Based on the Margaret Mitchell novel, 1939’s Gone With the Wind is arguably the most popular film ever made and one of the most successful as well. It is of course the story of the American south during the Civil War, but really it is simply a sweeping and epic story of love. Note that I didn’t call it a love story, because it’s not that. It’s more like a misguided or forbidden love story. Surely the main characters love people who don’t return their affection in the way they’d like. Scarlett O’Hara loves Ashley Wilkes, but while he sometimes thinks he loves Scarlett, he is really only in love with his cousin Melanie Hamilton. And for all his bravado, Rhett Butler loves Scarlett despite her inability to return his affection. All of this is set against the demise of their beloved south, although Mitchell surely romanticizes the lifestyle far too much.
It’s truly hard not to enjoy Gone With the Wind. It is a classic of American film and the story is wonderful. But for my money Gone With the Wind is one of the greatest films ever because of its tremendous performances. And that begins, undoubtedly, with Vivien Leigh’s tour de force as Scarlett. Has there ever been a more epic female character in the history of film? Leigh’s Scarlett is beautiful, charming, manipulative, strong and tragic — all at once! Leigh’s Oscar-winning performance is one for the ages and I defy you to take your eyes off of her when she’s on the screen. Leigh made plenty of films over her career, but she will always be immortalized as Scarlett O’Hara and rightfully so.
Clark Gable, who surprisingly did not win the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal as Captain Rhett Butler, was almost as epic as Leigh. Butler is the epitome of the leading man…he is smart, handsome, strong and savvy. He makes millions during the war as a profiteer, knows how to have a good time, and is the only man who sees beyond Scarlett O’Hara’s facade and truly gets her. Unfortunately for Butler he truly loves Scarlett, and that leads him only to tragedy. By the end he at least knows when it’s time to get out! Gable’s Butler is one of the best male characters ever to be captured on film, and if you disagree…frankly I don’t give a damn.
Gone With the Wind is the definition of an epic and it deserves its lofty place on the AFI list. It is indeed an American classic.
Next: We crack the Top 5 with Singin’ in the Rain
A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those films I’ve always heard about but never saw. And of course, the famous scene with Marlon Brando screaming for his wife Stella has become a meme and a staple of any Hollywood montage sequence. I also must admit I have never read any Tennessee Williams plays nor have I seen any other films based on Tennessee Williams writing, so I’m not expert on the guy or his genre. My guess is that the play was better than the film and the written work was better than the play. I say this because the screenplay is clearly the highlight of the film and as if you need any proof the acting ensemble all took home Oscars or Oscar nominations — good writing!
Let’s get this out of the way first — I really didn’t like the film. In fact, I fell asleep for a few minutes in the middle of the damn thing. But I did like the acting and the screenplay. Vivian Leigh was amazing as Blanche DuBois and it seemed as if the part was written for her. For anyone who thought her turn as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind was a clinic on overacting, she certainly redeemed herself 12 years later as DuBois. She won the Oscar for both, but without question her portrayal of DuBois was a tour de force. It’s never easy to play someone who is mentally ill without going over the top, but in this role she slowly starts to come apart from the beginning of the film until she completely loses it by the end. Brilliant work. Karl Malden was also very good as poor Mitch who falls for Blanche and watches as she comes undone. It’s funny how we think of an actor like Karl Malden for one particular role (for me Karl will always be Detective Mike Stone from The Streets of San Francisco) but he has quite a film career prior to his television success. Malden won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this film and was nominated again a few years later for On The Waterfront. Kim Hunter was also nominated for an Oscar, for her role as Stella. I had no idea who she was until I looked her up on IMDB and found out she made a name for herself as Zira in The Planet of the Apes series!
And then there was Marlon Brando. What can we say about Mr. Brando? The man was nominated eight times for an Academy Award and won twice (for On The Waterfront and The Godfather). He was nominated for his role in this film as the brutish Stanley Kowalski and frankly I could barely understand a fucking word he said. What is it with this guy? Why is a guy who mumbles like this considered such a great actor? I don’t get it. He’s the film equivalent of Bob Dylan (the greatest mumbler of all time). I get that he’s a method actor who gets into the head of his characters, but why the hell can’t he annunciate? Whatever.
Maybe I’m just not a Tennessee Williams fan. We’ll see as he gets another shot later in the AFI list.
Next: It Happened One Night