The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)


Orson Welles directs Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt and Anne Baxter in this turn-of-the century family saga about a powerful clan in terminal decline. 

A difficult movie to assess in its own right, whether you take it as squashed fragments of a masterpiece or a stunted bore. Its reputation as the first of many Welles’ works that were butchered by a studio irreparably and the starting injury to his reputation (a festering wound that crippled his ability to control his projects for the rest of his life) means it will always be viewed through a strange miasma. What could have been? It clearly is a compromised work with a clunky second half of rushed exits and that glaringly tacked on happy ending that looks more suited to a Marx Brothers film. But equally the first half has an elegant motion that matches Scorsese’s similar and stronger The Age of Innocence in its recreation of a lost age. Aside from its place in cinematic history and puzzles of its choppy production, Ambersons does still suffer from an ensemble of unsavoury rich folk and the intended air of ennui is often stifling. As a portrait of America in decline it is lacerating, as a soapy entertainment it can be a struggle. Best watched for the mastery of Welles’ storytelling – there are moments of visual verve that match Kane.


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