For those that find in them a certain joy every time the orchestra of film kicks, when those studio logos lighten the dark of the screen and the familiar trumpet notes sound, you know what I mean when I say that the greatest films ever made are a must see for everyone. Those top 100 or 200, or 500 films that everyone should see before they die. Film is subjective though, and there are many lists. Fortunately for us, the American Film Institute compiled a list of the top 100 films of the 20th Century. From top to bottom, the list compiles the greatest American films released in the first 100 years of cinema.
Number four is the venerable Fleming directed classic starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind. Based on the Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name, Gone With the Wind is an epic tale of love and betrayal and war in the Confederate south, before during and after the civil war. Spanning nearly a decade, the film’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara is the daughter of an Irish immigrant and a strong willed survivor, who overcomes the death of nearly everyone she knows and manages to take tragedy and make it into success time and time again.
The strong willed nature of Scarlett is always hotly debated because it can be interpreted as both forward thinking and mildly sexist. She stands up for what she believes, rebuilding her home and her fortunes multiple times and dealing with men who fail to respect her in the least, but at the same time she’s portrayed as weak and submissive in some scenes such as Rhett’s taking of her forcefully upstairs.
When she finally marries Rhett, a man whom she never truly desired but found a source of salvation in, the two are able to find peace through the life of their daughter Bonnie. When Bonnie dies, the façade falls apart. Rhett leaves her after she begs him, “Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do” to which he replies in the most famous movie line of all time, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” The final scene is Scarlett once more standing tall and making the decision to go back to her family home and start over, everything haven been taken from her once more.
The film itself took nearly 6 months to shoot and was originally helmed by George Cukor who held the lead all through preproduction and three weeks of production. But he was released and replaced by Victor Fleming, recently finished with The Wizard of Oz, who finished the film. At one point in there a third director, Sam Wood was used when Fleming took ill for a couple of weeks.
The anticipation of the Gone With the Wind‘s release was unlike anything Hollywood had seen before. Mitchell’s novel was an enormous success and the studio rolled it out slowly across the nation, first with a massive gala and party in Atlanta and then advanced screenings for nearly a year until 1941 when it was released worldwide. It’s tale of Scarlett’s indomitable will in the face of all adversity was a perfect counterpoint to the war raging across Europe and soon in the Pacific.