Frankly, Dears, You Should Still Give a Damn
Author: Jack Mathews. STAFF WRITER
06-26-1998, pp B02.
* * * * (4 stars)
GONE WITH THE WIND. (G) All
Titanic phenomena aside, David O. Selznick's adaptation of Margaret
Mitchell's sweeping Civil War romance is still king of the movie world.
With Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard.
Directed by Victor Fleming. 3:42 (violence, adult themes). At select
IT HAS BEEN six months since the opening of James Cameron's
three months since its Oscar sweep and a week since its disappearance
from the box office top 10. So, are you ready now for the real King of
the World, producer David O. Selznick's "Gone With the Wind?"?
Mentioning the two movies in the same paragraph may strike fans of
both as irreverent, but there they are, bound for the moment by fate
film history. They are bookends to the era of the Technicolor epic,
the most expensive, troubled, hyped, discussed and successful movie of
And though no one is saying so, "Gone With the Wind's" seventh
national release is almost certainly coming now - a year-and-a-half
before its 60th anniversary - to exploit "Titanic's" rediscovery of
America's weakness for what was once called "sweeping romance."
Sweeping romance is undying love set against great historical
and the events of these films - the sinking of Titanic and the Civil
War - were almost equidistant from their screen dramatizations.
Survivors of the two disasters were still around when the movies were
released, creating a broad contemporary framework and adding a distinct
relevance to the fictionalizations.
"GWTW," adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel, was an instant
hit with the pre-World War II audience, and has found new fans in each
of its six previous re-issues. According to Exhibitor Relations, an
L.A.-based box office monitoring company, GWTW has sold about 50
more tickets in the United States than has "Titanic."
It's not "Citizen Kane," a groundbreaking stylistic masterpiece, but
"GWTW" is the epitome of classic Hollywood storytelling, using every
technological tool at its disposal to evoke atmosphere and period,
holding its focus on its central characters and their relationships.
Cameron used the same formula nearly six decades later.
There, however, the comparisons between the two films end. The
simplicity of "Titanic's" two-character story (everyone else in the
was a two-dimensional prop for Jack and Rose) makes Selznick's epic
opera look like a collaboration of Tolstoy and Faulkner.
GWTW's three-hour and 42-minute running time is broken up by an
intermission that separates the story's dramatic halves. The first half
is set during the Civil War, mostly at Tara, the Georgia plantation of
Irish immigrant Gerald O'Hara (Thomas Mitchell), whose household
includes his vivacious, spoiled daughter Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), her
sisters Suellen (Evelyn Keyes) and Careen (Ann Rutherford), and Mammy
(Hattie McDaniel), Scarlett's protective slave servant.
The second half follows Scarlett's post-Civil War life, as she tries
to rebuild Tara and reclaim the glory of her pre-war lifestyle, using
any means, or any man, to get what she needs, only to learn at the end
that the man she really loves is the one fed up with her rejections.
That fellow is Rhett Butler, the roguish blockade runner ordained by
novel's fans to be played by Clark Gable.
GWTW is not a great love story; it's a great unrequited love story.
Butler, a philanderer, gambler and profiteer, spends the whole movie,
which covers roughly 10 years, trying to discourage Scarlett's
obsession with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), a Southern gentleman
committed to his selflessly devoted cousin Melanie (Olivia de
Havilland). Scarlett eventually marries Rhett, after two other sordidly
calculated marriages, because of his money, and only through a painful
series of last-act tragedies does she finally know her heart.
By then, as all living souls must know, Rhett doesn't give a damn.
For its various revivals, "GWTW" has undergone several physical
revampings, and was even blown up to 70-mm., cutting off a third its
image, for its 1989 release. The version opening today has undergone a
dye-transfer process to give it greater brightness and clarity, at the
expense, some purists argue, of its original intentions.
It looks fine to me. Seeing it in a theater for the first time in
more than 30 years confirms how technologically masterful "GWTW" was,
and how wise Selznick's casting choices. Forget Leonardo DiCaprio and
Kate Winslet; Gable and Leigh are movie stars! Rhett's cocksure
insouciance was Gable's persona, and never has a star and role been
better matched. And Leigh, the young British actress who won the most
celebrated talent search in screen history, gave Scarlett a stubborn
power that would surprise even Margaret Mitchell.
You will notice the static matte paintings that provide backdrop
for many of the film's expansive scenes. If you pay attention, you'll
even see that about half of those hundreds of wounded rebels lying in
Atlanta street are dummies.
"GWTW" frequently overplays its hand, with Max Steiner's soaring
score almost lifting the actors off the ground, and you do have to
remind yourself that many people didn't consider its depictions of
characters, particularly the simple-minded Prissy (Butterfly McQueen),
to be offensive in its day.
"GWTW" converted eight of its 13 Oscar nominations, both records at
the time, and Selznick's eagerness to take credit for every frame of
film's success may have been the model for Jim Cameron's Oscar night
behavior. But in truth, "GWTW" casts a shadow from which