Best Picture Winners #12 – Gone With The Wind (1939)

So now we’ve come to the longest Best Picture winner (well over four hours) and also the first major movie that even if you’ve never seen before, you’ve probably heard of it.

In other words, a true classic movie.

To be honest, I feel strange trying to write a review of a movie like this. It’s such a beloved film (for good reason, as you’ll see) and so much has been said and written about it. But I will try my best to say what I thought of this movie.

Andrew had never seen this before, but I had. I saw this movie for the first time in college. My best friend at the time was SUPER into classic movies like this one and she counted this one as one of her absolute favorites, if not THE favorite. She was shocked that I’d never seen it before, so one afternoon, we holed up and watched her two VHS set so I could see what a classic movie this was. I was wary of watching it because my mom had seen it a long time ago and thought of Scarlett as a brat and talked me out of seeing it.

While I won’t say that my mom was wrong, well….. Scarlett is complicated. And I’ll admit, I like complicated characters, but at times….. She was very frustrating to watch. As you’ll see.

Even after seeing this a second time, I’m still not sure what I really thought of this movie. As far as the movie-making skills on display here, Gone With The Wind is an extremely well-done movie especially for the time! The close-ups of characters, the lighting, and of course, the fact that this is the first all-color Best Picture winner is something of note. And the scene where Scarlett shoots a Union soldier who’s shown up on her doorstep leering at her is something right out of a Tarantino movie.

It’s just long. So. Long.

Sweeping, more like.

What to say about the story? Well, it’s set against the Civil War and Reconstruction (the post-war years). You get Scarlett O’Hara, a typical Southern belle who’s grown up rich and spoiled by her family at their Georgia plantation, and who is hopelessly chasing after Ashley Wilkes, her neighbor and the intended husband for a sweet girl named Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett could have any guy she wants but she wants the one she can’t have (isn’t that how it always works?). She’s beautiful and knows it, but also she’s very smart (which is demonstrated especially later on after the war ends and she has to make ends meet). Early on, she meets the famous Rhett Butler, an older bachelor and blockade runner, but she’s too blind to see that Rhett is actually into her, while Ashley clearly isn’t (and even tells her so multiple times).

As the war goes on, she marries once (the guy dies of pneumonia two months into service), encounters Rhett multiple times and has words with him (at least he actually has a personality, unlike Ashley), almost loses her home, Melanie has Ashley’s child and is unable to have any more, and has to escape Atlanta when it’s burning down. After the war, Scarlett marries again to her sister’s beloved, starts a lumber mill, he dies, she marries Rhett, you think they’re going to finally live happily ever after and she’ll see that Rhett is the one for her…..

Not so much.

Throughout the movie, I found myself increasingly frustrated with Scarlett. Since she’s the main character, we get to spend a lot of time with her. And you know, sometimes I liked her. I admired her tenacity and ability to adapt and survive. She didn’t just give up. She did what she could to save her family’s home. And of course her dresses were gorgeous, even though they’d be hard to drive in! (Hey, I think of practicality!). She even makes a beautiful dress out of the curtains in her house! Talk about resourceful (and actually something I did for fun using some old thrift store curtains for a skirt).


Behold, the curtain dress.
Behold, the curtain dress.


I don't want to know how many yards of fabric this was...... So pretty *sigh*
I don’t want to know how many yards of fabric this was…… So pretty *sigh*


Then, at other times, I wanted to throw my crochet needles at the screen (I’m the weird one for whom a four hour movie means “woohoo I’ll get some crocheting done!”). Here she has everything she could ever want (a husband who dotes on her, a beautiful child, a great house) and she’s still hung up on Ashley. Who is nice to look at, yes, but has no real personality. Seriously.

Fun fact: The guy who played Ashley (Leslie Howard) was in line to play Rhett. So glad they went with Clark Gable instead. He just doesn’t have the look of a suave, good-hearted (but still flawed and a bit of a jerk sometimes) character like Rhett. But that’s just me. 🙂

Of course, our heroine only realizes that she was a fool all along at the climax of this movie, at which point Rhett has had enough of her and is leaving her (Oh spoiler alert 😛 ). That’s where his famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” comes from. She’s all worried about what she’s going to do, and he just doesn’t care anymore.

And I don’t blame him.

Classic movie. I can see why people love it. The cinematography for the time is absolutely astounding. It’s also about an important time in our history, the characters are certainly interesting, if at times infuriating, and the romance between Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh is something to behold. They have great chemistry together. Not something I’d watch everyday, but a well-done classic nonetheless.

Four stars out of five (no I wouldn’t watch it in the next year or so but it gets high marks for me for how well-done it is!)

Next time: We have TWO asides for 1939: The Wizard of Oz (which neither Andrew or I have seen in years!) and one of the many adaptations of Wuthering Heights. This is one version I’ve never seen, so this should be interesting. Especially because I hear that movie version stops halfway through the book, before it gets to the really interesting parts……