Gone with the Wind

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

22 June

 

David O Selznick dies, 1965

On this day in 1965, one of the great names of Hollywood’s golden era died. David O (the O meant nothing at all) had been born into a movie family in 1902 and arrived in Hollywood in time for the talkie era, in 1926. By 1931, having worked at MGM and Paramount, he was head of production at RKO, 1933’s King Kong being one of his big successes. He moved back to MGM where he oversaw a series of prestige productions, including Anna Karenina and A Tale of Two Cities. In 1936 he had become an independent producer, his standout hits in the next four years being A Star Is Born, Gone with the Wind and Rebecca. Having made the biggest film of all time, Gone with the Wind, and introduced Hitchcock to the USA, Selznick took a break, but in 1944 he returned to producing and writing films – Since You Went Away, Hitchcock’s Spellbound, The Third Man. He spent much of the rest of his life trying to top the success of Gone with the Wind, and furthering the career of his wife, Jennifer Jones, who starred in his nearest pass, Duel in the Sun. In 1948 he took another break, this time for nine years, aware that TV was the new kid in town. His return to movie production was A Farewell to Arms in 1957. It was his last film. He died of a heart attack, his career having peaked with Hollywood.

 

 

 

Gone with the Wind (1939, dir: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood)

Phew. Three directors. Everything about Gone with the Wind is excessive – books have been written just about the casting of it – but nothing quite outdoes Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. David O Selznick knew that he had to get Scarlett right or else the film would fail. And he got it right. In terms of plot GWTW is really just a straightforward journey with Scarlett as she hits one adversity after another and overcomes it – either romantic (her men), financial (her beloved Tara plantation) or political (the Civil War that throws both of the first two into flux). The film is often discussed in terms of it being an epic love story set against a backdrop of the American Civil War, but Gone with the Wind is actually best seen as the portrait of an out and out bitch. And Leigh is quite punishingly majestic as the Southern belle whose beauty and birth leads her to believe she is entitled to everything. We’re in the Deep South of the slavery years and from the interactions between Scarlett and her house slave Mammie (Hattie McDaniel) it’s clear that in all of Scarlett’s dealings with men she expects the same as with Mammie – master or servant and nothing in between. Scarlett is the domineering sort who is after a new father figure. And if the man in question can’t deliver, she has no use for him.Scarlett demands the bended knee and gets it from nearly everyone she encounters. She does not get it from Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and as a consequence falls badly for him from the moment she first spots him lounging languidly at a barbecue and undressing her with his eyes.

This is a film about domination and being dominated – black and white, north and south, man and woman. “You need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.” That’s Rhett’s big bold bid to get Scarlett in his thrall (ie bed). And Scarlett, sensing a man who will dominate her, who would rather give it all up (“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”) than play second fiddle, yields. Look around at everyone else – feeble Southern gent Ashley (Leslie Howard), his fluttering wife Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), Butterfly McQueen as Prissy, Thomas Mitchell as Gerald and everyone around them, second fiddlers all. As for the Yankee deserter who Scarlett meets on the road – she shoots him, partly because he’s the enemy, but also because he’s a coward, a weakling.

Gone with the Wind is also one of the great technical achievements of Hollywood. It’s a triumph of special effects, physical and otherwise. Watch it just to clock how many matte drawing and in-camera effects have been used, some of them so accomplished they’re still invisible (you can’t say that about the Lord of the Rings film, for instance, where every effect looks like one). Tara, O’Hara’s beloved home, is plywood and paper mache, though you’d never know. The burning of Atlanta scene saw Selznick himself pushing the plunger that detonated the buildings of the “back forty” and burning countless old sets used by Cecil B De Mille in the silent era. That’s how you mimic the burning of a city, by burning down something huge.
And it’s all caught in glorious Technicolor. The biggest film of its era, GWTW is still the biggest film of all time when inflation is taken into account. Bigger even than Avatar. There is a good reason for that.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The biggest film of all time
  • Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable
  • 10 Oscars
  • Released in 1939, Hollywood’s annus mirabilis

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Gone with the Wind – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Mutiny on the Bounty

Clark Gable and Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

28 April

 

The Mutiny on the Bounty, 1789

On this day in 1789, the year of revolution in France, some sailors on board the British ship HMS Bounty mutinied against their captain, William Bligh, and put him in a boat with 18 other members of his crew. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian, who had been promoted to sailing master by Bligh during the course of the ship’s ten-month journey from London to Tahiti. The ship’s mission was to take breadfruit from Tahiti to the West Indies, to see if they could be grown there and used to feed the slaves. Collecting the breadfruit, cultivating and preparing them for the long and hazardous journey took longer than planned and Bligh and crew had been in Tahiti for five months when it came to time to leave. Some of the men had formed associations with Tahitian women – Fletcher Christian had married one – and didn’t want to leave. Contrary to what films repeatedly portray, though the outward journey had been difficult, Bligh hadn’t been particularly severe; it was on the island that he became strict, administering floggings and picking in particular on Fletcher Christian. The mutiny happened 23 days after the Bounty had set sail on the journey from Tahiti to the West Indies, bloodlessly and with little commotion, when Christian and 17 others (of a crew of 42) forced the captain and those who wished to remain loyal to him (or didn’t wish to be branded mutineers) into the ship’s 23 foot (7m) launch. Bligh and company then embarked on a 47-day journey with no charts to Timor, a remarkable piece of seamanship. The mutineers sailed first for Tubuai, then went back to Tahiti. There Fletcher Christian and his crew kidnapped some women and set sail for Pitcairn Island, whose precise location was wrong on British naval charts, thus making them invisible, and settled down. Bligh made it back to England, where he wrote a report on the mutiny, before picking up another commission to sail to Tahiti with the purpose of introducing breadfruit to the West Indies.

 

 

 

The Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, dir: Frank Lloyd)

Anthony Hopkins is good in the 1984 version, The Bounty. But no one can hold a candle to Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh. Barking out lines such as “I’ll give you water, Mr Morrison – keel haul this man!” Laughton is the personification of the martinet in a version of events on HMS Bounty which doesn’t quite stand up to historical scrutiny. Still, history didn’t have Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. Gable always lived in fear of his manly image being compromised and balked at the idea of wearing a ponytail and breeches as Fletcher Christian. However the character of Christian is at the deep end of the red-blooded pool, so Gable clearly thought the authentic touches worth the gamble. And he was right – this is the film which, on the heels of It Happened One Night, confirmed him as a major star. And, apart perhaps from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it’s Laughton’s most famous role too. Often not mentioned in despatches is Franchot Tone, who gets his moment in the spotlight towards then end, in courtroom scenes where Bligh attempts to get belated revenge on Christian. Until then it’s been a case of a hectoring captain (Laughton) subjecting a proud first mate (Gable) and a mollifying midshipman (Tone) to a daily regime of abuse on the high seas, until the Bounty weighs anchor in Tahiti, where things really kick off. In essence the film is about an unpleasant man attacking a hero, the drama coming from the audience trying to time the “enough’s enough” moment – we all know there’s going to be a mutiny, we just don’t’ know when. This is beautifully handled by all concerned – all three leads were nominated for Best Actor Oscars – while director Frank Lloyd makes the film look like it cost a fortune, which it did, especially in the scenes set in Tahiti (which is exactly where the Tahiti scenes were filmed). This is the best of the bunch of Bounty films. In the 1962 version you actually feel for Trevor Howard’s Bligh having to put up with the lisping, mumbling of Marlon Brando’s Christian, which undermines the villain/hero dynamic. The 1984 fares better, though there Christian is played by Mel Gibson, who still has half a foot in the detached anomie of Mad Max and can’t muster the sinew-stiffening persona he displayed in Braveheart. Here, we have Gable, a manly leading man repulsed by homosexuality (to a suspicious degree?) acting against an openly gay man who was having sex with his masseur in the trailer when not on set. These two really didn’t get on. No, if you want Mutiny on the Bounty, this is the one to watch.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • All three leads nominated for Best Actor Oscars (it went to Victor McLaglen in John Ford’s The Informer)
  • Shot largely on a real ship, it still looks impressive today
  • Clark Gable on the way to becoming The King
  • Look out for James Cagney as an uncredited extra

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Mutiny on the Bounty – Watch it/buy it at Amazon