent. As the author had pointed out, the sexism and racism are obvious and rather off-putting. The slaves came across as too servile for my taste. And although the slave Prissy was not the only dimwitted character in the story (think of Aunt Pittypatt, the Tarleton brothers and Charles Hamilton), she had the bad luck to spout that unfortunate line that must have been the bane of actress Butterfly McQueen’s life - "Miz Scarlett, I know nothin’ bout birthin’ no babies.". And the sexism was no better. I found Rhett’s determination to view Scarlett as his own personal child bride rather distasteful – along with his act of marital rape. But if I must be honest, I have seen movies that are just as bad or even worse. I had once seen "GONE WITH THE WIND" at one of my local movie theaters when it had been re-released to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1989. The first half of the film struck me as being well-paced and filmed. The dialogue sparkled and Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable, and the rest of the cast could not have been better. I could not say the same for the film’s second half.
The real problem with "GONE WITH THE WIND" manifested in Part Two. Once Scarlett married Rhett . . . the movie simply fizzled. Oh sure, it had its iconic moments – Scarlett appearing at Ashley’s birthday party in the infamous red dress and Bonnie Blue Butler’s death. Unfortunately, it did not take me very long to fall asleep . . . even before poor Bonnie Blue’s death. I managed to wake up in time to witness Hattie McDaniel's brilliant monologue on the decline of Butlers' marriage. I do not think one can really blame the movie's credited screenwriter, Sidney Howard and the screenwriters who worked on the project. Margaret Mitchell's novel has the same problem as the movie. Namely, it started brilliantly and ended with me crying in despair for the story to end. I suspect that Selznick had decided not to risk earning the fans' ire by refraining from changing the novel's structure too much.
And the main reason why "GONE WITH THE WIND" threatened to fizzle out in the end? Quite frankly, the story seemed unable to maintain the same pace throughout the film. Even worse, this seemed to have turned "GONE WITH THE WIND" into a movie with conflicting genres. I do not know whether to list it as a historical drama or a costumed melodrama. Most of the movie seemed like a historical drama – especially the first half that ends with Scarlett’s return to Tara. But once Scarlett’s second husband - Frank Kennedy – was killed during the Shantytown attack sequence, the movie purely became a costumed melodrama. This change in genre not only made the movie seemed slightly schizophrenic, it nearly grounded its pacing to a halt.
But . . . despite its political incorrectness and the dull last hour of the film, "GONE WITH THE WIND" still managed to hold up pretty well. Despite being over 73 years old.