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The movie sidesteps the inconvenient fact that plantation gentility was purchased with the sweat of slaves (there is more sympathy for Scarlett getting calluses on her pretty little hands than for all the crimes of slavery).
“She notices him undressing her with his eyes: `He looks as if--as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy.' “ If the central drama of “Gone With the Wind” is the rise and fall of a sexual adventuress, the counterpoint is a slanted but passionate view of the Old South.
Unlike most historical epics, “GWTW” has a genuine sweep, a convincing feel for the passage of time. The movie signals its values in the printed narration that opens the film, in language that seems astonishing in its bland, unquestioned assumptions: “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South.
If “GWTW” had ended with Scarlett's unquestioned triumph, it might not have been nearly as successful.
Its original audiences (women, I suspect, even more than men) wanted to see her swatted down--even though, of course, tomorrow would be another day. As he tells Scarlett in a key early scene, “You need kissing badly. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” For “kissed,” substitute the word you're thinking of. “They figure, if that's what he can do with a horse, think what he could do with me.”) Scarlett's confusion is between her sentimental fixation on a tepid “Southern gentleman” (Ashley Wilkes) and her unladylike lust for a bold man (Rhett Butler).
That the Ku Klux Klan was written out of one scene for fear of giving offense to elected officials who belonged to it.
The movie comes from a world with values and assumptions fundamentally different from our own--and yet, of course, so does all great classic fiction, starting with Homer and Shakespeare.She also sought to control her economic destiny in the years after the South collapsed, first by planting cotton and later by running a successful lumber business.She was the symbol the nation needed as it headed into World War II; the spiritual sister of Rosie the Riveter.Several directors worked on the film; George Cukor incurred Clark Gable's dislike and was replaced by Victor Fleming, who collapsed from nervous exhaustion and was relieved by Sam Wood and Cameron Menzies. Selznick, the Steven Spielberg of his day, who understood that the key to mass appeal was the linking of melodrama with state-of-the-art production values.Some of the individual shots in “GWTW” still have the power to leave us breathless, including the burning of Atlanta, the flight to Tara and the “street of dying men” shot, as Scarlett wanders into the street and the camera pulls back until the whole Confederacy seems to lie broken and bleeding as far as the eye can see.Both were well-served by a studio system that pumped out idealized profiles and biographies, but we now know what outlaws they were: Gable, the hard-drinking playboy whose studio covered up his scandals; Leigh, the neurotic, drug-abusing beauty who was the despair of every man who loved her.They brought experience, well-formed tastes and strong egos to their roles, and the camera, which cannot lie and often shows more than the story intends, caught the flash of an eye and the readiness of body language that suggested sexual challenge.A politically correct “GWTW” would not be worth making, and might largely be a lie.As an example of filmmaking craft, “GWTW” is still astonishing.Of course, she could not quite be allowed to get away with marrying three times, coveting sweet Melanie's husband Ashley, shooting a plundering Yankee, and banning her third husband from the marital bed in order to protect her petite waistline from the toll of childbearing.It fascinated audiences (it fascinates us still) to see her high-wire defiance in a male chauvinist world, but eventually such behavior had to be punished, and that is what “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn” is all about.