Gone With The Wind was but a neatly-trimmed whisker away from being a complete flop. Hard to imagine, I know, that the classic film may never have been made, writes Matthew Amer..
Ron Hutchinson’s comedy Moonlight And Magnolias is set during the week in which producer David O Selznick desperately tries to save the film on which his career and reputation is riding. Locking script doctor Ben Hecht, who hasn’t read the book, director Victor Fleming, poached from The Wizard Of Oz, and himself in his walnut-panneled office for five days, the trio struggle to concoct a script of cinematic gold. It doesn’t help that neither Fleming nor Hecht believe it possible to make a good film from Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel.
Hutchinson’s play is a fabulously frantic farce of three men stretched to their limits under the pressure of deadlines and expectation, with only bananas and peanuts – brain food – on which to survive. It is at its comic best when director Sean Holmes keeps the action and dialogue moving quickly. Physically, the actors – Andy Nyman (Selznick), Nicholas Woodeson (Hecht) and Steven Pacey (Fleming) – throw themselves whole-heartedly into Holmes’s production, Selznick and Fleming portraying the novel’s characters while Hecht, writhing at the impossibility of his task, tries to create a screenplay. The conundrum of whether Scarlett should be seen to slap her slave leads to a perfect piece of slapstick between the three males.
It is also just one of the more serious points drawn out in Hutchinson’s script, which secretes some ‘pin-drop’ moments among the hectic humour. Hecht and Selznick, both Jews, have vastly different views on acceptance and the imminent outbreak of war. The idealist Hecht also sees movies as a way to make a difference, to change the world, while Selznick sees the business, and a way of being drawn to America’s bosom.
As the fraught producer, Nyman presents a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, desperate to be loved by both his father-in-law and a nation, but also a man who deeply loves movies and wants to create something beautiful. Behind the producer’s spiel, he wants to be able to hold his head up high.
Nicholas Woodeson as wide-eyed Ben Hecht is a cynical and astute companion, unafraid to speak the truth and adept at delivering a cutting one-line put down. Steven Pacey’s Fleming, who fears only falling from his perch at the top, provides a foil for both.
Based on real events, Moonlight And Magnolias is a slice of golden age Hollywood, presented in a classic comic form, with the potent taste of truth hidden under a thick and slippery layer of discarded papers, cracked peanut shells and the slipperiest of banana skins.