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Warner Home Video presents
Gone With the Wind: CE (1939)

Scarlett: You do waltz divinely, Cap'n Butler.
Rhett: Don't start flirting with me. I'm not one of your plantation beaux. I want more than flirting from you.
Scarlett: What do you want?
Rhett: I'll tell you, Scarlett O'Hara...if you take that southern belle simper off your face. Someday I want you to say to me the words I heard you say to Ashley Wilkes—"I love you."
Scarlett: That's something you'll never hear from me, Cap'n Butler, as long as you live.

- Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: December 22, 2004

Stars: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel
Other Stars: Thomas Mitchell, Ona Munson, Laura Hope Crewes, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, Barbara O'Neil, Butterfly McQueen, Harry Davenport, Jane Darwell, Oscar Polk, Eddie Anderson, Rand Brooks, Carroll Nye, Ward Bond, Cammie King, Isabel Jewell
Director: Victor Fleming

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 03h:58m:00s
Release Date: November 09, 2004
UPC: 012569591721
Genre: historical


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A+A- A+

DVD Review

In an era when big budget blockbusters are a dime a dozen, it's easy to minimize the scope and dismiss the impact of Gone With the Wind. But in 1939, audiences were bowled over by producer David O. Selznick's epic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's ode to the Old South. The Technicolor spectacle, sweeping historical backdrop, fascinating main character, and substantive storyline all contributed to the phenomenon that Gone With the Wind quickly became—and remains. Though the film may be 65 years old, it doesn't coast on its past reputation. Amazingly, it still delivers the goods. No matter how familiar we are with the plot or how often we quote the dialogue, this glorious saga of Scarlett and Rhett, Ashley and Melanie, Civil War and Reconstruction maintains its allure, and continues to impress audiences with its impeccable design and meticulous attention to detail. During its storied history, Hollywood has produced countless war movies, romances, and melodramas…but only one Gone With the Wind.

I first experienced this timeless classic back in the mid-1970s during a special engagement at New York's Radio City Music Hall. I was 12 at the time, and knew the movie by reputation only. Yet once the lights dimmed and the 70mm image flooded the screen, I was transfixed, lost in a bygone age and consumed by its colorful history. I've seen Gone With the Wind many times since then, but could never recapture that initial thrill. And though no home video experience could ever compete with viewing the film theatrically, frankly my dear, Warner's magnificent, brand-new restoration comes damn close, and the studio's beautifully packaged four-disc DVD collector's edition made me feel like that wide-eyed 12-year-old all over again. The superb picture quality, enhanced audio, and marvelous compendium of special supplements make this hefty set definitive, and the must-own DVD of the year.

Watching Warner's flawless transfer, it's hard to believe Gone With the Wind was filmed in 1939. The production's intricate nature, with its daunting spectacle and seamless special effects, make it seem far more contemporary. Sure, the censors watered down some of the novel's racy and controversial elements, but the changes in no way harm the film or cast a dated pallor over it. Maybe because Gone With the Wind is a period piece, we're more willing to accept, even embrace, its old-fashioned aspects. Performances can be a tad stylized at times, but remain remarkably vivid and natural, and thanks to director Victor Fleming (who the very same year directed another iconic classic called The Wizard of Oz) every scene strikes just the right tone. That's no small feat, considering the film's multitude of moods, but whether he's depicting the refined elegance and frivolity of plantation life, the chaos of war, the pain and suffering of wounded soldiers, the determination to rebuild a shattered life, or the despair of losing a child, Fleming masterfully captures the essence of his subject.

As Scarlett O'Hara, the willful, selfish Southern belle whose unrequited infatuation with the weak Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) prevents her from realizing her abiding love for rascal Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Vivien Leigh files one of the all-time great portrayals. The feisty, shrewd Scarlett is one of literature's strongest and most dimensional heroines, and Leigh utterly inhabits her, embracing her faults and bewitching the audience with her seductive magnetism. We may not always like Scarlett, but Leigh makes sure we respect and admire her, in spite of her reprehensible deeds. Legend has it that Leigh and Gable didn't care for each other off-screen, yet they create magnificent chemistry during their epic movie romance. Accustomed to dominating women with his brute strength and devil-may-care charm, Gable met his match in the wily Leigh, and their sparring—be it playful or confrontational—crackles with sexual tension.

Of course, it's impossible to imagine any other actor portraying Rhett, and though some may carp that Gable's just playing Gable in the film, he nevertheless brilliantly brings the charismatic character to life. Tough, but also tender, Gable displays more facets in Gone With the Wind than in any of his other 90-odd films, and contributes the finest work of his career. Howard rarely attempts a Southern accent, but accurately conveys Ashley's wan disillusionment and inability to leave the past behind. And though de Havilland may overdo Melanie's sweetness, she fortifies her with a venerable inner strength that compliments Scarlett's brazen exterior, and adds welcome dimension to what many consider an insipid role.

Yet as good as Howard and de Havilland may be, they can never outshine Hattie McDaniel as the irrepressible, outspoken, and always lovable Mammy. She brings to her role considerable warmth, humor, and emotion, and justly earned an Academy Award (the first African-American so honored) for her moving performance. Yes, Gone With the Wind perpetuates racial stereotypes—especially in the character of Prissy (wonderfully acted by Butterfly McQueen)—although not to the extent to which some critics attest. A few scenes are a bit uncomfortable when viewed today, but lest we forget, Gone With the Wind was made 65 years ago (and chronicles events that occurred almost a century-and-a-half ago), and it's downright wrong for us to take the film out of context. Just because we classify a movie as timeless doesn't mean it can't be of its time as well, and Gone With the Wind does its best to paint an unvarnished portrait of the period.

As the characters confront a cavalcade of catastrophes and the film steamrolls toward its memorable conclusion (which features two of the most quoted lines in movie history), the plot generates a few too many suds, but Gone With the Wind's grandeur, performances, and masterful storytelling keep us absorbed and entranced. It's easy to see why this beloved epic won a then-record eight Oscars (as well as two special citations) and ranks fourth on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time. And if such a list existed for DVDs, this four-disc collector's edition would earn equally high marks.

Simply put, Warner's fabulous treatment of Gone With the Wind will blow you away.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: It's not a question of whether Warner's "ultra resolution" restoration outclasses the previous MGM transfer; it's by how much. And let me tell you, the improvement is immeasurable. From the opening frame, it's immediately apparent Warner has raised the bar with regard to classic movie transfers by a significant margin. Sure, Singin' in the Rain, Meet Me in St. Louis, and North by Northwest are staggering in their beauty, but Gone With the Wind eclipses them all.

Selznick's masterpiece is not an easy film to digitally adapt. Long stretches bathe the characters in the red glow of sunrise or fire, and several dark, murky scenes obscure details, but somehow technicians tackled these issues and fashioned a smooth, integrated presentation. They also wisely resisted the temptation to over-saturate colors, settling instead on a natural, slightly muted palette. As a result, viewers can admire the image without being distracted by it—and also remain absorbed by the story.

Far less grain afflicts this transfer than MGM's version, yet it retains a definite film-like feel, and only a few errant specks sully the sumptuous print. Hues are vibrant and true—the burning of Atlanta sequence is a standout example—and Walter Plunkett's lavish costumes are especially well rendered. Blacks are inky and solid, and exceptional contrast adds newfound depth to many scenes. Clarity, of course, is superb, highlighting Leigh's breathtaking beauty and Gable's ruggedness. Fleshtones are accurate, and edge enhancement seems altogether absent. Even matte shots and, to a lesser extent, rear projection work are seamlessly integrated into the whole. Without a doubt, this is one of the pre-eminent transfers of the DVD age, and the new standard-bearer for Golden Age classics.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The previous DVD edition of Gone With the Wind contained a DD 5.1 track, but it pales when compared to Warner's markedly improved remaster, which further enhances the timelessness of this beloved classic. Again, painstaking attention has been paid to honoring the original track's monaural feel, and the superb results will please even those who decry digital updating. The audio is rich and full throughout, and any age-related imperfections have been erased. Although surround effects are largely imperceptible, the sound subtly envelops and possesses palpable depth. The .1 LFE channel enhances the atmosphere during the shelling of Atlanta, but never overwhelms the drama, and Max Steiner's immortal score enjoys exceptional fidelity. Often omnipresent, the music underscores much of the film's dialogue, but the track nicely balances the two without short-changing either element. Dialogue remains prominent at all times, and is forever clear and comprehendible.

Purists will be relieved to know Warner has included the film's original mono track, but with such a full-bodied 5.1 remaster, only the curious will choose to bother with it.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 63 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
5 Original Trailer(s)
3 Documentaries
17 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 1939 Atlanta premiere newsreel and 1961 Civil War Centennial premiere newsreel
  2. Prologue from international release version
  3. Clips from foreign language versions
  4. 1940 historical short subject, The Old South
Extras Review: When it comes to supplements for classic film releases, Warner leads the pack, consistently raising the bar with regard to quantity and quality. But with Gone With the Wind, the studio outdoes itself, devoting two full discs to special material. And what fabulous special material it is!

First of all, let's address the packaging. Wrapped up in a handsome box with gold embossed lettering, this four-disc set arrives in a lavish, five-panel fold-out sheet, with a famous image of Scarlett and Rhett from the Atlanta bazaar sequence centered across the background. Each disc features an image of one of the four principal characters, and nestled in a pouch on the far-right panel is a beautiful reproduction of the film's original souvenir program. Printed on weighty paper stock, the 20-page insert includes lovely illustrations, vintage photographs, an extensive production chronicle, brief biographies of the four leading players, and personal reminiscences from Clark Gable (in which he frankly addresses his reluctance to portray Rhett Butler) and Vivien Leigh.

On the first two discs, revered film historian Rudy Behlmer provides another of his first-rate audio commentaries. Few DVD orators are as well-prepared and engaging as Behlmer, who takes on the Herculean task of maintaining a cohesive commentary for almost four hours. He succeeds brilliantly, weaving the history of Gone With the Wind like a master storyteller, and offering up plenty of fascinating details and stories, many of which he backs up with direct quotes from memos and books. In addition to a standard production chronicle sprinkled with brief biographies of the cast and crew, Behlmer gives us background on Margaret Mitchell, outlines how the novel was altered when it was adapted for the screen, describes a number of deleted scenes (of which footage sadly does not exist), and presents a brief history of the Civil War. He also discusses the decision to shoot the film in Technicolor, Mitchell's refusal to become involved in the production, censorship issues, and the evolution of Selznick's trademark memos. He even identifies a couple of scenes shot by director George Cukor that remain in the final print. Although the commentary requires a considerable time commitment, Behlmer makes the effort worthwhile.

Disc 3 houses bonus features about the movie as a whole, and opens with perhaps the finest behind-the-scenes documentary ever produced. The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind originally aired on Turner Network Television in 1989, but its inventive storytelling style and stimulating visuals make it seem like a far more recent effort. Christopher Plummer narrates the 123-minute film, and almost every moment is flat-out fascinating. With unprecedented access to producer David O' Selznick's voluminous (and idiosyncratic) memos, and recollections from such cast members as Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, and Butterfly McQueen, this in-depth account takes us step-by-step through each arduous phase of production—acquiring rights to the novel, composing a workable screenplay, financing, the nationwide search for Scarlett, the "firing" of original director George Cukor, the use of innovative special effects, scoring, editing, director Victor Fleming's breakdown, Selznick's exhaustion, and on and on. Especially interesting are scads of rare screen tests featuring such actresses as Paulette Goddard, Jean Arthur, Joan Bennett, Lana Turner, and a very young spitfire named Edith Marrener (who would soon evolve into Susan Hayward), all auditioning for Scarlett. The film even manages to find and interview someone who attended the first preview of Gone With the Wind! Movie buffs will revel in this meticulous documentary, which answers almost every conceivable question about one of Hollywood's best-loved films.

And once we learn about the film, we need a primer on its masterful restoration. Warner complies with the 17-minute featurette, Restoring A Legend, in which several studio technicians discuss the painstaking process of refurbishing Gone With the Wind's video and audio elements to their original glory. Split-screen comparisons show the dramatic results, and those who worked on the project express their reverence for classic film and how they strive to match the original look of each movie, even if it means toning down color saturation. They also demonstrate the high-tech computer programs that facilitate the restoration process.

Dixie Hails Gone With the Wind chronicles the film's gala 1939 Atlanta premiere through four minutes of newsreel footage. We see the airport arrivals of Gable (accompanied by wife Carole Lombard), Leigh, de Havilland, and Selznick, as well as snippets of a festive downtown parade and opulent ball. Up next is a vintage 1940 short, The Old South, produced to drum up enthusiasm for Gone With the Wind by providing historical background and context. Directed by a young Fred Zinnemann (who would later win Oscars for From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons), the 11-minute film hammers home the point that "The South was cotton and The South is cotton." In depicting slavery and plantation life, the short unfortunately relies on racial stereotypes, yet despite a few awkward moments, paints a concise, often absorbing portrait of a bygone civilization.

Three-and-a-half minutes of silent footage from the Atlanta Civil War Centennial in 1961 follows. The occasion marked the first reissue of Gone With the Wind, and the two surviving leads, Leigh and de Havilland, attended the festivities, along with producer David O. Selznick. The disc also includes an extended prologue for the film, tacked on for international audiences unfamiliar with Southern traditions and the events that sparked the Civil War. On a lighter note, three dubbed scenes—in French, Italian, and German—offer a taste of how the film played overseas. Seeing Mammy bark orders in French at a recalcitrant Scarlett is particularly amusing. Five trailers spanning 50 years and numerous re-releases close out Disc 3, along with a listing of awards.

Disc 4 focuses on the cast, and opens with 38 minutes of priceless recollections from Olivia de Havilland. The regal 88-year-old actress is sharp as a tack, and seems to thoroughly enjoy sharing her memories of the production and premiere. Glamorously coiffed and attired, and seated in a chair that might as well be a throne, de Havilland seems as down-to-earth as a grande dame can be, as she discusses her tireless campaign for the part of Melanie, and how her frustration over Jack Warner's reluctance to loan her to Selznick forced her to secretly enlist the help of Warner's wife, Ann, to seal the deal. She also recounts how she devised Melanie's Plain Jane look after bristling at the suggestion the character be dolled up in rouge and ringlets, and how she coaxed a reluctant Gable to tears during a crucial scene. De Havilland tells stories about George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and even tycoon Howard Hughes, and frankly addresses her initial despair over losing the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Hattie McDaniel.

Gable: The King Remembered is an odd but interesting documentary from 1975 that unfortunately relies more on interviews than film clips to celebrate the actor's life and career. Peter Lawford hosts the 65-minute special, which includes lengthy and at times meandering "chats" with such Gable cronies as actor Andy Devine, director William Wellman, author and columnist Adela Rogers St. Johns, and co-star Yvonne De Carlo on a talk-show-type set. The sparse clips and montages are in pretty rough shape, but viewers come away with a more personal image of Gable than the standard Hollywood profile provides.

More polished and entertaining, Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond succeeds in merging the legendary actress' personal and professional lives, with a slightly heavier emphasis on the latter. Produced in 1990 by Turner Classic Movies and hosted by an affected Jessica Lange, the 46-minute portrait includes a wealth of excerpts from Leigh's rare, early British films, as well as extensive clips from such Hollywood classics as Gone With the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Ship of Fools. The program captures Leigh's fiery spirit (much like Scarlett's), and doesn't shy away from addressing her ongoing battles with manic-depression and tuberculosis.

The disc's final supplement (and one of my personal favorites) is a group of 16 biographical snapshots of Gone With the Wind's supporting players. Narrated by actor Christopher Plummer (who introduces all of the set's special material), the brief profiles run less than three minutes each, but are meticulously produced and contain some fascinating trivia. For instance, we learn that Barbara O'Neil, who played Scarlett's mother, was only four years older than Vivien Leigh in real life, and Thomas Mitchell (who portrayed her father) enjoyed the distinction of being one of the few actors in history to win Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards. Other cast members profiled in this marvelous section include Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Laura Hope Crews, Harry Davenport, Ann Rutherford, Evelyn Keyes, and Ona Munson.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

It's hard to imagine a more lavish or appropriate treatment for one of the greatest films of all time. This spectacular collector's edition of Gone With the Wind features an exceptional new transfer, remastered audio, and some of the most entertaining and comprehensive extras ever to grace a classic movie DVD. Fans of the film will cherish this four-disc set, which ensures David O. Selznick's glorious epic will be enjoyed and revered for years to come. As God is my witness, it's the best damn DVD of the year.

 


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