Based on Margaret Mitchell's popular novel, during the Civil War and Reconstruction a southern belle can't marry the man she thinks she loves and eventually loses the wealthy man who loves her.
Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) is courted by twins and learns that Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) is engaged to his cousin Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Scarlett warns her father Gerald O'Hara (Thomas Mitchell) about jumping fences. He tells her to love the land of Tara, not Ashley. Ellen O'Hara (Barbara O'Neil) tells her husband Gerald to dismiss Jonas Wilkerson (Victor Jory) for getting a girl pregnant. Before the Wilkes plantation barbecue Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) persuades Scarlett to eat so she will be lady-like. Scarlett flirts with Charles Hamilton (Rand Brooks), Frank Kennedy (Carroll Nye), and the twins. During nap-time Scarlett hears the men discuss the imminent war. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) suggests the South may lose, and Charles questions his bad reputation. Scarlett tells Ashley that she loves him; but Ashley is marrying Melanie. Scarlett slaps Ashley. Rhett overhears and is frank with Scarlett. Charles tells Scarlett the war started and asks her to marry. Scarlett, seeing Ashley and Melanie, says yes, and both couples are wed. Scarlett learns that Charles died but quickly tires of mourning.
Scarlett goes to Atlanta to visit Melanie and Aunt Pittypat Hamilton (Laura Hope Crews). At a fundraising dance Rhett is cheered as a blockade-runner. Melanie and Scarlett donate their wedding rings. Dr. Meade (Harry Davenport) conducts an auction, and Rhett bids $150 to dance with mourning Scarlett. Rhett gives Scarlett a bonnet from Paris but refuses to kiss her. After Gettysburg Rhett tells Scarlett that the war is a waste. Melanie and Scarlett welcome Ashley on leave. Departing Ashley asks Scarlett to take care of Melanie, and Scarlett kisses him. Melanie and Scarlett tend the wounded, and madam Belle Watling (Ona Munson) gets Melanie to accept her money in Rhett's handkerchief. As Atlanta is bombarded, Scarlett flees an amputation amid panicking refugees. After a 35-day siege Melanie is in labor, and Scarlett has to deliver the baby with help from Prissy (Butterfly McQueen). At Belle's Prissy asks Rhett to bring a carriage, and Scarlett gets him to take them. Rhett fights off roving bandits and escapes the fire. Rhett tells Scarlett he is going to enlist and kisses her passionately. He gives her a gun and goes. Scarlett and Melanie find the Wilkes plantation burned; but Scarlett finds a cow. At Tara Scarlett learns her mother is dead, and her father is demented. Scarlett vows she will never be hungry again.
Scarlett makes her sisters pick cotton but won't let Melanie out of bed. A Union soldier comes to rob them, and Scarlett shoots him dead. Melanie tells others Scarlett was cleaning her gun. After the war Jonas Wilkerson arrives with carpetbaggers. Frank Kennedy asks Scarlett if he can marry Suellen O'Hara (Evelyn Keyes). Melanie greets returning Ashley as Mammy restrains Scarlett. The black servant Pork (Oscar Polk) tells Scarlett she needs $300 for taxes on Tara. Scarlett asks Ashley to go away with her, and he kisses her; but he plans to leave with Melanie. Scarlett throws dirt at Jonas, and Gerald O'Hara rides after him, falls from his horse, and is killed. Scarlett tells Mammy to make her a dress from curtains, and they find Rhett in jail playing poker. Scarlett pretends to cry, but Rhett sees her hands have worked. Scarlett asks Rhett for $300, but his money is in Liverpool. Frank Kennedy shows Scarlett his store that is making money. Scarlett says that Suellen is marrying someone else. Scarlett pays the tax, and Suellen complains that Scarlett married her Frank.
Ashley tells Scarlett he has a bank job in New York. Scarlett pretends to cry, and Melanie gets Ashley to help Scarlett with her lumber business. Scarlett hires convict labor over Ashley's objection. Scarlett becomes an independent business woman, driving her own buggy. Rhett laughs at her and warns her about going alone through shanty town. Two men attack her, but her former slave Big Sam rescues her. Frank sends Scarlett to Melanie's and says he is going to a political meeting. India Wilkes (Alice Rhett) blames Scarlett for endangering the men. Rhett comes in and asks Melanie where the men went. Union officer Tom (Ward Bond) comes looking for Ashley and waits. Melanie reads aloud. Rhett, Dr. Meade, and Ashley come in acting drunk. Tom tries to arrest Ashley for raiding the shanty town; but Rhett says they were with Belle Watling, and Tom leaves. Dr. Meade treats Ashley's wound. Scarlett dotes on Ashley, and Rhett says her husband Frank is dead. Melanie thanks Belle in her carriage. Scarlett in mourning drinks, and Rhett calls on her. Scarlett is afraid of hell. Rhett proposes on a knee in a mocking tone. When he kisses her passionately, she says yes.
They honeymoon in New Orleans. Scarlett has nightmares, and they rebuild Tara. Rhett drinks with Mammy after his daughter is born. Scarlett decides to stay thin by not having babies and looks at Ashley's picture. Rhett asks her about Ashley and pities her, saying he will find comfort elsewhere. Belle knows Rhett loves Scarlett but advises him to think of the child. Rhett and Scarlett cultivate society. Rhett teaches Bonnie to ride her pony. Scarlett visits Ashley at work and is seen by India. Rhett makes Scarlett go to Melanie's party for Ashley in a red dress alone, but Melanie welcomes her. That night drunk Rhett carries Scarlett upstairs. The next day Scarlett is happy, but Rhett apologizes and suggests divorce.
Rhett takes Bonnie to London, but she misses her mother. Scarlett tells Rhett she is pregnant, and he causes her to fall down the stairs. Melanie tells Rhett that Scarlett is better and loves him. Melanie says she is going to have a baby. Rhett tells Scarlett that he loves her. Bonnie on her pony tries to jump and is killed. Crying Mammy tells Melanie that Rhett has lost his mind, but Melanie gets Rhett to agree to a funeral and collapses. Dr. Meade lets Scarlett see Melanie, who asks her to take care of Ashley and their son. Scarlett realizes that Ashley loves Melanie, not her. Scarlett runs after Rhett and tells him what Melanie said. Rhett packs to leave as Scarlett pleads she loves him, not Ashley. Rhett leaves, and crying Scarlett plans to think tomorrow about how to get him back.
This landmark film depicts the fall of a civilization
based on slavery while portraying contrasting characters
the saintly Melanie, the moral but weak Ashley, the hedonistic
and capable Rhett, the kind Belle, and the selfish Scarlett, so
oblivious to the consequences of her actions. The strong characters
of Scarlett and Melanie reflect the rising power of women.