Moonlight & Magnoliasplays out the (more or less) true story of how David O. Selznick, with Victor Fleming’s help, got Ben Hecht to finish the final script of “Gone with the Wind” in five frantic days (and nights). They’re locked in Selznick’s office with naught to eat but his idea of strengthening and brain food -- bananas and peanuts.
Complicating factor: Newspaperman and script doctor, Hecht never read the book. So Selznick aided by director Fleming, who seemingly has skimmed it, have to play it out. Not only does Hecht consider the story little more than “moonlight and magnolias” but he also detests its glorification of slave-owning Southerners in the Civil War. Indeed, Selznick knows all in the industry, including his important father-in-law Louis B. Mayer, feel he’s foolish for buying a book too big to film. Selznick, alternating via Chris Caswell between commanding and cajoling, gets progressively desperate to succeed. Fleming, who’s grateful for being pulled off “The Wizard of Oz” with its troublesome munchkins, yet dislikes the written word and those who produce it.
Thanks go to Ryan Kimball Fitts for not being as swishy enacting Prissy as the script suggests. His best moments include him having Melanie’s baby. The purpose of B. J. Wilkes’ rightly biting Hecht seems to be to inject social significance into an otherwise silly play. Doesn’t Selznick keep insisting it’s a melodrama?
Of course, Scarlet -- who slaps a black teenage slave, keeps marrying for money, and murders a Union soldier -- is no admirable heroine. Ashley is weak and wishy-washy. Rhett Butler gambles, whores and sides with whoever and whatever profit him.
Still, Hecht’s insistence on identifying the Civil war’s Southerners vs. slaves with Nazis vs. Jews seems magnified and too lengthy. He’s always arguing to change the tone of the script. Will Selznick prove right about what the public wants — that is, does this triumph over both real and artistic concerns?
Director Carole Kleinberg picks up the cues given by the major props and allows the action to go bananas and nuts. Selznick’s paneled office flanked by shelves of books, scripts, stars’ pics is realistic.
Perhaps my favorite character is Selznick’s “yes girl” -- that is, secretary Miss Poppenghul. Alana Opie lives up to that name plausibly and with perfect enunciation and exhausting service.