It took a British actress, Vivien Leigh, to define the twin poles of Southern womanhood on film: Blanche DuBois, the neurotic faded rose of A Streetcar Named Desire, and Scarlett OHara, Blanches steel-magnolia opposite in the epochal movie version of Margaret Mitchells novel. As filmmaking, Victor Flemings 1939 blockbuster-to-end-all-blockbusters looks pretty stodgy compared to some racier, less prestigious pictures that came out the same yearnext to Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings or Raoul Walsh's The Roaring Twenties, it plays like something made during the Civil War, not about it. Yet it remains a feat of epic storytelling, a demonstration of studio-system might and star power, and just the happiest li'l ol' depiction of slavery you've ever seen, something its admirers have wrestled with for decades. In case you didn't know, Clark Gable is Rhett Butler, Hattie McDaniel is Mammy, Butterfly McQueen is Prissy, Olivia de Havilland is Melanie, and Leslie Howard is that mealy-mouthed milquetoast Ashley Wilkes, one of the most insufferable prigs in movie history. No student of film history should miss it, and yet I confess that the last time I watched it, I had a hard time staying awake whenever Scarlett wasn't scheming or Atlanta wasn't burning. A fleet of uncredited writers (including Ben Hecht and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and directors (including George Cukor) busted their humps to adapt Margaret Mitchell's novel, but the guiding auteur was clearly producer David O. Selznick, whose infuriating micromanagement is well documented in his (fascinating) collected memos. Max Steiner did the grandiose theme music, and the great William Cameron Menzies designed those lavish plantation vistas. On the occasion of the movies 70th anniversary, The Belcourt brings it back for two screenings only in all its splendor: if you're ever going to see it, see it on the big screen, as God is mah witness.
Sat., Dec. 26, noon; Sun., Dec. 27, noon, 2009