Gone With the Wind: The Best Movie I’ll Ever Hate

As I mentioned earlier, Warner Brothers recently sent me a free copy of Gone With the Wind (1939) as part of the Blu-ray Elite program. I didn’t actually watch Gone With the Wind for the first time until a year and a half ago. There was no real reason that I’d avoided it. There simply had never been an occasion to watch it. I walked away impressed with the technical aspects of the film, but loathing a lot of other things. After that viewing, I dubbed it “the best movie I’ll ever hate”. Receiving it on Blu last week provided me a chance to possibly recalibrate my opinion, so I popped in the new format and gave it a second watch over the weekend. Had I hastily misjudged it?

In short, after the second viewing, I felt the exact same way. The technical aspects were greatly enhanced in the Blu-ray format. The wide-angle cinematography, the vivid colors, and the use of light and shadow… it was all absolutely masterful. The Blu-ray version of the film was tremendous, a real treat. I can’t say enough good things about the transfer. As for the film itself, I remain annoyed by Gone With the Wind.

I feel awful for the poor actress who got this role.

From the outset with the film’s opening title card, Gone With the Wind romanticizes and glorifies the antebellum south, pairing the phrase “master and slave” with “knights and ladies fair”. Lest you think that it’s a one-off line, the theme appears over and over again throughout the film. Slaves are dejected when the south loses the Civil War, some slaves enthusiastically fight for the south, and the majority of African American characters are there only for humor (Prissy, in particular, was an especially appalling character). I fully understand that it’s a film about a racist institution- the antebellum south. The problem is that the racism in the film wasn’t coming from an accurate portrayal of the antebellum south. It was coming from the late 1930s, projected onto history. Some people like to claim that it’s merely a product of its time. That may be true. Racism was very rampant in America in the 1930s. But does a filmmaker really need to be told that slaves wouldn’t be dejected about attaining their freedom? I don’t care what era you’re from. That assumption is asinine in any year.

The portrayal of “yankees” is equally absurd. At every turn, yankees are lecherous thieves, plucking every last bit of humanity out of the “noble” confederacy. They’re “cruel and vicious”- a phrase used in the film. At the beginning of the second half of the film, “carpetbaggers” are introduced the way one might introduce Frankenstein or Dracula, each and every one of them a villain out to oppress and punish the south. The whole notion grates on me.

One of the biggest assholes in movie history

The film’s protagonist is Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett O’Hara is one of cinema history’s biggest assholes. She spends the entire film trying to break up her friend’s marriage. She also shuns the one man who’s actually willing to deal with her bullshit. And I might add that her friend is the most noble and genuinely good character in the film. Along the way, she pouts and whines and seduces her way towards survival, sort of a cockroach with curls.

The beau that she shuns, Rhett Butler, is refreshing, a saving grace of the film. He’s quick to point out the ridiculousness of the social conventions of the antebellum south (and the era in general). He’s also quick to point out Scarlett’s obnoxious behavior. He’s flawed morally but ultimately does what he feels is right, which makes him seem very human. He’s one of the few likable characters in the movie.

Stunning

As I mentioned, the technical side is amazing. The silhouette of Scarlett against the Georgia sunset as she bellows “I’ll never be hungry again!” is one of the most amazing shots you’ll find in film history. The long shot showing the carnage of the Civil War is equally skillful, and there are flourishes of rich color throughout that are breathtaking. The story itself is an impressively deep saga. Even as much as it grates on me, I can’t deny that. And that’s where I arrive on the whole with Gone With the Wind. It’s a brilliantly made, horribly misguided film. In short, it’s the best film I’ll ever hate.


38 Comments

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38 responses to “Gone With the Wind: The Best Movie I’ll Ever Hate

  1. I just saw this movie for the first time ever a week ago, and liked it a lot. Certainly a lot more than I expected to like it, and probably more than you did. But it is a flawed film (the characterization is at times completely awful and the film’s messy third act is appalling, with way more random deaths of pivotal characters than I’m comfortable with) and I don’t think I need to see it again.

    • Aside from Prissy’s scenes, the one segment that really bugged me the most was the Christmas scene where the slave is chasing a chicken around the farmyard. There was no reason at all for that segment other than to make fun of the slaves.

  2. I don’t thik I will ever see this one. I don’t know why. But it is on one of those lists you have in your head…..

    Great Piece

    • I know exactly what you mean, Scott. I’ve got Yankee Doodle Dandy on that list and several others. For what it’s worth, I’d say that knowing how much of a movie-lover you are, Gone With the Wind is worth a shot.

  3. I saw this for the first and only time when I was really young (maybe 9 or ten), and I remember even at that age being upset by the movie’s racism. Yes, most older movies have a hint of racism–it was a racist time–but this one is ridiculous. It’s not something I really care to watch again.

    • I’ll admit that I’m glad I re-watched it simply for the transfer. But after a second viewing, I’m glad I can put it away again for a long time.

  4. Phil

    Ok John, the real question is – was it the movie or was it you? I find they I always have pre-judged every film, and it is difficult to get past that bias, for good and bad films. I like Netflix because it I put lots of minor classic films in my queue and then when I get the DVD, I feel an obligation to watch it. The problem is often by the time I get it, I’m not as interested in it and not in the ‘right mood’. So I often don’t see the brilliance in these films because I wasn’t really paying attention. It is easy to put in ‘Citizen Kane’ and say ‘The pacing is bad and the speaking style isn’t natural, this film is overrated!’

    • I think it’s a little of both. I was in the mood to watch it. Actually, I was even a little excited for it. (though I am 100% familiar with what you’re talking about- it happens to me all the time)

      Where “it might have been me” comes into play is that I grew up in the 80s and 90s. My HS and college experiences were both in the 90s. And let’s face it… if you grew up in the 90s, you grew up in a very politically correct era. I’m not knocking it, but it’s worth pointing out. And as such, I’m probably overly sensitive to the racist tone of the movie.

  5. Of course, who can forget the “I’ll never go hungry again!” line of Scarlett O’Hara? Now, I must see the film in blue ray, ahaha. Thanks for this. 🙂

  6. Dan

    John, I watched this movie for the first time in January, and I have pretty similar feelings to you. I did enjoy the first half largely due to the technical achievements and scope, but there are a lot of issues. I also thought the melodrama in the second half was a lot to take. I’m glad that I saw it because it’s such a legendary movie, but I can’t say that it was an amazing experience.

    • It’s such a mixed bag. I really wish I liked it. Because there are other movies from that era- Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, The Maltese Falcon… I love all of those. GWTW is the outlier.

  7. Ahah, I already know you hated this film so I guess I’m not surprised. Y’see when I first saw this film when I was a wee kid, I didn’t know much about American history (they didn’t really teach those in my country, just a lot of brainwashing about *false* history about our own), so I didn’t really have objections about the stereotypes or inaccuracies you pointed out.

    He..he.. I know a lot of guys hates Scarlet’s guts and she’s definitely an antihero, not a sympathetic character at all. But I admire some things about her, like her will to survive and her independence. Of course next to her anyone is a saint, but Melanie is one even amongst decent people. I agree that Rhett is a great character and Gable played him well. The one character who irritates me to no end is Ashley, such a wuss. Can’t believe Scarlett would rather be with him than w/ Rhett Butler!!

    • Ruth, I admire your devotion to it. There’s a lot to be said for finding the films we love as children and holding onto them.

      The beef about Ashley is one that I hear from a lot of women. It cracks me up.

      You mentioned Scarlett’s admirable qualities. One of the things that I discovered while reading up a little on this movie after I re-watched it: in some circles, she’s considered a feminist hero of sorts. For all of the bad things I say about that character, I will concede that she’s complex.

      • Ahah yes, very complex indeed. Btw John, I think Clark Gable would agree with you. I think he’s famously said he didn’t care for this film, and calling it a ‘woman’s picture.’ Granted he’s probably just a sourpuss for not being the *star* of the film, ha..ha..a

  8. aleksa

    I laughed at your “biggest asshole in cinema history” line. The fact that she is completely unrepentant about the things she’s doing would never mark her as a hero in a modern film. The biggest thing that bothered me about the film (maybe because I’m a woman) is that Rhett’s big “love scene” with Scarlett appears, at least to our modern eyes, pretty rapey; particularly distasteful since she’s portrayed the next day as having enjoyed it.

  9. I agree with you here. The troubling themes and Scarlett O’Hara make this a film I find insufferable. I get that this film is historically important and also appreciate the technical feat, but I find this film offensive on a moral level and also have a complete aversion to the protagonist. She’s easily the fictional character I hate the most.

  10. I’m pretty much with you completely on your view of this film, John. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, meticulously made by very talented people, and it’s the very definition of an epic, but I will likely never move beyond admiration for its technique to actually enjoying it. As you say, it has great things in it. Gable is magnificent. Scarlet O’Hara is one of my most despised characters in Hollywood history, but I must admit she is very well played by Vivian Leigh and I do have to admire the character’s tenacity. As a physical production, it’s pretty amazing. But I can never sit through the whole thing in one sitting. There’s only so much of Scarlet I can take at once.

    Great post!

  11. I had the same problem with you,John,it is overall great but full of loopholes all over the place,it can’t stand the test of detailed examinations.This is the common weakness of all Hollywood epic films,the other cases which have the same problem are Giant and Ben-Hur,I could list more.

    • I find it a mixed bag. I think films like Citizen Kane and Casablanca hold up remarkably well. The same goes for a lot of Billy Wilder. But then, something like Frank Capra’s movies… they fall a little flat now. It’s the same reason that I think Charlie Chaplin’s sentimentality, which made him lovable at the time, prevent his films from holding up as well as Buster Keaton’s.

  12. It was David O. Selznick’s career fantasy to adapt Gone With The Wind and it was so costly and gained so much at the box-office that it marked the History of Cinema forever. But I share your “hate” towards the film despite its technical grandeur it is too literal and filled with unappealing characters, O’Hara, Butler, etc. And the obvious racism makes The Birth of A Nation (which btw is a great masterpiece) looks like a normal thing…

  13. yaykisspurr

    This is a beautiful, timeless film in that they portrayed the time period and really the thinking of the people so well. The entire plot of the movie would have totally collapsed if Ashley had simply told Scarlet firmly and clearly I DO NOT WANT YOU. She would have moved on and fallen deeply in love with Rhett who would have helped her to grow up. (I would love to watch a movie showing that!) You weren’t to talk that way back then though, it wasn’t gentlemanly. This is my internal storyteller talking though – the writer who can admire a well formed story.

    I HATE this movie as a member of the audience. Of course you love Rhett – he’s the only one with any sense. The entire South was absurd!! Even the ones who didn’t believe in slavery had trouble standing up for what they believed it. Scarlet ought to be taken out and shot. Who cares if she survived?! Who cares if she like every other selfish person in the world who’s capable of doing despicable things in the name of her own advancement!?

    Perhaps it gets my goat up because it was so well made, the actors so in tune with their characters. Clark Gable, Leslie Howard and Vivian Leigh were all mind blowing. Cheers 🙂

    • You sort of raise an interesting question in my head. Is Scarlett O’Hara an anti-hero? Was she meant to be someone applauded for her obnoxious behavior?

      (I doubt it… but it’d be pretty wild if that was the intention)

      • yaykisspurr

        Honestly I think they were just trying to portray reality in a really compelling way…not something movie makers do often nowadays. Cheers!

  14. mettemk

    Wow, it’s nice to hear from another movie buff who hates this movie, I’ve been feeling quite lonely ;).

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  17. Debbie

    Ohhh thank you!! I thought I was the only person in the universe that is not in love with Gone With the Wind…Your article is exactly how I feel. I can appreciate it for all the technical aspects. I seriously think that the whole story, the whole book may really be summed up with the last line of the movie: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And frankly, the Civil War in an historical sense cannot be ignored, but on the romanticizing of it from the southern point of view, is where I could give a damn myself. NO war ought to be romanticized.

  18. Kathleen Carney

    First of all I have seen this movie at least a hundred times. …. and I have always loved it I guess because its old and a classic so clearly I should love it!!!! I am actually watching it as we speak and I just realized how abusive it is…. yeah Scarlett is a complete bitch but she ends up in a extremely abusive marriage as I th Rett who rapes and verbally abuses her and then when he finally gets what he wants her to want him…. he leaves and tells her he doesn’t care what happens to her……. however in my opinion the worst of the worst is Ashley Wilks I mean what a waste of life ….
    He leads Scarlett on the entire time he is married to Melanie and yet they make it her fault …. and we all know Melanie wasn’t an idiot she just kept her enemy close and made her feel guilty every chance she got……
    after all it was her husband who was the ass and couldn’t decide who he wanted all along….
    anyway that is my rant thanks for listening

  19. [“The beau that she shuns, Rhett Butler, is refreshing, a saving grace of the film. He’s quick to point out the ridiculousness of the social conventions of the antebellum south (and the era in general). He’s also quick to point out Scarlett’s obnoxious behavior. He’s flawed morally but ultimately does what he feels is right, which makes him seem very human. He’s one of the few likable characters in the movie.”]

    It’s a pity that he had committed marital rape . . . which was portrayed as something positive. Oh well. But I do agree with everything else you say about the film. Well . . . to a certain degree. I don’t hate it. But I don’t love it, either.

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