This year marks the 75th anniversary of one of America’s greatest cinematic masterpieces, Gone with the Wind. I have watched the film numerous times and am currently re-reading the book. In honor of its anniversary, today I am reviewing Gone with the Wind.
Warning: Review and synopsis contain spoilers. Though, after 75 years, I really do not know if there is anything left to spoil.
Synopsis: Set in the American South in the years leading up to and after the Civil War, Gone with the Wind follows the fortunes of the O’Hara family. Scarlett O’Hara is a woman who is used to getting her own way. She can deal with a nation at war, the burning of Atlanta, the Union Army carrying off her belongings, and the raiders who arrive shortly afterwards. Scarlett is a beautiful and spoilt Southern Belle. Ashley, the man she has lusted after for years, is marrying his cousin, Melanie. The day the Civil War begins, a strange man arrives at Twelve Oaks, Ashley’s estate. The man is named Rhett Butler. Scarlett is unaware of his presence when she implores Ashley to marry her instead of Melanie. This sets off a chain of events that lead to Scarlett marrying several men before being caught by the enigmatic Rhett Butler.
Review: I will not be reviewing this film based upon its portrayal of slavery or depiction of plantation life. This movie is not about the horrors of slavery and it should not be judged as such. The movie is based upon a book, which in turn is based upon the author’s (Margaret Mitchell) romanticized version of the American South. This is neither a documentary nor a movie about slavery. Instead, it is the story of a young woman’s struggle to adapt to a changing world and it is an ode to a past way of life.
This is one of the better book-to-movie adaptions in existence. The movie stays true to the book’s overarching narrative, though some things were changed. For instance, the book is extremely darker than the movie. In the book Scarlett has few, if any, redeeming qualities. Her thoughts and feelings are complex and extremely spiteful. But the movie attempts to humanize her character.
Another change from the book is the portrayal of racial tensions. In the book, Mitchell extensively talks about racial tension and the actions of the Ku Klux Klan. Mitchell was actually criticized for her highly inaccurate and demeaning portrayal of black characters. In the book, Scarlett is grabbed by a black man while driving past Shantytown. In the movie, she is grabbed by a white man. Ashley, Frank, Dr. Meade, and several other characters are Klan members in the book; this membership is mostly eradicated in the movie. By removing Klan references, the movie downplays the racial tension depicted in the book. However, this was probably a wise choice considering that America still enforced segregation laws in 1939.
Other changes include Scarlett’s treatment of Prissy. In the book, Prissy is abused by Scarlett multiple times. In the movie Scarlett slaps her once. Also, the movie does not mention that Melanie’s baby is starving to death because she cannot produce milk. This is why they are all overjoyed when they find the cow. The movie also downplays the scene where a drunken Rhett comes home and forces Scarlett into the bedroom. This scene was intentionally sanitized in the movie to make it seem less like marital rape. Scarlett also has more children in the book. In the movie she only has one child, Bonnie Blue, with Rhett. However, in the book, she has a child by each of her three husbands. Her horrific parenting and blatant neglect paint her in a despicable and vile light in the book. The movie merely depicts her as materialistic and easily distracted.
Gone with the Wind is an extremely long book, about 1,037 pages. Hence, the movie compressed some events for the sake of time. For instance, Rhett’s courtship of Scarlett mainly occurs while they are travelling in carriages. Scarlett is present when Belle Watling presents Melanie with money for the hospital. This way Scarlett can notice that the coins are held in one of Rhett’s handkerchiefs. In the movie, Gerald O’Hara dies while chasing their overseer off the premises. His accident in the book is caused when his other daughter, Suellen, tries to force him into signing a document declaring that he is a Yankee Sympathizer. Scarlett does not witness his death in the book.
Overall, the movie managed to lighten the narrative and depict Scarlett in a sympathetic light. If Scarlett had been portrayed as completely irredeemable, than I doubt the movie would have done as well. I have to say, I did wish that Rhett and Scarlett stayed together. Oh well, for every happy ending there is always a doomed love affair.
Anyways, this is one of the best movie adaptions of a book, even if the narrative was slightly altered. Considering the technology available to filmmakers in 1939, the quality of the film is astounding. The cinematography and excellent costumes make the characters come alive. Also, the film had an excellent cast. Clark Gable will always be Rhett Butler. Much like Colin Firth will always be Mr. Darcy. Both the film and the movie are American Classics. Even if you disagree with the subject matter, I recommend seeing the film at least once.