Margaret Mitchell’s story of the Old South, which turned into one of Hollywood’s most beloved films of all time, is now available in a 75th anniversary Blu-Ray set that has the same scope and sweep as the great romance. Gone with the Wind is a near four-hour epic with some of the most iconic characters, moments and one-liners in the history of American cinema. Movie lovers who are big fans of the glorious 1939 classic – a 10-time Oscar-winner – will never be hungry again for a home release of the film, given the spectacular picture and audio quality, and nearly 20 hours (!) of bonus material.
75 years later, how does an epic like Gone with the Wind stand the test of time? Rather well, actually, although the first half of the film, steeped in Civil War drama, has aged much better than the more plodding second half. For the unacquainted and the millions of film lovers who have not viewed MGM’s classic in a while, Victor Fleming’s romance begins in the antebellum South, as belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) has her eyes set on the wealthy and winsome Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard). However, Ashley proposes to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), sending Scarlett into a jealous frenzy.
Before Scarlett can tend to her wounded heart, she has to think of the wounded bodies of others: the Civil War breaks out, sending Ashley to enlist for the effort. A visitor from Charleston, the charming and tenacious Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), catches Scarlett’s eye and tries to woo her away from her selfish thoughts during the War. However, what a gentleman says and what he thinks are two different things, as Mammy (Hattie McDaniel, in a barrier breaking Oscar-winning performance) tells Scarlett. Rhett also has his eye on the beautiful belle from Tara, Georgia.
As the injured and bloodied continue to pour into the state during the latter days of the War, and Scarlett becomes caught in the middle, the fury of war entangles her life in drama even more. And, this is only the synopsis for the first half of the adaptation of Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winner.
At the time of its production, Gone with the Wind was the most expensive film ever made, and was one of the first prominent films to be in color. It is hard not to marvel at the drama’s sweeping achievements: Max Steiner’s triumphant score, the magnificent scenery and cinematography (from Ernest Haller), and most importantly, outstanding performances.
Vivien Leigh was a relative newcomer in Hollywood at the time of the film’s making, with her part of Scarlett even more coveted than Michael Corleone, Harry Potter and Lisbeth Salander would later be. Leigh’s casting is key to making one care fiercely and deeply for what could be an irritating character. Scarlett is no saint – she is selfish, shallow, pompous and manipulative. However, the protagonist is also strong-willed, intelligent and vulnerable, and Leigh gives the character a dignity and a gumption that made it easy for millions (and many of the film’s male characters) to fall in love with her. Gable’s turn as Rhett is just as iconic, even with less screen time, and his final onscreen moment – featuring the famous line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” – has to be one of the most sublime exits in any story from any media.
As legendary as Gone with the Wind is, it is more of a great cinematic achievement for its time than great cinema. The boldly performed, nimbly paced, visually splendorous first half is a feat of tremendously assured acting and directing. However, the second half is marred by a lack of directorial control. (Famously, the production went through a few directors, including George Cukor and Sam Wood, atop Fleming.) The second half is absorbing to a point, but mega-producer David O. Selznick’s decision to remain faithful to the novel sags the momentum of the story.
Warner’s 1080p high-definition video transfer looks marvelous for a film that came out 75 years ago. Shown in its original 1.37:1 ratio, it looks terrific. At a couple of instances, the film’s heavy use of soft lighting is a tad distracting given the sharpened remastering, but it is not too much of a bother. Nevertheless, Gone with the Wind looks as stunning as it possibly could. The detail in scenes with a vast scope is something to behold too, especially on a big screen.
Complementary to the superb visual presentation is a fine Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 audio track. When Max Steiner’s score swells, the effect is simply dazzling. The dialogue is crisp, as well. For those who fast forward during the overture and intermission segments, which are mainly the film’s score over a background image from the film, you may want to stop doing that, given the excellent sound quality presented here.
The wealth of special features, spread over three discs, include:
An audio commentary track from historian Rudy Behlmer, who gives an insightful glimpse into the multi-faceted production, which had its share of problems and delays. He also chats about the pop culture phenomenon that Margaret Mitchell’s novel and MGM’s romance was at the times of their releases.
There are more than a dozen behind-the-scenes featurettes, many of which are from previous DVD releases and presented in standard definition. They include:
- The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind, a two-hour documentary often shown on TCM that is rich with information about the beleaguered production, as well as screen tests.
- 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year, an insightful exploration of the year that has gone down as one of the finest (if not the best) in all of film history. Besides Gone with the Wind, there was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz and a wealth of other classics. Film junkies who tune into TCM quite often will adore this look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood.
- Gone with the Wind: The Legend Lives On, a half-hour update that looks at how the classic romantic drama has lived on in the history books. This feature is for major film buffs only, as it takes a look at some of the film’s memorabilia and the efforts taken to preserve the illustrious title.
- Gable: The King Remembered, a one-hour retrospective on one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, courtesy of intimate interviews with great actors and industry figures of the classical Hollywood era.
- Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond, a 45-minute look at the life and times of the two-time Oscar-winning actor. The feature looks into her esteemed life, as well as the mental health issues that plagued her late career.
- Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland, a 40-minute look back at the making of the film from one of its major stars – still alive today at age 98. De Havilland is great company and a warm presence, as well as a terrific primary source to look back behind-the-scenes.
- The Supporting Players, small looks at some of the big stars and their minor yet significant work in Gone with the Wind’s illustrious supporting cast.
- Restoring a Legend, a recycled feature from an earlier disc about the efforts taken to preserve the classic film. This will appeal to film lovers curious to see how their favorite classics are remastered to fit a contemporary release.
- Dixie Halls: Gone with the Wind and Atlanta Civil War Centennial, stunning newsreels of the film’s lavish world premiere in Atlanta in 1939 and its re-release to commemorate the Civil War in 1961
- The Old South, a “historical theatrical short” that explains some of the background of life in the antebellum South. Gone with the Wind has received some controversy for in its depiction of slavery, although a short featurette does very little to explain the broader context of this chapter of American history.
- Old South / New Sound, a brand-new feature made for this anniversary Blu-Ray, which serves as a more comprehensive account of the issues the film brought out. It looks at how time has changed in the Southern United States. The featurette looks at the impact of the Civil War on the south as well as how the film gets some aspects of the culture right and wrong. There is also some discussion about how slavery was mishandled and poorly depicted in Gone with the Wind.
- Hollywood Comes to Atlanta, a brand-new feature made for this anniversary Blu-Ray, shows clips from the huge party and festivities in Atlanta surrounding the film’s premiere in December 1939. It is more detailed than the newsreel footage described a few features above and features footage of Leigh and Gable attending the opening.
One of the oddest features on the disc is a TV movie, The Scarlett O’Hara War. The 1980 film stars Tony Curtis at David O. Selznick and features more minor actors playing some of the biggest figures in film history, from Charlie Chaplin to Katharine Hepburn. The film tells the story of how Gone with the Wind came to the big screen, but is more focused on the hunt to find the actor to play the film’s Southern belle protagonist. Since the TV movie is rather mediocre and so much of Gone with the Wind’s history is already explored elsewhere in this collection, this is a waste of time.
Another film – a whopping six-hour documentary about MGM entitled When the Lion Roars, comes on a separate fourth disc. The 1992 mini-series, hosted by Patrick Stewart, looks at how one of the greatest film studios was established and how it later blossomed and wilted. It is a comprehensive treasure trove of information and interviews from some late great Hollywood icons.
Beyond that, there are five trailers, of the film’s original announcement in 1939 and four reissues since, including the film’s 50th anniversary. There is also an international prologue, which gave exposition about the historical context of the film that foreign audiences would not understand. Finally, there are some amusing international clips, where the film is dubbed in foreign languages.
Despite its shortcomings, there is a reason why Gone with the Wind remains a Hollywood classic three-quarters of a century after its release. Its timeless story of love and loss, as well as a lament to a bygone era, is still as stirring and spellbinding as it was when the film was first released. It is a tremendous achievement of the classical Hollywood era, and a milestone of the movies.
Frankly, my dear, Gone with the Wind fans and lovers of Hollywood’s golden age will certainly give a damn about this classic film's comprehensive anniversary Blu-Ray release.