Molly Haskell revisits "Gone With the Wind" in "Frankly, My Dear," a slim but rich volume from Yale University Press that persuasively explains why the 1939 film blockbuster it inspired continues to revolt and rivet Americans. To read it is to catch Scarlett Fever.
With its romanticized view of slavery and its rabid view of Reconstruction, the Margaret Mitchell's story perpetrated untruths. And yet it is impossible not to cheer for Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel (the first African-American to win an Oscar), the film's moral center and soul of the O'Hara family. (McDaniel famously defended herself from NAACP critics chastising her for her role in the film with the quip, "I would rather make 700 dollars a week playing a maid than seven dollars being one." ) And though Scarlett, the film's anti-heroine played with fiddle-de-dee perfection by Vivien Leigh is selfish and deceitful , she is, as Haskell so gracefully juggles the contradictions, "one of the great iconoclastic figures in movies."
With great humor and insight Haskell writes of "...the range of emotions attached to the film [that] fluctuate through time with the predictability of a love affair and its aftermath...."
Haskell clinically diagnoses "The Seven Stages of 'Gone With the Wind' : Love, Identification, Dependency, Resentment, Embarassment, Indifference, and something like Half-love again," which precisely characterizes my own complicated relationship to the film I first saw in the mid-1960s (when, like Scarlett, I heroized Leslie Howard's Ashley and didn't really appreciate Clark Gable's Rhett) and most recently watched two weeks ago on TCM as I was folding the laundry and marveling how much George Clooney has internalized Gable's rakish charm. (I also recalled Marlene Dietrich's 1939 diary entry: "Premiere of Gone With the Wind. Leslie Howard with orange hair. Now I've seen everything.") As a work of critical history and film history, I highly recommend "Frankly, My Dear."
Your thoughts -- kneejerk or considered -- on GWTW?