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Savant Review:

Gone With The Wind
MGM Home Entertainment
1939 / Color / 1:37 / Dolby Digital English 5.1, English mono / Single Layered, double-sided (flipper)
Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
Production Designer William Cameron Menzies
Original Music Max Steiner
Writing credits Sidney Howard
Produced by David O. Selznick
Directed by Victor Fleming

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Boasting a reputation as 'The Greatest Motion Picture Ever Made', Gone With The Wind is a one-of-a-kind monument in film history. Ambitious mogul David O. Selznick brought together the best Hollywood had to offer - star power, top talent, technical virtuosity - and turned Margaret Mitchell's historical romance into what is generally considered the crowning achievement of classic Hollywood. Gone With The Wind was a triumph Selznick was never able to repeat; sixty years later it remains an undiminished landmark in popular entertainment.


It is 1861, and the Civil War is poised to blow apart the genteel world of the landed gentry of Georgia. Spoiled belle Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh), pursues her pampered and coquettish interests. Infatuated with the refined Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) despite his engagement to the sincerely sweet Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), Scarlett is determined to have her way no matter who suffers, a quality that attracts dashing blockade runner Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). As the Confederacy collapses around them, the stormy romance of Scarlett and Rhett becomes the centerpiece of an epic of war and defeat, passion and pride.

For many Americans Gone With The Wind is the movie that best represents the glory of a mythical Hollywood long since passed, the kind of movie 'they don't make any more'. In actuality they didn't make anything like it very often back then either. At a whopping four hours it was longer than any American movie since the silent era. To the delight of Margaret Mitchell fans, it managed to encompass the book's dramatic arc, even with some jarring ellipses in the second half. Also untypical of Hollywood, Gone With The Wind used its length to fully develop a large cast of complex characters.

Viewers unfamiliar with what passed for appropriate presentation of blacks in Hollywood films of the 30's can be quite surprised to see Gone With The Wind's feeble-minded Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), and the contemptous presentation of Reconstruction blacks as the puppets of evil Carpetbaggers. Challenging the film on the basis of its dated racial content quickly takes the discussion far afield from the film itself. In all honesty, the movie's attitude towards blacks wasn't really dated in the cultural climate of 1939, but its championing of the Klan was.

Selznick showed better judgment in his choice of creative contributors, and among these the new Gone With The Wind DVD best displays the work of production designer William Cameron Menzies. The film's epic scale and intense drama owe more to his designs than to shots with thousands of extras (of which there are actually very few). A montage effects shot of legions of cavalry riding fiery clouds is more effective than a battle scene would have been. Menzies' use of stark silhouettes bathed in the red light of fires adds greatly to the impact of key scenes, such as the farewell on the road to Tara. Menzies' crucial contribution, often overlooked, was to mold the vision of Gone With The Wind's multiple directors and writers into a coherent whole.

The DVD of Gone With The Wind is far and away superior to any previous video presentation, and much more satisfying than last summer's technically marred theatrical release. The vibrant, saturated Technicolor hues are accurately rendered; one marvels at the luminosity of closeups and previously unseen details in costumes and decor. The enormous quantity of light poured onto the set gives eyes a stunning glow; simple raindrops on a window become rows of luminescent jewels (chapter 17 57:10). The most telling transfer improvement is the complete absence of white dirt speckles that marred earlier versions. Whether this is the result of better original elements or painstaking digital cleanup, this Gone With The Wind simply looks impeccable.

As an older 3-Strip Technicolor film Gone With The Wind shows interesting problems peculiar to that process. If one of the three picture matrices shrinks, minor fringing and misalignment can occur. This can be seen on several isolated shots, such as Scarlett admiring the green hat Rhett has brought her from Paris (chap. 15 40:10). More frequent is a slight fluctuation of color that occurs when one of the matrices has faded unevenly. In Scarlett's 'I'll never go hungry' speech (chap. 27 1:43:00), the red in the sky pulses visibly, as some picky purists have noted. The fact that the shot is a complicated optical may have contributed to the pulsing. With its constant opticals and special effects, the film was a nightmare for the early Technicolor process in that each optical element had to be multiplied by three: a simple dissolve was between six elements, not two, and a multi-element matte shot might have twenty or thirty elements to combine. The high quality of the effects under these conditions is that much more of an achievement.

The sound is a new 5.1 Dolby Digital remaster that is very clean and clear but not very active. In the seige of Atlanta, shell blasts are directionally isolated. The track still seems very much a product of 1939 audio technology. The audio for the feature seems to be mastered at a rather low volume. The Turner logo at the end is relatively at least twice as loud. An original mono track has been included, a welcome addition for the sake of preservation.

Viewers of this DVD are going to be thrilled with the quality of the feature presentation, but some will be disappointed with the lack of supplements. It has MGM's ususal eight-page booklet. The first side of the disc has an original Selznick trailer, the second a collection of trivial facts, and that's it. More disturbing is the lack of foreign-language soundtracks or subtitles. There are only French subtitles, and no Spanish is seen or heard at all.

Gone With The Wind is a truly superior DVD, and an obvious choice for collectors even if classic films aren't their primary purchase choice. The VHS and LD versions previously available were pricey items, which makes this economical disc an especially satisfying bargain.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Gone With The Wind rates:
Movie: Excellent+
Video: Excellent++
Supplements: 8-page booklet, trivia quiz and scene access.
Packaging: Keep-Case
Reviewed: October 30, 1998

(Note: when this article was moved from the DVD Resource site to DVD Savant, it had 12,108 hits that are not reflected in the tally on this page. 10/21/00)

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