The Magnificent Ambersons (film)

The Magnificent Ambersons (film)

Infobox Film
name = The Magnificent Ambersons

image_size = 220px
caption = theatrical poster
director = Orson Welles
producer = Orson Welles
writer = Booth Tarkington "(novel)"
Orson Welles
narrator = Orson Welles
starring = Joseph Cotten
Dolores Costello
Anne Baxter
Tim Holt
Agnes Moorehead
Ray Collins
music =
cinematography = Stanley Cortez
editing = Robert Wise
distributor = RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
released = July 10, fy|1942 "(US)"
runtime = 88 minutes
148 minutes "(original)"
131 minutes "(preview)"
country = FilmUS
language = English
budget = $850,000 (est)
gross =
imdb_id = 0035015

"The Magnificent Ambersons" is a fy|1942 American drama film written and directed by Orson Welles. His second feature film, it is based on the 1918 novel of the same title by Booth Tarkington and stars Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins. Welles provides the voiceover narration.

Tarkington's novel originally had been filmed in 1925 by Vitagraph Pictures, starring Cullen Landis, Alice Calhoun, and Allan Forrest, and directed by David Smith. [ [ "Pampered Youth" at IMDb] ] Welles adapted it for the radio in 1939 for the "Mercury Theatre of the Air". The only actor from that production who also appeared in the film was Ray Collins.

Welles lost control of the editing of "The Magnificent Ambersons" to RKO, and the final version released to audiences differed significantly from his vision for the film. More than an hour of footage was cut by the studio, and a new, happier ending was shot and tacked on to the film. Although Welles' extensive notes for how he wished the film to be cut survived, the excised scenes have not.

In 2002, a television movie was made using the Welles screenplay and his editing notes. It was directed by Alfonso Arau and starred Madeleine Stowe, Bruce Greenwood, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Gretchen Mol, and Jennifer Tilly. [ [ TV version of "The Magnificent Ambersons" (2002) at IMDb] ]

Even in its radically altered form, the 1942 film is often regarded as among the best American films ever made, a distinction it shares with Welles' first film, "Citizen Kane". [Both films are on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Films [] [] ]

In 1991, "The Magnificent Ambersons" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film was included in "Sight and Sound"'s 1972 list of the top ten films ever made. [ [ BFI | Sight & Sound | Top ten | Archive ] ] and again in 1982. [ [ BFI | Sight & Sound | Top ten | Archive ] ]


The film tells the story of the Ambersons, an upper-class family who live in Indianapolis. One day the matriarch of the family, Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello), is quite by accident humiliated in public by her beau, the inventor Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten). She breaks off their relationship and decides to marry the bland Wilbur Minafer (Donald Dillaway) instead.

People in town are certain that Isabel can't possibly be in love with Wilbur. She has one child, George Minafer (Tim Holt), whom she spoils. As George grows up, many in the town long for the day when the arrogant, immature mama's boy will get his "comeuppance."

Later, when George returns from college, his mother and grandfather (Richard Bennett) hold a reception in his honor. Among the guests is the older Eugene, who is now a prosperous automobile manufacturer. He brings his daughter Lucy (Anne Baxter) with him. George takes to Lucy right away, but he takes a dislike to Eugene, especially after learning from uncle Jack Amberson (Ray Collins) and aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead) that Eugene and Isabel had once been quite the couple.

After the death of Wilbur Minafer, the widowed Eugene decides to ask Isabel for her hand in marriage. This time, she is willing, but George selfishly manipulates his mother into rejecting Eugene. George's haughty attitude leads to tragedy for everyone--and, at long last, George Minafer receives his comeuppance.


"The Magnificent Ambersons" was in production at RKO's Gower Street studios in Los Angeles from 28 October 1941 through 22 January 1942 on a set constructed like a real house, but in which walls could be rolled back, raised or lowered to allow the camera to appear to pass through them in a continuous take. RKO later used many of the film's sets for its low-budget films, including the series of horror films produced by Val Lewton. Location shooting for "Ambersons" took place at various places around the Los Angeles area, including Big Bear Lake, the San Bernardino National Forest and East Los Angeles. Snow scenes were shot in the Union Ice Company ice house in downtown LA. [IMDB [ Filming Locations for The Magnificent Ambersons] ] [TCM [ Overview] ] The film was made on an estimated budget of $850,000. [IMDB [ Business Data for The Magnificent Ambersons] ]

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 17th preview audience in Pomona, Robert Wise, the film's editor, removed several minutes from it. ["The standard story is that the audience was hostile and disapproving, which sent the studio into a panic over what they considered Welles' excesses. But critic/historian Jonathan Rosenbaum has examined the 125 original comment cards and reports that 53 were positive; in fact, many were overwhelmingly enthusiastic." Frank Miller & Lang Thompson, [ "Why 'The Magnificent Ambersons' is Essential"] ] The film was previewed again, but the audience's response did not improve. Because Welles had conceded his original contractual right to do the final cut in a negotiation with RKO over a film that Welles was obliged to direct but never did, RKO was able to take over the editing of the film once Welles had delivered a first cut. This resulted in RKO deleting over 40 additional minutes and re-shooting the ending in late April and early May, directed by assistant director Fred Fleck, Robert Wise and Jack Moss, the business manager of Welles' Mercury Theater. The retakes replaced Welles' original ending with a happier one that more closely resembled Tarkington's. Welles did not approve of the cuts, but because he was simultaneously working in Brazil on another project for RKO – Nelson Rockefeller had personally asked him to make a film in Latin America as part of the wartime Good Neighbor PolicyFrank Miller & Lang Thompson [ "Why 'The Magnificent Ambersons' Is Essential"] ] – his attempts to protect his version ultimately failed. Details of Welles' conflict over the editing are included in the 1993 documentary "It's All True".TCM [ Notes] ]

The negatives for the excised portions of "The Magnificent Ambersons" were later destroyed in order to free vault space.IMDB [ "It's All True"] ] A print of the rough cut was sent to Welles in Brazil, but it has yet to be found and is generally considered to be lost along with the prints from the previews. Robert Wise maintained that the original was not better than the edited version.

"The Magnificent Ambersons" is one of the earliest films in movie history in which nearly all the credits are spoken by an offscreen voice and not shown printed onscreen — a technique being only used before by French director and player Sacha Guitry. The only credits shown onscreen are the RKO logo, "A Mercury Production by Orson Welles", and the film's title, shown at the very beginning of the picture. At the end of the film, Orson Welles's voice announces all the main credits. Each actor in the film is shown as Welles announces their name. As he speaks each technical credit, a machine is shown performing that function - e.g. when Welles announces the name of the film editor, an editing machine appears onscreen, and when he announces "Sound recording by," a sound recording console is working onscreen. Notably missing from the list of spoken credits is "Music by Bernard Herrmann." Herrmann strongly objected to his score being recut and portions replaced by music by Roy Webb, and demanded his name be removed from the credits.


* Joseph Cotten as "Eugene"
* Dolores Costello as "Isabel"
* Anne Baxter as "Lucy"
* Tim Holt as "George"
* Agnes Moorehead as "Fanny"
* Ray Collins as "Jack"
* Erskine Sanford as "Roger Bronson"
* Donald Dillaway as "Wilbur Minafer"
* Richard Bennett as "Maj. Amberson"
* Orson Welles as "narrator"


* New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award; Best Actress, Agnes Moorehead; 1942.
* National Board of Review: Best Acting, Tim Holt & Agnes Moorehead, 1942

Academy Award Nominations
*Best Actress in a Supporting Role- Agnes Moorehead
*Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Interior Decoration- Albert S. D'Agostino, A. Roland Fields and Darrell Silvera
*Best Black-and-White Cinematography- Stanley Cortez
*Best Picture- Orson Welles

*1991 - National Film Registry.

ee also

*List of films recut by studio


External links

* " [ The Magnificent Ambersons] " website

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