The principal source of the humor, it seems, is the usually unacknowledged fact that Schwarzenegger’s appearance and usual screen persona already has certain feminine and even maternal qualities, which this movie literalizes. In manner (i.e., voice and gesture) as well as appearance, Schwarzenegger, like Sylvester Stallone, has more in common with Jane Russell, Esther Williams, Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, and Dolly Parton than with the principal (and principally lean and mean) macho movie icons of the past — Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. (Perhaps only Elvis Presley qualifies as a male star who encompassed both physical types over the course of a single career, at least if one gives precedence to sheer mass over muscles.)
A critic-proof movie if there ever was one: it isn’t all that good, but somehow it’s great. The first part, in which the gracefully moving camera of George Cukor (soon to be replaced) establishes the ordered world of Tara in elegant visual terms, is really very fine. But the last half is all slow, desultory denouement, and the death of the little girl is the dirtiest kind of screenwriter’s trick. No one I know of has yet solved the secret of this 1939 film’s apparently timeless appeal, though I’d guess it has something to do with the elaborate mechanisms of fate, history, and sex brought to bear on Scarlett, whose overweening libido must be punished as magnificently as it has been celebrated. The striking color overlays, which are the film’s sole stylistic eccentricity, were the contribution of that cryptic auteur, production designer William Cameron Menzies. Victor Fleming signed it, though there were many, many fingers in this particular pie. 222 min.