Directed by Victor Fleming and set in the backdrop of the American Civil War, Gone With the Wind (1939) is an epoch making American film, reckoned one of the best known and most successful films of all time. The film, based on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, revolves around Scarlet O'Hara, the haughty, strong-willed, impulsive, tempestuous and opportunistic daughter of the owner of the Georgia plantation Tara. It is about her romantic pursuit of the man who is married to his cousin, her struggle during the chaotic years of the Civil War, her marriage to Rhett Butler and ultimately her return to Tara to find consolation after breaking up with her husband. Margaret Mitchell, the author of the novel, born to a wealthy Georgia family, was a kind of real-life Scarlett O'Hara, who also defied social norms after getting involved in a love triangle, like Scarlett. While she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, Vivien Leigh, portraying the role of Scarlett, earned an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film, a huge box office hit, earned profuse positive critical reviews upon its release in December 1939 and the casting was also widely praised, but its long running time of nearly four hours received adverse criticism.
Although the film had been categorically criticised for glorifying slavery and claiming the Civil War was fought to defend the rights of the individual states to protect their agrarian economy against the aggression of the North, it was an instant success. It also created history when it earned ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary) from thirteen nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Victor Fleming, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Vivien Leigh and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, the first African-American person to receive the honour. However, five more nominations were unexpectedly lost, which include Clark Gable, for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Olivia de Havilland for Best Actress in a Supporting Role as Melanie Hamilton, who lost to co-star Hattie McDaniel.
The process of making Gone with the Wind was full of delays and disputes. It was a Herculean and time consuming job to make the screen adaptation of the 1,037-page book, which underwent an enormous amount of re-writes. After that, George Cukor, the original director of the film, who had spent two gruelling years in pre-production, was fired three weeks into filming and replaced by Victor Fleming. However, although almost half of the film was directed by Victor Fleming, who received screen credit, three other directors, including Sam Wood, William Cameron Menzies and George Cukor, also contributed various parts of the film.
Filming was also delayed as the casting of the two lead roles became a complex process. Although Errol Flynn, Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper were considered for the role of Rhett Butler, the producer and studio executive David Selznick wanted Clark Gable, who was under contract with MGM and the arrangement to release through MGM meant delaying the start of production.
However, for playing the role of Scarlett O'Hara, 1,400 actresses were interviewed, out of which 400 performed audition readings and only 31 women were screen-tested, including a set of established actresses like Katharine Hepburn, Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, Paulette Goddard, Diana Barrymore, Vivien Leigh, Jean Arthur and others. Paulette Goddard almost made it, but she narrowly lost out, due to her scandalous extramarital romance with Charlie Chaplin. In the end, Vivien Leigh bagged the role, when Selznick saw the little-known English actress in the flesh for the first time and knew that the picture of Scarlett that he had in his mind, suddenly appeared before him.
The film opens with Scarlett O’Hara, the beautiful, but spoiled, pouting, high-tempered and strong-willed Southern belle, eldest of three O'Hara sisters, living an idyllic life in a North Georgian cotton plantation called Tara, surrounded by admirers. The group of admirers includes the twin brothers, Brent and Stuart Tarleton, who hope Scarlett will choose one of them to attend the next ball. However, she found their discussion about the impending war between the North and the South boring as she is certain that there will be no war.
Soon she runs off to meet her father who was riding home through the fields, but was hurt to learn that her secret crush Ashley Wilkes is to be married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. At the party the next day at Ashley's home in the nearby plantation Twelve Oaks, Scarlett surrounded by even more admirers was overtaken by jealousy when she notices Ashley and Melanie together. Although she made an advance on Ashley, she was rebuffed and caught the attention of another guest, Rhett Butler. Later, when Scarlett corners Ashley in the library to confess her love for him, Ashley rejects her advance by saying that they are too different to be together and leaves. Ashley's refusal made Scarlett hurt and furious and as she throws a vase against the fireplace mantle, amused Rhett Butler suddenly pops up from the couch where he had been resting, obviously overhearing the entire episode and jokingly asks whether the war has begun. However, he assured the outraged Scarlett to keep her secret safe.
By that time, as the war was declared, the men started rushing to enlist in defence of the South and in an attempt to create jealousy in Ashley, Scarlett marries Melanie's younger brother Charles before he leaves to fight, a day after Ashley and Melanie wed. Nevertheless, within a short time, Scarlett receives a letter informing her of Charles’s death of pneumonia, following an attack of measles in a war training camp before reaching any battlefront. The news made her weep, not for the death of her husband, but about her boring future and the prospect of wearing black. Impatient with the lack of life at Tara, she moves to Atlanta to live with a frail Melanie, where she attended a wartime charity ball for its military hospital. There, in an auction held for the men to bid on a girl of choice to dance with, Rhett wins and chooses Scarlett for his dancing partner. Scarlett accepts his invitation and waltzed with him in her mourning attire defying the customary rules of mourning, when Rhett tells her that someday he wishes her to say that she loves him and Scarlett confidently declares that will never happen as long as she lives.
Over the next few months, Rhett continued to visit Scarlett as Atlanta increasingly comes under siege. When Ashley returned home from the war front on furlough during Christmas, Scarlett again attempted to woo him, kissed and declared that her heart belongs to him, tearfully confessing that she married Charles only to hurt him. However, Ashley again declined to reciprocate her love and before sharing a passionate kiss, requested Scarlett to take care of Melanie, who is pregnant and left Atlanta for the war again. Eight months later, as the city is besieged by the Union Army in the Atlanta Campaign, Scarlett volunteered as a nurse caring for wounded soldiers. But when Atlanta was being evacuated, Melanie gave birth to her baby with the help of Scarlett and her servant Prissy. Finally, with the help of Rhett, Scarlett and Melanie flee through the burning city, along with the baby and Prissy and as they successfully come out of the city, Rhett chooses to go off to fight, leaving Scarlett to make her way back to Tara.
On their arrival, Scarlett found Tara has been pillaged by Union soldiers and deserted, except for her depressed father, her sisters, and former slaves Mammy and Pork, while her mother has just died of typhoid fever. But determined to resurrect Tara, Scarlett started to work in the cotton fields, along with her sisters and the house servants, but lost her father, as he fell from his horse and died while chasing away a carpetbagger from his estate. With the defeat of the Confederacy, Ashley also returned, but was unable to render any help to Scarlett in paying the exorbitant Reconstruction taxes. Although Scarlett implores him to run away with her, he confesses his desire for her, kisses her passionately, but expressed frankly that he cannot leave Melanie.
Unable to arrange for the tax money, Scarlett decides to visit Rhett and use her feminine charm to get the same. But it did not work, since during that time, despite being a captain, Rhett Butler was held in the city jail by Union forces who threatened to hang him unless he hands over his Confederate gold. But before the war, Rhett had moved all his wealth to banks in Liverpool, for safety. However, Scarlett managed to visit Rhett at the city jail posing as his sister, but Rhett expressed his inability to oblige her, even though she offered to be his mistress. On the way back to Tara, Scarlett runs into Frank Kennedy, the fiancé of her younger sister Suellen, a middle-aged and wealthy store owner, whom she dupes him to marry her in desperation, by saying Suellen got tired of waiting and married another suitor. She uses his money to save Tara and also establishes a lumber business.
Within a year, Frank's hardware and lumber store flourishes under Scarlett's management, even they bought a sawmill to expand their business. One day Scarlett came across Rhett Butler while she was on her way to their sawmill, who laughingly said that if she had waited she could have married him and become rich. As Scarlett was about to move, ignoring Rhett, Rhett warned her by pointing out that the shantytown on the way to the sawmill is full of dangerous criminals and Army deserters. In reply, Scarlett shows him a pistol he had given her during the war. However, one day, after she was attacked while riding in her carriage near a shantytown and saved by one of their former slaves, Frank, Ashley and some other men attacked the shantytown. But Frank was killed in the raid and Ashley was injured, when Rhett protected the remaining men from the investigation of Yankee officers by claiming he spent the night with all those men in a brothel run by Belle Watling.
Shortly after Frank's funeral, Rhett proposes to Scarlett which she accepts and a daughter is born to them, whom they name Bonnie Blue, after an early Confederate flag. But being conscious about her figure, Scarlett refuses to have any more children or share a bed with Rhett. However, after a few days, Scarlett finds Rhett downstairs drunk and following an argument, he starts to kiss Scarlett against her will and expressing his determination to have sex, carries the struggling Scarlett to the bedroom. Nevertheless, Rhett apologizes the next day and offers Scarlett a divorce, which she rejects and when Rhett returns from a trip to London, she informs him that she is pregnant. But following another fierce argument, Scarlett fell down a flight of stairs, which resulted in a miscarriage. As she was recovering, tragedy strikes again; when Bonnie dies while attempting to jump a fence with her pony.
It was followed by the death of Melanie, who was suffering complications arising from the second pregnancy. Noticing the bereaved Ashley, Scarlett finally realised that her romantic idol had always loved Melanie and not her and she has wasted her life on a fantasy, she convinced herself she was in love with him, but she was not. However, it was already too late for a conciliation. In their house Scarlett finds Rhett upstairs, in his bedroom, sitting morosely in a chair. Tired of Scarlett's constant rejections, manipulations, and selfishness, he can no longer tolerate being with her and wants to escape. Despite Scarlett’s earnest pleading with s tear-stained and bewildered face, he reacts insensitively, parts from her at the front door and walks away into the morning fog. Although Scarlett collapses on the stairs, soon she pulls back from despair and resolves to return home to Tara, vowing to win back Rhett one day.