“With God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” It’s a good line for an act one closer. In fact, it’s a good line for a film closer. Gone With The Wind could easily have stopped right at this moment and been considered a beautiful, sentimental film. (Yes, also highly racist.) However, to forego the second act is to lose Scarlett’s successful attempt to claw her way to the top with the carpet baggers and war profiteers in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction. We lose Bonnie Blue Butler, Scarlett’s shaming at Mellie’s party, and Rhett’s more famous exit line. (We also lose more Ashley, but does anybody actually care about Ashley?)
Gone With The Wind is a flawed masterpiece that deserves the critical eyes (and words) cast towards its romanticized view of the Antebellum South and terrible racial politics. Most of those issues arise in the first act, which culminates in the above iconic sunset scene. It’s a scene which does what the entire act does: it takes a moment of extreme suffering, when Scarlett is starving nearly to death, and turns it into a sweeping, Technicolor dream. Vivien Leigh’s playing the scene with Shakespearean gravitas, but it’s difficult to look serious with a swell of Tara’s Theme behind you. This is why it’s my choice for Best Shot: the juxtaposition between real pain and romanticized glory epitomizes the first act of Gone with the Wind.
By the way, my musings on what’s lost if you leave at the intermission are not purely theoretical: my grandparents did exactly that. Though I am a film geek, and my mother is a film geek, my grandparents were not. They saw Scarlett shake her fist at the sky, heard the dramatic swell of music, and mistook it for the end of the film. It’s since become a family legend, but lately I’ve wondered: what did they think of the film without its infamous last act? I can only guess. But here’s one thing for sure: with God as their witnesses, they never left the theater early again!