Gone with the Wind Review
By Scott Eyman
Originally published in The Palm Beach Post
on Friday, June 26, 1998
Back on theater screens for the first time since 1989, Gone With the Wind looks good, sounds good and remains an almost completely absorbing experience.
What animates this great melodramatic war horse of the movies, beyond the splendor of the romantic setting, and what keeps it continually interesting for nearly all of its 222 minutes is the struggle for supremacy between two strong-willed, egocentric, thoroughly selfish adults.
The battle between Scarlett and Rhett involves property, status, money, power and sex. Basically, she's a manipulative bitch, and he's a bastard. But - and this is no small thing - he loves her. In their self-absorption and lack of pieties, they're a startlingly modern couple.
Looking at it for the first time in nearly 10 years, two things struck me about the film itself as opposed to its presentation (more on that in a minute).
First, the amazingly propulsive story-telling. Every scene advances the story, and nearly every shot. The script is reasonably literate, often wry, and manages the difficult task of integrating its central characters into a believably vast panorama.
Second, the quality of the acting. Vivien Leigh has always been regarded as first-rate, but Clark Gable is at least as good. Gable had the narrow range common to most movie stars, but within that range he was capable of considerable variations.
Basically, Gable always played a lovable tomcat. But in Gone With the Wind, when he has to handle a fair amount of the kind of thankless expositional dialogue usually given to supporting players, Gable does it beautifully. The man was a total pro. Beyond that, Rhett's anguish over the death of his daughter remains completely convincing. Gable's performance has snap, energy and passion, he moves well, and, God knows, looks fantastic.
What doesn't work? As always, it requires a distorting suspension of disbelief to believe that a woman of Scarlett's wiliness and erotic energy could carry such a strong torch for the hapless Ashley Wilkes - one of the worst parts ever written, which Leslie Howard is helpless to disguise.
(By contrast, Olivia de Havilland's Melanie, a stock, one-dimensional part, is nearly believable and rather touching.)
What about the technical changes in this revival? The use of dye-transfer Technicolor for the new prints shows up most prominently in grace notes - the creamy complexions, the vibrance of a red hair ribbon, the electric blue of a sash, the amazingly black blacks.
The digitizing of the soundtrack has largely avoided the artificial and unpleasant sharpness that can result from that process. The new print offers more of a bass range than is common in soundtracks from the '30s.
Gone With the Wind remains an ultimate example of the dream factory at its best.