“The Wanderers” by Ann Ziegler (Theater J)

The play opens w/ an almost 40, married couple who live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn w/ their two young kids- Abe (a secular Jewish man) and Sophie (from Jewish and African-American heritage). Abe and Sophie talk re: growing up together. We learn that though they are both authors, Abe is more well-known/critically-praised (having won several awards before turning 30). Sophie decides to start writing again, so Abe will have to help out w/ the kids more. Both of them are somewhat dissatisfied w/ their marriage; Abe starts emailing Julia, a famous actress (who recently came to one of his readings). Sophie hears Abe (a man of many words) go on praising Julia, but she doesn’t seem jealous or even concerned. Abe comes off as insecure/neurotic (as one might expect of a writer), Sophie is more grounded and sensible.

Next, we meet a seemingly different pair- Schmuli and Esther- who are a wide-eyed couple in their 20s. They also live in Williamsburg, but as part of an insular/tight-knit community of Satmar Hasidic Jews. They met only once before their wedding; Schmuli was so shy that he just looked at Esther’s shoes. In time, they have two daughters, and the constrained life of a housewife starts getting to Esther. She wonders if she could also have a job, and Schmuli is shocked. Esther recalls the very different life her best friend, Rifka, chose. Esther, pregnant w/ her third child, goes to visit her old friend up in Albany. Rifka has a newborn who will be her last child. Esther is very surprised when Rifka explains to her re: birth control pills. She had always thought that God was the only one who decided re: such matters!

You don’t need to know anything re: Judaism to watch (and enjoy) this play; its themes and situations are universal. It’s not only about marriage, it also has much to say re: being a creative person (writer), connection (or disconnection) from one’s roots/religion, the effects of one’s relationship w/ parents (incl. absent ones), and the allure of celebrity. I think most viewers will find something to relate to in this story. Esther and Abe face the same question- will they stay in their current life or choose another? And will that choice make them happier?

“Devdas” (2002) starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, & Jackie Shroff

[1] The dance sequences are stunning

[2] I will start off by stating my bias….that I generally hate Bollywood movies because of their excesses, and their general lack of realism. In that light, Devdas is classic Bollywood.

[3] Devdas and Paro, or Chandramukhi and Devdas had a lot of emotions and feeling unexpressed in the original story. The love the three possessed was spiritual, not physical. That is why Paro loved Devdas for so many years without having seen him.

[4] One has to admire the technical execution of parts of the film, the sometimes stunning cinematography, the lavish sets and costumes. But the director forgets that form and content can not be separated, that more is not always more, that often less is more.

-Excerpts from comments on IMDB

This Bollywood movie is based on a Bengali romance novel by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. Despite being finished in 1900, the novel was not published until 1917 (due to Chatterjee’s hesitance over some autobiographical elements). He wrote it under the influence of alcohol and was embarrassed by it. According to Wikipedia: “he is arguably the most popular novelist in the Bengali language. His notable works incl. Devdas, Srikanto, ChoritrohinGrihadaha, etc. Most of his works deal with the lifestyle, tragedy and struggle of the village people and the contemporary social practices that prevailed in Bengal.” Due to lack of funds, he couldn’t attend college. Chatterjee wrote since his teen years and lived in Burma (Myanmar), working in the public works office. His first wife and son died due to illness. Eventually, he moved to Calcutta (Kolkata); he married his second wife, who he taught to read and write.

Devdas has been adapted for the screen 19 times in various South Indian languages. This version is directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali; he later went on to make Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat. At the time of its release, Devdas was the most expensive Bollywood film ever, w/ a budget of $10.3 million. It was a commercial success in India and abroad, becoming the highest grossing Indian film of the year. Devdas was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was also submitted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was screened at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival- not something you hear often (or maybe ever) re: a Bollywood film!

In the early 1900s, Devdas Mukherji (Shah Rukh Khan- then 36 y.o.) is the only son of wealthy zamindar (landowner) of a Bengali Brahmin family. After 10 yrs of boarding school and studying law in England, he returns to his village, where his extended family prepares to welcome him. In the original story, Devdas comes back from studying in Calcutta. However, their happiness changes to shock when Devdas prefers to visit his childhood sweetheart, Parvati AKA Paro (Aishwarya Rai- in her most notable role at 28 y.o.) before paying respect to his mother, Kaushalya (Smita Jaykar). In the first song (Silsila Ye Chaahat Ka), we see Paro dancing w/ the diya (small lamp) which represents the life of Devdas. Then only 16 y.o. Shreya Ghoshal sang five songs for this movie as the singing voice of Paro.

When Devdas’ grandma, Badima (Dina Pathak), lays out her jewelry, his greedy/cranky sister-in-law Kumud (Ananya Khare) giggles and picks up an elaborate bangle. Badima says she can have it all, but not that bracelet, b/c she saved it for Devdas’ future bride. Devdas jokes w/ Kumud, but she gets mad and storms off. She is followed by Kaushalya, who wants to calm her down (b/c she’s pregnant). Later that night, Devdas gives Paro the bangle (Bairi Piya). Kumud watches them (w/ binoculars) and then shows this to Kaushalya.

Devdas’ mother isn’t keen on the match, as she tells her husband when they are alone. The father (a lawyer knighted by the British government) flatly says no way. Paro’s mother, Sumitra (Kiron Kher), tells her husband that Devdas will ask for Paro’s hand, but her father looks worried. Sumitra dresses up and goes next door to Devdas’ house, full of hope. We learn that Paro comes from family that had a tradition of being entertainers and accepting “bride price” (dowry) from the groom’s family. Sumitra explains that was a long ago; they plan to give Paro away (send dowry with her). Kaushalya says it’s settled; both sides will handle the costs of Paro’s wedding. Sumita performs a song and dance re: the love between two Hindu deities- Radha and Krishna (Morey Piya)- while Paro and Devdas frolic by a lake. I esp. liked the lighting in the lake scene.

After her (emotional/dramatic) performance, Sumitra learns the bitter truth- her friend/neighbor thinks Paro- and therefore her family- beneath them. Sumitra explains that their children are deeply in love and pleads w/ Kaushalya to allow them to marry. Kumud (a one-note villain) makes a nasty remark, insulting Paro’s character. That’s the last straw for Sumitra; she declares (in tears) that this decision will lead to the “ruination” of Devdas.

Paro still holds out hope for marrying Devdas (after her mother has been insulted). In a bold move, Paro sneaks into Devdas’ room and declares her love for him. He is nervous and tells her that his father is opposed. Paro (not thinking of her reputation) says they can change his mind. Devdas says he will escort her home, but they run into his father, Narayan (Vijay Crishna), who insults Paro (and her mother). She runs away in tears. Devdas gets mad at his father; he gets slapped. After their big argument (which I thought could’ve been acted better), Devdas leaves home w/ the shawl that Paro dropped. Paro runs after his buggy, but is left in the dust. As I noted before, this director is not a fan of subtlety. After the first 45 mins-1 hr, the film becomes slower.

As journalist Rajib Kanti Roy noted (in an article published on September 14, 2018 in Daily Sun): According to Sarat Chandra, pure love of a woman is a treasure for the world. That is why he has made no mistake in highlighting true love of Bengali women in his fictions. The character of Parboti in Devdas is a classic example of that. A girl of strong willpower and passionate feelings, Paru (Parboti) is not dependent on Devdas. When confronted with the practical choice of marrying a rich man to save her family name, or pining for a fickle lover who changes his mind on the whim, Paru chooses the former.

Devdas writes a letter to Paro, saying that he doesn’t love her, but sees her only as the “girl next door/friend.” We realize that he doesn’t want to go against his father. Devdas stays w/ a friend from college who drinks and lives a life of debauchery, Chunnilal (Jackie Shroff). When Devdas looks “stressed,” Chunnilal (who some viewers consider annoying) tells him to relax and offers him a drink. Devdas says no, as he never drinks alcohol. The men go off to “escape” in the next scene; Devdas meets a courtesan named Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit- then 34 y.o.) She and her fellow dancing girls perform (Kaahe Chhed Mohe). This song (by Kavita Krishnamurthy, Dixit, and Birju Maharaj) carries on the Radha-Krishna romance theme. Before the number ends, Devdas gets up to leave; he regrets that letter and wants to go to Paro. Chandramukhi stops him; he advises her to do something else w/ her life (giving her his wallet). Suddenly, she goes from flirty to very serious; she has fallen in love w/ Devdas. I thought Dixit did as well w/ this clunky dialogue; her eyes expressed much.

As Roy noted: Chondromukhi is a prostitute who stands out for her assertiveness and independence. Though repeatedly scorned by the man she loves, her body and mind remain free from the societal control that women are subjected to. She stoops only to love and that too out of her own choice.

Sumitra (w/ in a week) arranges a marriage for Paro; she helps dress and adorn her daughter as Devdas returns. We take notice of their big argument; Paro stands up for herself and the pride of her family. Devdas (who is spoiled and temperamental) thinks it’s not too late, but she is headed for a new life (where she will be “an aristocrat”). About 12 yrs ago, I met a young Indian-American woman at a literary event in NYC; she was writing a PhD dissertation on domestic violence in Hindi cinema and discussed the next scene. Devdas calls Paro “vain,” grabs a heavy pearl choker, and hits the top of her forehead. Though he claims this is “the mark of his love,” we see that it is physical abuse. The saddest song of the movie follows (Hamesha Tumko Chaha) as Paro leaves home; the two voices are Krishnamurthy and Udit Narayan. One of the main things here is that before touching her parents’ feet (sign of respect), Paro crosses the courtyard to touch Devdas’ feet.

Bhuvan Choudhry is a widower w/ a large estate; his white-haired mother introduces Paro to his adolescent son and daughter (who will call her Choti Ma- “little mother”). We also hear of an older daughter who is not happy about having a stepmother. After the wedding night, some giggling maids reveal that the bride and groom slept apart. Bhuvan explains that he married only b/c he needed a “lady of the manor and a mother for his children.” He shows Paro a picture of his late wife, saying that he will remain loyal to her memory. The look on her face is hard to determine- maybe she is a bit surprised and relieved.

We learn from Chunnilal that Devdas (very distraught) was taken care of for two nights by Chandramukhi. When Devdas cuts her down and offers her money, she retorts that he already paid her. We see that she wants to dance for him. She waits for his arrival, which annoys Kali Babu (an impatient patron w/ a thick mustache). As Devdas watches this song/dance (Maar Dala), he pours out some drink. (SRK actually drank alcohol while shooting some drunk scenes, so had to do many retakes.) He admits to Chandramukhi that he’s drinking to forget memories of Paro that haunt him- yeah, no kidding! I never got the feeling that SRK was losing control here, or in the following scene (where he cries, yells, and displays self-pity).

Back at her mansion, Paro is handling things quite diplomatically. She isn’t intimidated by a formidable guest (mother-in-law of Yashomati, Bhuvan’s oldest child). Since they are close in age, Paro explains to Yashomati that they can relate to each other as mom and daughter or friends. Yashomati (also a new bride) is very touched and gives her a hug. Then the groom enters to touch Paro’s feet- it’s Kali Babu- the creepy guy we saw earlier.

Paro goes to visit her family and sees that many people of the village are flocking next door. Sumitra explains that Narayan is at death’s door. Paro (being forgiving/kind-hearted) insists that they go to pay their respects, too. The old man weakly calls out for his son, but finds Paro instead. Kaushalya weeps, recalling how Paro used go find Devdas when he’d run off. Now, the family doesn’t know where to look for him.

Devdas is staying w/ Chandramukhi, but they are not together; he won’t let her touch him. She continues to listen to him go on… and on… Suddenly, Dharamdas (a loyal servant from his house) comes w/ a message- his father is dead! At the funeral, Devdas is falling-down drunk in front of his relatives and other mourners. I liked this next scene- both actors played it well (and it wasn’t too over-the-top). He opens a small treasure chest filled w/ items which belonged to her- anklets, a water pitcher, and the shawl (from when they were last alone). Paro (again in tears) insists that he stop drinking, but he refuses. She can’t bare to see him in this condition. Paro says she wants to take care of him; Devdas asks her to “elope” w/ him that night. What a clueless man- that’s what some viewers were thinking- no doubt! We see that Paro has matured, but Devdas is still a little boy.

Devdas finds Kumud (who holds a big ring of keys) and his older brother plotting to steal all the inheritance. He comments that Kumud doesn’t know re: the “crazy” side of his family, then sets a fire in his father’s office. For six mos. after he’s kicked out of the house (by his mother), there is no sign of Devdas. Paro finds an excuse (Durga Puja) and goes to check out the brothel (having learned of it from Dharamdas). Chandramukhi is no longer a courtesan and keeps praying for Devdas’ return. We see an altar, some of his possessions, and a diya which she lit for him (a recurring motif). Paro realizes that this woman also loves Devdas; Chandramukhi says she “worships” him. Before Paro leaves, she presents the bangle (which Devdas gave her) to Chandramukhi. They meet again at the Durga Puja, talk, and dance together (Dola Re Dola). This has a mix of Indian classical dance forms w/ steps that come from Kathak and Bharatnatyam.

As an Indian viewer noted (on IMDB), it is unlikely that a conservative Hindu woman (like Paro) would’ve visited a brothel or danced at a gathering (even in her own home). When Kali Babu reveals who she is, Chandramukhi is not bowed- she gives some strong retorts (calling out the hypocrisy of the aristocrats). I enjoyed that scene- she’s a badass! As he leaves, Kali Babu apologizes for what he did, but also tells Paro that her husband and mother-in-law now know of her er “friendship” w/ Devdas. When Bhuvan asks re: Devdas, Paro replies that he’s her “first love” (just as his dead wife). Bhuvan decides that she will not be allowed to step outside the manor, and she accepts his punishment. When the old lady tries to put out the diya (“fire in own house”)- Paro quickly stops her. I think this was a kind of gutsy scene- I hadn’t remembered from previous viewings.

At a bar, then on the streets, Devdas and Chunnilal drink (Chalak Chalak). Some women join in, incl. Chandramukhi (who is very happy to see Devdas again). Some viewers commented that they liked this number (sung by Ghosal, Narayan, and a few others). It starts out humorous, then becomes more frenzied/unsettled. We see that Devdas’ health has deteriorated; a doctor says he’s in a “treacherous” state. This is basically a drawn-out form of suicide. Devdas (finally) tells Chandramukhi that he loves her! He also tells her “if they meet again in Heaven, he will not be able to renounce her.”

Devdas travels by train w/ Dharamdas watching over him; Chunnilal finds him and they drink to friendship (not a good idea). His friend learns that Devdas is “incurable.” Devdas gets off at a station and travels to Paro’s manor, as he promised. Paro hears his voice (in her mind) and wakes up in the middle of the night. In the early morning, there is a crowd of men gathered around Devdas sleeping on the lawn just outside the manor’s gate. Paro runs through the house, evading servants and family, but her husband orders the gate to be shut. Devdas dies and the diya’s fire is blown away w/ the wind. This last sequence is well done and very intense, even to those of us who know how it ends.

“Planet of the Apes” (1968) starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, & Maurice Evans

It raises a lot of questions about our modern day society without letting social commentaries get in the way of the drama and action.

The movie based on this book [La planet de singes by Pierre Boulle] is an “Americanized” adaptation of it. Rod Serling did the first drafts of the screenplay, simplifying the plot by fitting it into the mold of his “Twilight Zone” TV series and introducing an anti-nuclear war theme not present in the Boulle novel.

Pierre Boulle raises such issues as balance of power, racism, the role of government, and evolution… 

The film is philosophical, creative, absorbing and scary. Excellent commentary on religion and just about everything else.

-Excerpts from comments on IMDB

This movie tells the story of George Taylor (Charlton Heston), when he and his fellow astronauts find themselves stranded on a seemingly unknown planet. It seems to have no life. After travelling across a desert, they discover plenty of life (incl. apes that are human-like and humans that are ape-like). The (orange) orangutans are the leaders; the (grayish) chimpanzees are intellectuals and technicians; the (black) gorillas are guards/police (or do grunt work). Taylor is shot in the neck rendering him unable to speak. He is taken to a human-ape study lab, where he meets Zira (Kim Hunter), a chimpanzee scientist. She notices that Taylor’s intelligence goes far beyond that of any other human she has seen; she encourages him to speak. However, the orangutan leader, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), sneers at Zira’s and her fiancé Cornelius’ (Roddy McDowall) belief in any human intelligence. He (and his council) won’t listen to reason. Despite Cornelius’ conflicted feelings towards Taylor, he agrees to help prove his intelligence.

As many critics and fans have noted, Heston basically played himself. This role is not unlike those he played before; he is often shirtless, tan, and bearded. Heston uses his physicality, as is needed for a action hero role. There are few moments (w/ Nova, the young woman who will be his “mate”) where his vulnerable side comes out. Zira and Cornelius are quite interesting characters. Hunter’s portrayal of Zira was considered very powerful by many viewers; she is the most developed character in the film. Hunter manages to make Zira what she was meant to be, more human then ape. The intelligent and curious Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) has a bit of a rivalry w/ Taylor (as they constantly challenge each other like males of any species).

Planet of the Apes is considered a pivotal work of American cinema. Modern viewers will be surprised (not only by the ending), but by the fine camera work, unique soundtrack (by Jerry Goldsmith), makeup (by John Chambers), and good performances. After the film’s success, there were sequels, a TV series, a remake and a prequel (2011). There were also toys/models, comics, cartoons, and T-shirts to sell. I think even those who avoid the sci-fi genre should check it out! The Simpsons (my younger brother was a big fan) did a parody of this film, so you know it left it’s mark on pop culture.

New Year, New Reviews: “Bombshell” & “Little Women”

NOW PLAYING

Bombshell (2019) starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, & Kate McKinnon

There are some fine performances here, esp. from Theron (in role of lawyer- turned-journo Megyn Kelly) and Lithgow (Roger Ailes); they are also transformed through prosthetics, wigs, makeup, etc. Kidman (Gretchen Carlson) was the most easy to empathize w/ (IMO); I wished she was had a bigger role. I have to admit that Kidman is having a great resurgence these past few yrs; I didn’t appreciate her skills (when I was younger). Robbie (I’m slowly warming up to her acting) plays a fictional character who is eager to get onscreen work. McKinnon (from SNL fame) becomes friends w/ her; they have some nice chemistry. As a whole, I was NOT blown away by this film (which may remind you of the works of Adam McKay, director of Vice). There are MANY cameos in to enjoy- I won’t give it away; after all, there are VERY serious themes to explore! If you follow the news/politics, then you should check it out ASAP! Otherwise, wait for it to come to streaming.

Little Women (2019) starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, & Meryl Streep

The new adaptation (directed by Greta Gerwig) is VERY good- I went to free screening w/ several friends the week before it was released (on Christmas Day). I’ve seen the major film adaptations- ‘30s, late ‘40s, and ‘90s (my family loved that one). There are a few odd choices w/ the casting, as you will see. This film has unique takes- it plays w/ time (starting from the middle of the book and going back, then forward); has more nuanced characterization of smaller characters; and Chalamet (who I really enjoyed) has a fresh take on Laurie (the boy who wants to belong to the March family in some way). Chalamet, who some feel is getting TOO many meaty roles, gives Laurie a light/humorous bent (one critic compared his movements to Chaplin). I loved Christian Bale’s take on Laurie- it will always be my fave. I thought Ronan made a great Jo; I thought the writing, then trying to publish, scenes were great additions. Pugh (who is a fresh face to me) does a great job as Amy, who is usually the sister people love to hate. Amy’s scene re: the practical side of marriage stands out in my mind. The scenery, clothing (some of which was styled by the actors), and music are great- as expected. I consider this a MUST-SEE for fans of the book or the previous movies!

Re-watching Problematic Movies: Gone with the Wind (1939)

In the late ’90s, one of my history classes (in university) examined this iconic film. Our 30ish professor (like many of us) grew up watching GWTW; she considered it very problematic, yet also admired Scarlett O’Hara as an empowered woman. I recall her getting a bit emotional about the story; I’m sure there are millions of others who admired parts of this movie (and novel). Upon closer examination, we find mixed messages, not only w/ regard to history and slavery, but re: war, social codes, love, and marriage.

I’ll think about that tomorrow. -Scarlett’s motto

No doubt this movie (made for less than $4M) was a technical feat! Students of film have been studying it for decades; on recent viewing, I was esp. struck by how well light and shadow were used (production design). There are 50+ speaking roles and 2,400 extras. Out of the 1,400 actresses interviewed for the part of Scarlett, 400 were asked to do readings. Here are some of the actresses considered for the role (who screen tested): Tallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, Paulette Goddard, Lana Turner, Jean Arthur, and Joan Bennett. GWTW also used special effects, most notably the burning of Atlanta. Scarlett is described as having green eyes; Leigh’s eye color was corrected (post-production) from blue to green. As she could not dance, Leigh has a body double in the charity auction ball scene. One thing which amazed my mom, but it’s true- Leigh tightened her corset to 18″ (as Scarlett comments)!

Did you know GWTW went through several directors? David O. Selznick (producer) fired George Cukor as director b/c (as a gay man), Selznick though he would be unable to properly direct love scenes between Rhett and Scarlett. Cukor (who had a reputation of getting strong performances from women) continued to privately coach both Leigh and de Havilland on weekends. The scene where Mammy reprimands Scarlett for not eating is one of the few remaining in the final film shot by Cukor. Leigh wasn’t happy w/ macho director Victor Fleming’s style; when she asked for constructive advice, he said to “take the script and stick it up her royal British ass.” Of course, classic movie fans know that Leigh was involved w/ Laurence Olivier during this time; she must’ve gotten a lot of advice from him!

The Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (1865), which both set slaves free, have minimal effects on the plot of GWTW. The house servants at Tara (Mammy, Pork, Prissy and Uncle Peter) continue to serve the same masters and their families. We are to assume that they don’t want to leave or have nowhere to go. Scarlett thinks to herself (in the novel): “There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy.” If this isn’t romanticizing “the Old South” (antebellum) days, then I don’t know what is!

What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things, and I ain’t noticed Mr. Ashley asking for to marry you. -Mammy (telling it like it is) to Scarlett

When I watched it as a kid, I was surprised to see that Mammy was more concerned w/ propriety than Scarlett; I also saw that she was crucial to this story and has some memorable lines. After Scarlett and Rhett marry, he admits to his new wife that he wants Mammy’s good opinion. As an adult, I realized that- of course- Mammy had to know all the rules which governed the behavior of young ladies! Her life was inextricably tied w/ that of her owners, the O’Haras, and primarily Scarlett. Miss Ellen, Scarlett’s mother, seems to have been the ideal woman in Mammy’s eyes; Scarlett doesn’t quite measure up.

The fact that Hattie McDaniel would be unable to attend the premiere in (segregated) Atlanta outraged her friend Clark Gable; he threatened to boycott the premiere unless she could attend. McDaniel (in her mid-40s) became the first African-American to be nominated for, and win, an Academy Award. She was criticized by some African-Americans; she commented that she’d “rather make seven hundred dollars a week playing a maid than seven dollars being one.” Before she hit the big screen, McDaniel had a career as a singer, traveling across the South (as many black performers did in the early 1900s). Butterfly McQueen (who played Prissy) said that her stereotypical role totally put her off acting. Who could blame her!? Prissy is characterized as lazy and deceitful. In one scene, Scarlett slaps her hard on the face- ouch! McQueen went on to pursue graduate education in Political Science.

On my recent re-watch, I noticed that the field foreman from Tara, Big Sam (Everett Brown), was given two memorable scenes. Big Sam is walking through Atlanta (w/ his fellow male slaves) on the way to digging ditches for the Confederate Army. He is spotted by (a very excited) Scarlett; they catch up on news from Tara. Later on (after the Civil War), Big Sam is the one who rescues Scarlett after she is attacked by a white man while driving her buggy through the “shanty town.” He recognizes her voice, runs to the road, and beats up the would-be robber- what a heroic moment!

I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coalmines… and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and… arrogance. -Rhett comments to gentleman gathered together for the ball at Twelve Oaks

One of the main reasons to watch GWTW is Gable (then in his late 30s); he is full of charm, danger, mischief, and (after Bonnie is born)- a bit of vulnerability. As my dad commented years ago: “Why is Scarlett obsessed w/ Ashley when Rhett is around!?” Though he’s not gung-ho about the war (neither is Ashley), Rhett does eventually succeed as a “blockade runner.” Rhett is not about “the cause” (slavery), he’s in it for profit and excitement. After the burning of Atlanta, he joins “the lost cause.” Once their marriage grows sour, the troubled (and potentially violent) side of Rhett emerges. Modern audiences may cringe at the infamous (and quite disturbing) scene where he carries Scarlett up a long stairway, saying he “won’t be shut out” (of her bedroom) one night.

Author Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler was Basil Rathbone. The only four actors David O. Selznick seriously considered for the role were Gable, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Ronald Colman. The chief impediment to Gable’s casting was his MGM contract; this was the era of contract players. He was not drawn to the material, didn’t see himself in a period film, and doubted that he could live up to the public’s anticipation. He was persuaded by a $50,000 bonus, which would enable him to divorce his second wife and marry actress Carole Lombard. Gable disliked his most famous film, which he called “a woman’s picture.” Leigh said she hated kissing Gable b/c of his bad breath. He was rumored to have false teeth (a result of too much smoking). Gable would sometimes eat garlic before his kissing scenes w/ Leigh- ugh!

Open your eyes and look at me. No, I don’t think I will kiss you. Although you need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how. -Rhett says to Scarlett (after he returns from Paris)

Selznick always wanted Leslie Howard to play Ashley Wilkes, but Howard felt that he was too old (the character was supposed to be about 21 at the start of the film). My dad agrees w/ that! Howard wore extra makeup and a hairpiece to make him appear younger. Selznick was only able to persuade him to take the part by offering him a producer credit on Intermezzo (1939). Vincent Price, Dennis Morgan, Douglass Montgomery, and Melvyn Douglas were among the actors who tested for the part of Ashley. Many viewers on Twitter (during my re-watch) were annoyed w/ the fact that Howard kept his English accent. Also, some women noted that he was a jerk for “giving Scarlett hope” and “leading her on” in several scenes. I realized that scene where Ashley and Scarlett talk re: maybe running away from Tara (and their responsibilities) was done very well- acting and the look of it.

While Scarlett is colorful/rebellious/independent, Ashley’s cousin/wife, Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland), is the epitome of a demure/calm/traditional lady. Her hairdo is simple (no curls), she dresses plainly (not seeking attention from men), and is 100% devoted to just one man- Ashley. Others (incl. elders of her society) look to her to determine what is “proper.” Melanie is selfless and giving (tending to wounded soldiers w/o complaint); Scarlett is selfish (wanting to run away from nursing, marrying her sister’s beau- Frank Kennedy- for his money, etc.)

In one memorable scene, when a Union soldier comes to rob Tara, Melanie (weak after giving birth) grabs a sword and clambers down the stairs in an effort to help Scarlett. There is a moral strength to Melanie; Scarlett (who is physically much tougher) eventually realizes that. These two women (who perhaps would be “frenemies” today) are like two sides of a coin; they have to rely on each other. In McDaniel’s pivotal scene (after the sudden death of Bonnie), Mammy cries and gently pleads: “If you can’t help us, who can? Mr. Rhett always set great store by your opinion. Please, Miss Melly.” Gable was reluctant to cry (in his following scene), but de Havilland convinced him that it would be the right thing to do for his character.