Production was difficult from the start. Filming was delayed for two years due to Selznick's determination to secure Gable for the role of Rhett Butler, and the "search for Scarlett" led to 1,400 women being interviewed for the part. The original screenplay was written bySidney Howard, but underwent many revisions by several writers in an attempt to get it down to a suitable length. The original director,George Cukor, was fired shortly after filming had begun and was replaced by Fleming, who in turn was briefly replaced bySam Woodwhile Fleming took some time off due to exhaustion.
The film received very positive reviews upon its release in December 1939. The casting was widely praised and many reviewers found Leigh especially suited to her role as Scarlett. At the12th Academy Awards, it received tenAcademy Awards(eight competitive, two honorary) from thirteen nominations, including wins forBest Picture,Best Director(Fleming),Best Adapted Screenplay(posthumously awarded to Sidney Howard),Best Actress(Leigh), andBest Supporting Actress(Hattie McDaniel, becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award). It set records for the total number of wins and nominations at the time. The film was immensely popular, becoming thehighest-earning film made up to that point, and retained the record for over a quarter of a century. Whenadjusted for monetary inflation, it is still themost successful film in box-office history.
At the Twelve Oaks party, Scarlett privately declares her feelings to Ashley, but he rebuffs her by responding that he and Melanie are more compatible. Scarlett is incensed when she discovers another guest,Rhett Butler, has overheard their conversation. The barbecue is disrupted by the declaration of war and the men rush to enlist. As Scarlett watches Ashley kiss Melanie goodbye, Melanie's younger brother Charles proposes to her. Although she does not love him, Scarlett consents and they are married before he leaves to fight.
Scarlett and Rhett at the charity dance
Scarlett is widowed when Charles dies from a bout ofpneumoniaandmeasleswhile serving in theConfederate Army. Scarlett's mother sends her to the Hamilton home inAtlantato cheer her up, although the O'Haras' outspoken housemaid Mammy tells Scarlett she knows she is going there only to wait for Ashley's return. Scarlett, who should not attend a party while in mourning, attends a charity bazaar in Atlanta with Melanie where she meets Rhett again, now ablockade runnerfor theConfederacy. Celebrating aConfederate victoryand to raise money for the Confederate war effort, gentlemen are invited to bid for ladies to dance with them. Rhett makes an inordinately large bid for Scarlett and, to the disapproval of the guests, she agrees to dance with him.
The tide of war turns against the Confederacy after theBattle of Gettysburgin which many of the men of Scarlett's town are killed. Scarlett makes another unsuccessful appeal to Ashley while he is visiting on Christmasfurlough, although they do share a private and passionate kiss in the parlor on Christmas Day, just before he returns to war.
Eight months later, as the city is besieged by theUnion Armyin theAtlanta Campaign, Scarlett and her young house servant Prissy must deliver Melanie's baby without medical assistance after she goes into premature labor. Afterwards, Scarlett calls upon Rhett to take her home to Tara with Melanie, her baby, and Prissy; he collects them in a horse and wagon, but once out of the city chooses to go off to fight, leaving Scarlett and the group to make their own way back to Tara. Upon her return home, Scarlett finds Tara deserted, except for her father, her sisters, and two former slaves: Mammy and Pork. Scarlett learns that her mother has just died oftyphoid feverand her father has become incompetent. With Tara pillaged by Union troops and the fields untended, Scarlett vows she will do anything for the survival of her family and herself.
As the O'Haras work in the cotton fields, Scarlett's father is killed after he is thrown from his horse in an attempt to chase away ascalawagfrom his land. With the defeat of the Confederacy Ashley also returns, but finds he is of little help at Tara. When Scarlett begs him to run away with her, he confesses his desire for her and kisses her passionately, but says he cannot leave Melanie. Unable to pay the taxes on Tara implemented byReconstructionists, Scarlett dupes her younger sister Suellen's fiancé, the middle-aged and wealthy mill owner Frank Kennedy, into marrying her, by saying Suellen got tired of waiting and married anotherbeau.
Frank, Ashley, Rhett and several other accomplices make a night raid on ashanty townafter Scarlett is attacked while driving through it alone, resulting in Frank's death. With Frank's funeral barely over, Rhett proposes to Scarlett and she accepts. They have a daughter whom Rhett names Bonnie Blue, but Scarlett, still pining for Ashley and chagrined at the perceived ruin of her figure, lets Rhett know that she wants no more children and that they will no longer share a bed.
One day at Frank's mill, Scarlett and Ashley are seen embracing by Ashley's sister, India, and harboring an intense dislike of Scarlett she eagerly spreads rumors. Later that evening, Rhett, having heard the rumors, forces Scarlett to attend a birthday party for Ashley; incapable of believing anything bad of her beloved sister-in-law, Melanie stands by Scarlett's side so that all know that she believes the gossip to be false. After returning home from the party, Scarlett finds Rhett downstairs drunk, and they argue about Ashley. Rhett kisses Scarlett against her will, stating his intent to have sex with her that night, and carries the struggling Scarlett to the bedroom. The next day, Rhett apologizes for hisbehaviorand offers Scarlett a divorce, which she rejects, saying that it would be a disgrace. When Rhett returns from an extended trip to London Scarlett informs him that she is pregnant, but an argument ensues which results in her falling down a flight of stairs and suffering amiscarriage. As she is recovering, tragedy strikes when Bonnie dies while attempting to jump a fence with her pony.
Scarlett and Rhett visit Melanie, who has suffered complications arising from a new pregnancy, on her deathbed. As Scarlett consoles Ashley, Rhett returns to their home in Atlanta; realizing that Ashley only ever truly loved Melanie, Scarlett dashes after Rhett to find him preparing to leave for good. She pleads with him, telling him she realizes now that she has loved him all along and that she never really loved Ashley, but Rhett says that with Bonnie's death went any chance of reconciliation. Scarlett begs him to stay but Rhettrebuffs herand walks out the door and into the early morning fog, leaving her weeping on the staircase and vowing to one day win back his love.