The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Among the most famous of broken films, Orson Welles’ masterful follow-up to Citizen Kane was taken out of his control and re-edited by the studio.

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Introduction

“Except for the bastardized, chronologically shuffled ending, which was studio-imposed on the film, Ambersons, fragment by fragment, remains one of the most emotionally and intellectually articulate films ever made.”
Andrew Sarris, You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, 1927–1949, 1998

Adapted from the 1916 novel by Booth Tarkington, Orson Welles’ second film is an elegy for the passing way of life of an upper-class family living in a small mid-western town in the early 20th century.

After the dazzling experimentation of Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons found Welles’ visual creativity undiminished, again incorporating inventive editing transitions, expressionistic lighting and elaborate camera angles. The Ambersons’ Indianapolis home was created on the RKO studio lot, complete with removable walls to accommodate the ornate cinematography of Stanley Cortez.

Sadly, preview audiences reacted negatively to the film’s melancholy tone, leading RKO to cut an hour and order the filming of a new happy ending while Welles was away in South America. The removed footage was subsequently destroyed.

For a similarly nostalgic glimpse of the effects of progress on life in the mid-west, see Vincente Minnelli’s musical Meet Me in St Louis (1944).

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