Saturday, March 16, 2019

Stubs - Gone With the Wind

Gone With the Wind (1939) Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, Hattie McDonald, Butterfly McQueen. Directed by Victor Fleming. Screenplay by Sidney Howard. Based on the novel Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (New York, 1936). Produced by David O. Selznick Runtime: 220 minutes. USA Color. Romance

Few films have made as big a splash as Gone With the Wind, based on the runaway best seller of the same name written by Margaret Mitchell and published in 1936. The book, which was a top seller for two years, sold 30 million copies worldwide.

Making it into a movie might seem like a foregone conclusion, and it was independent producer David O. Selznick who, prior to its publication, saw the potential, writing in one of his famous memos to his Eastern Story Editor, Katherine “Kay” Brown, “...the more I think about it, the more I feel there is excellent picture in it....”. It was Brown who first read a galley of the 1000+ page book and suggested it to Selznick. The book was published on June 30, 1936, and by early July, he had purchased film rights for $50,000.

Not letting any grass grow up under his feet, he brought in director George Cukor in September 1936 and by September had hired Sidney Howard to do a treatment and write a screenplay. But like practically everything associated with the film, they would not be the last ones. Cukor’s relationship with Selznick seemed to strain as pre-production went on. And even though the film’s principal photography began on January 26, 1939, Cukor left the film on February 14th.

There are many reasons why Cukor was replaced, including Clark Gable’s feeling that the director would give better treatment to the actresses than to him. He was initially replaced by Victor Fleming, whose name ended up on the picture. Fleming, who had just directed The Wizard of Oz (1939), left the film on April 28, 1939, citing exhaustion. MGM director Sam Wood took over for Fleming, who came back in mid-May. Wood would continue to work for ten days after Fleming’s return. Production Designer William Cameron Menzies and Reeves “Breezy” Eason would act as Second Unit Directors with Menzies doing some backlot exteriors and Eason directing a battle scene. In all, Cukor would direct for 18 days, Fleming for 93, and Woods for 24. 

Picking an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara was one of the great talent searches of all-time. While Tallulah Bankhead was the first actress seriously considered, she was certainly not the last. Other actresses who were either tested or considered include Jean Arthur, Diana Barrymore, Joan Bennett, Marguerite Churchill, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Frances Dee, Ellen Drew (using the name Terry Ray), Irene Dunne, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Miriam Hopkins, Carole Lombard, Susan Hayward (under her real name, Edythe Marrener), Boots Mallory, Jo Ann Sayers, Norma Shearer, Margaret Sullavan, Margaret Tallichet, Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Arleen Whelan, Paulette Goddard, and Loretta Young.

The role would end up going to Vivien Leigh, whom Selznick did not meet until December 10, 1938, when the “Burning of Atlanta” sequence was filmed. After some screen tests, her casting was announced on January 13, 1939.

The search for Rhett Butler was not as grand, with Clark Gable a leading contender all along. However, Warner Baxter, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Fredric March, and Errol Flynn were all considered at one time or another. Gable was somewhat reluctant to play the role saying he was “scared stiff” and “realized that whoever played Rhett would be up against a stumbling block...Miss Mitchell had etched Rhett into the minds of millions...It would be impossible to satisfy them all.” To ease his uncertainty Gable received a bonus of $50,000 on top of his $4500 weekly salary.

Likewise, for the role of Melanie Hamilton, which would go to Olivia de Havilland, several other actresses were considered and/or tested, including Dorothy Jordon, Ann Dvorak, Frances Dee, Joan Fontaine (de Havilland's sister), Andrea Leeds, Marcella Martin, and Anne Shirley. Melvyn Douglas, Ray Milland, Tyrone Power, Lew Ayres, Douglass Montgomery, Joel McCrea, Jeffrey Lynn, and Alan Marshall were all considered for the role of Ashley Wilkes, which would go to Leslie Howard.

And the film itself was not immune to controversy. Perhaps the biggest at the time was the use of the word “Damn” in Rhett’s famous last line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, which was similarly used in the book. According to Selznick memos, considerable time was spent by the producer and others to write another line for the film that did not use the word “damn” which was unacceptable by Production Code standards. It may be hard to realize in this day and age when cursing is prominent and even permitted in G-rated films, that such a word would be such a big deal. Even though the use of the word had been permitted prior to the Code, Selznick was allowed to retain the word “damn” in the film after paying a $5,000 fine. It wasn’t used again in a film until How Green Was My Valley (1941).

The film was in production between January 26 to February 15, 1939, and then again from March 2 to July 1, 1939. There were reshoots and additional shooting from July until November 11, 1939. The final budget was around $3.5 million.

Gone With The Wind starts just before the Civil War in the Deep South where slavery is a way of life but is described in the prologue in glowing nostalgic terms: “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South... Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave... Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind...”

Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) needs help getting ready from Mammy (Hattie McDaniels).

We are introduced to Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the belle of every ball. She lives at Tara, the plantation owned by her father Gerald (Thomas Mitchell) along with her mother, Ellen (Barbara O’Neil), and her sisters Suellen (Evelyn Keyes) and Carreen (Ann Rutherford). Scarlett is surrounded by men, in this case, Brent Tarleton (Fred Crane) and Stuart Tarleton (George Reeves), who, like most men, are putty in her hands. She doesn’t want to hear them talk of war so to appease her they change the conversation to the Barbecue the next day at the nearby Twelve Oaks.

At the Wilkes' barbecue, Scarlett is surrounded by men hoping to win her favor.

The Twelve Oaks is owned by John Wilkes (Howard Hickman) along with his daughter, India (Alicia Rhett) and his son Ashley (Leslie Howard). Scarlett is in love with Ashley, but she’s informed that Ashley is set to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland).

Scarlett tells Ashley (Leslie Howard) that she loves him but he rebuffs her for Melanie.

During the party, while all of the other women are napping before the party, Scarlett sneaks downstairs to privately declare her love to Ashley in the library. He has strong feelings for her but maintains his love for Melanie. He leaves to go look for their house guest, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), but it turns out he had been in the library, too, and had eavesdropped on the conversation. Rhett is straight forward about his feelings on the war and on Scarlett, but she rebuffs him.

Ashley only has eyes for Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). 

The news that the Union is putting together an Army to fight the South breaks during the party and all of the gung-ho men are excited at the prospect. They all leave to volunteer but before he goes, Charles Hamilton (Rand Brooks), Melanie’s brother and already promised to Ashley’s sister, proposes to Scarlett, to whom he has become smitten. As a way of getting back at Ashley, she accepts.

Not long afterward, word comes to Scarlett that Charles has died, not from battle wounds but from disease. Back at Tara, Scarlett does not like having to mourn a man she didn’t really love. She bridles at having to wear black and longs to get out. Her mother sends her to Atlanta to live with her Aunt Pittypat Hamilton (Laura Hope Crews), accompanied by Mammy (Hattie McDaniels), the house servant who has been with Scarlett her whole life. Melanie is also going there as well.

Scarlett is supposed to be in mourning but can't resist dancing with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

In order to get out of the house, Scarlett volunteers to sell items at a charity bazaar. Rhett also attends the dance. Now a blockade runner for the South, Rhett is heralded as a hero. When in an effort to raise more money for the war, the men are required to bid on their partners to dance, Rhett bids $150, a lot of money at the time, to dance with Scarlett. Most everyone disapproves but she pretends to take one for the team, but Scarlett is thrilled to be dancing.

While she’s in Atlanta, the Battle of Gettysburg is waged, and it is the turning point of the war and many of the men Scarlett had grown up with are killed, but not Ashley. When he comes to Atlanta on a three-day Christmas furlough, Scarlett makes another play for him. Even though they share a passionate kiss as he gets ready to go back to the war, his heart still belongs to Melanie, who ends up pregnant after Ashley’s visit.

Eight months pass and the war has turned in the Union’s favor. Scarlett is working as a nurse alongside Dr. Meade (Harry Davenport) in a makeshift hospital. She is at her wit’s end and quits when a soldier’s leg is about to be amputated without any sedation.

Scarlett slaps former slave Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) when she
finally admits she doesn't know nothing about birthing babies. 

The siege of the city is just beginning and when Melanie goes into labor, Scarlett, and Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), her young house slave, have to help. Prissy, who had acted like she had birthed many babies falls apart when the moment arrives, “Lawzy, we got to have a doctor. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies.”

One of the films more memorable scenes shows Scarlett
walking through the wounded at a train station.

When Scarlett goes to find Dr. Meade, she walks through one of the memorable scenes in the film; the trainyard is filled as far as the eye can see with wounded soldiers. When she finds the doctor, he can’t come so that night she and Prissy have to birth Melanie’s baby. But Scarlett wants to get out of Atlanta and return to Tara, where her mother is.

Rhett steals a horse and buggy to help Scarlett escape Atlanta, which is on fire all around them.

Prissy is dispatched to Belle Watling’s (Ona Munson) place of business to fetch Rhett. He doesn’t want to go but steals a horse and buggy and goes to retrieve Melanie and Scarlett. This just happens to be the night that General Sherman’s army arrives and starts to burn the city down. As the buggy races through town, they are accosted by men who want to take the horse away. They manage to get out of town and when they come to a fork in the road on the way to Tara, Rhett gets out of the carriage.

Rhett tells Scarlett that he's going to join the Confederate Army.

He’s decided to join the Confederate Army and gives Scarlett a passionate kiss before he leaves her there.

But things have changed. While Tara has not been burned down, as has Twelve Oaks, it is still in disrepair. All the slaves, save two, Mammy and Pork (Oscar Polk), a house servant, have fled. And it is only her family who remains. Her mother is near death upon her arrival and dies soon after from typhoid. Her father’s mind is nearly gone. But Scarlett is determined to turn things around and promises herself “As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.”

Scarlett vows to never be hungry again.

After a short intermission, the story picks up after the Civil War has ended. Times are hard at Tara. Scarlett keeps things together by scaring her sisters and the remaining former slaves into working in the fields. They are broke and starving and when a Yankee scavenger comes into the house, Scarlett shoots and kills him. When the others hear the noise, Melanie covers for her and then helps Scarlett hide the body. But before, they go through his possessions and find enough money for everyone to eat. When Scarlett drags the body across the floor, it leaves a bloody trail behind. Scarlett asks Melanie for her nightgown, which she wraps around his head.

Mammy stops Scarlett from chasing after Ashley when he returns after the War.

With the war over, Ashley comes home. Melanie runs out to meet him and Mammy stops Scarlett from doing the same. “He’s her husband, right?”

Scarlett goes to Ashley looking for help with the $300 she owes in taxes on Tara.

But when Pork informs Scarlett that they’ll need $300 to pay the higher taxes, brought about by carpetbaggers and the like, she goes to Ashley for help. He has no answers but does tell her that he still loves her, though he vows never to leave Melanie.

Jonas Wilkerson (Victor Jory) returns to the South after the war as a carpetbagger.

When Jonas Wilkerson (Victor Jory), a ruthless Yankee and once Tara's overseer, comes to buy Tara, Scarlett is not welcoming. With his pledge to buy the plantation at auction when they fail to pay their outstanding tax, Scarlett becomes more determined than ever to get the money. When her father rides his horse to chase Wilkerson off the plantation, he is thrown from his horse and killed.

With no other place to turn, Scarlett decides to go see Rhett for the money. With no good clothes left to wear, she has Mammy make her a dress out of the velvet curtains.

Scarlett goes to visit Rhett in prison wearing a dress made from drapes.

Rhett has been arrested by the Yankees but has used his considerable charm to get into their good graces. She tries to pretend that everything is fine back at Tara but rough hands give her away and Rhett knows where things stand. But seeing how he’s in prison and his money is in an English bank, he can’t help her.

That same day, she runs into Frank Kennedy (Carroll Nye), a man engaged to marry her sister Suellen. Since the war, Kennedy has become a successful merchant in Atlanta. Scarlett makes up a story about Suellen, having gotten tired of waiting, getting married. The two of them get married instead, allowing Scarlett to pay the taxes to save Tara. She then moves to Atlanta to work at his store and help him grow his fledgling lumber business. To that end, she uses Melanie to convince Ashley into coming to run the mill.

One day, when Scarlett drives herself to the lumber mill, she gets attacked by scavengers when she passes near a shanty town. While she is not hurt it is only because she is saved by Big Sam (Everett Brown), a former slave who once the foreman at Tara. He hears her scream and fights off her attackers, allowing her to escape.

Melanie pulls a gun while they wait for the men to return home.

When the men hear about this, they secretly go out to clear out the shanty town. While the women wait at Melanie’s house, Rhett arrives to warn them that the Yankees are on to them and are planning an ambush. Melanie confesses where the men have gone and Rhett goes off to rescue them. Soon after he’s gone, Tom (Ward Bond), a Yankee captain, arrives looking for the men. He has his men surround the house and wait.

Later, Rhett returns with Ashley and Dr. Meade and convinces Tom that they have been drinking at Belle Watling's bordello. After Tom retreats, Rhett reveals that Ashley has been wounded and that Frank has been killed during the raid.

Rhett proposes to Scarlett.

Once again, Scarlett is supposed to be in mourning. She is drinking heavily now when Rhett comes to see her. He proposes and promises to give her everything she ever wanted and she agrees, even though she doesn’t love him. While on their expensive honeymoon in New Orleans, Scarlett has nightmares about the war, which Rhett vows to help her get rid of by spoiling her. He also decides to try to get Mammy to like him by buying her bright red petticoats. It works.

Rhett manages to win over Mammy with a gift.

A year later, they have a daughter, which Melanie nicknames Bonnie Blue. Rhett, who had previously not cared about Atlanta society, goes out of his way to try to fit in to ensure Bonnie’s future. He begins to acquire respectability and, within a few years, his charitable contributions and sincere devotion to Bonnie impress even the hardest of Atlanta's matrons.

Rhett is a doting father to Bonnie Blue.

Scarlett, however, is still in love with Ashley and tells Rhett that she no longer wants to share her bedroom with him. One day, Scarlett and Ashley are caught in an embrace by his sister India and some other women. Though nothing improper happens, Scarlett is afraid to attend Melanie's birthday party for Ashley that night. Rhett is furious and forces her to attend, but then leaves. Melanie's open affection towards her makes Scarlett feel ashamed. When she returns home, she sneaks into the dining room to drink but finds Rhett there already drunk and the two have a violent quarrel.

After Scarlett calls Rhett a drunken fool, he grabs her and carries her upstairs, angrily telling her that this night there will not be “three in a bed.” The next morning, Scarlett is happy, but when Rhett scoffs that his behavior was merely an indiscretion, her happiness turns to anger.

Rhett decides then to leave for an extended trip to England and takes Bonnie with him. Months go by and Bonnie has nightmares and wants to go home. Rhett returns with her to Atlanta and discovers that Scarlett is once again pregnant, no doubt from their night of passion together.

But Rhett is indifferent and makes accusations about Ashley that enrage her to the point of trying to strike him, but she loses her balance and falls down the stairs. Scarlett loses the baby and when she calls for him in her delirium, he thinks she hates him.

After she recovers, Rhett suggests that the anger and hatred between them stop for Bonnie's sake, and Scarlett agrees. As they are talking, the headstrong Bonnie, whom Rhett has trained in horse jumping, tries alone to make her pony take a jump. However, she falls and breaks her neck.

While both are shattered by Bonnie's death, Rhett takes it especially hard. Locking himself up in the nursery with her, he refuses to let Bonnie be buried because she’s afraid of the dark. Mammy goes and gets Melanie, to whom Rhett has always felt a closeness. She manages to convince him to let the child go.

After her talk with Rhett, Melanie, who has become pregnant despite the danger to her health, collapses and suffers her own miscarriage. On her deathbed, Melanie asks Scarlett to take care of Ashley, but when Scarlett sees how much the distraught Ashley still and always will love Melanie, she finally realizes how wrong she has been for years. She rushes home to tell Rhett that she loves him.

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

Rhett, however, has decided to leave her, feeling that it’s too late for them. Scarlett tearfully asks him what she will do to which he answers, “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.”

Through her sobs, Scarlett begins to think of Tara, from which she has always gained strength, and determines that she will return there and will think of a way to get Rhett back. She resolves to think about it tomorrow for, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”

Scarlett returns to Tara to consider how to win Rhett back.

The film had its world premiere in Atlanta on December 15th, and had its New York opening on December 19th and opened in Los Angeles on December 28th. The film had its general release on January 17, 1940. The original domestic box office was $189,523,031 at a time when the average ticket price was 23 cents, making it by far the largest film of all-time. Its lifetime release, including the recent 80th Anniversary theatrical release, would elevate the total to $199,268,428. That dollar amount would rank it 205 today. However, if adjusted for inflation, the domestic box office would be $1,825,054,900 putting it above the second place Star Wars at $1,608,419,900.

The reviews, at the time, were universally good. Typical was Frank S. Nugent’s in the New York Times, the day after it opened. “Understatement has its uses too, so this morning's report on the event of last night will begin with the casual notation that it was a great show.” He would temper his praise, but only slightly “Is it the greatest motion picture ever made? Probably not, although it is the greatest motion mural we have seen and the most ambitious film-making venture in Hollywood's spectacular history.” He does complain, surprisingly enough at the Technicolor, stating “…we still feel that color is hard on the eyes for so long a picture…”

The film does make some changes to Margaret Mitchell’s story, including eliminating two of the three children Scarlett had in the book, one with each of her husbands. There are some minor characters that are also eliminated, such as Pork’s wife and Prissy’s mother Dilcey, as well as one of the Wilkes cousins, Honey. The KKK is explicitly mentioned in the novel, Ashley and Frank are members, but it is only eluded to in the film as “the political meeting” they attend when they, in reality, go out to clean up the shanty town.

It would be wrong to say that the film is “woke”, they weren’t in the 1930s. The depiction of slavery gets a bit of a pass in the film. There is no sense of cruelty or inhuman treatment. Rather the slaves in the film are shown to almost enjoy their lives. The fact that so many remain at Tara and with Scarlett after being freed at the end of the War is similar to how freed slaves are treated in other films, like Song of the South (1946).

The acting is really very good all around. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing Scarlett O’Hara than Vivien Leigh. She is a woman who knows that men are easily manipulated by her looks and charm. Leigh was a stage actress in London, where she met Lawrence Olivier, whom she would later marry. She made her film debut in The Village Squire (1935). Her first American film was A Yank at Oxford (1938). Vivien wanted the role of Scarlett but was a dark horse for the role until very late in the casting.

It was David Selznick’s brother, Myron, an agent who represented her and Olivier, who arranged a meeting on the set of the Atlanta Burning sequence. Legend has it, Myron said to David, his younger brother, "Hey, genius, meet your Scarlett O'Hara." The next day, she read for the role and soon after was signed to play what may be the role of a lifetime. Her performance was well-received and she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She would also receive the same award for her performance as Blanche DuBois in A Street Car Named Desire (1951).

Academy Awards were flying off the shelf for this film. In addition to her award, Hattie McDaniel won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, the first African-American to be nominated and to win an Academy Award. McDaniel, as Mammy, helps hold the film together. A singer in the 1920s, McDaniel was the first black woman to sing on the radio in the U.S. The character of Mammy is witty, funny and caring. Despite the Master/Slave basis for their relationship, you get the real sense that Mammy cares for Scarlett and has her best interests at heart, even if Scarlett doesn’t always think so. While her performance is worthy of an award, sadly it wouldn’t lead to bigger roles as McDaniel played a lot of roles as a domestic.

While he would only be nominated for Best Actor, there would be no Gone With the Wind without Clark Gable playing Rhett Butler. Gable was at the time at the height of his career, when he was called “The King of Hollywood.” Prior to his appearance in Gone With The Wind, Gable had appeared in such films as Red Dust (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), It Happened One Night (1934), San Francisco (1936), Saratoga (1937), and Test Pilot (1938). He brings with him certain masculinity to any role and he seems to be just right for the role of the rebel character of Rhett Butler.

Olivia de Havilland plays Melanie in Gone With the Wind.

Olivia de Havilland seems like the right choice for the role of Melanie. So blindly loyal to Ashley and to Scarlett, she can’t see the forest for the trees so to speak. Oftentimes, she plays right into Scarlett’s hand, even unwittingly helping keep Ashley close by. But she secretly does cast a spell on Ashley that lasts beyond her death and forever ruins things for Scarlett. She is perhaps best known for her work with Errol Flynn, with whom she starred in several films, including Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). De Havilland, who made her screen debut in Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) is, as of this writing, the sole surviving cast member from this film.

Ashley Wilkes is probably the best-known role Leslie Howard played in a distinguished career as an actor. Twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, he appeared in such films as  Berkeley Square (1933), Of Human Bondage (1934), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), Stand-In (1937), Pygmalion (1938), and Intermezzo (1939). He plays Ashley very reserved, which is right for the role. Tired of Hollywood, Howard returned to England after the film to help with the war effort. He starred in a series of films, 49th Parallel (1941), "Pimpernel" Smith (1941) and The First of the Few (1942) before he was killed when the Luftwaffe shot down BOAC Flight 777, in which he was a passenger on June 1, 1943.

The film would also receive Academy Awards for Best Writing, Screenplay (Sidney Howard, the first person to receive the award posthumously), Best Cinematography, Color (Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan), Best Art Direction (Lyle R. Wheeler), Best Film Editing (Hal C. Kern, James E. Newcom), Best Director (Victor Fleming) and, of course, Best Picture. William Cameron Menzies would also win an Honorary Award for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind (plaque).

The film holds up surprisingly well, even though the sentiments on race relations are obviously out of date. You have to get past that to really enjoy the story. The romance takes place with the Civil War and its aftermath as a backdrop. This is the story of a strong woman who will use her whiles to get what she wants and needs.

I had not seen the film for many years, and seeing it again on a big screen was how the film was meant to be seen. It puts you in the same seat, so to speak, as someone from 1939/40 when this was the biggest film ever made. Don’t let the four-hour run time deter you from seeing it. The time will fly as the story is always moving. You will also see things on the screen that you will probably never see again. As an example, the scene of the wounded at the train station was made with extras as far as the eye can see. Now, such a scene would probably be made with CGI and other effects.

Gone With the Wind is one of the great films from Hollywood’s Golden Era and should be seen and enjoyed.

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