|Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind|
“It’s amazing: you ask people as a trivia question ‘Who directed Gone with the Wind?” and nobody knows; you give them a second clue – it’s the same guy who directed The Wizard of Oz – and they say Mervyn LeRoy. Victor Fleming was either a wonderful director or the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.” – Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Among the big studio-era Hollywood filmmakers whose sturdy masculinity – an affinity for Westerns and other kinds of action pictures, a love of robust characters (both male and female), a comfortableness with the physical and the outdoors, a skill for shaping the distinctive qualities of all-American movie stars – Victor Fleming has traditionally been shortchanged. John Ford has been glorified, partly because he made the most consciously pictorial movies; he was always after art, and at his best he got it, in Young Mr. Lincoln, The Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley. Howard Hawks, who worked in every genre, parlayed a love of raucousness and sass and tossed-off professionalism into a hard-boiled character ethic that infused all his work, whether he was making a gangster picture like Scarface or an aviator actioner like Only Angels Have Wings or a newspaper movie-cum-romantic comedy like His Girl Friday; his movies were companionable and often so speedy (the overlapping dialogue) that they felt wired. Fleming doesn’t get the same kind of respect. One reason may be that he did his best work in the thirties and very early forties and was dead by the end of the decade, whereas Hawks and Ford continued to make movies for another couple of decades; they were still around and working, if not at the height of their talents, when the film studies programs started operating in the sixties. Another reason, ironically, is that the two most famous projects Fleming was attached to, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, came out the same year, 1939, and because they were vastly different and he wasn’t the only director who worked on either – King Vidor directed the Kansas footage in the first after Fleming prepared it, and Fleming replaced George Cukor in the latter – Fleming has been saddled with a reputation as a hired gun.