Four Disc Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia DeHavilland, Hattie McDaniel
Director:  Victor Fleming
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  238 Minutes
Release Date:  November 9, 2004

"Take a good look, my dear...it's a historic moment.  You'll be able to tell your grandchildren how you watched the Old South disappear one night."

Film ****

Like many over the past 65 years, I love Gone With the Wind.  I first saw it when I was about 11 years old and fell for it much more than I could have believed a kid my age could fall for an "old movie".  I've since seen it more times than I can count.  When people ask me what my favorite film of all time is, I answer 2001.  When they ask me to pick out the greatest movie ever made, I say Citizen Kane.  But I'd wager there's no movie I respond to more wholeheartedly than Gone With the Wind.

It was a major coup for independent producer David O. Selznick, whose struggles to realize Margaret Mitchell's best selling novel for the screen are almost as legendary and entertaining as the movie itself.  How did he manage to secure the rights to such a successful novel, assemble such a talented cast including two major stars in Clark Gable and Olivia DeHavilland loaned from competing studios (MGM and Warner respectively), and craft a larger than life four hour epic replete with glorious costumes, fantastically designed sets and thousands of extras while constantly dealing with monetary struggles and a critical press that laughed off his efforts as "Selznick's Folly"?

Well, you can learn more about that in some of this DVD's supplements.  As mentioned, they are stories worthy of their own time and space.  For the purpose of this review, we won't reflect on how he managed to do it; rather, we'll simply celebrate the fact that he DID do it.

The story is beloved and very well-known...it's a look at the end of the Old South as brought about by the Civil War and as seen through the eyes of some fictional but very real characters whose experience seemed so genuine that it's made the experience just as real for fans throughout the decades.  Though it's often said the winners write the history books, it's never been true in the case of the Confederacy, who have had their stories told far more widely and frequently than the triumphant Union.

In this variation of the South's point of view, we follow the extraordinary life of Scarlett O'Hara (the luminous Leigh), who blossoms from vain southern belle to war survivor to successful business woman.  She is the embodiment of the Old South; once proud, made humble in defeat, but strong enough to rise above even if she could never again be what she once was. 

She pines for the elegant but solemn Ashley Wilkes (Howard), whom she loves but doesn't understand.  Her designs on him keep her going throughout the tragic reality of the war, despite his devotion to his new bride Melanie (DeHavilland).

The other key figure is, of course, the roguish Rhett Butler (the dashing Gable).  With his devil-may-care attitude and wry cynicism, we instinctively know he's the perfect match for the fiery Scarlett.  One of the story's many tragedies is that she realizes it too...but at a moment when it's far too late.

This is simply cinematic storytelling at its very best.  It helps that Selznick and his cast and crew had such a fantastic novel to use as a springboard, but the movie ended up with a life all its own.  Some characters had to be cut, such as Scarlett's children from her first two marriages, but fans never seemed to mind.  The picture invites them to lose themselves completely in the spectacle, and even after 65 years, they still succumb.  This is the kind of movie that will engross and envelop you no matter how many times you've seen it.  Not many pictures, no matter how emotional, still make me cry after the first 20 or 30 times I've watched them, but this one never fails to move me to tears.

Gone With the Wind is still the most successful film of all time when box office dollars are adjusted.  It's easy to see why it was a hit upon its release, earning a then record 10 Oscar wins, but it's even easier to see why it remains such a fan favorite.  This is the kind of movie that reminds us what glorious, epic filmmaking used to be like...the kind that when it reaches its conclusion really makes you feel like you've experienced something unique and unapproachable.

The characters have become part of our culture and part of ourselves.  We love the movie because we can identify with parts of all of them:  the unbreakable Scarlett, the sensitive Ashley, the reluctantly heroic Rhett and the kindhearted Melanie.  The last two are a pair of my all time favorite film characters.  Clark Gable was, to me, the epitome of masculine cool as Rhett...and dear, sweet Melanie won my heart time and time again with her gentle, selfless nature.

Put four great characters against the backdrop of a world being turned upside down, and you have the ingredients for great storytelling.  David O. Selznick was the right chef at the right time to turn those ingredients into a sumptuous cinematic banquet that left its mark in history.  I've no doubt he's somewhere looking down as pleased as ever at the continued success of his big risky undertaking.  Pleased...but not surprised.

BONUS TRIVIA I:  The giant set that crashes to the ground in the famous "burning of Atlanta" sequence was actually the great wall that was built for King Kong!

BONUS TRIVIA II:  Recognize the voice of the unseen soldier being nursed by Melanie and Scarlett?  It's Cliff Edwards, who went on to achieve immortality as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio!

Video ***1/2

Gone With the Wind has gone through some painstaking restoration work over the years, but the results are indisputable:  no 65 year old Technicolor film looks as good.  From the sunlit patio of Tara to the war ravaged Atlanta, from the fields of death and decay to the foggy finale, this movie has survived the years and come out in the new millennium looking like the classic it is.  Only a minor bit of grain and texture is noticeable here and there...for such an old picture, that's exemplary.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is full and dynamic, but not overly aggressive.  The rear stage is mostly used for the sounds of guns and cannons, while the front stage handles most of the action.  Max Steiner's sweeping score has never sounded so crisp and clean, and dynamic range is fairly good.  For purists, the original mono track is included, but I think the 5.1 offering enhanced the experience beautifully without overdoing it to the point of distracting tampering.

Features ****

This is the home video presentation of Gone With the Wind fans have been waiting for.  Once upon a time, we had to pay $89.95 for the VHS version which had no extras.  Now, for about $29.95, we get a four disc set loaded with extras.  And not just any extras, either...joyful features that will keep a smile on your face all the way.

For starters, there is an absolutely superb commentary track from film historian Rudy Behlmer.  If you think a speaker can't keep your interest for four hours, you're in for a surprise.  Mr. Behlmer has a wealth of knowledge to share, and he keeps the entertaining info coming.  There are only a couple of quiet spots throughout, but even those are well done...they come at moments when you'll want to pay attention to the screen for a minute or two.

The third disc starts with the popular and classic documentary The Making of A Legend, which has at long last been coupled with the actual movie.  This is one of the all time best movies about the making of a movie, and has been a fan favorite for many years.  There is also a restoration demonstration, the prologue from the international release version, foreign language version samples, a gallery of trailers from throughout the years, a historical short film titled "The Old South", and newsreels from both Atlanta premieres: the original 1939 one and the 1961 Civil War Centennial re-release.

That's enough for four stars right there, but we haven't gotten to the treasures of Disc Four, which starts with a wonderful piece called "Melanie Remembers".  Ms. Olivia DeHavilland is the only one of the four main stars still with us, and she's as sharp as a tack.  She speaks directly to the camera as she shares her memories of making the movie.  An excellent speaker and a lady with a flair for telling a story, her part of this disc is a heartwarming joy to watch.

Two full length documentaries chronicle the lives and careers of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable with plenty of interviews, film clips, behind the scenes footage and more.  Finally, there are short film clips devoted to all of the main supporting players of Gone With the Wind, so you can learn about how their careers started and what they did afterward. 

I can't remember enjoying a features package as much as I did for this disc...it's a perfect combination of quality and quantity.


Fans of Gone With the Wind have never had it so good...this four disc special edition is absolutely everything they could want.  Not only does it preserve a true American classic digitally for all time, it presents a wealth of extras that devotees can completely lose themselves in.  Unequivocally recommended.

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