July 9, 1998
On June 26th, Gone With the Wind,one of the most popular movies of all time, returned to theaters across the country with new Technicolor touch-ups and a digitally remastered soundtrack. The film's re-release coincides with the celebration of the first century of American film. In 1940, Gone With the Windwon ten of the sixteen Academy awards for which it was nominated and this year was ranked fourth in the American Film Institute's list of the top one hundred American films. Now seems to be an appropriate time to look back at articles published by The Atlantic Monthly, in February and March of 1973, during another nationwide re-release of Gone With the Wind. Gavin Lambert's two-part article (excerpted from his then-forthcoming book) recounted the film's creation, and the five reviews accompanying his article explored the appeal of this would-be American epic.
Would Scarlett by any other name have seemed so bewitching? What if her name had remained Pansy, as Margaret Mitchell had initially called her? What if David O. Selznick had followed the suggestion of his former studio, RKO, and cast Lucille Ball in the role? In "The Making of Gone With the Wind: Meet Your Scarlett" (February, 1973), Gavin Lambert examined the fortuitous circumstances -- David Selznick's father's love of David Copperfield, Margaret Mitchell's sprained ankle, Vivien Leigh's romance with Laurence Olivier -- that aligned to produce the film as we know it. "The Making of Gone With the Wind, Part II" (March, 1973) continued the saga -- directors are fired, tempers flair, the script is rewritten, rejected, and resurrected, and the seeds of David Selznick's downfall are sown -- all before the film's triumphant sweep of the box offices nearly sixty years ago.
Critics have not always been kind to Gone With the Wind. In a review titled "This Moviest of All Movies" (March, 1973), Andrew Sarris wrote:
Highbrows have never been able to bring themselves to admit that they enjoyed all the wheezing windings of Wind except on the most furtive level of flick worship. Hence, this moviest of all movies almost never pops up on "serious" all-time Best Ten lists.In "The Romantic Is Still Popular" (March, 1973), Stanley Kauffmann quipped that seeing Gone With the Wind twice "is twice as much as any lifetime needs." And in "Glossy, Sentimental, Chuckle-headed" (March, 1973) Richard Schickel found that "Gone With the Wind simply has nothing to do with that other, more important kind of history -- the history of art." Finally, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in "Time, Alas, Has Treated GWTW Cruelly" (March 1973), lamented the film's failure to "acquire a patina," to appear to grow wiser and more graceful with age -- although he does allow that perhaps one day (is 1998 too soon?) it might.
Despite its numerous faults, Gone With the Wind remains one of the most commercially successful films in history. Reasons for its popularity were suggested in "Glorious Excesses" (March, 1973) by Judith Crist, the lone female voice among The Atlantic's reviewers, who marvelled:
One is still swept up and one wallows ... in the pace, the variety of scenes and personalities, the enriched and particularized stereotypes, and the somehow archetypal clichés which only that moviemaking rarity, a showman with taste and intelligence, could have produced.... It's the stuff our movie dreams were made on -- and mighty durable stuff it proves to be.
Illustration by Edward Sorel.
Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.