Gone With The Wind, the movie event of 1939, was probably the most anticipated movie ever. It was based on Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel which had been an immediate runaway bestseller, and interest in the movie based on the novel was intense. The public watched avidly as screen idol Clark Gable was cast as Rhett Butler, and news from Hollywood reported the chagrin of stars such as Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn as British unknown Vivian Leigh was brought in to play southern belle Scarlett O'Hara.
One Woman's Story Amid Civil War and Reconstruction
Gone With The Wind is the story of Scarlett O'Hara. Big sweeping historical events take place, but they are placed in the context of their effect on Scarlett and her reaction to them.
Scarlett, of course, is not just any woman. A spoiled and willful daughter of privilege, Scarlett's forte is fascinating men to get what she wants. Her problem is she doesn't always know what she wants.
As the story opens, Scarlett is in love with dreamy impractical Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). But at the Twelve Oaks barbecue, Ashley rejects her, telling her that he is engaged to his cousin, sweet and mousy Melanie Hamilton (Olivia DeHaviland). In a fit of pique, Scarlett becomes engaged to and later marries Melanie's brother Charles (Rand Brooks).
It was at the same barbeque that Scarlett meets the man whose life is entwined with her own, well-born and well-educated scoundrelly Rhett Butler. Oh, and the Civil War breaks out.
Offscreen, the Civil War
The Civil War changes all the characters' lives with the impact of an earthquake, but it occurs for the most part offscreen. We see Confederate soldiers going off to war and returning from war. The only Yankee we see is a deserter - and Scarlett shoots him.
But it's the course of living in a country at war and occupation that tests Scarlett, and the spoiled belle whose primary skill is flirting demonstrates she can deliver a baby in a city under seige, escape from a burning city, pick cotton, run off carpetbaggers, and manage a saw mill.
She also displays a talent for marrying men for the wrong reasons - Charlie Hamilton out of spite, Frank Kennedy (Carroll Nye) for money to pay the taxes on her plantation Tara, and finally Rhett Butler, her true mate, simply because he's filthy rich. When Scarlett finally realizes that she loves Rhett, it's too late - or... is it?
An Unusual Heroine
Scarlett O'Hara stands out among movie heroines. In many ways admirable (and in many other ways not!), she is not at all a sympathetic character. She's a schemer, often a liar, she even steals her own sister's fiance!
But she's a survivor, and she certainly lives her life with gusto, however wrongheaded she often is.
Gone With The Wind is a personal story, but that doesn't mean it was filmed exclusively on the back lot. This is film as spectacle, the most eye-popping scenes being the burning of Atlanta, and the wounded at the railroad station going on and on and on for row after row after row.
Awards and Credits
Produced by David O Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming, Gone With The Wind was scripted by Sidney Howard based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell.
Gone With The Wind won a record nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Vivian Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, who was also the first African-American both to be nominated and to win an Academy Award).