Gone With The Wind: Vivien Leigh Is Scarlett O’Hara

Based on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a lady who has no issues with a war-torn America, fires in Atlanta or the Yankees’ Union Army taking everything from the Tara Plantation. Miss O’Hara is a beautiful woman, with a mind of her own. Though, the man she’s wanted as her husband for so long, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), has gone to marry their cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) cautions Scarlett (Leigh) to act like a lady, and not draw too much attention to herself. But on that day, she meets a new man called Rhett Butler (Clarke Gable).

This is a story of the Old South before, during and after the American Civil War. This epic tale of a woman’s life during one of the harshest times in American history is not only commended for its filmic quality, but Margaret Mitchell’s novel is oft acclaimed for being a grand piece of writing in the cultural awakening of the American South. From her young and comfortable days on the war-stricken streets of the Georgian Peach State to her impoverished days to that as a rich woman; this is a narrative about one woman making something of herself, even if it is often on the backs of others.

Vivien Leigh plays Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind
(Gone With The Wind, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

“War, war, war; this war talk’s spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream” says Scarlett, beginning a ‘to-me-to-you’ dialogue with two of her ‘fanboys’. And it’s one of my favourite parts of the movie. It’s another example of great dialogue that was so typical of the movies of this time. Many thanks to screenwriter Sidney Howard. Throughout this scene, cinematographer Ernest Haller with director Victor Fleming make great use of camera. By today’s standards, O’Hara is an attention seeker and she laps it up, as we are hooked… line, sinker and all.

This film is American cinema at the top of its game. At its nearly four-hour running time, Gone With The Wind introduced ‘the epic’ to the world stage. It was a massive step forward in how movies were done prior to 1939. To adapt Margaret Mitchell’s one thousand and twenty-four-page narrative is an achievement within itself. It’s about life in the South in the antebellum, during the Civil War and the post-bellum period. This picture will live forever, regardless of the heated Civil War debates that occur between southerners and the northerners to this day. Despite this film’s ideologies, as far as film aspects are concerned, it’s flipping brilliant.

Leslie Howard plays Scarlett’s first love Ashley Wilke in Gone With The Wind
(Gone With The Wind, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Gone With The Wind united some of the most talented people of the time. The finished product is an awe-inspiring film that can keep audiences interested for four hours. From the direction to the script to the cinematography, this film is genius. Haller’s cinematography gives us a good-natured South before the war, a burned Atlanta, and a humiliated Georgia in reconstruction. Max Steiner’s musical score is to die for and really delivers the magic that the Golden Age has a reputation for. Set and costume design must also be applauded, as every character’s costumes are genteel to look at, and the sets are enough to make one’s heart melt, even to this day.

Nobody but Vivien Leigh could play Scarlett O’Hara. She had an intelligent approach to the character and quite frankly, it’s her career-defining role. She won her first Oscar for it. Her beauty and her sense of timing are on point throughout and this was at the height of her career. O’Hara goes from an amiable young woman to your worst nightmare. She goes from riches to rags and back to riches again. Through Scarlett, we see what a country at war with itself can do to someone, even if you’re not at the front, gun in hand. Her unhealthy love for herself, and her infatuation with Ashley will consume her soul and stop her from returning to the one who truly loves her, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable).

Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Gable): shots like this make life worth living
(Gone With The Wind, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Clarke Gable was one of, if not the sweetheart of the 1930s, much alike how James Stewart and Cary Grant dominated the 1950s and 1960s. Nobody could play Rhett Butler other than Gable. The man was a powerhouse of passion, proven time and time again in his pictures. He was a man’s man, and Captain Butler was every bit of the man Gable was. Butler loved the South and was loyal to the cause, but he also had a sense of decency and morality. He loved Scarlett more than any man should have. For someone to love her as much as he did, took some serious emotional character. He knows he is in love with a dream, and that is an eloquent message in itself.

Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard give excellent performances. I really liked Melanie (Havilland). She’s another loyal character. Though, she seems to undermine her own marriage to Ashley (Howard). He delivers a good balance to a man in love with his wife, even though Scarlett shamelessly tempts him at any given chance. The rest of the cast are great, and there’s so many to do valid justice to. But to miss out Hattie McDaniel would be a crime, as she gives an Oscar-winning performance. She was the first black American to win an Academy award. She picked up Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for the role of Mammy and she’s a joy to watch.

Hattie McDaniel is truly a gem, and an experience to watch as Mammy, Scarlett’s nanny
(Gone With The Wind, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer)

Retrospectively, many object to how this movie treats race. But in order to be realistic, this film talks about a not to distant past where awfulness, such as slavery was normalised. This film is based on a novel by one of the great American writers Margaret Mitchell, who writes the story as she saw it, which is not necessary a politically correct one. Nonetheless, with stellar performances from Leigh and Gable, a strong narrative and a musical score to kill, Gone With The Wind is a classic, now and forever. Many call it racist, and “frankly, I don’t give damn” what they think. It’s one of the greatest love stories ever told. Period.

Enjoy this masterpiece in all its glory