Published on October 1st, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Overdue Respect: At 75, ‘Gone with the Wind’ Still Fills the House
According to IMDB, over 1,600 movies were released in 1939, meaning there are a ton of pictures celebrating their 75th anniversary this year. Among those hitting that milestone in 2014 are the romantic western Days of Jesse James starring Roy Rogers, a gangster flick called The Angels Wash Their Faces and the silly comedy Blondie Meets the Boss (a live-action version of the popular comic strip Blondie.
But unless you’re 80 years old, you’ve probably never heard of any of those films.
This past weekend, my local movie theater was offering four screenings of Gone with the Wind, in honor of the film’s 75th anniversary — similar screenings were happening across the country, sponsored by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events. Gone with the Wind has always been my grandmother’s favorite movie, so I decided to surprise her with a trip to go see it on the big screen. On Sunday afternoon, I expected a handful of diehard fans to be in the house for this 4 hour 6 minute epic but was stunned when we walked into the massive theater.
Hundreds of seats, filled with people of all ages and only a few open chairs scattered throughout the audience. I legitimately hadn’t seen a theater this packed for a non-midnight screening since The Dark Knight opened in 2008. This was a matinee screening of a 4-hour-long film that had been out for 75 years. I was immediately sorry I had underestimated the staying power of Gone with the Wind.
In cinema history, 1939 was a time when films were produced to hopefully have a profitable run in theaters and then be forgotten about when the next batch of pictures came out. When talking about Gone with the Wind after its premiere — which drew 1 million people to Atlanta’s Loew’s Grand Theatre — supporting actress Olivia de Havilland said she hoped the movie would have “an unusually long life, perhaps as long as five years.” She was aiming for the stars with that prediction.
75 years later, I’m watching Gone with the Wind in all its southern-romantic glory on an IMAX screen two seats removed from a 7-year-old girl who kept quiet and stared at the screen the entire time. That’s power.
The movie itself has aged better than many that were released 50 years afterward. Its Oscar-winning script by Sidney Howard is edgy, funny and full of harsh reminders that what goes around often comes back. The iconic on-and-off flirtation between Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler still stands as one of the most toxic relationships ever seen in a film. Sure, its opening text romanticizes the slavery-era south but little in the actual picture keeps that facade alive.
The black characters in Gone with the Wind are certainly stereotypes but not the kind that will make you squirm when watching the film 75 years on. Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) is a sassy know-it-all type that we never truly get to know but her perfect timing still got the biggest laughs from the audience I was with — it’s just a shame to remember she wasn’t invited to the movie’s 1939 premiere. I had also forgotten how great de Havvilland’s performance was as Melanie Hamilton, the Queen of All Human Doormats.
As with many great movies, epics especially, there are images from Gone with the Wind that I can never forget. The 2014 audience burst into applause upon seeing Scarlett’s disheveled silhouette against the red sun-drenched backdrop of her plantation home at the end of the first half. When she promised to herself, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” I could swear I heard someone ten rows behind me whispering it along with her.
In the year 2089, will people gather in theaters to watch a 75th anniversary screening of Guardians of the Galaxy? Will they still quote lines from The Fault in our Stars? If they are, I’ll have my wheelchair rolled into the handicap row of the next theater over, celebrating 150 years of Gone with the Wind.