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GOING AS DUTY

Gone with the Wind is often referred to as an entertainment event. But more like a duty; because its so much a part of our social fabric, we feel this obligation to see it, and then later sit through it (again and again) with family and friends when it comes on the box during the holidays. With the book a blockbuster, the making of the movie indeed became something everyone wanted a say in, especially the casting of Scarlett and Rhett. The American public had no doubts as to who Rhett must be played by, and there would be no rejection of the overwhelming popular vote, but Scarlett was a different matter. When we see the tests of the various actresses vying for the part (test film in b & w ran over 149,000 feet and color test film ran over 13,000 feet), its very clear that any established performer would probably distractingly carry her own personality to the part, thus depriving the enormous readership of a fresh “vision” of who Scarlett is. That was too risky for David O. Selznick, and for once were on his side (because those who knew him usually werent). Vivien Leigh is the miracle who arrived almost too late; had she not arrived on the night Atlanta was burning for the cameras, we might have had Paulette Goddard after all. Leighs beauty was relatively new to American moviegoers, and because the public knew next to nothing about her, the interest in her could build without much bias. That she was English was carped about, but that she was Laurence Oliviers love interest didnt hurt. Once in front of the camera, dressed to the Tara hilt and speaking with a delicious Southern accent, doubts about the selection of Leigh as Scarlett diminished. Selznick never stopped worrying, but just about everyone else knew that Scarlett had come to life. Unfortunately, to tiring, exasperating, cloying life; Leigh never gets a break from Scarletts willed tantrums, her banquet of connivances, her shallowness. Leighs a great show, but an exhausting one. Rhett is nothing if not a masterful extension of Clark Gables own screen persona, wrapped in what is easily the finest wardrobe he ever strutted around in. Reportedly reluctant to play the part, Gables not giving a performance, hes an amused absorber of Leighs screen-required petulance and puerile caprice. But you sure miss these egotists when Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard infringe with their insufferable “noblesse oblige” routines. Gone with the Wind has been at least twice a “reserved seat” attraction—in major cities when it was first released, and in late 1967, when MGM blew up prints to 70mm. Purists called it 70 mutilations per minute, because scene after scene cut foreheads and chins off, exposed via exaggeration and distortion the supreme fakery of William Cameron Menzies color enhancements. However, this release became 1967s twelfth highest grossing picture. (A more sweeping and satisfying narrative of the same period as Gone with the Wind are the miniseries North and South and North and South II.) Winner of eight Academy Awards: best picture, actress, director (Victor Fleming), supporting actress (Hattie McDaniel), screenplay, color cinematography, interior decoration, film editing. Special award to Menzies; Irving Thalberg Memorial Award to Selznick.

(Note: Over at Cinema Treasures, there’s debate about the 70mm version opening in the Loop at either the McVickers or the Michael Todd. The epic moved over to the McVickers in April, 1968 after completing its initial run at the Cinestage. Here is the ad. In June, 1968, it was the premiere attraction at the UA Cinema 150 in Oak Brook. And yes, the movie had at least four repeat engagements at the Michael Todd, sans hardticket.)

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.