As the Most Beloved Film Ever a.k.a. Gone With the Wind, David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War novel is also among the Most Studied Films Ever. Many details are already known about the all-time box office champ — the American Idol-style casting process, the merry-go-round of directors — so it’s to Warner’s credit that this new four-disc collector’s edition still manages to enthrall.
Gorgeously restored to its 1939 Technicolor clarity, this fifth home-viewing incarnation is so crisp that you can make out the individual curlicues of Aunt Pitty-pat’s hair. But far more enticing for die-hard fans than realigned pixels are the original prologue and preshow featurette, plus a full-color reproduction of the souvenir program sold at premiere road-show engagements. And while Fred Zinnemann’s didja-know-cotton-was-king primer on antebellum life is shockingly naive today, it helps re-create the 1939 filmgoing experience.
Also included are historian Rudy Behlmer’s exhaustive commentary track and the 1989 doc ”The Making of a Legend,” which showcases hilarious Scarlett wannabe screen tests (pip-squeaky Jean Arthur was a finalist?) and costume fittings for miserable costars Gable and Leslie Howard?at one point Howard supposedly bemoaned looking like a ”gay doorman up at the Beverly Wilshire.”
Least insightful is ”Melanie Remembers,” a new documentary in which Olivia de Havilland, the only surviving major cast member, offers anecdotes as inoffensive as her goody-two-shoes alter ego. But otherwise, this bursting-with-extras set is a collection that, to paraphrase a favorite Rhett Butlerism, should be watched, and often, and by someone who knows how.