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Friday, October 3, 2014

MOVIOLA: THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR -- movie review by porfle

( "GONE WITH THE WIND 75TH ANNIVERSARY ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION" from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is loaded with extras, one of which is the following film in its entirety.)

Back in the crazy days of my youth when I was known to do such things, I read a book by Garson Kanin called "Moviola." It consisted of three novellas, highly fictionalized accounts of actual events in three different eras of what we know as Hollywood. In 1980, the book was turned into a mini-series which aired on NBC-TV over three nights. These three segments now exist as individual TV-movies, sometimes with the word "Moviola" in the titles, sometimes not.

The first and last segments (chronologically) are known as "Moviola: The Silent Lovers", which tells the story of Greta Garbo and her ill-fated lover John Gilbert, a silent actor with a voice unsuited for "talkies", and "Moviola: This Year's Blonde", a glitzy biography of 50s bombshell Marilyn Monroe. Between these two eras, representing a Hollywood which was in 1939 at its creative and financial peak, is perhaps the most entertaining of the three, MOVIOLA: THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR.

Modestly mounted, relatively sedate, and much smaller in scale than the real-life events must have been, the film adequately dramatizes the details behind legendary producer David O. Selznick's most gargantuan (I so rarely have an opportunity to use that word in a sentence) undertaking, a daring screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's runaway bestselling Civil War novel "Gone With the Wind" which would eventually become the highest-grossing and most popular movie of all time.

Selznick's search for the perfect actress to play sought-after lead role Scarlett O'Hara is thus turned into an amusing and mildly absorbing comedy-drama-soap opera of movie moguls, actresses, and agents (and various other Hollywood types) all trying to outmaneuver each other.

The story is played mostly for grins as both seasoned pros and young, unknown starlets all vie for the plum role of Scarlett O'Hara in Selznick's impending blockbuster. Some try to charm and even sleep their way into the role while others, like Joan Crawford, wield what power and influence they may have.

But it's all for naught when, during filming of the burning of Atlanta (in which a stand-in was used as the hitherto uncast Scarlett), Selznick first lays eyes on British actress Vivien Leigh, a chance discovery made by his agent brother Myron. After that historic moment, all bets are off.

Before this, however, comes the film's centerpiece--an extended party sequence in which Selznick has gathered all the prospective Scarletts together in one place. This scenario is rich in cattiness and can probably be truly appreciated only by those already interested in the story and the people involved.

For anyone who doesn't remember or care about these former superstars of film, or the inner machinations of big-studio Hollywood filmmaking in general, I imagine that the entire sequence will just sit there like an unloved Jello mold while they wonder what the big fuss was all about. Others, however, may find themselves savoring every nuance.

A parade of low-level TV stars do their best to portray these film legends, which somehow manages to assume its own kind of charm. Edward Winter, known mainly as Colonel Flagg on TV's "MASH", tackles the role of dashing alpha male Clark Gable in amusing style, while "Cagney and Lacey" co-star Sharon Gless takes a wild shot at being his beloved and equally famous wife Carole Lombard.

I barely recognize some of the minor players filling in for the likes of Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Jean Arthur, Miriam Hopkins, Lucille Ball, etc. but they give it the old college try. Some of the casting choices are puzzling--I don't see Charlie Chaplin in actor Clive Revill (GENTLEMEN BRONCOS) at all--while others, including Tony Curtis as an unflappable David O. Selznick and Carrie Nye as Tallulah Bankhead, are right on the mark.

Other familiar faces include Bill Macy ("Maude"), George Furth (BLAZING SADDLES), and Harold Gould as Selznick's father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer. A brief appearance by a popular TV actress of the time, Morgan Brittany ("Dallas"), as Vivien Leigh brings the story to a pleasing albeit curiously anti-climactic ending.

Having recently watched a lot of documentary material on the subject, I found MOVIOLA: THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR to be an unspectacular yet enjoyable "Reader's Digest" version that's easy to take. And for anyone who saw it when first broadcast almost 35 years ago, its modest appeal will be enhanced by a dash of nostalgia.

Read our review of  "Gone With the Wind" HERE.

Full coverage of the "Gone with the Wind 75th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition" can be found HERE.

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