A gorgeous score by Max Steiner welcomes me to this towering four hour epic based on Margaret Mitchell’s classic (albeit incredibly racist) tale of the south. This was one I had never seen, but as I dove back into the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, specifically the romance and melodrama section, it was time to take the leap.
The film is Hollywood royalty, and is a sumptuous visual feast as we see Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara toy with and try to romantically ensnare the Confederate soldier and rogue, Rhett Butler, who is brought to life by Clark Gable.
Scarlett is a bit of a flirt, and honestly, seems rather spoiled, but the backdrop, in this case the cinematography and visual design, not the story, is simply breathtaking, and that alone makes it worth the watch.
Filled with humor, bristling with smart dialogue (in spite of the simplistic story), and buried in melodrama, it’s hard to empathize with Scarlett, and it’s hard not to believe that Rhett is toying with her from the off.
While her character evolves, somewhat, at least within the constraints of the melodramatic environs in which she finds herself, Scarlett is no more likable in the second half of the film than she was in the first.
Even as she takes care of the family estate, known as Tara, her sister in law, Melanie (Olivia de Haviland), her half-mad father (Thomas Mitchell) and her slaves, things continue to spiral out of control – the Civil War wages around them, the fall of the south, and Rhett and she toy with one another’s hearts.
The model work, the design, and costume work, are nothing short of magnificent and stunning, and can almost make you forget how thin the story actually is.
The film walked away with ten Oscars, including Best Actress for Leigh, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Hattie McDaniel’s role as Mammy, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, and Best Picture.
And while I agree with the technical awards, I’m a little less sure about the screenplay…
Everything about the film seems so overblown, and while melodrama can be enjoyable, this one seems not only to be soaked in it, but super-saturated to the point where you need a fan and smelling salts for each new incident that befalls Scarlett.
The film has a long history in the hearts of millions, and Hollywood, itself, it’s epic, grandiose, has strong performances, if only there could have been more of a story. At four hours, the film is as much an event as it is a cinematic touchstone, and even now, it looks beautiful, and the imagery is stirring, it is only the story that is lacking.
Still, I have now seen this one, and can cross it off the list, let’s see how the recommendations play out… But something tells me that frankly, I don’t give a damn.