Based on the 1936 best selling novel by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind stands as one of the most unforgettable American epic films. Primarily a love story, it is a sweeping tale of southern America grappling with the Civil War, it’s aftermath and problems of reconstruction.
It is the story of Scarlet O’Hara, the belle of the country, who is reduced to a ragged girl forced to grovel for two square meals for her family. Her “I’ll never be hungry again!” resounded well with the audiences who were equally suffering due to the depression in the 1930s. The movie was enthusiastically received by the fans of Mitchell who had cheered deafeningly when the screen flashed her name in the theatres.
Released in 1939, it bagged ten academy awards and millions of rupees world wide despite the inflation. It has remained on the top charts of best American films and with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable starring as Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler respectively, is the classic epitome of one of the most dramatic and glamorous movies of Hollywood. It was printed in Technicolor and in 2008 it was numbered fourth in American Film Institute’s best epic films.
Though the movie is very long, almost four hours, the intermission cuts it roughly in two equal parts. The first part includes the vibrant, colourful aspects of the southerner’s luxurious lifestyle, balls, music, colourful costumes and dances, with a liberal amount of subtle humour. The excitement builds as the Civil War is announced by the newly elected Abraham Lincoln who orders the liberation of Black slaves working on the cotton plantations in the South.
With the Yankee soldiers attacking mercilessly, the immaculate countryside men were forced to join the war, however they do so zealously, very sure of winning it instantly. But the battle drags on and the Confederate army, refusing to admit defeat, fights on bitterly. Meanwhile Scarlett is married and widowed in quick succession and the man she truly loves, Ashley Wilkes gets married to Melanie Hamilton whom she despises bitterly. In the bustling towns of Atlanta, Scarlett tries to find some respite from the boredom of widowhood and here she meets the devilish Rhett Butler again, who tempts her into scandalous exploits with him. While Rhett is clearly in love with her, Scarlett takes time to realise her love for him. She continues to obsess over the now-married Ashley.
South continues to reel under the fire of the Yankee army. Their obsolete weaponry is no match for Lincoln’s advanced rifles and missiles. With most men fighting in the war, the Yankee troops descend on them and shell out most of the city. Helpless and scared, Scarlett conveniently turns to Rhett for help, the only man not to have enlisted. They flee Atlanta together; the Yankees close at their heels. But miffed by her taking advantage of him, Rhett leaves her in the dark forest and joins the southern confederate army.
The following scene is one of the most haunting ones in the movie. Scarlett trudges back to her home in Georgia, evading the enemy soldiers, in a small carriage with her own child, Melanie who had just delivered and a black slave child. The entire countryside is bombed out and most of the property is destroyed. Scarlett’s anguish at seeing everything that she held precious destroyed and her relief and joy at finding her own Tara still standing, was beautifully enacted by Vivien Leigh.
South is practically held under siege. The ports are sealed and no cotton is allowed to be manufactured for export to England; poverty, hunger and ignominy plague the landed gentry of south and Scarlett forages for survival. But her gumption and shrewd calculation wins out in the end and she secures for herself a husband, Frank Kennedy, for money of course, and eventually takes over his business. Rhett however is disappointed by her rash decision but continues to hang around. Soon, Kennedy, who was a part of the Ku Krux Klan, dies avenging her and Rhett immediately proposes. They get married.
Marriage suits them and soon a bonny little girl is born to them. Rhett transforms and becomes the most loving and indulgent father to the endearing child they named, Bonnie. But despite this Scarlett fails to fathom the depth of his passions and their relationships begins to show cracks. Ultimately he leaves her with his famous words, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” The movie closes with Scarlett muttering to herself; “I’ll not think of it now… I’ll think of it tomorrow… After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Directed by Victor Fleming, the movie has gone on to become nothing short of a legend and is applauded even today.