Given its popularity, it’s no surprise that Warner Bros. has released Gone with the Wind on Blu-ray several times. For the purposes of this review, the obvious comparison is the 70th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, housed like this one in an oversized (and in that case plush red velvet) box with several goodies included. This set boasts the same two Blu-rays found in the earlier anniversary set—one contains the film, and Rudy Behlmer’s comprehensive commentary, the other, numerous extras—as well as the flipper DVD that includes the fascinating documentary on MGM from the early 1990’s, When the Lion Roared. The CD soundtrack has been replaced by a Blu-ray Disc that contains oft seen footage of the Atlanta premiere and lots of clips from the film. All of this adds up to just less than 40 minutes. Those who own the 70th Anniversary Collector’s Edition will have to decide if double dipping is necessary. However, for those who have yet to experience Gone with the Wind on Blu-ray, this is a no brainer.
Adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel of the same name, the theatrical version of Gone With the Wind (GWTW) is still largely considered the prototype for the Hollywood blockbuster, when adjusted for inflation, GWTW remains the highest grossing film of all time in North America and the UK. When the Civil War drama made its network television debut in November, 1976, it became at that time the highest-rated television program ever presented on a single network, watched by 47.5 percent of the households sampled in America, and 65 percent of television viewers. Ironically, it was surpassed the following year by the mini-series Roots, an epic about slavery in America.
While many aspects of GWTW may appear antiquated to modern audiences, like The Wizard of Oz, most will see the film at least once in their lifetime. Most are familiar with the story: At the start of the film, Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a pampered, fiery, teenager in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard); she becomes angry when announces plans to marry her cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett’s father (Thomas Mitchell) tries to teach her that Tara, the family plantation, offers something more enduring than the finding of a husband, but Scarlett can only think of her broken heart. To add insult to injury, a cocky miscreant named Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) has witnessed Ashley giving her the brush-off. But then the war breaks out, and nothing will ever be the same for her—or the South.
Produced by David O’ Selznick and helmed by no less than three directors—George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story), Sam Wood (The Pride of the Yankees) and Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz), who directed the final product. Production designer William Cameron Menzies apparently had a hand in things as well. Selznick’s pursuit of perfection when it came to GWTW has been discussed and written about extensively through the years and clearly it paid off. The film won eight Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Writing, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Film Editing. It was producer David O. Selznick’s crowning achievement and a film that stands up as one of the screen’s most enduring classics.
At 238 minutes, GWTW is a narrative of truly epic proportions. Every scene is larger than life, begging the audience to become part of Scarlett’s experience, rather than just watch it. The opening picnic at Twelve Oaks, the lavish balls, the crane shot of War victims sprawled for miles, the burning of Atlanta; even seventy-five years later, the scope of the production is nothing short of amazing. Then of course there are the actors: Vivien Leigh is excellent here; from her first moment on screen, grinning like the Cheshire cat, and sing-song “fiddle-dee-dee,” the British born actress seems to embody Scarlett’s various phases. She effortlessly moves from egotistical teenager, to free-spirit and finally an independent woman. This was Leigh at her best, and despite the big name actresses that wanted the role, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Scarlett O’Hara. Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler is among the screen’s most-enduring characters. Gable just seemed to look, act and sneer like the perfect film rogue, and how often have you heard Rhett Butler’s oft quoted line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” stated as convincingly as he did it?
Some of the other casting isn’t as strong. The biggest issue is probably Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes. Howard was a fine actor, however, the character is written as such a weak, unsure, stuffed shirt, that his moments on screen are dwarfed by Leigh and Gable’s powerful personalities. Olivia de Havilland’s shy Melanie is lovely, but she too, sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Not to be forgotten, there is Hattie McDaniel’s strong-willed nursemaid, Mammy, a role that landed McDaniel an Academy Award, making her the first African-American to do so; and there is Thomas Mitchell’s convincing Pa, Gerald O’Hara, and Butterfly McQueen’s endearing but harebrained house servant, Prissy.
There is no denying that GWTW is a largely sentimental view of the Civil War, not so much as a battle between North and South but as a setup for Scarlett to get her just desserts, and finally, grow up. Yes, the film avoids any discussion of the fact that the gentility of the plantation was purchased with the labor of the slaves. Surprisingly though, Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen are afforded a higher degree of humility then most African American actors were given in the 1930’s.
It’s important to remember that when GWTW was made, segregation was still law in the American South, and an everyday reality in the North. The Klu Klux Klan was written out of one scene, for fear of offending elected officials of the organization. For those and many other reasons, GWTW will always be a controversial film, but in the end, the thing that makes David O’ Selznick’s production so memorable, is the fact that he provided audiences with a lavish story and told it unbelievably well.
While the Blu-ray disc has new silkscreen art, the transfer appears to be largely identical to the original release. Encoded via VC-1, Gone With the Wind’s original 1.37:1 image is stunning, with a beautifully rich and complex lifelike film texture that has noticeable but never overwhelming grain. Colors are astoundingly brilliant throughout, with gorgeous saturation and breathtaking hues. Leigh’s eyes sparkle and shine with depth and luster. Depth of field allows for an astounding level of detail.
Gone with the Wind offers both the original mono track as well as a repurposed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, which is rather conservative in its surround abilities, but which cleans and clarifies the source material very well. Dialogue is almost inescapably in the front center channel. Surround channels kick in where you’d expect them to, in such bombastic segment as the Civil War battles. Steiner’s score typically also fills all the channels. You’ll notice quite a bit more hiss on the mono track, but that noise reduction in the TrueHD track does not mean a loss of the high end, which is to be lauded. This is a subtly repurposed 5.1 mix that preserves the front and center soundfield of the original soundtrack while gently nudging it into the surround channels at appropriate times. While even the TrueHD re-do can’t completely overcome the technical limitations of the original recordings (you’ll hear this in the somewhat boxy sound of the music mostly), this is really quite an excellent upgrade.
The set includes English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles.
Non Disc Goodies
As with the 70th Anniversary box set, this 75th Anniversary version is housed in an oversized box measuring roughly 11″ x 8″ by 2 1/4″. Inside the box are the following items, along with an UltraViolet Copy of the film:
- Forever Scarlett: The Immortal Style of Gone With the Wind. Supposedly written by Project Runway contestant Austin Scarlett (?), the book contains tons of photos of the film’s costumes as well as some sporadically interesting text on fashion.
- Monogrammed Handkerchief bears the initials RB.
- Music Box is emblazoned with a photo of Rhett and Scarlett and of course plays Max Steiner’s Tara Theme.
- The main feature contains the Rudy Behlmer commentary as its one extra. The man is an expert on all things Gone with the Wind, and provides what has to be one of the best commentaries ever recorded for a classic film. He discusses everything from the casting to the script, and even sheds light on the differences between the film and Margaret Mitchell’s novel.
The bulk of the film’s supplements are offered on this second Blu-ray disc. They’re all in standard definition and several have been released previously.
- The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind (SD, 123 minutes): This documentary has cropped up regularly on TCM and was included on the previous DVD release of the film. Filled with fantastic information about the history of the property, and its tortuous production, Legend also offers a great assortment of screen tests and other archival film.
- Gone with the Wind: the Legend Lives On (SD, 33 minutes), is a kind of sequel to the above feature, focusing on the legacy of the film. Emphasis on film preservation and some of the collectors of Wind memorabilia is included.
- 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year (SD, 68 minutes), is an in-depth look to that most storied year of Hollywood’s halcyon days. M-G-M may have had the “big two” that most people associate with that year, Wind and Wizard, but as this feature makes abundantly clear, the studio system was in full swing with high style at all the majors, and there was a bumper crop of classics that year.
- Gable: The King Remembered, (SD, 65 minutes), gives us a nice Biography-esque overview, hosted by Peter Lawford. of the man and the movie star.
- Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond, (SD, 46 minutes), is a little bit more surface level than the Gable effort, but with hostess Jessica Lange pointing the way, does venture into Leigh’s mental issues which affected her later career. Lange, of course, played another famously troubled actress, Frances Farmer, an actress who was in fact considered for the role of Scarlett, as you will see if you look quickly at a “potential casting sheet” in The Making of a Legend.
- Melanie Remembers: Reflections by Olivia de Havilland, (SD, 39 minutes). At last we get some first-person reminiscences, and with the ever lovely and gracious de Havilland providing them, you know you’re in for a rare treat.
- The Supporting Players, (SD, 30 minutes). I mentioned just a few of the incredible supporting cast of this film in the main review, which should give you some indication of the variety and quality of actors covered in this excellent featurette.
- Restoring a Legend, (SD, 18 minutes). Though this focuses on the 2004 UltraResolution restoration for the film’s 4 disc DVD release, this is still a fascinating look at the incredible effort taken to preserve and restore classic films like these.
- Two newsreels are offered, Dixie Hails Gone With the Wind (SD, 4 minutes) and Atlanta Civil War Centennial (SD, 4 minutes), both of which offer glimpses of premiere festivities for the film itself.
- The Old South, (SD, 11 minutes), a sort of documentary exposition of the cultural background of plantation life, but is interesting at least from an historical perspective.
- International Prologue, (SD, 1 minute), another expository piece which acted as prelude to the foreign release of the film, offering some background on the Civil War.
- Foreign Language Versions, (SD, 3 minutes), gives us a compendium of snippets of foreign language versions of the film.
- Movieola, (SD, 97 minutes), is a pretty lame made for television movie with Tony Curtis as David O. Selznick.
- Finally five trailers from the original release and various re-releases are offered.
- On a standalone DVD flipper, the enormous in scope When the Lion Roars three part documentary is featured. An exhaustive look at the history of M-G-M, hosted by Patrick Stewart, this all-inclusive overview is such an onslaught of archival film it’s like a virtual who’s who of Hollywood. Part One, “The Lion’s Roar,” delves not only into the studio’s nascent years but more importantly the epochal relationship between its two titans, Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg. Most Golden Age fans will most likely be more entranced by Part Two, “The Lion Reigns Supreme,” which covers the era of the 1930’s and 1940’s, when M-G-M was the Tiffany of movie studios. The third part, “The Lion in Winter,” chronicles the slow, sad decline of the studio and its many subsequent owners.
- NEW! Old South/New South (HD, 27 minutes) A surprisingly thoughtful look at many of the issues facing the South and its inhabitants since the Civil War. The difference between the romanticized depiction of slavery in Gone With the Wind and reality is explored, as well as the Southern penchant for rationalizing the Civil War was about something other than slavery.
- NEW! Gone With the Wind: Hollywood Comes to Atlanta (HD, 13:00). Some pretty rough footage from the Atlanta premiere, much of which was cut into various newsreels of the era.