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`Gone With The Wind' deserves this re-release 

Author: JACK GARNER

Source: Gannett News Service, 06-24-1998, pp ARC.

``Gone With the Wind'' wasn't Hollywood's first epic -- ``Birth of a Nation,'' ``Intolerance'' and the first ``Ben-Hur'' were among those that preceded it.

We all know it wasn't the last epic. Or haven't you heard about ``Titanic' '?

``Gone With the Wind'' remains Hollywood's most enduring epic, probably because it's also its most endearing epic.

The passionate saga of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, played out against the backdrop of the Civil War, generates more romance, historic drama, and deep emotion than a dozen lesser films.

And now a spiffed-up new print of the 1939 film is back where it belongs, on the big screen, reclaiming its title as the long-time champion of the U.S. movie palace.

``Gone With the Wind'' may have come in fourth in last week's American Film Institute top 100 list, but it's usually No. 1 in popular surveys.

More importantly, ``Gone With the Wind'' remains the benchmark by which all other Hollywood epics are measured.

For example, many viewers and commentators called ``Titanic'' a ``Gone With the Wind'' for a new generation. It's an apt description:

Both films were considered disasters in the making, as both went wildly over budget and months over schedule. ``Gone With the Wind'' was considered David O. Selznick's ``folly.'' ``Titanic'' was considered ``the ship that'll sink Fox.''

Both were set against a historic event.

Both featured a charismatic, fictional romance that captured the hearts of romantic viewers.

Both films are more than three hours long, and feature elaborate visual effects and richly evocative theme music.

Both swept their respective Oscar ceremonies. ``Gone With the Wind' ' won eight out of 13 nominations, ``Titanic'' won 11 of 14.

In both cases, the popular leading men were ignored. Clark Gable was nominated, but upset by Robert Donat (of ``Goodbye, Mr. Chips''); Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't even nominated.

The ``GWTW'' encore is deserved, for the following reasons:

Ted Turner's New Line Cinema (the film's current owners) have put the film through a rare three-strip, dye transfer process which means the film is in new, true Technicolor for the first time in generations. Indeed, the skies over burning Atlanta haven't been this vibrantly red since the original release in 1939, nor has Scarlett's stunning, makeshift ``drapery dress'' looked so beautifully green.

Digital technology has been applied to ``erase'' scratches and blotches in the film.

The film is being reissued in the original, appropriate screen ratio. Some editions in the '60s and '70s lopped off the top and bottom of the image, to stretch it artificially over a wide screen.

The soundtrack, including Max Steiner's wonderful music, has been digitally remastered.

In sum, ``Gone With the Wind'' has never looked or sounded as good as it does today -- perhaps even on the day of its initial release.

Still, the biggest reason to celebrate this reissue of ``GWTW'' is because the film is back on the big screen. And like ``Lawrence of Arabia'' and other great epics, ``Gone With the Wind'' was made to be seen on the big screen.

At this point, the film itself would seem to be beyond reviewing. It is a legendary movie and needs to be seen. But, that said, a few points can be made: Working with three directors (Victor Fleming, George Cukor and Sam Wood), its hands-on producer, David O. Selznick created a visually stunning work, with infinitely detailed sets, moody lighting, gorgeous matte paintings, and lavish costumes.

Three of the four leads were superbly cast -- Clark Gable was never better or more perfect than as Butler, Vivien Leigh is the epitome of Scarlett O'Hara, and Olivia de Havilland is sweet, but plausible as the saintly Melanie. Only Leslie Howard is a less-than-perfect choice. As he himself argued at the time, he's too old, and the part is too darn wimpy to compete with Butler.

Several supporting players are also memorable, particularly Oscar- winner Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, the true source of power in the O' Hara household; and Thomas Mitchell as Scarlett's robust father, driven to insanity by the horrors of war.

The exaggerated shiftlessness of Butterfly McQueen (as the dim-witted Prissy) doesn't age as well; it's one of the aspects that has made racial attitudes in ``Gone With the Wind'' problematic for modern audiences.

The script by Sidney Howard is beautifully crafted, especially over the first half; and filled with memorable dialog.

``Gone With the Wind,'' though, lacks perfect balance. Nearly all the film's memorable moments -- the crane shot over the hundreds of wounded in the Atlanta railway station, the carefree romp of the barbeque at Twelve Oaks, Scarlett's outrageous behavior at the bazaar, the flight from Atlanta -- occur in the first half.

The second half degenerates into a big-budget soap opera, though it' s salvaged through the strength of the Gable and Leigh performances.

After Rhett leaves with his famous ``don't-give-a-damn'' speech, and Scarlett vows to find a way to get him back, we hope -- we know -- she will. Like she says, ``tomorrow is another day.''

And now ``Gone With the Wind'' has earned another tomorrow on the big screen. Don't let it pass you by.

 

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