Some great things the film does:
1. A TOTALLY EPIC MOVIE. Everything from the score, to the long tracking shots, to the detailed costumes screams cinema. From the opening overture, you know this is going to be melodrama at its finest.
2. Managed to economically fit in a lot of story. They cut out characters, create composite characters, got rid of some of Scarlett's children, used quick sweeping shots to create setting, and overall left out less pivotal moments to create a manageable plot. That's pretty impressive to cut an 1,000 page book to less than 4 hours.
Best proposal scene ever.
3. Showing cinematic smarts, the dialogue against the sacred cause of war is replaced by disturbing images of wounded and sick men. Multiple times, we're taken through a tracking shot of--even still--disturbing scenes of carnage without being overly gory. (Side question: how would this film had been made post WWII? Would the war be seen as more honorable and less cynical?)
This shot alone is more effective and more subtle commentary about the horrors of war and the honor we esteem it than the entirety of Saving Private Ryan.
4. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler kills. I usually feel like he's amused that he's even making a living through movies. He kind of walks through his roles based on machismo and dimples, but it's focused for the better in this film. Mr. Gable's sense of humor fits the role perfectly, and we even get to see him cry in this movie. He even manages to distract me from how much I hate the movie version of Scarlett. Win.
7. Cheesy old movie dialogue. Oh and censorship! Heaven forbid that Rhett says that he wants Scarlett, you know, in a sexual way. No, let's just say he loves her. But then deny it. But then he really does. Hilarious.
Some stuff that I wish the film did better:
1. Vivien Leigh does the best she can. Unfortunately, her stagy acting can only paint Scarlett in the broadest strokes possible, although I'm impressed that Leigh does as well as she does. It's really an impossible role since the book gets more into what Scarlett thinks of the world than how the world looks at her besides idle gossip. Not to mention the speaking out loud to get internal thoughts across. It just comes across as cheesy, and that just leads me to loathe Scarlett. It's a miracle that Margaret Mitchell made Scarlett so likable, or at least fascinating enough to humor, in the book considering how the bare facts of Scarlett's actions in the film come off as either idiotic or bitchy. I mean, they might be idiotic or bitchy things to do, but coming from the character's internal perspective, it makes sense.
2. The film certainly used Scarlett's biased view of Melanie in the film, and it makes her annoying. She's sanctimonious and ignorant instead of genuinely good. I always suspect Melanie knows more than she lets on when I read the book (you also get a little of her perspective by the end), and I wish that intelligence showed more in the film.
3. Ashley Wilkes is supposed to have a mustache. Film-Rhett is the obvious choice in the facial hair department, am I right?
4. I know they didn't really have time for it, but I wish there were more "aww shucks" moments between Rhett and Scarlett. I feel like most of their screen time is spent fighting. Let's just say they could've have slipped in a little more sexy financial talk, if you know what I mean.