ome movies really are not improved by the blu-ray format. Most black and white films, for instance. But then there are the films where watching on blu-ray really changes and enhances thee film so much that I don't think I can ever watch them on DVD again. Gone With the Wind is one such film. It's available in various packages (a deluxe package, the three-dvd "Scarlett" edition which is the one I have, and a bare-bones just the movies version). Whichever version you decide to get, the remastering of the film is nothing short of astonishing. Colors are more vivid than ever, and for the first time you can see the tiny details, like the wrinkles on Vivien Leigh's face or the brocade on the ladies' dresses. The Technicolor print is restored to its full glory. The only negative is that the sound is not as good as it could be.
As for the movie itself, it's become fashionable to poo-poo it nowadays. Certainly the flaws are glaring -- the naive, picture-postcard view of the antebellum South, the condescending racial attitudes, the dull-as-dirt and miscast Leslie Howards as Ashley Wilkes, and the fact that so many different directors (there are three credited -- Victor Fleming, Sam Woods, and George Cukor) and screenwriters (one of them was F. Scott Fitzgerald) give the film a piecemeal quality, without the unity of style and script of, say, real masterpieces like Citizen Kane or Casablanca.
To see how perfect Leigh was for the role, one only has to watch screen tests of other actresses in the part. Lana Turner is particularly unsuited:
What is well-known is that Leigh fought tooth and nail to make Scarlett a complex character, and not just a stock vixen. She fought with the director Victor Fleming, she fought with Gable, and in the end, we can see the wisdom of her approach. There's always a hint of vulnerability lurking behind Scarlett's cold, scheming smirk or heartless words and actions. In order for the movie to work, one has to understand why decent people like Rhett and Melanie and Ashley love Scarlett, even if she's manipulative, selfish, greedy, and at times just flat out mean. The scene where she stares down everyone at Ashley's birthday party with the biggest bitchface known to man is priceless. Leigh makes us understand the love. I cannot imagine the film with any other actress.
Olivia de Havilland also gives a wonderful performance as Melanie Hamilton, the Southern lady made of fine steel. Her soft doe-eyes, her gentle manner,and mousier appearance make her a perfect foil for Scarlett. The only major miscast is Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes. Howard is way too old for the part, and although the Ashley in the book is a milquetoast, he's also a charming, dignified, lovable milquetoast. Howard drains all color from the character, and frankly is dull as dirt every time he's onscreen.
GWTW's strongest moments of the film come in the first three quarters, when Scarlett goes from Southern belle to picking cotton in the fields of Tara to remaking her fortune during Reconstruction. There are so many iconic moments in the first half of the film. The scene at the train station, when Scarlett is walking among a screen of dead or wounded soldiers is one. Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie and the baby frantically fleeing from the Siege of Atlanta is still seat-of-your-pants thrilling. Scarlett standing in the fields of Tara, swearing that she'll never be hungry again, is another iconic moment. But my favorite moment is when Scarlett shoots the robber. The way she stares down the robber is priceless, as is the picture of Melanie, still weak from giving birth, rushing downstairs with her sword. GWTW in those scenes is really a feminist movie, as Scarlett and Melanie (and Mammy) will their way through the worst of the Civil War.
Yet none of this detracts from the overall quality of the film. The film is four hours long, but it's amazing how it maintains audience interest. GWTW is the story of one remarkable woman's survival, but it's also become etched in popular culture as the image of the Old South. I know many people who talk about the Old South and immediately say, "Don't you remember how in GWTW they said ..." And despite some deletions of characters and events, the movie remains an incredibly faithful adaptation of the novel. If you haven't seen this movie in a long time, buy the blu-ray and rewatch this classic.
The "Scarlett Edition" comes with three discs, the first being the movie itself. The second disc has 8 hours of extras, from documentaries about the making of the movie, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, to a made-for-TV movie about the famous "search for Scarlett" by producing David O. Selznick. The making of the movie documentary is the most fascinating, as it shows, for instance, a revolving floor when Clark Gable "dances" with Vivien Leigh. Or the endless costume tests, in which Gable is visibly impatient. The third disc is a 6 hour documentary about MGM. This package is a bargain. Don't think about it tomorrow -- get it today.