The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)  Director: Orson Welles

Released just after Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons is a powerful film worthy of being included on the shelf of greatness. It is based on Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same name published in 1918, the second novel to ever win the Pulitzer after Ernest Poole’s His Family.

Tragically, the film was significantly cut by the studio editors of RKO. Welles was distraught, as more than an hour of the film footage was cut and destroyed, and a new ending was added in attempt to leave audiences with a positive and hopeful ending. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, unlike Citizen Kane. The adaptation of the film was initially created for his one hour radio program. Filming took place in and around Los Angeles. The film is considered one of the greatest ever made, though it earned a substantial loss at the box office.

It tells the story of the fabulously wealthy Ambersons, local aristocrats in a mid-western town, Indianapolis. The lady, Isabel Amberson, rejects an offer for courtship from Eugene Morgan, and instead she chooses the boring Wilber Minafer. Together they have a spoiled child, George, and many long to see his comeuppance. George returns home from college to one of the last great balls hosted by the Ambersons, and he becomes taken by Lucy, but ridicules her father, Eugene Morgan, back in town after a 20 year hiatus and he is now a widower. Eugene is also an investor in the horseless carriage, the automobile. The next day George and Lucy tumble out of a carriage and they are picked up by Eugene in his automobile, much to the frustration of George.

George returns to college but soon after his father, Wilber, dies after his investments have largely gone sour. Lucy rejects his proposal, but meanwhile George has found his mother and Eugene are smitten with one another. Frustrated, George turns Eugene away, and he and his mother decide to travel indefinitely in Europe until she falls seriously ill and they return to Indianapolis, but George does not allow Eugene to be in the presence of his mother. Soon, she dies and George realizes the distraught order of the family’s wealth. He goes to work at a law firm, but then in order to receive a higher income, he takes a more dangerous job. Suddenly one day he is hit by a car and both of his legs are broken -his comeuppance has finally arrived though no one is around from the old way of life to witness.

The heavily edited ending scene shows a scene of Eugene Morgan who had just reconciled with George.



This film is an extraordinary feat of somber nostalgia, and arguably the Heideggarian all-consuming progress of technology, through the automobile, is the main character and most significant plot point. It comes highly recommended to lovers of classic film.


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