Titanic? Pah. Gone With The Wind is the beautiful beast that Avatar needs to oust as the biggest Hollywood movie of all time.
When super-producer David O Selznick paid a record $50,000 to an unknown author for her first novel, some dubbed it “Selznick’s Folly”. Some were very embarrassed indeed.
Half gripping anti-war tale, half wrenching romantic-tragedy, Wind clocked in just shy of four hours and punched its weight every second of the way. That was 70 years ago. And you know what? Not a lot’s changed.
The numbers are simply huge. More than 50 speaking roles, 2,400 extras, three directors (at least), every Technicolor camera in existence in LA, 10 Oscars and a then-mahoosive $4m budget – which ker-chinged $200m to make it the most profitable movie ever. You can imagine Selznick wasn’t too fussed about the $5,000 fine he paid to allow the word “damn” to stay in the film.
Swearing isn’t all that Gone With The Wind has going for it. Packing breathtaking camera shots (that seemingly endless pull-back over a sea of dead and dying soldiers), brilliant set-pieces (the burning of Atlanta is a whopper) and an incredibly tasty story (love, war, violence, rape, moral rot, adultery), it’s hands-down immortal cinema.
Brimming with colour and passion, it pulls its emotional kick from tremendous performances, not least from Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as the love-hate lovers. In fact, the story pivots around our fascinating heroine Scarlett O’Hara, looking for love during the Civil War chaos years and beyond.
Cutting the template for the southern belle while at the same time deepening it, Leigh’s O’Hara is narcissistic, driven, foolish, fiery and so alive. Clark Gable is perfect, too, giving Rhett Butler the cavalier smirk and the pain behind it. Amusingly, it’s thought he was finally convinced to do the part for the bonus, which allowed him to divorce his estranged wife and marry actress Carole Lombard instead.
How excited should you be about its Blu-ray bow, then? THIS EXCITED. Totally restored for HD, the film’s gorgeous palette and soaring score have never seemed more plump with melodrama. Gleaming whites, deep blacks, realistic flesh tones, nice film grain, keen detail, no noticeable digital scrubbing… Again, worth reminding you that Gone With The Wind is 70 years old. It has no right to look this good. And from now on, we have every right to expect this to be a benchmark for retro Blu-ray transfers.
Like the visuals, Wind’s audio has been remastered, but the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 doesn’t get to flex its muscles – there’s not much action split among the speakers, but then that’s no real surprise.
The extras, meanwhile, are bounced from the doorstop four-disc Collector’s Edition DVD – and don’t disappoint. Throat lozenges at the ready, critic Rudy Behlmer unloads his brain on the commentary, which is stuffed with historical, Making Of and cinematic knowledge. He’s not a great orator, but he manages to avoid too many patches of radio silence.
From here, it’s hours and hours and hours (and hours) of featurette and documentary heaven. All of them with predictably grandiose titles. Two hours of Making Of doc action (The Making Of A Legend) from Selznick’s own sons, narrated by Christopher Plummer. One-anda- half hours of insight into the restoration (Restoring A Legend). A couple of hours on Leigh (Scarlett And Beyond) and Gable (A King Remembered). A further hour or so on the astonishing movies of 1939 (Hollywood’s Greatest Year), in which narrator Kenneth Branagh looks back over an extraordinary 12 months that saw the release of classics such as La Règle Du Jeu, Stagecoach, The Wizard Of Oz and Le Jour Se Lève. A couple more hours of The Scarlett O’Hara Wars – the made-for-TV movie about Selznick’s search for the perfect Scarlett O’Hara, starring Tony Curtis (not as Vivien Leigh, sadly).
Now we haven’t even mentioned the tiddlertreats they’ve also thrown in. Archive footage from the film’s 1939 premiere. The 1940 theatrical short The Old South, directed by High Noon helmer Fred Zinnemann. A lovely 38-minute chat with Olivia de Havilland. Mini-docs profiling the rest of the cast (Hattie McDaniel, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, Leslie Howard). An exploration of the film’s enduring legacy, boasting yet more interviews, footage and visits to various historical sites. There’s even a bunch of foreign-language clips of the film (Scarlett in French!).
So how about the gripes? Erm... None of the supps are in 1080p HD. But frankly? That’s right. We don’t give a damn. And neither should you. This is a must-own Blu-ray.
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