GONE WITH THE WIND (Victor Fleming, 1939, USA)
Scarlet is grown from the red clay of Tara, emotionally barren like the plundered estate, an empty vessel that echoes of existential despair. Director Victor Fleming (thanks to George Cukor’s exhaustive pre-production) captures the spirit of the Ante-Bellum South through a romanticized polemic where slavery is defined as “house servant” and entitlement is a truism.
Scarlet is a spoiled rich girl who marries out of spite and greed, her existence an egoistic vendetta against all her perceived enemies: problem is, she hurts those who love her despite this major character flaw, and she is strength without heart. This is her story but she is not the compassionate link in the complex chain of events: Melanie Hamilton and the housemaid Mammy are the heart and soul of the tale. Melanie is caring and good natured, self-sacrificing and committed, and she knows of Scarlet’s faults (and her obsession) but sticks by her side. Though she never expresses her insecurities, Melanie’s determination is more than familial responsibility or obligation: she hopes to help Scarlet change...but will love her nonetheless if she fails. Mammy is the voice of logic and reason, her intrepid wisdom speaking volumes to the inane gossips of her “employer”. But Mammy is more than duty bound also; she loves Scarlet and hopes to see her finally grow up. Rhett Butler is a scoundrel, but he is man who eventually changes through the vicious conflict…he develops a conscience. Scarlet fights her own Civil War and in her mind she is the winner; only there is no one else playing her game. By the film’s end, she gets exactly what she deserves.
The film is a Technicolor marvel as the beautiful visuals bleed from the screen, creating a heightened sense of reality. Flemings use of matte paintings for extreme long shots establish the bloody and burning battlefield littered with corpses, which make this egocentric melodrama attain epic proportions. The costumes and set designs are magnificent; from the wonderfully choreographed Gala in the first act to the crane shot of dying Confederates in the Atlanta rail yard. Max Steiner’s score is married to the narrative, its swelling strings and harmonies creating an emotional tsunami that punctuates the drama…and pulls the heartstrings.
Though GONE WITH THE WIND is not a political movie, Scarlet becomes a cipher for the flawed values and vanity of a civilization that has evaporated in a tempest. Final Grade: (A)