Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Magnificent Ambersons -
Orson Welles (1942)

Here's another one from former top dog on the Sight & Sound poll. It's tragic how many Welles movies I have not seen. O sure, Citizen Kane (1941, S&S #2) and Touch of Evil (1958, S&S #57)... even The Stranger (1946) on a swap-meet bootleg DVD. But he had 10 films total get votes this decade.

Other than Kane and Touch, this is probably his most acclaimed - although Fallstaff/Chimes at Midnight (1966, S&S #154) has been making a surge recently among Wellesologists.

The Magnificent Ambersons
dir. Orson Welles. 1942, USA.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #81 / Directors' #174
New York Times movie review ... Criterion essay
DVD from Amazon
No streaming...

The Magnificent Ambersons trailer (1942)

Major Amberson: It must be the sun. There wasn't anything here but the sun in the first place. Sun... Earth came out of the sun, and we came out of the Earth. So, whatever we are... it must have been the Earth.

Once again, the younger generation is represented by feckless jackasses - well, mainly just the one. And there's another nice young girl too. And like Tokyo Story, we revisit the themes of changing times and urbanization (automobilization?). For some reason, the story was set in motion by a failed serenade attempt and a broken "bass-fiddle." I guess times were different then.

The main young jerk here is George, and townsfolk are wishing for his comeuppance maybe even before he's born. And he almost never becomes anything more than a spoiled brat. I like it when the old movies show characters reacting in realistic ways, and everyone here treats him pretty much like a spoled brat. At one point, I think I actually yelled at the screen, "Quit being such a big baby!!"

A lot of the film recalls the look of Citizen Kane: snowy outdoors, opulent interiors, darker images, deep focus. The stage influence is still strong with this one, including the ensemble acting and lively pace - at least relative to a lot the movies I've watched this month. Things get pretty grim down the stretch, with young George having to sacrifice the law career he never wanted, to take a job in (no joke) a dynamite factory. Whoo... Old men descend into madness, and George's last walk home is almost hallucinatory.

I literally did not understand the ending. It would seem that test audiences didn't like the depressing end, so the studio cut an hour off and cobbled together a happy one while Welles was out of town. George getting both legs broken in an auto-mo-bile accident was quite fitting, although maybe not technically a comeuppance. Then the girl who awesomely rebuffed him takes her dad, who he'd kept from marrying his mother and whom his aunt had also loved, to visit George in the hospital - and so everything's settled. Okay... O yeah, and they also destroyed all the material removed from the original cut, so no-one can put it back together like how they fixed the studio-butchered Touch of Evil.

I guess times were different then.

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