WARNING: This article contains Spoilers for ‘Gone with the Wind.’
Now viewed nostalgically as a relic of a long-gone Hollywood, Gone with the Wind was itself a rose-tinted portrait of a bygone age.
Its preamble pays tribute to a lost America, in a paean to 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 of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…” In 1939, America was still reeling from the grinding poverty of the Great Depression, and audiences were swept off their feet by the movie’s sheer scale, romance, and blazing colour palette.
An Epic Adaptation
What is now regarded as a great historical epic was a work of fiction by Margaret Mitchell, whose best-selling Civil War love story was first published in 1936. Before the year was out, producer David O. Selznick had committed to making the movie version. It was a gargantuan task. The draft screenplay ran to six hours and took four writers to edit. It is said that 1,400 unknowns and dozens of stars were seen for the role of its heroine, Scarlett O’Hara. Having waited a year for actor Clark Gable to be free, Selznick then fired director George Cukor just three weeks into filming and replaced him with Victor Fleming.
Love, Loss, and Longing
The movie is, at heart, a love triangle writ large: Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) is in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), who is engaged to marry his cousin. On the rebound she catches the eye of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). The violence of war aptly reflects the tortured love affair between Rhett and Scarlett, captured in stunning Technicolor by cinematographer Ernest Haller.
The movie’s depiction of, and open nostalgia for, the slave-based society of the Old South betrays many questionable assumptions, but some of the novel’s more openly racist passages are simply sidestepped. Hattie McDaniel, who played Scarlett’s house slave Mammy, won one of the movie’s 10 Oscars—the first African-American to be so honoured. Ultimately this is Scarlett’s story. While the movie ends with her alone, undone by her own selfishness, it is also a metaphor for America as a land of hope and regeneration. Although she is rebuffed by Rhett, who shuns her desperate pleas for reconciliation with a curt, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” the last line of the movie belongs to Scarlett.
“I’ll go home,” she says, thinking of her home at Tara, her family, and her roots, “and I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day.”