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Gone With The Wind - Special Edition

MGM/Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 227 mins . PG . PAL


Forget Titanic. After allowing for inflation, Gone with the Wind, 66 years after its premiere, still stands as the most successful movie ever made.

This epic of the American Civil War also still regularly tops polls as the most popular movie ever made. The saga of Scarlett O'Hara, her spoilt selfishness and her heroism, is played against a backdrop of Southern gentility and charm, against cruel slavery and violence, against the destruction of one of the strangest, most artificial societies the modern world has seen.

The story of how producer David O. Selznick (the 'O' was there for decoration -- it didn't stand for anything) searched the world over to find the right woman to play Scarlett O'Hara is legendary. He screentested just about every actress in America who could contest the part -- and then chose an 'unknown' British actor, Vivien Leigh. Unknown of course, because she was British.

The choice was immaculate. Leigh was born to play this role, bringing the same total reality and deep believability to it as she did to the role of Blanche years later in A Streetcar Named Desire. This petulant little minx has real fire in her eyes -- you admire her while at the same time you want to slap her. And it takes a granite rock like Clark Gable as Rhett Butler to stand up to this sexy vixen.

Leslie Howard as Ashley and Olivia de Havilland as Melanie are also finely cast, and the politically-incorrect role of Scarlett's slave/surrogate-mother Mammy is played with huge presence and category-defying zest by Oscar-winning Hattie McDaniels.

This is one giant of a movie. No need to talk any more about it. I don't think it's the greatest movie ever made. Nowhere near it. But it's a giant part of cinema history and should be seen by all.


If you already own an earlier DVD edition of Gone with the Wind, then sell it fast. This four-disc Collector's Edition is indispensable.

Two data-rich discs are devoted to the movie, which clocks in at almost four hours. This is one of Warner Brothers' finest transfers to DVD to date. The colours are exactly as filmed 66 years ago by the three-strip Technicolor process. The image is clean and lustrous and there are virtually no age artefacts present of any kind at all.

For this edition, Warners has decided not to seek out the finest Technicolor print extant. Instead, they sourced the original three black-and-white film-strips on which the original Technicolor process recorded the colour spectrum. Each film-strip was separately restored and scanned, then combined digitally to a higher level of precision than possible even when the movie was brand-new.

This is a state-of-the-art DVD transfer, on par with Warners' transfers of Meet Me in St Louis and Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood -- the latter, strangely, still awaits release here, in Errol Flynn's birthplace.


There are two soundtracks to choose from -- a new 5.1 Surround, and a beautifully restored original mono track.

I listened to the 5.1 track long enough to make sure that it hadn't been doctored to give more grunt than appropriate for 1939, and the treatment has been very sympathetic indeed -- it's expansive and rich, but never overwhelming or artificial. For the most part though, I listened to the original mono track, to hear it 'as it was' -- and that experience is just fine, with no dullness or lack of clarity, and with the wonderful Max Steiner music as glorious as ever.


Two of the four discs are devoted to special features -- a diverse collection with some real stinkers, but with a couple of major items.

First up is a 123-minute 'Making Of' feature narrated by Christopher Plummer, dating from 1988 and headed The Making of a Legend. This documentary, longer than most feature-films, is full of fascinating stuff, with plenty of screen-tests of actresses vying for the role of Scarlett, and with a succinct story of how Selznick managed to complete the movie in the face of financial fiasco, failing directors and other epic disasters.

The other major features include a life of Clark Gable, The King Remembered, produced in 1975 and running for 65 minutes. It's total crap - idolatrous heavily-sanitised garbage; the filmic equivalent of the worst fan magazine.

Somewhat better is Scarlett and Beyond, a 46-minute look at the life of Vivien Leigh. Made in 1990, this documentary is very moving and seems quite truthful, as it explores her sad too-short career, as she battled both physical and mental illnesses while still managing to turn out personally revelatory and sensitive performances.

The third major feature is Melanie Remembers, a 2004 35-minute reminiscence by Olivia de Havilland, which manages to be both coy and gushing at the same time. I really enjoyed de Havilland as an actress, especially when paired with Errol Flynn -- but when watching this, you can empathise with her Oscar-winning sister Joan Fontaine, who couldn't stand her....

The extras continue -- There are well-compiled short features on a myriad (well, 16 in fact) of support actors of note who appeared in the movie -- including that fine character-actor Eddie Anderson, who achieved eternal fame as Jack Benny's servant and best-buddy Rochester.

Strangely, there's no mention here on one of the key support actors seen in the movie's opening sequence -- George Reeves as one of Scartett's hopeful suitors, Stuart Tarleton. George of course later lit up our screens as one of the finest (I think the finest) Supermen of all, in television's 'The Adventures of Superman'.

There are five theatrical trailers for the movie, tracing its re-release across the generations, including its rebirth at one stage as a 70mm Widescreen epic (top and bottom cropped of course to achieve the widescreen ratio).

There are 'Atlanta premiere' ceremonies, 'Dixie Hails GWtW' -- shucks, there's more extra features here than there are bolls of cotton in Virginia. And just in case you think you may have missed something, there's an exhaustive (and exhausting) and very dry audio commentary by film-historian Rudy Behlmer.

Whew. This is some set.


This is a must-have. Any film student, any lover of cinema will want to have this indispensable part of cinema history. As the opening credits role (still one of the grandest opening sequences ever filmed), shivers start rippling up your spine. Yes, this is a five-handkerchief weepie, but there's some real grandeur here; this is Hollywood cinema in its greatest hour.

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    "Astonishingly brilliant DVD transfer of the most popular and successful movie of all time. Nuff said."
    - Anthony Clarke
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