Here’s why this is not on our All-Time 100 Movies List: It is indefensible as social history; it lags in its second half; it lacks a strong directorial signature. All that leaves is the film’s epic ambition, its steam train of story propulsion, a ravishing visual design and performances of glamour and power. Which makes this super-production of the Margaret Mitchell best-seller the ultimate Hollywood movie. No question that this is a producer’s, not a director’s project; David O. Selznick’s grand and niggling obsession stamps the movie like Kong’s footprint. So what? In its first two hours, which moves with whirring assurance, the film establishes two pairs of potent contradictions: the mercantile North vs. the slave-owning South, and the rakish male (Clark Gable) vs. the ferocious female (Vivien Leigh, in a performance of spectacular drive, complexity and star quality). In 1939 GWTW was the longest and most expensive film made to that time. Today it retains another distinction: in terms of tickets sold, it is the most popular movie ever.
From the TIME Archive:
1936: Review of Margaret Mitchell’s book
1939: The premiere, and a look inside the movie’s production