King Vidor turned Ayn Rand‘s preposterous “philosophical” novel into one of his finest and most personal films (1949), mainly by pushing the phallic imagery so hard that it surpasses Rand’s rightist diatribes and even camp (“I wish I’d never seen your skyscraper!”), entering some uncharted dimension where melodrama and metaphysics exist side by side. The images have a dynamism, a spatial tension, that comes partly from Frank Lloyd Wright (whose life Rand appropriated for her novel) and partly from Eisenstein, yet the pattern of their deployment is Vidor’s own: the emotions rise and fall in broad, operatic movements that are unmistakably sexual and irresistibly involving. With Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey.
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.