Note: This Week in the Box is a year-long series where Sam works through the entire Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection box set. To find reviews of the other films in the series and see the complete list, click here.
Scarlett O’Hara is the worst, most despicable, most obnoxious, terrible, unpleasant, manipulative, horrible character ever in the history of fictional characters.
(quick tangent: if your instinctive response is to be TOTALLY WITTY and come back with the quip “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” you may award yourself exactly one slow clap. I learned while discussing this movie in person that everyone thinks they’re very clever for producing that particular line in this context).
Whew. Now that that’s out of the way, I can get on to enumerating the great many reasons Scarlett is terrible and how this movie is four hours of active punishment for the audience forced to endure her unending terribleness.
If you are unaware, the premise of Gone with the Wind is the trials and tribulations of a wealthy Southern landowning family in the Civil War, particularly the eldest daughter, Scarlett. She manipulates and marries her way to whatever bit of success she can grab and it’s only through good fortune and timing that her husbands keep dying off, so that she can cling to the next one and twist him around her little finger in turn. Her family is devastated by the war, true, and she occasionally does work hard to achieve things and keep her life in one piece, true, but she’s so insufferably obnoxious even when there’s reason to pity her that I’m hard pressed to find a tear to shed. The whole while a man named Rhett Butler– who is dashing, handsome, and independently wealthy– throws himself at her over and over, but since he won’t let her manipulate him like she manipulates every other man she meets, she repeatedly gets upset and flounces off in a huff. Also, one of her chief points of obnoxiousness is her love for a man who gets married in the first half hour of the movie and who deserves none of the havoc she tries to wreak on his life to get him “back.” (worth noting: she didn’t actually tell him she was interested until he was already engaged).
Fortunately, Scarlett is only 75% of this movie, which leaves small leftover sliver for Clark Gable to be the very most dashing man in the history of dashing men. Rhett Butler is the single greatest character so far in this series. Every time Rhett is in the picture, things are wonderful and delightful. Every time he’s not, it’s a seemingly unending slog of Scarlett being annoying. Really, the whole movie is an unending slog of Scarlett being annoying, but sometimes she’s annoying to Rhett, who can more than hold his own against her. The only good thing that happens in the entire movie is when Rhett finally breaks free from his love of Scarlett and bails, giving that famous line.
In the meantime, what you get is fond remembrance for the slave era and a good old-fashioned lynching. Oh, and did I mention it’s four hours long? I read the (very long) book that’s based on in high school, and while this seems to be a reasonably faithful adaptation, that still doesn’t mean we needed all four hours of that screen time. It makes for a very effective spectacle, with giant bustling crowd scenes and bodies strewn everywhere post-attack by the Union troops, but it’s nowhere near enough to redeem an utterly unredeemable premise (that is, caring for even a second what happens to Scarlett).
All I know is, if the South rises again, it can be as powerful as it wants (sans slavery, please) if it comes in the form of Rhett Butler. If it comes back as Scarlett O’Hara, I say we sell half the country to Mexico and pretend we’ve never heard of those states before.