Gone with the Wind (1939, Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable)

Poster for the movie "Gone with the Wind"
G 238 min - Drama, Romance, War - 15 December 1939
Our rating:

In the most dressed-down scene in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind a servant chases a rooster across a muddy lot while the rooster's comb glows a brilliant, unreal red, and it's the most spectacular rooster you've ever seen. In fact, something remarkable pops out from the screen in every moment of this enormous production, a cinematic spectacle of historic proportions that still, after 65 years, has never been matched in terms of sheer jaw-dropping production values. In scene after scene, enormous red skies blaze behind colossal mansions where characters with monumental personalities in extravagant outfits wrestle with overblown emotions. In some scenes, the leading lady, in an extravagant silk gown, carries on in her palace-sized sitting room in front of a life-sized portrait of herself in a different extravagant gown. The excess in this film, it seems, is boundless. But despite the elaborate production—with this budget, Warner Brothers could have made dozens of films on the scale of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)—Gone with the Wind is at its core a character-driven story fueled by intimate dialogue. With the Civil War and Reconstruction as its backdrop, the film centers around the character of Scarlett O'Hara, one of the screen's most famous brats, made both endearing and unbearable by the great actress Vivien Leigh. Opposite her is Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, the wealthy South Carolinian who becomes Scarlett's most persistent and challenging suitor, a smarmy gadfly who wants her more than the local men do, but respects her less. While other fellows scramble to do Scarlett's bidding, Rhett laughs in her face, and his alternating admiration and disdain leads to one of Scarlett's two biggest emotional struggles; the other is over the fact that she's hopelessly in love with her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), a proper fop who passed her by to marry his cousin (the Wilkeses always marry their cousins), the good-hearted Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Emotions run high pretty much 24/7 in this little Southern world, and Scarlett, luckily, is not the type to reign herself in. She slaps half of Atlanta in the course of the movie and, when things get really scrappy, she's pretty good with a gun as well.

The scale of the picture is awesome throughout, and it's hard not to be a little distracted by the fact by that this enormous, highly sophisticated production—including airplane-hangar-sized sets used as backdrops for single, brief scenes—was created before the invention of the ball point pen. In fact, the tale of how megalomaniac producer David O. Selznick conceived the picture, and control-freaked it all the way to ten Academy Awards, is a great Hollywood story in itself. It's a story of near-misses, walk-offs by writers and directors, and Benzedrine-fueled all-nighters. The film's post-production work alone is a tale of awesome feats, such as the meticulous and painstaking cutting of half a million frames down to the final twenty thousand, and ingeniously painting backdrops on glass that fit with the rest of the film both seamlessly and realistically—some more realistic looking than many CGI backdrops. It's pretty mind-boggling.

The movie is all the more impressive today because no picture has ever come close to topping its success (it still rates as the most-watched movie ever) or its level of artistic accomplishment. Somehow Selznick set a benchmark that no one could top, a level of filmmaking that still makes spectacles like Chicago, with its wonderful sets, costumes, and staging, look small-time by comparison. Not counting the efforts of CGI technicians—and let's face it, a bunch of computer geeks creating hordes of hobbits by point-and-click hardly seems artistic—there has never been a film that delivers so much. Times change around it but, like Scarlett herself, Gone with the Wind keeps fighting its way back to the top.

Cast:  Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Leslie Howard, Barbara O'Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, George Reeves, Fred Crane, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Marcella Martin, Harry Davenport, Leona Roberts, Cammie King, J. M. Kerrigan, Ward Bond, Jackie Moran, Mickey Kuhn, Mary Anderson, Ona Munson, Jane Darwell, Isabel Jewell, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Laura Hope Crews, Rand Brooks, Olin Howland, Alicia Rhett, Carroll Nye, Howard C. Hickman, Victor Jory, Alberto Morin, Irving Bacon, William Bakewell, Yakima Canutt, Eric Linden, Cliff Edwards, Louis Jean Heydt, Paul Hurst, John Arledge, Roscoe Ates, James Bush, Yola d'Avril, Frank Coghlan Jr., Tom Seidel, E. Alyn Warren, David Newell, Harry Strang, Wallis Clark, George Meeker, Richard Farnsworth, Frank Faylen, Si Jenks, Margaret Mann, Charles Middleton, Marjorie Reynolds, Lee Phelps, Tom Tyler, Blue Washington, Ernest Whitman, Guy Wilkerson, John Wray, Trevor Bardette, Gino Corrado, Dan White, Eric Alden, Everett Brown, Gary Carlson, Zack Williams, Lillian Kemble-Cooper, John Albright, Lennie Bluett, Ralph Brooks, Daisy Bufford, Ruth Byers, F. Driver, Naomi Pharr, Martina Cortina, Inez Hatchett, Azarene Rogers, Sarah Whitley, Horace B. Carpenter, Luke Cosgrave, Louise Carter, Shirley Chambers, Billy Cook, Eddy Chandler, Robert Elliott, Kernan Cripps, Chuck Hamilton, H. Nellman, W. Kirby, Patrick Curtis, Ned Davenport, Phyllis Douglas, Kelly Griffin, Joan Drake, Jean Heker, Edythe Elliott, George Hackathorne, Ricky Holt, Shep Houghton, Tommy Kelly, Emmett King, Timothy J. Lonergan, William McClain, Adrian Morris, Lee Murray, Jerry James, Scott Seaton, Terry Shero, William Stack, William Stelling, Dirk Wayne Summers, Phillip Trent, Julia Ann Tuck, Dale Van Sickel, Rita Waterhouse, John Joseph Waterman Jr., William Hoehne Jr., Evelyn Harding, Jolane Reynolds, Suzanne Ridgeway, Ann Bupp, Emerson Treacy, Lester Dorr, Louisa Robert, Richard Clucas, Susan Falligant, Spencer Quinn

Director:  Victor Fleming
Writers:  Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Jo Swerling, John Van Druten
Producer:  David O. Selznick
Composer:  Max Steiner
Director of Photography:  Ernest Haller, Lee Garmes

Production Details

Release Date:  15 December 1939

Running Time:  3 h 58 min

Genres: Drama, Romance, War

Language:  English

Tagline: The greatest romance of all time!

Budget and Box Office takings where known

Budget:  $4,000,000
Revenue:  $400,176,459