The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons

DVD - 1996
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Booth Tarkington's novel portraying the decline of an aristocratic Midwestern family at the dawn of the industrial 20th century, brought to the screen by Orson Welles.

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For someone who grew up watching reruns of BEWITCHED, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is a real treat because you get to see Agnes Moorehead (Samantha's mother) in her prime. Moorehead had a small but important role in Welles' film debut, CITIZEN KANE, playing Kane's mother, the one who banishes him from the mines of the West to the boarding schools of the East, the moment that is enshrined in "Rosebud." In AMBERSONS Moorehead plays the spinster sister-in-law who pines after Joseph Cotton who pines after Dolores Costello (Isabel Amberson). If CITIZEN KANE is about the monstrosity of ego created by the unrequited love a son feels towards his mother, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is about the monstrosity of ego created by a mother's over-solicitous suckling of a spoiled son. Tim Holt as the spoiled son is a pure dynamo. I think in many ways AMBERSONS is a superior film to CITIZEN KANE, certainly it speaks more to our age (digital) with its theme of technological dislocation (automobile).

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ThomasJWhiting
May 20, 2016

GOOD 1942 b/w Orson Welles film set when automobile began transforming the US to 'urban' from rural horseless carriage days.
The film itself is very high quality Orson Welles, with terrific staging/settings, fabulous shadowy black and white filmography, etc., but the story line and characters are rather dark/downbeat and didn't really engage me so I spent more time looking at 'the scenery' and film production than being caught up in the character drama. But I did again rather enjoy Agnes Moorehead in her role as Aunt Fannie - and noticed she and actress Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch from Wizard of Oz) look remarkably similar.
The film has a rather interesting controversial production history with almost an hour of Orson Welles material cut from the final release - and a change in the film ending. Apparently RKO wanted to 'speed it up' - kind of ironic for a film which is rather negative about rise of automobile and its effects on transportation.
Wikipedia has a lengthy informative entry about the film which I heartily recommend. It even includes descriptions of 14 of the deleted cuts - and more.
This is a classic movie which I had never seen before - glad I did!

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Nursebob
Dec 14, 2014

Orson Welles directs this dark morality play set at the turn of the century which traces the shifting fortunes of the Amberson clan, most notably daughter Isabel and her son George, while recording the death of the era in which they lived. Practically owning the small town in which their palatial estate is situated, the Ambersons enjoy a life of privilege unimagined by the common folk around them. But behind the gala balls and evening soirees there is a degree of discontent, for despite her marriage to businessman Wilbur Minafer, Isabel still longs for her first love, the pioneering inventor Eugene Morgan whose heart she broke years before. Upon Wilbur’s death the long-suppressed feelings between her and Eugene are reignited much to the indignation of her son George and her sister-in-law Fanny; he is worried about scandalous rumors while she, an embittered spinster, has always carried a torch for Morgan herself. Complicating matters is the budding romance between the spoiled and impetuous George and Morgan’s quick-witted daughter, Lucy. But dynasties don’t last forever and a combination of failed business deals and burned bridges find Isabel and George at a social and financial crossroads with Eugene and Lucy looking on helplessly from the sidelines. This is a gorgeously filmed epic with all of Welles’ cinematic conceits on full display, from dizzying camera angles and glorious tracking shots to intimate close-ups and amazing Christmas Card sets. And it’s all shot in richly shadowed B&W making the cinematography an integral part of the tragic narrative. Unfortunately the executives at RKO Studios, unhappy with both the length and depressing vision of Welles’ family drama, went behind the director’s back and cut almost an hour out of its running time while adding an “uplifting” ending for good measure. As a result the pace of the story appears choppy and episodic, and the syrupy final scenes ring false. A real pity.

kellnerm Aug 02, 2014

Orson Welles

g
garycornell
Jul 07, 2014

Orson Welles made Citizen Kane with the "Mercury Players". In the "Magnificent Ambersons" he used many of the same actors from that group. Both films have key roles for Joseph Cotton and I wouldn't argue with anyone who thinks these are his two best films. KCLS web sight states, "Many movie Critics consider "Magnificent Ambersons" a masterpiece equal to "Citizen Kane". The movie moved me the same way. Few families on film are as interesting as the Amberson's' I sure feel lucky that there are six copies of the film in the KCLS. If you missed this one, your missing out on a Great Classic Film.

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LEE M OLSEN
Dec 09, 2013

I personally think Magnificent Ambersons should be considered as great as Citizen Kane. Admittedly the last five minutes or so that was shot by Wise, and others, was not Welles'. But the other 80 minutes or so is pure Welles. It does not need apologies. Yes, it is true that it is some 30 minutes plus shorter that Welles' original cut BUT (and this is why I think the 80 minutes need NO apology) it was edited by Robert Wise (to become a very good and successful director himself (eg: Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Haunting, etc.) but was done under Welles' written supervision (he had a print of the preview copy with him in Rio and some of the to and fro cables survive). There is no artistic excuse for the tacked on happy ending, but if you are interested to see Welles' own, the full Welles' AMBERSON script has been published AND you can always read the source material, Booth Talkington's masterpiece, that inspired Welles.

voisjoe1 Feb 26, 2013

“The Magnificent Ambersons” has often been considered to be one of the top films like “Citizen Kane,” also by Orson Welles, even with 60 minutes deleted and destroyed by the film company and with a fake ending shot and added to the film after Welles had completed the picture and was working on his next film project in Brazil. What is left is still quite good, with its dark theme of gloom and doom brought on by the vicissitudes of the time and by the narcissistic and jealous nature of a woman’s son. Maybe someday, a copy of the destroyed portion will be found somewhere and we will be able to see what Welles had really created.

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