GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

 

 

 

Director: Victor Fleming

Starring:  Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara), Clark Gable (Rhett Butler), Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes), Olivia de Haviland (Melanie Wilkes), Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O'Hara, Scarlett's father), Barbara O'Neil (Ellen (O'Hara, Scarlett's mother), Victor Jory (Jonas Wilkerson - Field Overseer), Laura Hope Crews, Hattie McDaniel (Mammy, house servant), Ona Munson, Harry Davenport, Ann Rutherford (Carreen - Their Daughter), Evelyn Keyes (Suellen, Scarlett's sister), Carroll Nye, Paul Hurst, Isabel Jewell, Cliff Edwards, Ward Bond (Union officer), Butterfly McQueen, Rand Brooks, Eddie Anderson, Oscar Polk (Pork, house servant), Jane Darwell, William Bakewell, Violet Kemble-Cooper, Eric Linden, George Reeves (Brent Tarleton).

 

 

 

 

 

Gone with the Wind is a great picture.  It has been called "America's favorite movie."  And it is such a great picture because of its very strong feminine role and this in 1939 long before the civil rights movement for women's rights.  Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) is the star of the show.  Clark Gable, who plays her husband (Rhett Butler), was right when he referred to it as a woman's picture, at least to the extent of the dominance of the female character.

There are, of course, a lot of problems with the picture from an historical point of view.  The picture idealizes plantation life in the South during slavery.  The film opens on life on the Fair Oaks plantation where a barbecue is occurring and the beautiful and beautifully dressed Scarlett O'Hara is surrounded by simpering beaus vying for her attention.  The landscape is beautiful, the mansion is beautiful, the dress of the people is beautiful -- it is just all so idyllic and pastoral.  

Race relations are also idyllic considering blacks are in slavery.  Her house servant (played by Hattie McDaniel) even has the right to fuss at Scarlett and even scold her for her wanton flirting.  There are slaves and the archetypal mean overseer (Victor Jory), but his excesses are countered by the benign intervention of the good patriarchs of the mansion.  

It seems that Margaret Mitchell was very angry at the Civil War for having despoiled this wonderful way of life.  She was a Georgia gal who had listened to the constant tales of the glory of the good old days in the South and the wondrous bravery of the Southern soldiers.  

She only permits herself a little criticism of the South in making the men seem very arrogant in their braggadacio about being able to beat the North in the upcoming war.  Rhett Butler, although also a Southerner, from Charleston, South Carolina, punctures their inflated balloon of pretenses somewhat when he rudely points out some truths; that the North has more men, factories, armaments, etc.  For his ungentlemanly frankness, Charles Hamilton foolishly challenges the older Rhett to a duel, which Rhett declines.

Scarlett herself is a symbol of the South.  She is so self-centered and in love with her plantation way of life that she is just full of illusions.  She virtually pays no attention to the war until things start really going badly for the South and local soldiers start appearing on the casualty lists.  Finally, reality really hits her with the approach of Sherman following the several victories in the Battles of Atlanta.

She and the pregnant Melanie have to flee the town, helped by Rhett Butler.  She goes back to Tara.  On the way, Rhett leaves to join the Southern armies even though he knows it is a losing cause.  Of course, when she arrives at Tara, it is in ruins.

Scarlett undergoes a radical transformation at Tara.  No longer an idealist, she becomes super hard, almost tyrannical, acting as the master of the plantation and becoming almost tyrannical in spirit.  She pushes everyone, even forcing her sisters to work in the fields doing work usually done by blacks.  It's as if  in her pushing her sisters, Scarlett wants to punish the whole South for its romantic illusions and for having foisted these illusions on her.

More comments on the film can be found in the section on USA: Reconstruction.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

While the war in the East went badly for the North ,under the inept leadership of Gen. McClellan, the war in the West was a different matter.  In 1862 Union forces captured Forts Henry and Donelson; the Union fleet captured New Orleans; and  the Union army of Tennessee under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant won the Battle of Shiloh.  

In 1863 Union forces under Gen. Grant captured Vicksbug, Mississippi.  Now the entire Mississippi River was in Union hands.  This cleared the way for a march on Atlanta.  To get there, however, they had to go through the Appalachian Mountain chain.  Union forces lost at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, but won the Battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee (at Look Out Mountain).  

In 1864 the Union army under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman captured and burned Atlanta. He then went on to capture Savannah, Georgia, following it up with Columbia, South Carolina, which the Union troops, extremely vengeful at South Carolina for being the leader of secession, burned.

 

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