The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
June 1, 2022 1:47 PM - Subscribe

Orson Welles' acclaimed drama follows two generations in a well-to-do Indianapolis family. Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello) receives a proposal from dashing Eugene (Joseph Cotten), but opts instead to marry boring Wilbur. Time passes, and Wilbur and Isabel's only son, George (Tim Holt), is loathed as a controlling figure in the town. When Wilbur dies, Eugene again proposes to Isabel, but George threatens the union. As George in turn courts the woman he wants to marry, a string of tragedies befalls the family.

The original rough cut of the film was approximately 135 minutes in length. Welles felt that the film needed to be shortened and, after receiving a mixed response from a March 17 preview audience in Pomona, film editor Robert Wise removed several minutes from it. The film was previewed again, but the audience's response did not improve.

Because Welles had conceded his original contractual right to the final cut (in a negotiation with RKO over a film which he was obliged to direct but never did), RKO took over editing once Welles had delivered a first cut. RKO deleted more than 40 additional minutes and reshot the ending in late April and early May, in changes directed by assistant director Fred Fleck, Robert Wise, and Jack Moss, the business manager of Welles's Mercury Theatre. The retakes replaced Welles' original ending with a happier one that broke significantly with the film's elegiac tone. The reshot ending is the same as in the novel.

The negatives for the excised portions of The Magnificent Ambersons were later destroyed in order to free vault space. A print of the rough cut sent to Welles in Brazil has yet to be found and is generally considered to be lost, along with the prints from the previews.

89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Kanopy and available for digital rental on various outlets.
posted by DirtyOldTown (8 comments total)
I've often wondered if the very noticeable cuts give the film a dreamlike quality that actually, though accidentally, makes it more palatable, or at least less dated, to later viewers than Welles's cut would have--though there's no way that ending could be an improvement. It's from a page of American social history that doesn't really command much attention nowadays.
posted by praemunire at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2022

As much as I love Citizen Kane and Welles in general, I've somehow never seen this film. I'm having a strange Mandela Effect moment, because I could swear that sometime maybe 10-20 years ago a restored version of the film was released. Maybe I'm mixing it up with Touch of Evil, which did at least get restored to something like Welles wanted. But man, I would swear that a restored version of this came out...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:23 PM on June 1, 2022

Nope, no restored version. However, Alfonso Cuaron remade it, using the original planned ending.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:08 PM on June 1, 2022

I think you got your Alfonsos mixed up, DirtyOldTown. Alfonso Arau remade it in 2002.
posted by Omon Ra at 9:19 AM on June 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

All I remember from the novel is that the house was the most sympathetic character.
posted by clew at 11:24 AM on June 2, 2022

I think you got your Alfonsos mixed up, DirtyOldTown.

Yep, sure did. Thanks for setting me straight.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:21 PM on June 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Rewatched this tonight and the line that struck me was "40 can't explain it to 20 because 20 won't listen to 40."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:10 PM on January 8

I rewatch this days ago and am still mad abut it. It's such a sophisticated story, chronicling the dissolution of the American gentry (for better and for worse) in the face of the automobile and industrialization/urbanization. And then suddenly... it's not. It's some weak shit about whether Gene loved Isabel enough to bail out her shitty kid.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:15 AM on January 12

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