Movie of the Month

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Movie of the Month

'The Magnificent Ambersons'

In 1941 Orson Welles released his first cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, arguably the greatest film ever produced. He followed that with The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942, our Movie of the Month. A case can be made that The Magnificent Ambersons is a much better picture. It is not as slow-moving or overlong as Citizen Kane, and is simply more entertaining.

Difficulties with studio heads at the time, in addition to poor responses from test audiences, resulted in The Magnificent Ambersons being sharply edited, losing more than 50 minutes of Welles’ original vision. The cut footage was unfortunately destroyed. While viewing the film, the viewer will note sudden changes and feel as if something is missing or not fully explained; and we’re still left with one of cinema’s best American films, ever.

The Ambersons are an extremely wealthy and influential family in turn-of-the-century Indianapolis. The movie follows their slow decline into poverty and insignificance. Based on Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the film stars Tim Holt, Delores Costello, Joseph Cotton, Anne Baxter and Agnes Moorehead. Orson Welles is the film’s narrator, even presenting the cast and crew without written credits.

Both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons were box office bombs. In fact, none of Welles’ productions were ever hits. Yet he is, and deservedly so, universally regarded as one the greatest filmmakers in history.