“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” This is one of the most iconic lines from movie history, delivered near the end of Gone with the Wind, the epic drama set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.
It’s hard to believe that 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the classic romance, starring Hollywood legends Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, whose relationship takes a rocky road, filled with drama and tragedy.
The 1939 blockbuster, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Selznick International Pictures, is one of the greatest films of all time. Produced on a budget of $3.85 million, it grossed just under $390 million at the box office worldwide.
At the 12th Academy Awards, it set a record for nominations and wins. From a total of 13 nominations, it won eight awards, including best picture and best actress for Leigh. As the first African American entertainer to win an Academy Award, Hattie McDaniel won the award for best supporting actress as Scarlett’s maid, Mammy.
Gone with the Wind broke attendance records at movie theatres across the United States. At New York’s Capitol Theatre, it averaged 11,000 admissions daily. By 1943, an estimated 60 million tickets had been sold across the nation, equating to 43% of the total population of the US at the time.
The film was based on a 1936 book of the same name by American author Margaret Mitchell. It was set in Clayton County and Atlanta, Georgia, during the American Civil War and its aftermath.
The novel was the top fiction bestseller in America in 1936 and 1937. In 2014, a Harris poll voted it the second favourite book of all time in the US, behind the Bible. There have been more than 30 million copies printed across the world.
Mitchell won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the novel in 1937.
She said the primary theme of the book was survival and went on to explain that she deliberately left the ending open, so that readers could speculate over whether Rhett and Scarlett would ever get back together after a tumultuous marriage.
Plot and characters
The tale begins on the eve of the American Civil War in 1861. The wealthy and spoiled Scarlett O’Hara lives with her parents at her beloved family home, Tara – a cotton plantation in Georgia. Scarlett is secretly in love with Ashley Wilkes, a local plantation owner, but she learns that he’s planning to marry another local girl, Melanie Hamilton, sending Scarlett into a frenzy of angry jealousy. The engagement is going to be announced the following day, at a party at Ashley’s home, Twelve Oaks.
At the party, Scarlett speaks to Ashley in a private room and declares her true feelings for him, arrogantly thinking he’ll reciprocate her love and end his engagement to Melanie. However, things don’t go to plan and Ashley declares his love for Melanie instead.
Furious at being rejected, Scarlett launches into a tirade of insults against Melanie. Ashley walks out in a dignified manner, leaving her ranting and then crying hysterically.
Scarlett and Rhett
The scene leads into the memorable moment when Scarlett meets Rhett – a cause of great embarrassment for our heroine.
As she stomps around the room, sobbing because she has lost Ashley, Rhett reveals he has been hiding behind the sofa the whole time. Realising he has heard the conversation (and her unladylike rant at Ashley), Scarlett is angry that he didn’t reveal his presence sooner and leave.
On the contrary, Rhett is bemused by the whole incident, which infuriates Scarlett further, but the barbecue is suddenly interrupted by the news of the outbreak of war. The men, including Ashley, dash off to enlist for the Confederate Army, leaving their heartbroken loved ones behind.
Scarlett bumps into Rhett again at a charity bazaar in Atlanta in aid of the Confederate war effort. Rhett has become a blockade runner for the Confederacy, in charge of merchant vessels used for breaking blockades at ports.
Gentlemen at the charity event are invited to bid in an auction for ladies to dance with them. Rhett wins a dance with Scarlett after offering a ridiculously high bid and she agrees to dance with him.
Several months later, Rhett rescues Scarlett when she is trapped in Atlanta after the war turns against the Confederates, but she still lusts after Ashley and tries to turn his head again when he is allowed leave at Christmas.
He admits to having feelings towards Scarlett, but says honour will prevent him from ever leaving his wife. This muddied the waters, because up until this point, it appeared his feelings towards her were more brother and sister than lovers.
Determined and focused
After the death of her parents, Scarlett says she will do anything to keep her family home. Determined and focused, she really means this – even when it means marrying her own sister’s fiancé for money by duping him into believing her sister has met someone else.
Scarlett’s thoughtlessness leads to Frank’s death after she foolishly drives through a dangerous shanty town in her carriage and is attacked. Frank, Rhett and a posse of local men set off in a vigilante group to avenge the attack, but Frank is killed.
Rhett proposes to the newly-widowed Scarlett when Frank’s funeral is barely over and she accepts. At first, the marriage is a happy one and they have a daughter, Bonnie Blue, but Scarlett tells Rhett she is annoyed because having a baby has made her gain weight and she says she won’t have any more children, refusing to share a marital bedroom with him anymore. Secretly, she is still pining after Ashley.
Rhett focuses on bringing up Bonnie Blue and giving her everything she wants, including a pony, but tragedy strikes when the little girl falls from her horse and dies from her injuries, sending Rhett into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse. The couple once again become estranged.
Meanwhile, Ashley’s wife dies after a complicated pregnancy and Scarlett comforts him, but suddenly, she realises it’s Rhett whom she loves after all and she rushes back to Tara to tell him. However, he is packing his bag and preparing to leave for good.
Despite Scarlett’s pleas that she loves him, he then utters the famous line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The romance between Rhett and Scarlett is considered one of the greatest love stories of the 20th century. The two stars of the film, Leigh, 26, and Gable, 38, were both big box office draws. Their roles in Gone with the Wind are considered by many to be the greatest performances of their life.
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